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.

 

 

Finding food, nature, and art in Chicago

A recent weekend getaway to Chicago, was full of relaxation, exploration and visiting with relatives who I rarely have the opportunity to spend time with.

Most of my time in Chicago was spent in the downtown Loop area. While walking through Millennium Park, I heard a live band playing Frank Sinatra and big band staples, a favorite genre of mine. So, I wandered over to the bandshell and found a party for seniors going on – apparently my age group now…it was a fun time.

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I continued wandering around Lurie Garden, took the BP Pedestrian Bridge to Maggie Daley Park (rock climbing and tennis), walked to Grant Park (Buckingham Fountain), and then walked the Lakefront trail.

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After sitting and watching the sailboats, I walked to Native Foods Café in the Loop for lunch. Whew, that was a bit of a trek.

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Next up: Navy Pier for a relaxing afternoon including a boat tour of the shoreline, taking in the sights from the pier and a short break at Harry Caray’s Tavern to enjoy a beer on the patio and a little reading.

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My niece showed me around her neighborhood, and we spent time chatting and people watching at Chicago Riverwalk.

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We also ventured out to some great cafes and restaurants. My top picks for coffee/tea spots in the Loop are the Goddess and the Baker and Peach and Green, which both also have good food options. As for food, Silver Spoon Thai is a new favorite, along with low key and affordable Flaco’s Tacos, and Naf Naf Grill.

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One afternoon, we went to the wondrous Kerry James Marshall exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. His work depicts everyday scenes from a barber shop, a bedroom, to housing projects in Chicago’s South Side, where he where he has lived and worked since the late 1980s. As we moved through the exhibit the diverse themes were clear. His work is poignant, full of symbology and images that add another layer of meaning to each painting. This is the most excited I’ve been about a living painter in a long, long time. Marshall’s work travels to New York next, the Met Breuer. I’ll be going again.

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My final day was spent with family catching up. Over the past few years I have become more interested in genealogy. This trip was also an opportunity to learn more about my family history, specifically those who came from Eastern Europe, and when they arrived in the USA. Hopefully, I didn’t make my relatives too crazy with all of my questions.

Toronto Food Extravaganza

As luck would have it, a vegan food festival was set to take place during our visit to Toronto, Canada. Officially called Toronto food and drink festival, the producers of the festival also have an annual festival in Chicago (USA), the fest is held at Fort York, downtown Toronto near the waterfront.

Because it was extremely hot during our visit, combined with the reviews from 2015 festival that indicated food was running low by late afternoon, we decided to go early in the day. It was steamy by the time we arrived in the late morning, but it still ended up being a good decision.

The fest was set up like a traditional festival with food, drinks, textiles, and make up for sale with bands playing and a DJ. They also had a something I haven’t seen before, but very necessary…that all festivals should have — hand washing stations near the porta potties.

We started making our way around the perimeter to take it all in, and then decided what we wanted to try.

We started with Two Bears cold brew bottled coffee. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of flavored coffee but we were there to try new things. Their maple pecan cold brew was a winner, and decently priced. I hope they find their way into some NYC shops soon. We also tried Well Juicery, cold press juices – they are very tasty and were a Pocky favorite. Another drink favorite of mine — Tonica Kombucha. They were out of my go to — green tea, so we tried mango and peach flavors. It’s my new favorite Kombucha.

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After hitting a few stands the rains came which started cooling down the temperature a bit but also made it hard to eat as the only tents were over the vendors. So we just waited out the rains in between munching on snacks.

Next we tried Bunners bake shop. They make sweets and savory items. We tried the pizza bun. It’s a funky little snack. It had the consistency of a cinnamon bun with pizza flavor. Tasted great but if you have food texture issues it might take a minute to reconcile the texture and flavor sensation.

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Vegan Nom is a vegan taco truck from Austin (Texas) that was on my list to try. They had long lines and a wait time of 30 minutes after the order was placed. We tried the mock-fish tacos. It’s a breaded protein in a corn tortilla, which worked for me but Pocky wasn’t bowled over by the dish – probably because he still eats fish.

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We also stopped by the other Austin (Texas) vegan favorite, Arlo’s, equally as long of a wait. This was Pocky’s favorite stop. He had the cheeseburger, which he said was fantastic. Unfortunately for me, it had mushrooms (allergic) in it, so I had to pass. Next time I’m in Austin stopping at their curbside kitchen (food truck) is a must.

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For me, Doug Mcnish was a standout and I wanted one of everything but decided on just the buffalo wings. He has a popular restaurant in Toronto and I was a little sad we weren’t going to make it there, until I realized he was cooking at the festival. The wings were fantastic! He was also selling swag and cookbooks. We picked up his first book. For those looking for inventive, well-executed vegan food, try his place The Public Kitchen in Toronto.

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As I made my way to Thiru’s Gourmet, the next downpour of rain started. I grabbed a box with three different curried veg and tofu dishes but the rain was coming down so hard we couldn’t eat. Instead, we made our way over to Sweets from the Earth to pick up desserts to go. (We ended up eating them later in the evening. Their lavender cupcakes are heavenly and the whoopie pie reminded me of being a kid. Amazing flavors.)

The plan was to make a run for it to the parking garage but halfway there our box of food was collapsing from the rain so we stood under an over pass and and quickly shoveled it in…It was really good and really entertaining for those watching.

 

 

Vegan comfort food in Toronto, Canada

This post is overdue…but sometimes it is more important to be in the moment and enjoy life.

Toronto is one of my favorite spots to visit because it can go from busy and adventurous to relaxing in the span of about 10 minutes. There is a little something for everyone.

From restaurants to resorts, Ontario Canada offers options for people with a range of dietary needs. Honestly, it is far easier for me to find better quality food options outside of cosmopolitan areas in Canada than in the USA. But in once instance during this vacation, we planned ahead just in case.

A few years ago I visited Toronto and most of my restaurant hopping happened in the popular King Street and Kensington Market areas, but as with any bustling city restaurants come and go. Unfortunately a few favorites have gone, but during this visit, trying new things mostly led to positive results and exploration of a new charming neighborhood — Bloorcourt.

Let’s start with the food fail. We chose Sabai Sabai Thai on Church Street for its vegan menu. It’s a very popular place and we waited in line quite a while. Once seated, we ordered dishes and I requested that they take the mushrooms off a dish, because I am allergic. The server came back and explained that mushroom powder was in their spice mix for every dish. As an aside — it was super hot outside and we had been walking around for hours…(insert sigh and an eye roll). We got up and walked out, me with a pouty expression that quickly turned to laughter about the vegan who can’t eat a thing on the vegan menu…

So, we ended up at Golden Thai, also on Church Street, and they were able to make us lovely Thai food without any issues.

The next day we roamed around the once derelict Victorian industrial complex, now known as the Distillery, and we stopped in to shop at Soma chocolatemaker, Bergo Designs, Fluevog shoes and more. We took a chance and tried Mill St Brewery for lunch, as one can imagine pub food not always a good bet for vegans. However this place has a little something for everyone, including beer. Mmmn tater tots, pretzels with spicy mustard, Moroccan Falafel Salad, and a Southwest Veggie Burger. No, not all for me! They offer a wide variety of beer’s – Altbier and 100th Meridian, yes, please.

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Next we walked to St. Lawrence Market. Originally a wooden structure, this market dates to the early 1800s. A fire took out the original structure and the market was rebuilt using brick. This place is foodie heaven. For those who enjoy fish, meat, cheese etc. this is a great place to purchase food and there are a few super popular restaurant stalls as well. There are also venders selling bread, nut butters, oils, bulk foods, coffee, pastries, and fruits and veg. We decided to plan ahead for our trip to Niagara Falls, in case there weren’t vegan food options, and picked up fruit, olives and other fresh items that would survive a night in our hotel room and a trip to the falls. They actually do have food choices along the falls but I was happy to have a fresh snack on the drive back to Toronto.

One morning we stopped by Karine’s vegan breakfast. It’s a cool local spot in a food court. It’s a hidden gem (literally). If you aren’t a local it takes a minute to figure out where it is located. We chose amazing waffles and pancakes, with fruit and coffee. The food was dessert like and way too much for me to eat all of it, but I sure did try. Karine seemed to be feeding a morning rush of construction workers when we arrived. She is very sweet and the food was fantastic.

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On another night we stuffed ourselves at the: Hogtown Vegan on Bloor Street West. They are the kings of vegan comfort food in Toronto. We shared several large dishes —

mac n’ cheese, buffalo wings and chili cheese fries. I could eat that mac n’ cheese every day, but that wouldn’t be very figure friendly. Just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have calories…

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The final stand out was Bloomers, a vegan café on the same street at Hogtown. They serve breakfast and lunch – but they are known for their donuts, and this girl won’t miss the chance to nom nom an amazing vegan donut. We stopped on our way to the airport, basically as soon as they opened. The thing to know about Bloomers is that once you arrive you can relax with coffee or tea but you will need to wait about a half hour for the donuts to be ready. For the full brunch menu, you’ll wait an hour. The anticipation was palpable and watching them cool on the counter was torture. We chose strawberry and cinnamon options. Amazing – and on par with the Holy donut in Maine, USA. I wanted to take one or two for the road, but that just would have been gluttonous…

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Canada’s wondrous views

Toronto is one of my favorite cities and it’s a quick flight from New York. There is so much to do in Toronto, from outdoor adventures, sports, festivals, Evergreen Brick Works, and High Park, to a thriving arts and culture scene. The city has numerous breweries and is a foodie paradise with something for everyone. The city is broken up into districts with two Chinatowns, Koreatown, Little Italy, Cabbagetown, etc. Also, funky areas chock-full of food and shopping, such as King and Queen streets, Kensington Market, the Distillery, Yonge & Bloor, and West Bloor – a popular vegan culinary hub.

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The CN Tower is 1,815 feet high, has a glass floor, look out level, skypod, restaurants, and shopping. The views from the look out level are fantastic, but the skypod level is even better, and is the best spot for photos.

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Looking down through the glass floor is amazing but those with a fear of heights will have a hard time looking down or standing on the glass. I enjoy heights but even I naturally gravitated to the steel crosses in between the glass and had to remind myself that it was okay to stand on the glass.

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I wanted to do the edge walk, where an individual is attached to a harness and walks around the tower on a ledge 116 stories in the sky, but we were on a schedule… maybe next time.

 

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We decided to drive to Niagara Falls instead of purchasing a package tour and taking a bus or train. The drive between Toronto and the falls takes about an hour and a half and parking is only a short walk from the falls. Driving also allows for picking and choosing other activities along the border, such as visiting the gardens or a tower similar to the CN in Toronto. However, for those wanting to partake in the wine tours, either have a designated driver or opt for the package tour. There is a strip with casinos, an arcade, miniature golf, and typical fast food joints – it’s a smaller version of Las Vegas.

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Though we didn’t see as much as planned, our experience was fantastic. The main obstacle was that we were in Canada during a heat wave and after three days in the hot hot heat, another full day was too much for me. We walked around and took in the falls and then did the boat tour, which is absolutely worth the money. Wear something comfortable and have a change of clothing, if possible. We were drenched even with the plastic ponchos but considering how hot it was, the cold water was a relief.

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The view from the Canadian side of the falls is spectacular and worth the drive across the boarder.
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Even though boat tours are available from the American side of the falls, the view from Canada of the top of the falls on the American side shouldn’t be missed.

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Next we hopped into a pod (air conditioned) on the skywheel, which provided another gorgeous view of the American side of Niagara Falls and a much needed respite from the blazing heat before making the drive to Toronto.

No food, no friendship

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While in Nairobi, a friend and I visited the Giraffe Centre. The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (Kenya) breeds giraffes at the center and reintroduces them on the protected wild areas of land surrounding the center — 140 acres of indigenous forest. Their main focus is to provide conservation education to youth while providing a safe haven for the giraffes.

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The center offers several areas, including elevated platforms where visitors are able to feed food pellets to giraffes and watch warthogs scramble around near their feet. There is a snack bar, gift shop and outdoor area where large pieces of art are available for purchase. They also have a hotel, where the giraffes wander the property and occasionally poke their heads through windows looking for snacks.

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Though I love being able to see animals up close and interact with them when possible, I am very conscious of our responsibility as humans to act appropriately and not do anything to interfere with or disrupt their habitat.

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While at the center, I had the opportunity to feed several of the giraffes and it was fantastic; they are full of personality. However, there were a few cringe worthy moments. One tourist attempted to put his arm around the neck of a giraffe to take a photo and received a headbutt in response, as one of the trainers politely remarked – “No food, no friendship.” A woman also tried to feed a pellet to a giraffe from her mouth. I kept my inside thought about what I hoped would happen to her to myself. How to feed the giraffes is clearly spelled out to people before they receive the food, but does it really need to be? Does an adult really need to be told that they could spread germs to the giraffe and that it is potentially dangerous to feed an unsupervised wild animal from their mouth…why can’t adults just follow the rules? The magnitude of people lacking common sense never ceases to amaze me.

Aside from people behaving badly, the experience at the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (Kenya) is fantastic and worth the visit.


Our final excursion was to Kazuri beads in Nairobi. Kazuri is the Swahili word for “small and beautiful.” In many countries around the globe, including Kenya, it is often quite difficult for women, especially single or widowed mothers to find decent paying jobs. Kazuri, founded by Lady Susan Wood, provides training and skills for a permanent career for women. Kazuri currently employs 350 women and their crafts are sold around the world.

We visited on a Sunday and were unable to watch the women make the beads but they did have guides on hand to provide a tour of the compound and show what happens in each building, from shaping, polishing, firing to painting the beads and ceramics. The tour ends in the gift shop. The jewelry is exquisite and the pottery is gorgeous, needless to say, a little shopping took place.

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Exports and infrastructure ~ Kenya

The drive from Isiolo County to Nairobi offers a relaxing scenic landscape. The view of Mount Kenya alone, an extinct volcano at 5,199 m, is worth a look see. Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site – it’s stunning.

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We also came across many fruit and vegetable stands along the way. As a tourist it’s best to go with easily peelable fruit at the stands, if it’s meant as an immediate snack, otherwise it needs a good scrub.

Kenya is one of the largest flowers producers in Europe, thanks in part to its ability to produce flowers year round without using greenhouses. Though known as a pastoralist area, numerous farms stretch along both sides of the road between Isiolo and Mt. Kenya. As we drove toward Nairobi at 6:00am we could see men and women walking to the farms to begin their workday. Children were also out in droves walking alongside the road in their red, green and blue uniforms on their way to school.

One of the other sights that caught my eye was the roadside garden center. In the United States (U.S.), the equivalent would be if garden centers were set up on the shoulder or in the median strip of the highway. The Kenyan garden centers carry trees, plants, flowers and gorgeous colorful pots and other accessories. The centers seem to be quite popular. We passed several on the way to Nairobi and later found more of them along main streets in a more urban center near Bungoma.

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For our journey from Nairobi to Bungoma, we flew from the Nairobi Airport to the Eldoret airport, then drove to Bungoma. It’s about an hour flight, and another two – three hour drive depending on traffic, versus a nine-hour drive. We flew Fly540. Eldoret is a small airport but clean and efficient. The Nairobi airport is also a breath of fresh air compared to some of the more rough and ready airports I’ve travelled through in the past two years.

Kenya is more developed than many of the countries that I have spent time in recently. Though, that doesn’t matter to me most days, when it comes to extensive driving — infrastructure starts to matter. For example, the lack of paved roads in some countries turns a 1.5-hour drive in the U.S. to a 7-hour drive on dirt roads. It’s also rough on the body as the vehicle slams endlessly into ditches that resemble moon craters and tosses a (hopefully) strapped in body around the entire time. Let’s just say, it was a pleasant surprise to find that Kenya’s main roads outside of Nairobi and across the country are paved.

Kenya’s investment in infrastructure is apparent — roads, aviation, ports and a foray into energy and solar power. That said, Kenya isn’t without its issues and poverty does exist. However, investment in the country by the government, coupled with its focus on exports, such as flowers and coffee is a good formula for continued development and makes Kenya a solid example on the continent for other countries struggling with growth.