2017 VegFest Charlotte

In years past, Vegfest Charlotte was held outdoors and had a street fair vibe. That sounds good but the unbearable heat was an issue. I would walk around and look to see which vendors were there, start to feel way too hot, find a bottle of water, feel marginally better, and then try to decide on food. After a bit of indecision I’d realize that I was too hot to eat, grab a fresh juice from a stall and whatever cupcake or other vegan treat looked good – and take it home.

This year Charlotte Vegfest was held at an indoor facility, aside from a few vendors set up outside, in Freedom Hall at the Park Expo and Conference Center. Parking was easier and the cooler temperature made lingering and sampling much more attractive. The fest featured sustainable organizations, the Humane Society, and food from local restaurants. Local vendors such as The Greener Apple and Pop Up produce were on hand, as well as known commercial companies Dr. Bronner, Renu Energy solutions and Food not bombs. A series of speakers including a vegan body builder and local chefs were on the line up, and there was also a speed dating session – I have no idea how that went…

Popular restaurants such as Nourish, Fern, Living Kitchen, Zizi’s, Viva Raw, and Lenny Boy brewery were on hand. In the Pop Up and Food Truck category local favorites Move That Dough Baking Co and The Masa Casa brought food and beverages for sale. Beverly’s Gourmet, a line of fresh prepared meals available at Whole Foods and other stores selling vegetarian and vegan food, also had a stall. Beverly’s makes a Persian barley soup that I must have whenever I am in town. Ben & Jerry’s was also there with their new vegan ice cream’s –- coffee caramel fudge is my new favorite!

Those who frequent food festivals know it requires stamina and some cash if you want to do a bit of sampling. My advice – go hungry with someone who will share food – that way you can sample more and maybe spend less. Pocky and I had a bit of a nom nom extravaganza. He and I tend to like varied flavors sensations and food from different regions of the world. That can be okay though, because we often want to order different items and then share or just try a bite if it doesn’t sound terribly interesting.

Unfortunately, we never made it to the extremely popular Soul Desserts becasue each time we made our way to their stall, the line seemed even longer. We did try JP’s Pastry, which is vegan and gluten free; their Vanilla cupcake was fantastic.

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Juice Bar makes fabulous elixirs – the “Fresh Greens” and “We Got the Beet” were refreshing, and the “Orange You Glad” was another favorite. I also grabbed a cold brew from Parliament Coffee roasters.

Vegganers Luck offered a Chick’N Waffles w/Fried seitan on an almond buttermilk waffle that was pretty good – seems they might have a food truck soon. Zizi’s had a tasty “CHICKEN” PARM-LESS SUB that was mock fried chicken, breaded, in a marinara sauce.

One of my favorite bites was the Pastel de yuka from catering company Soul Cocina. The roasted pocket was stuffed with spinach, brown rice and lentils. They also had tamales for sale. Next time I’m in town, I hope to find them at a farmers market.

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Another favorite – Nourish – a home delivery food service served up one of my favorite dishes, a Vegan Mac with buffalo cauliflower, yum! We also had their delicious sweet potato fries.

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My new favorite find though, is the artisanal plant meat line from Asheville based No Evil Foods. They fried up “The Prepper” (chicken-esque), and the Stallion (Italian sausage), and El Zapatista (Mexican chorizo) that can be grilled, marinated, and etc. El Zapatista was my favorite. Their products were really flavorful and spicy. I also like their throw back packaging – a butcher shop brown paper. They also had a few different types of jerky; the Chipotle Jerky is fantastic. Their products are available for purchase online and in some stores. Check them out.

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All in all, it was a great way to spend a few hours. Charlotte Vegfest had a great offering of plant-based food from local restaurants and caterers, food product producers, as well as interesting sustainable organizations. This was by far my favorite year that I’ve attended.

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre and Dance Highlights from NYC in 2016

Last year offered so many options of new works and old favorites that I missed quite a few performances that I wanted to see, such as Othello, The Front Page, Heisenberg, Michael C. Hall in David Bowie’s Lazarus, and more. I also missed Alvin Ailey’s annual dance season as well. Last year my work schedule was hectic and I spent a bit of time in Africa, which made seeing short runs of Broadway and off Broadway performances difficult. Most of what I managed to attend was fantastic.
Alan Cumming is one of my favorite actors, so when it was announced that he was taking his cabaret show on the road, I had to buy a ticket for his Carnegie Hall show. Whether acting or singing, he is ever the entertainer. Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs was a charming evening of musical theater with a few contemporary songs thrown in, witty banter and surprise guests: Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss and Ricki Lake. The set had a little something for everyone and was long enough to make me feel content but also desiring a little more.
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Eclipsed – this performance would make a good short or behind the scenes PBS performance. The play centered on life in Liberia, Africa in 2003. It depicted the difficulties that women faced during that time, specifically the reality of life in a region under rebel control. Eclipsed was poignant, sad and funny. The acting was fantastic and the ensemble was balanced and well cast. The female cast included Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah, Lupita Nyong’o, and Saycon Sengbloh. The men were also good, but not standouts. Perhaps it resonated so strongly with me because I work in peacebuilding and spent time in Liberia last year, but honestly, I think it had more to do with the storytelling by Danai Gurira and acting from a superb ensemble.
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The newest incarnation of Arthur Miller’s the Crucible felt like a dark and eerie film noir. The play featured a star-studded cast familiar to theater, film and television audiences including Ciarán Hinds, Sophie Okonedo, Ben Winshaw, Saoirse Ronan and a large ensemble. Though many reviewers complained of Ivo van Hove’s staging, noting that it didn’t offer enough context, I didn’t need a roadmap of period associations to understand exactly what was happening. The young actors brought the play to life with their scary and at times vulnerable portrayals of young girls accused being witches, while the rest of the cast embodied a community stirring up fear and looking for answers that didn’t exist.
Most people are aware of the hilarious musical The Book of Mormon; it’s irreverent storyline and potty mouth dialogue. I first experienced this show during its first national tour and couldn’t get some of lyrics out of my head for months. Typically, I don’t see productions more than once, aside from dance performances that often rotate the pieces performed, but one of my Uncles came to NY for a visit and I couldn’t find reasonably priced tickets to Hamilton…He hadn’t seen The Book of Mormon, which I figured he would like as he is a little cheeky himself, so that was that. Now, it’s been a few years but the lines were just as funny as the first go around and the writers have updated a few cultural references, which provided unexpected laughs as well.
The last play of the bunch – Blackbird by David Harrower, featured Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams. I really wanted to like this play, but I just didn’t. It is about a pedophile and his victim, she was 12 and he was 40 at the time. In the present — Williams character 27 years old, confronts Daniels character at his workplace to relive the past. I didn’t see the original casting of this play when it was off-Broadway, perhaps I would have enjoyed that version more. The monologues were too frenzied and for most of the play I found the acting unbelievable. They can’t all be winners…
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One of my favorite performances of the year was Swan Lake by the American Ballet Theatre. I know, I know – most ballet companies perform Swan Lake, and yes, I’ve seen it before. Though I won’t divulge how many times. But…I was determined to see Misty Copeland dance. Copeland is the first African American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in NY and that’s a huge deal. When I was young, I practiced ballet, tap and modern dance. Let’s just say there wasn’t much diversity in my ballet world. I could watch Copeland solo for hours, her amazing lines, fluidity and graceful movement on stage is stunning. When I read that she would dance the role of Odile/Odette l in Swan Lake last season, I had to go because I didn’t want to run the risk of her never dancing that role again, and missing it. She was spectacular. It was a little emotional to look around and see so many beautifully dressed young girls watching an older image of themselves onstage in one of the most famous ballet roles in history. Copeland is an example that hard work and perseverance leads to dreams coming true.

Winter Adventures in New York

This was the first winter in several years spent mostly in New York. Typically December and early January are full of travel to visit with my family, the significant other’s family and a final quiet place to decompress and gear up for a new year of constant work, travel for work, and hardly any time off.

This year was a little different partially because my long-term work project finished at the end of the summer, which permitted a bit of a break. So it seemed like a good year to enjoy the New York holiday festivities. We spent a few days in Indy with family and then returned to New York for a bit of a staycation.

One day while a friend and I were museum hopping, we headed out to the Met Cloisters. The museum sits atop Fort Tryon Park and overlooks the Hudson River. We arrived almost at closing so we quickly ran through the museum and then went outside to take pictures of the gorgeous view.

It seems that I am forever taking photographs in Central Park but the familiar spots always seem different depending on the weather, season or time of day.

A few days before Christmas we decided to brave the crowds at Rockefeller Center to see the famous annual Christmas Tree. I’m not big on holiday traditions. You won’t find me standing outside all day, unable to eat, drink or use the WC — waiting for the infamous ball to drop in New York, ever. But for a fleeting moment going to look at the tree seemed like a good idea.

As I grow older, navigating large crowds becomes less tolerable. Let’s just say, visiting two days before Christmas wasn’t my best idea ever but we made it through the crazy blocks and blocks of crowds to the tree, we took our pictures, and checked it off the bucket list. Trying to leave was even more difficult. Glad we did it; can’t imagine going again.

On one of the coldest days of the year, we took the Harlem line to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. Why, when almost none of the flowers are blooming would we visit in winter? Well, I love fall/winter foliage colors – and I needed to secure my year-long-free admission before the end of December…The gardens are gorgeous. The Bronx River, complete with waterfall, flows through a section of trails that is more park than garden. We spent a while walking around but left right before it started to snow.

It’s amazing to find so many green outdoor spaces in New York, whether in Manhattan or in the boroughs. Looking forward to visiting the Cloisters and Fort Tryon again soon, and heading to the Bronx Botanical gardens in the spring, summer and next fall.

Indy for the Holidays

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Almost every year part of our holiday merriment happens in Indianapolis. It’s become a tradition. The visit is typically a winter wonderland filled with snow and single digit temperatures. Growing up in California, I did not experience that type of cold often, but since living on the east coast, I’ve adjusted my definition of cold. A secret about me – every time I emerge from a warm dwelling into the, let’s say, 2° weather, I automatically giggle. True story, no explanation, it just happens.

While in Indy, we visit family and friends for a few days, visit museums, theatre and other cultural events, and venture out on our own for a few meals. There are favorite restaurants we frequent with the family and those we frequent independently by form of habit and comfort. I’m a fairly adventurous person, though experimenting with food is not very easy because of my allergies. Though, every year it seems easier as vegan friendly options appear on menus and more vegan restaurants pop up outside of my metropolis.

This year the family outing was the Indianapolis Ballet performance of the Nutcracker at the Old National Center. The Nutcracker is one of my favorite ballets from childhood and it’s nice to see it when possible. Although I am grateful to live in NY where I have easy access to Broadway, dance, opera, and more, I love being able to take in and support local arts in other communities as well. Following the Nutcracker, we had a family dinner at Saigon Vietnamese restaurant, which is climbing my list of favorite Indy restaurants. It is a traditional menu but they always make sure my vegetable option is vegan.

While in town we also stopped at Cafe Patachou, which has a little something for everyone. It used to be a place we frequented for lunch but after trying their Vegan Cuban Breakfast, I’m always angling for a morning visit now. In the trying something new category – we went to the Sinking Ship for lunch. The website drew us in with its substantial vegan menu and the establishments snarky rules, including what will be playing on the TV and no kids allowed. They have a couple of locations, one of which might allow kids. The location we visited is a proper bar meant for adult beverages and adult conversations…It has a college vibe, good music and fantastic vegan comfort food. They do have a full menu for carnivores as well. Recommendations – chili mac, mac & tease, buffalo seitan wings, and star tots.

Until the next time…

New York touristy attractions for the local and visitor

Last month my uncle Ken visited me in New York, which presented an opportunity to explore the city in new ways.

Normally, I spend a lot of time walking in Central Park, but had never taken a pedicab before. Our driver was very knowledgeable of the statues and other landmarks in the park. It’s a great way to see the park, especially for those who cannot walk long distances. My recommendation is to pay cash at the park, instead of purchasing tickets online, and haggle over the price.

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There were several bus tours on our itinerary. First, we took a Brooklyn tour, which was okay but as someone who spends time in Brooklyn, I recommend just taking the subway over and walking around the neighborhoods that you want to see. We also took a bus tour through Harlem and Queens. It’s a good tour and worth checking out, it even stops at Yankee stadium for a photo op. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain the day we went, which made it much harder to see from the bus, and taking good pictures was impossible. On a sunny day, it would be great though.

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During this visit we also went on a few harbor cruises. This is actually the main touristy go-to item on my list when I travel to places along a coast, near a river or lake. We settled on a full loop harbor cruise. For the architecture and bridge lovers – this is your tour. This 2.5-hour tour also offers a great historical journey of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn skylines.

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We took the boat tour to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Honestly, my photos of lady liberty were much better from the boat than the island. It is definitely worth doing but with limited time, I’d take photos from the boat and go straight to Ellis Island, otherwise plan on this as your all day experience. The museum on Ellis Island is fantastic; many of the people who passed through the island have donated personal items to the museum. There is also a computer area where visitors can pay a nominal fee and look up and print or email their family records. We had limited time to spend looking up records but luckily the public can access these records from the comfort of their home as well, which is on my list of my new projects.

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For those who appreciate architecture, take the Ellis Island hard hat tour. It’s a 90 minute guided tour of the abandoned immigrant hospital buildings; the proceeds are going toward renovation.

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I love architectural photography, especially abandoned urban structures and old houses. The buildings are amazing and the history of the hospital was fascinating. A word of warning — it’s hot in summer and there isn’t anywhere to sit, so make sure you are up to doing the tour. I’ll probably go again so that I can take more photos.

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We visited the 9/11 Memorial and took the walking tour of the neighborhood. Our guide told her own personal story about her experiences on that day as well as describing how the tragedy unfolded in the neighborhood and throughout the city. Our group walked to the small church that was the only building in the neighborhood without damage, we went to the memorial pools, and then the museum. It’s a somber tour but part of our history that should be talked about and remembered. The memorial pools include the nearly 3000 names of the victims of 9/11. Every day a single white rose is placed next to the names of those with birthdays on that day.

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One night we went to see the Book Mormon on Broadway. I had seen it before, but it has been a few years. There were even a few references that had been updated since I watched it the first time. Another night we checked out Terra Blues club. It was my fist visit and definitely not my last.

I can’t seem to write a blog without talking about food. Here are a few highlights of restaurants with a little something to satisfy a carnivore and vegan. Benares Indian near central park in midtown has a great lunch buffet, Yum Yum Thai in Hells Kitchen is a great post-Theater spot, Pelligrino is classic Italian in Little Italy, New Malaysia is my favorite hidden gem in China town, and Maz Mezcal Mexican, Bangkok Thai, and Agora Turkish are local Upper East Side staples. Finally, a couple of cocktail spots — Gotham west market is a popular artisan food court on the West Side near the Hudson river (think Pike’s Place in Seattle) – inside, GENUINE Roadside serves food and great cocktails. The Penrose, a hidden treasure on the Upper East Side makes a splendid pickle martini.

Intrepid sea, air and space museum

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Recently, a friend and I took advantage of the Smithsonian Museums free day and went to see the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the Hudson River in New York. The museum is housed on the aircraft carrier Intrepid.

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A little history on the Intrepid – the aircraft carrier launched in 1943, served in World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. In the 1960s it functioned as a NASA recovery vessel and was decommissioned in 1974.

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As we wandered around the different decks, we viewed planes, items from the Intrepid and space artifacts.

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Videos accompany the interactive exhibits. It also has great interactive spaces for kids and adult kids to climb into space exhibits and virtual simulators, including ship bunks to climb in, space pods, a practice captain’s deck and more.

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Some of the planes on display include: Navy planes, spy planes and the Concorde.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the submarine Growler because the Intrepid was packed full of visitors. While we were in line to go through the submarine we were told we most likely wouldn’t make it inside before they stopped the line. It was still worth the visit just to walk around the Intrepid Next visit — the Growler.

 

A girl’s period should not be an obstacle to education

During my time consulting for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), I had the privilege of working with Neema Namadamu, the founder of Maman Shujaa, an organization that uses digital media to broadcast the voices of women peacemakers from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ms. Namadamu is involved in other endeavors as well, including piloting the Girl Ambassadors for Peace (GA4P) program in DRC with GNWP. She is a tireless advocate for women’s rights, the rights of the disabled, for her community and for the environment. She advocates for people’s rights around the world and often speaks on panels at the United Nations in New York and at conferences globally.

Recently, while promoting a new film that she appears in, Merci Congo, by Paul Freedman, she provided updates on programs at Maman Shujaa in Bukavu, South Kivu (DRC), including the GA4P program.

GNWP’s Girl Ambassadors are educated young women who undergo training on how to conduct literacy education, as well as learning about leadership, and the principles of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 1820.While the GA4P program has a core curriculum it also allows for additional activities to be adapted for each country or regionally inside of a country in order to focus on the most relevant issues to the community. For example, the activities of the Girl Ambassadors in one community might focus on public events for World Literacy Day and World Day of Peace, while another would focus on involvement in radio broadcasts and PSAs to promote women’s empowerment and peacebuilding.

One of the main objectives of the GA4P program is to raise literacy rates of girls and young women in rural communities where girls are often marginalized and receive little to no education. After the program had been implemented, Ms. Namadamu identified another often-overlooked obstacle to girl’s education that in most developed countries would not prohibit girls from attending school — menstruation.

Because of cultural traditions, rural women in DRC often have a difficult time discussing menstruation with their daughters, creating a lack of awareness about the importance of hygiene and health care. Most girls do not understand the how’s and why’s of hygiene products. Moreover, women and girls in some developing countries do not have access to basic feminine hygiene products such as sanitary napkins and tampons, or reusable sanitary pads. If they do have access, the store might be too far to travel to regularly or the products are too expensive to purchase; relegating girls to use fabric from old clothing in poor condition, or cornhusks, newspaper, mattress stuffing and leaves. When girls start their periods at school, there isn’t a nurse or anyone to explain what is happening to them. In many cases at home they are told that they are now a woman and ready for marriage, which signals an end to their education.  If the girl returns to school, she is often teased by the boys causing feelings of self-consciousness and low self-esteem.  In DRC, a girl’s period often disrupts daily activities with some girls missing four to five days of school per month.

In response, Ms. Namadamu started the Keep Congolese Girls in School program in Itombwe, Eastern DRC, and held fundraisers in Europe and the United States to send three of the Girl Ambassadors to a four-week training in Kampala, Uganda at Days for Girls Uganda. The young women learned how to construct and sew “The Days for Girls Menstrual Hygiene kit (DfG kit),” and also how to make soap in order to clean the reusable sanitary napkins. The washable kit includes two shields, eight reusable liners, a cloth bag to carry the kit, and costs approximately $5.00 to produce one kit.

The Girl Ambassadors initially made 300 kits and conducted training in Itombwe on how to make and use the kits, along with the importance of hygiene. The young women made a second run of 750 kits, as well as collecting 600 bras for distribution.

Menstruating is a normal function of womanhood and in most Western countries, it is not an obstacle to girls attending school. This is a preventable issue that should not continue to be an obstacle to girl’s education. Programs such as Keep Congolese Girls in School fills a gap that has been overlooked for some time and provides an inexpensive solution that focuses on knowledge sharing, training and use of accessible materials. The project has also created employment for young women in the region.

Programs such as Keep Congolese Girls in School would be an excellent component of the GA4P program in South Sudan and other countries where girls struggle to attend and remain in school. Hopefully GNWP will be able to pursue this project with the GA4P in South Sudan, where menstruation is also an obstacle to a girl’s education.

For more about Neema Namadamu and the Keep Congolese Girls in School program click on the link to watch this interview with Neema by Catherine Gray of 360 Karma for the You Go Girl series.

Donations for the Keep Congolese Girls in School program or other Maman Shujaa programs can be made at: https://herowomenrising.networkforgood.com/.