Take a trip through history at the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York on 5th Ave is an eclectic treat. It’s right across from Central Park at 103rd St, and an easy stroll to my favorite hideaway in Central Park. They have a nice café with indoor seating, as well as a courtyard in front of the museum with seating, and a great shop with unique items. Make sure to walk up and down the stairwells, they are covered with funky photography murals.

The main gallery showcases Henry Hudson’s voyage into New York Harbor and tells the story of how it became the empire city and the Western Hemisphere’s busiest harbor. They have interactive exhibits featuring Alexander Hamilton, Chinatown legend Wong Chin Foo and anarchist Emma Goldman.

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The second gallery covers the modernization of New York — financial growth, cultural and social life, poverty and urban crowding and more.

The Beyond Suffrage exhibit was a comprehensive look at a century of political women in New York. It spans the1920s through 1960s and depicts causes such as health, labor, the liberation movement, equality, women’s campaigns and roles in government. It showcases political documents, garments – think Rosie the Riveter, photographs, and audio-visual materials.

My favorite Notorious RBG has a section.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Through a Different Lens features more than 120 photographs from the Look Magazine archive from his time as a staff photographer. This exhibit captures everyday life in NY.

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The Activism exhibit spans 17th century to current citizens in NY advocating and protesting together on issues such as civil rights, LGBTQ, wages, and religious freedom.

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Final theater roundup of 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged.

While visiting family in California in December, I broke my left foot and severely sprained my ankle. One would think that would lead to loads of free time to write and it did, but I didn’t think complaining about being stuck at home for months unable to walk would make for interesting reading.

Instead…this seemed like a great time to discuss the final two Broadway shows I attended of 2017.

It’s hard to believe that I hadn’t seen the musical Wicked before last year but since there are always so many amazing shows to see in New York…Wicked is one of those musicals that have been playing for quite awhile, so it was lower on my must see list. The top of that list usually features limited engagements or performances featuring particular actors that I want to see perform on stage at least once.

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A friend came to NY for a visit and Wicked was on her must see list – and voilà, now checked off the list. For the show we attended, Jackie Burns was the extremely green (color) Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper was the glittery Gliinda. For those unfamiliar, Wicked is the alternative version of the Wizard of Oz, and the story is told from the perspective of the witches. The singing voices of the two leads were fantastic and the show was pure fun.

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Farinelli and the King was the final show of the season for me. It was my favorite play that I’ve attended in at least two seasons. The spectacular Mark Rylance, known for performing Shakespeare and other period pieces on the stage and screen, played the lead. Rylance portrayed King Philippe V of Spain, whose mental health was questionable. Renowned singer Farinelli was hired to live with and perform for the King in the hopes that he would have a calming effect. Two individuals played Farinelli, Sam Crane was the actor, and in the scenes where Farinelli sang countertenor Iestyn Davies stood behind him and performed signing duties.

The first performance of 2018 that I will attend, the American Ballet Theater, is in May. Many of New York’s theatres do not have elevators, which ruled out most performances until now. Looking forward to seeing Misty Copeland and cast perform. If that goes well, fingers crossed, there will be other happenings to share soon.

Charlotte vegan eats

These days I do not spend a lot of time in Charlotte, NC. But when I do, I have a few favorite spots that I tend to visit along with the occasional new place.

One night I met friends at Thai House in University City. I really love the fried tofu appetizer. I order their vegetarian Massaman curry whenever I visit. I’ve had a hard time finding a veg version of Massaman that I like in New York, which probably seems strange, but is true.

For another visit with a friend, we had lunch at Le Kebab Grill, which I’ve been to a few times. Hummus, falafel, warm dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) – how can you go wrong?

Saigon Palace on South Blvd is still my go-to Vietnamese spot. I have to admit I order the same thing every time…they make the best veggie cold rolls, and the tofu and vegetables in garlic sauce is pretty tasty.

The night Pocky and I tried to go to the Flying Biscuit for dinner (our usual breakfast spot) we arrived and found they were closed. So we walked over to CO instead. CO is a pan-Asian chain with rice and noodle dishes, sushi and Vietnamese sandwiches. They have a separate vegan menu – just ask for it. The crispy edamame spring roll, the tofu summer rolls, spicy udon, and com chien (fried rice) are yummy. Next time though, I have to try the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. It’s always interesting to try vegan versions of the banh mi, sometimes they have tofu or seitan. One of the best I’ve ever eaten was vegetables and mashed spicy black beans. I should probably re-create that at home this week.

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Last up – Suarez bakery, my surprise find. For those who know me or follow on instagram – you’ll be familiar with my love of doughnuts (donuts). For years I was disappointed by the vegan “cake like” doughnuts sans frosting that were everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, “I’ll eat a good vegan cake doughnut, but for years they typically weren’t anything to get excited about. The choices now are incredible – Voodoo doughnuts, Dunwell or Cinnamon Snail in NY, Bloomer’s in Toronto, or the Holy Donut in Maine – all have spectacular offerings that even the pickiest non-vegan doughnut connoisseur would eat – old-fashioned, glazed, cruller, potato, etc.

So, I googled vegan donuts in Charlotte, and up popped Suarez bakery, which was a shock because they are a traditional bakery that I have walked past many times never realizing that inside…my favorite guilty pleasure awaited. They only have a few vegan options, but their doughnuts are legit. I’ll be dreaming about their vegan-glazed doughnut until the next visit.

A season of performances at the Metropolitan Opera

I had been to the Met before but it was to see a performance of the American Ballet Theatre. For that performance my seat was in the orchestra, which was amazing and expensive…the Met is a very well dressed crowd, everything from business wear to cocktail and formal dresses, though they’d still let you in with a more casual outfit on.

This season I was on a fairly tight budget and decided to try to see roughly the same amount of performances as usual for less money, which meant more balcony, and less orchestra seating.

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This season I was determined to attend the opera. My choice was Verdi’s Egyptian tragedy Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. For Aida I had Family Circle tickets, which is situated at the top of the building, whew it’s high up, but it’s affordable. The acoustics were fantastic but visually it was more difficult to clearly watch the performers. Violeta Moore played Aida. The production received some harsh critique and I’m not am opera expert…but I really enjoyed it.

Next up at the Met – two performances by the American Ballet Theatre, both featuring Misty Copeland. For each performance, I had seats in different sections of the Family Circle balcony.

I attended Don Quixote, with Misty Copeland in the role of Kitri, Aaron Scott as Sancho Panza, Jeffrey Chirio as Basilio, and Roman Zhurbin as Don Quixote. This ballet was an over the top flamboyant production, the perfect escape, and the two and a half hours flew by. Copeland and Chirio didn’t have much chemistry but she was amazing as always — perfect phrasing and gorgeous lines.

Next up was the romantic ballet Giselle with Copeland in the role of Giselle, Roman Zhurbin as Hilarion, and Alban Lendorf as Count Albrecht. This was a new ballet for Copeland, and her graceful lines and strong lightening fast turns were perfect for this gorgeous classic ballet.

Let’s return to the Family Circle section – for those on a budget this is an extremely affordable way to watch performances at the Met, but with a few things to bear in mind. In this section there are railing in front of all the seats with a built-in display to show the English translation of the Opera. The downside to this is if you are petite like I am, you will need to lean forward in order to have a clear view of the stage. It’s definitely difficult to see the performers facial expressions from that high up. With that said, I wouldn’t mind sitting up there for some of the performances but I’ll probably invest in opera glasses.

 

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.