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.

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.

 

New York Artcation

This month during a little down time, a few museum excursions in New York took place.

First up, the Met. I finally made it to a few exhibits that I had wanted to see before they closed, plus a few permanent favorite collections.

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The Design for Eternity exhibit displayed intricate architectural models from the first millennium B.C. until the 16th century, created from ceramic, wood, stone, and metal. This was probably my favorite exhibit of the day.

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Divine Pleasures: paintings from India’s Rajput Courts are vibrantly colored mythological scenes. It was a small showcase but worth viewing.

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Call me weird but I could look at antique furniture and glass lamps, vases, bowls, etc., all day long, and the Furniture of the Gilded Age display definitely drew me in.

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I also wandered around the general furniture collection that includes Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and items from the Vanderbilt collection among others.

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Cornelia Parker’s rooftop PsychoBarn is my favorite rooftop display so far and looks like something I’d live in. If only it was a real house.

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The Astor Chinese Garden Court is a wonderful space in the middle of the museum. It always makes me feel calm and it’s a nice place for a quiet break from the throngs of people.

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The newly opened Met Breuer, which previously held Whitney exhibits, is a petite vertical space, with short-term rotating exhibits spread among five floors. The Estela Breuer café was scheduled to open this summer but has been delayed. It is now set to launch next month.

I recently viewed two completely different and equally fantastic exhibits. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed at either exhibit.

The Diane Arbus “in the beginning” exhibit is a broad representation of her early work. It includes never-before-seen pictures from 1923–71, plus a few society shots of women that I had seen previously. There is a fantastic mad men-esk shot of a secretary in New York City, plus pictures of strippers, female impersonators, circus performers, little people and children.

Paul Klee’s Exhibit was also intriguing. His work, which I had never seen before, is more along the lines of Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Some of his pieces definitely have a Pablo Picasso sensibility. His sense of humor is one of the elements of his paintings that I enjoyed the most.

 

 

Final Thoughts on 2015 New York Theatre and Dance Performances

This has been one of my favorite Theatre seasons in New York, though it’s possible that I say those words every year. Let’s face it – there are winners, losers and those where the cast is great but the writing is so-so, and vice versa. Nothing was a loser but there was some in between.

 

Many of the plays on the top of my list were Round About Theatre productions.

 

Lost Girls was my favorite off-Broadway play of the season. Piper Perabo known for her turn as a spy in the TV show Covert Affairs drew me to the play but the well-rounded cast held my attention. The story revolves around a struggling mom and three generations of women who haven’t always made the best choices – and there’s a whole lot of potty mouth.

 

The Roundabout Theatre Company produced Ugly Lies the Bone in their black box theatre. Though not my favorite play of the season, the performance by Mamie Gummer as the wounded war veteran suffering from intense chronic pain and emotional distress was a standout performance. Gummer’s fiery portrayal of this resolute young woman struggling to piece her life together after war was captivating.

 

The play Old Times, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company made me want to read the entire Harold Pinter catalog of plays. The performances by Clive Owen, Kelly Reilly and Eve Best are fantastic. Riley and Best are former roommates who haven’t seen each other in 20 years. There is a tension and an underlying sense of discomfort that the characters exude while telling different versions of past experiences. Owen finally reveals that he had his own past with Best’s character. The reminiscing captivated the audience but at times the changes in the set were a distraction.

 

Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is a must see classic. It has a fantastic cast — Nicola Walker and Mark Strong lead a strong ensemble. This reimagined version has a stark set and relies solely on the actors to tell the story of a Brooklyn longshoreman trying to keep his inner demons at bay while housing illegal Italian immigrants related to his wife. It’s an intense two-hour play but the time passed quickly.

 

Thérèse Raquin is a gothic melodrama about a woman who is resigned to her fate. She is quiet and faraway for the first half of the play until she enters into an affair. She is only happy momentarily though, because the man she has an affair with murders her husband. When they try to build a life after her husband’s death, he haunts them and she plunges into misery again. Keira Knightley, Matt Ryan, Gabriel Ebert, Judith Light and more make up this fantastic ensemble.

 

My guilty pleasure of 2015 – Chicago – featured Amra-faye Wright and Rumer Willis. Ever since watching Willis dance on DWTS, I’ve wanted to see her in something else – she didn’t disappoint. Along with being a dancer, she also has a fantastic voice. Chicago is a classic, which I’ve seen before but it’s a fun show — fairly long though, so prepare to settle in if you want to see it.

 

Closing out 2015, is one of my top three dance companies – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Normally, I attend three different nights so that I can catch all of the premieres and also watch other pieces that I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one night this season but the line up was all work I had never seen before. I’m so happy I finally saw Polish Pieces (1996). No Longer Silent (Ailey premiere 2015) was fantastic, but Untitled America: First Movement (2015) and Exodus (2015) were just stunning.

What’s new at The Metropolitan Museum of Art?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to spend the day — and I still haven’t made it all the way through the museum.

 

What to see when you only have a few hours – the new African exhibit, the usual favorites, and whatever is leaving by the end of the month…

IMG_3891The pieces in the Kongo: Power and Majesty’ exhibit depict a dark time in the history of what is today known as Congo (DRC), previously known as the Kingdom of Kongo, when the Portuguese colonizers staked their claim. What remains of the last surviving limestone column that trader Diogo Cão hauled with him in 1483 to claim the Kongo for the Portuguese is on display.

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Also on display are intricately carved elephant tusks and woven palm-fiber textile panels with abstract geometric designs. They also have prestige caps worn by the elite men, as well as shrine and power figures. Created in the second half of 19th century, these Mangaaka power figures were created as a defensive measure. The feet are raised on platforms, knees slightly bent, white ceramic inserts for eyes – they are meant as an intimidating representation of Kongo leaders.

 

I have seen a lot of African art, whether in countries in Africa or at museums around the world. Those who believe that Africa does not have its own culture and traditions should visit the Met in New York or the Musée du Louvre in Paris. I digress — It’s a great exhibit worth viewing.

 

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The other exhibit on the must see list today was Discovering Japanese Art – it closes on September 27th. This exhibit is full of interesting pieces including scrolls, floral scenes, textiles, porcelain, statues and even a screened in room.

I wasn’t bowled over by the garden itself on the rooftop of the Met but the view is priceless. Perhaps there would be less people on a weekday and it would be more enjoyable.

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Next time – Iran and other Asian art is on the list. This shot is from the Chinese collection.

 

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