Sunday, October 27, 2013

Brooklyn, Britten, and Bloody Marys

I loved this building. So gorgeous!
     While I've been sharing all my adventures in various neighborhoods of Manhattan, I haven't been venturing out to the other boroughs very much. So last weekend when I managed to coerce Andy to journey out to Brooklyn to see his friend in a recital, I leaped at the opportunity to explore this area of NYC together.

     Let's begin with the event that prompted our expedition to parts unknown: Britten in Song: A Centennial Celebration. This year would have been Britten's 100th birthday, and naturally as a result, there is an abundance of his works being performed. This event featured some of the composer's smaller vocal works--his art songs.

     The recital was splendidly performed by the two singers and their accompanist, and I was pleased to expand my knowledge of the composer's song repertoire. The location was equally beautiful and acoustically ideal, the recently renovated Brooklyn Historical Society. There were two other recitals that afternoon, but we decided that we weren't ready to handle that much Britten in one day.

     Once I had convinced Andy to make the trek out to Brooklyn with me (I make it sound difficult. He was much more willing than I let on.), my next goal was to get out there early enough for brunch.  As a big Bloody Mary fanatic, I've been looking to try as many epic versions of the drink as I can. The majority of my findings online seemed to point in the same direction...toward Brooklyn. My Bloody Mary craving was both satisfied and intrigued by our choice of brunch location, Char No. 4.

     I've only had traditional vodka based Bloody Marys before, so I was very curious about Char No. 4's Chipotle Bourbon Bloody Mary. I love whiskey, chipotle, and bloodies, so why wouldn't I love them in combination? I was not disappointed. It was rather sweet with as smooth finish, and while I don't know if bourbon surpassed vodka as the ideal liquor choice for this drink, I was surprised by how well it worked in the cocktail. I honestly expected it to be spicier. That was the only let down about the Bloody Mary, however, so if you are ever in Brooklyn and looking for a unique spin on the classic brunch cocktail, you should definitely give Char No. 4 a sample.

Farmer's Market
     After brunch and the recital, we figured since we were already out in the borough we might as well continue our explorations. Just a few blocks from the historical society, we stumbled upon a farmer's market and discussed our plan. The next stop on our agenda? Williamsburg (aka the Hipster Capital of the East Coast)

      This expedition resulted in yet another New York first: we navigated the NYC bus system! It was actually fascinating to traverse Brooklyn above ground. We could watch as the various neighborhoods transitioned into each other, and we even spotted a few Hasidic fashions on display. The variety and beauty of this city never ceases to amaze me. Finally we arrived in Williamsburg, ready to soak in as much hipster culture as our tolerance would allow.

     There were so many unique shops, restaurants, and bars in Williamsburg. It was hard to know where to begin. Luckily Andy was in the know as usual and immediately led the way to the flea markets. First we hit up the indoor shopping. I enjoyed just studying the vintage clothes, artwork, and jewelry. The space was jam packed with people, so often it felt like a battle to get to the next stall. I even got a compliment on my dress from a couple girls at a jewelry booth, so I am pleased to inform you that my fashion choices are hipster approved. I resisted the urge to purchase anything, however, which I consider my biggest success of the day. Being broke requires so much self-control!

     Throughout our Williamsburg wanderings, we encountered a ton of street art. Andy's enthusiasm for the art form has really rubbed off on me, and I even acted as his amateur model in a couple photographs that he took. I must be out of practice with my modelling skills, however, because I was pretty awkward and unaware of my limbs. He's an encouraging photographer despite all this, and with his suggestions, I think we managed to get a few nice shots.

     After the indoor shopping, we walked a block down to the outdoor flea market only to discover that it featured solely food stands. I'm a glutton, so this was fine by me...but Andy had been looking forward to perusing the more traditional flea market fare. We never did figure out why this weekend was only food, but I'm hoping we can make the trip out there again someday and enjoy the full flea market experience. My main dilemma of the afternoon was which of the many delicious looking entrees should I try? There was such a variety with everything from gourmet grilled cheese to sticky rice in a bamboo shoot! How could I choose just one?

     I ended up settling on my favorite Italian standby: gnocchi. I was a little more adventurous with my beverage choice however. Andy suggested that I give kombucha a try, and as usual he did not lead me astray with his advice. All in all it made for a tasty, refreshing meal, despite our disappointment in the gnocchi to vegetable ratio. What do they think we are? Health nuts? Heck no! More pasta and more cheese!

      The best part of the outdoor flea market space without a doubt was the view of Manhattan, and it was relaxing to spend an hour or so just wandering the rocky beach as Andy searched for sea glass and took photos the skyline.

     As we prepared to head back to Manhattan for the evening, we made one last pit stop at the cheese shop. It was a quaint little establishment and filled to the brim with customers. I've never seen so many kinds of cheese in one place! It was very exhilarating for my gluttonous side. Thankfully the shop attendant was more than willing to help us find a cheese that was just right. When we first entered the shop, Andy was quick to point out one cheese with a humorous name, "The Drunk Monk." Funnily enough that was the very first option our attendant picked for us when we asked for something "soft and stinky." She seemed amused by our request, but we were more than satisfied by her selection. It was the perfect end to our chaotic day, relaxing over stinky cheese and crackers.

     In retrospect, I found Brooklyn charming. It had a feeling that is very unique from Manhattan, and I would definitely love to make more trips out to the borough to discover the many sites and treasures that we didn't even begin to search out. As my adventures continue, I will try my best to be better about posting more regularly. It's never a dull moment these days, and with my helpful tour guide Andy leading the way, I am bound to have more exciting experiences to share. Who knows? I may even venture out to Queens and the Bronx sometime in the near future!

A view of Manhattan.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My First Con Experience

Photo credit: Andy Oakden
     I've had a lot of New York firsts recently, but last Thursday I had a completely nerdy first experience at the New York Comic Con. Andy mentioned months ago that it was happening in October, and I thought, "Yeah, that might be interesting." So by the time October rolled around and he brought it up again, my curiosity wouldn't let me resist.

Obi Wan striking a pose.
     Now, I know some of you may be disappointed that I didn't wear some sort of awesome cosplay outfit, but I had neither the time nor money to put something together. (I knew I should have purchased that vinyl cat suit like I always joked about it in college!) Instead I opted to wear one of my many nerdy t-shirts and just enjoy taking in all the creativity that others had put into their apparel.

     My initial impression upon entering the con was, "Well, thankfully I'm not claustrophobic because it is packed in here!" There were so many people, and this was only the first night! I don't even want to think about how mobbed that building got on the weekend. Let's just say it put my crowd navigation and dodging skills to the test...and all while trying to read the hefty program/map and to stay out of Andy's way when he was taking photos of comic book heroes and heroines. I must say it's a miracle I got out of there without getting jabbed by a katana or clocked by a Go Go Gadget Propeller Hat (an awesome costume by the way).

I could definitely use a Time-Turner.
      My next impression was, "I am way out of my depth here." I'm not really a comic reader or into anime, and I haven't played video games seriously for many years. I'm a nerd for sure, but my nerdy obsessions consist mainly of opera, musical theater, and books. The former two of these obsessions were not featured at the con at all (obviously), and while latter was represented, I had to work hard to seek out literary nerdiness in the chaos.

     My main fandom has always been Harry Potter, and of course it was the easiest to find. Don't worry. I resisted the urge to purchase more Slytherin apparel. (I already own a tie, a t-shirt, and a scarf. Pretty soon I'll have a whole outfit.)

     Of course, I got my Dr. Who fix while I was there too. I refused to strike a pose next to the giant Dalek pictured above much to Andy's frustration, but he also refused to pronounce Dalek we're even.

I couldn't find the real Alan Rickman, Aliese, but I found the next best Snape lookalike?

      Once again, Andy's interests led me to experience aspects of Comic Con that I otherwise would never have given a chance. The preview of the American Museum of Natural History's new exhibition, Dark Universe, turned out to be one of my favorite activities. It reminded me of all those elementary school trips to the science center where we'd learn about the constellations. Hopefully we'll get a chance to go check out the actual exhibition, and I'll be sure to share that with you.

     As I mentioned before, I am primarily a book nerd, so as soon as I saw the list of literary guests in the program I was determined to find some authors! And what a frustrating quest it was! We ventured down to the first level to both the autograph section and the panels (That's right there were three levels of con!), but authors were nowhere to be seen. So we acted practically and consulted the information desk...this was not helpful. All the guy did was tell us that the authors were in the big empty autograph room which we had already checked and then showed us the NYC Comic Con app which Andy had already been using. Ugh!

     I was tired, hungry, and limping (an unfortunate step ladder and ankle collision the day before). All these things in combination with being thwarted in my quest produced an epic sulk on my face. We persevered, however, and tried to console ourselves by heading over to the Artists Alley. After wandering down a few aisles and glancing at exquisite fanart and original comic creations, I spotted a banner that made me jump with glee: Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn.

Photo credit: Andy Oakden
(Seriously when have I ever taken
a photo that looks this good?)

     I had found him completely by accident!!! The literary gods had finally looked upon me favorably. If I could only meet one author on that list, I was so thrilled it would be him.

     For those of you who don't know who Peter S. Beagle is...Google him immediately! He's written great stuff, but he is best known for his fantasy novel, The Last Unicorn, which was turned into a cartoon movie in 1982. If you haven't seen the film, it is worth the watch. It is trippy and strange and in retrospect creepily sexual in a hilarious way, but it captivated me as a kid. The evil Red Bull freaked my toddler psyche completely. Peter S. Beagle wrote the screenplay for the film as well which makes it even better.

     I was surprised by how giddy and nervous I was to meet Peter S. Beagle. What was I supposed to say? I didn't have anything for him to sign! I think Andy found my panic amusing.

     There were a few people at the table, but they all seemed to busy talking to the man selling various editions of The Last Unicorn rather than the author. In fact, Peter S. Beagle looked downright BORED. So when I did work up the nerve to approach him, I reconciled my awkwardness with the fact that he looked relieved to have something to do other than stare off into space.

Photo credit: Andy Oakden
     HE. WAS. AWESOME. I cannot stress this enough. It was fascinating to learn more about him, and he didn't just talk at me. He was so sweet and genuinely interested in conversing. It felt like talking to a kind friend. He asked me tons of questions about myself, my move out to New York, my Iowan homeland, and opera.

     I am so glad to have met such an amazing literary figure. Plus he is fond of Iowa, grew up in the Bronx, and loves opera and theater. Apparently he used to sing French songs when he worked at a restaurant. I even dragged Andy into the conversation, forcing them to bond over being baritenors. Luckily Andy managed to document this great experience for me since I was too busy geeking out, or I would have nothing to show for it! The author also dutifully showed me how to sign up for their website after the salesman chastised him, so I'm looking forward to getting more Peter S. Beagle related news (provided I didn't screw up my email address because of my nerves...seriously, I struggled with typing).

     Also, the opera nerd was super intrigued to learn that Peter S. Beagle wrote a libretto for an opera?!?! He collaborated with composer David Carlson on an operatic version of his short story, "Come Lady Death." The Midnight Angel premiered in 1993 at Sacramento Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and Glimmerglass and had a recent revival in 2007 at Skylight Opera Theatre. I want to see this opera so bad! Nerd worlds collide! 

Photo Credit: Andy Oakden
     Also, because I couldn't resist...the trailer for The Last Unicorn:


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cupcake Crawl: Georgetown

So much pink!

     It's no secret that I am a cupcake fanatic! So naturally when a co-worker told me about an awesome cupcake shop that was nearby, I jumped at the opportunity to check it out. I was not disappointed by the experience, and as a result, I've decided to explore as many New York cupcake shops as I can.

     So this post is just the first of many in a series I would like to title, "Cupcake Crawl." It's like a pub crawl (another favorite activity of mine), but instead of binging on my favorite single-serving desserts in a single night, I plan to try a new cupcake establishment every month and share my experience with you here. So if you're a fellow cupcake enthusiast, I hope you enjoy my insights, and if you have any suggestions on venues I should visit, I welcome your advice.

     Georgetown Cupcake is just a dangerously short walk from my new job, and the shop itself has a simple and adorable look that immediately made me feel welcome. If you're a fan of white and pink, then you'll love their interior design.

     The selection was amazing, and as I studied the menu and the ample display case, the most difficult moment was deciding which flavors to choose! They have the classics that everyone is sure to love, but there was also a great selection of rotating flavors and seasonal options.

     We were on a mission to find street art that afternoon and only spent a few minutes at Georgetown, but the shop also featured a quaint seating area and a variety of beverages. I'm sure someday after a long shift at work I will take advantage of this and just relax over hot cocoa and a cupcake. Since all the tables were taken, however, Andy and I took our cupcakes on the road...which means I scarfed mine down on a bench just a few shops away...

     It was a painful decision process for me to choose which flavor of cupcake I wanted, so of course I ended up picking two! I mean, come on! I'm a cupcake addict. Did you really expect me to settle for one? I didn't think so.

Check out their bling-tastic mixer!
     I went for a reliable favorite of mine, red velvet with cream cheese frosting, and a seasonal must have, pumpkin spice with a maple frosting. I was not disappointed by either choice. I never met a red velvet cupcake I didn't like, and this was no exception. The pumpkin spice was perfect for fall, and the maple frosting, although a bit sweet for my taste, made for a nice flavor combination. Andy chose the peanut butter chocolate swirl, and he assured me that it was delicious. (I may have stolen a taste of the peanut butter frosting...) So whether you're looking for a flavor that you already love or want to try something new, Georgetown has plenty of great options.

     I definitely plan on making future visits to Georgetown Cupcake.  There are so many flavors I haven't tried yet! I've also already scoped out other cupcakes shops I'd like to sample, and I look forward to sharing my next cupcake adventure with you soon. Also, I'm always on the look out for pink champagne cupcakes since they are my favorite, and while Georgetown offers a similar flavor seasonally, I am impatient. So if you have any information pertaining to the whereabouts of pink champagne cupcakes in NYC, please let me know!

Why yes...they do taste as good as they look!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Medieval Cleavage Not Pictured

     I know...I know... I've been a total slacker at this whole blogging thing lately, but in my defense, it has been a chaotic and jam-packed week for me. I started my new job which kept me busy during the day, and it was tech week for Magic Flute which took over my evenings. Both experiences were a bit stressful but rewarding.

     I've officially had my New York debut performance! How crazy is that? I really tried to cram in as many New York firsts as I possibly could into the month of September, and before I could even start to step back and savor it all, October snuck up on me!

Andy had anvil envy I think.
    Another unexpected benefit of my experience in Magic Flute occurred when I overheard the Second and Third Ladies talking about how they were going to a renaissance festival the next day. I used to love going to the ren fest in Des Moines when I was in high school, and I was surprised by how homesick and nostalgic the idea made me feel.

     So the next day, we joined the hoards of other ren fest enthusiasts on the subway and headed uptown. It was certainly a strange sight to surrounded by busty wenches in corsets, men in colorful tights, and children dressed as their favorite Disney princesses and/or brandishing wooden swords. (We even saw a little boy dressed up as Woody from Toy Story, carrying a shield, and thought to ourselves, "Why not?")

     This renaissance festival was packed! I've never seen such a varied crowd at this kind of event, and the people watching was the best part. Luckily I had Andy with me who was much more observant than I am, and without his drawing my attention to characters at the right moment, I would have missed some of the most interesting sights of the day. I'm still disappointed I never got a picture of the giant man in a viking costume who looked as if he just dressed like that everyday. He's probably pillaging upper Manhattan as I'm typing this.

      My first priority once we arrived was beer and food! I've been getting in touch with my gluttonous side this month, and it was not disappointed by the medieval refreshments. I made sure to get all the classics: Oktoberfest beer, a massive turkey leg (don't worry I shared with Andy), and kettle corn.

     We had to wait in an extensive line for the turkey leg, but it was worth it in the end. Delicious smoked turkey and a cold beer in the hot sun? The perfect pairing even when one is being jostled  by sweaty men in flashy capes and wizard beards or being shouted over by scantily clad jousting tournament groupies.

     Ren fests can be so infectiously fun. There is such a general feeling of acceptance, enthusiasm, and activity, and no matter how many fairs I attend, there is always something new to see or learn. It was interesting to get Andy's take on the various demonstrations and performances. On my own, I probably would never have stopped to watch a blacksmith at work, and getting Andy's insights on a magician's tricks was vastly more fascinating than the performance itself. I also would never have tried to use Devil Sticks without his encouragement. (I was hopeless with them, but he was too nice to admit it.) His presence gave me a fresh perspective on the renaissance festival world, and I liked it.

I knew I should have brought my kilt to NYC!
      As a performer, I admire the variety and quality of dramatic and musical events offered at the fair. They had everything from kilt-clad bagpipe bands to abridged Shakespeare (sometimes performed while balancing upon fellow players) to whimsical harp music to a ubiquitous grey haired storyteller in black. There were tons of acts we missed as well, and I still wish we had made it to the Celtic dances or could have found seats at the jousting tournament. We can only be so many places at once, however, so I'll have to learn to live with those regrets.

     All in all it was the perfect way to end my busiest week in NYC so far, relaxing and re-energizing. I'm starting to feel more settled into my new surroundings, and I want to thank all my old friends and new acquaintances that have helped make this possible. I want to thank Andy most of all for always being supportive when I am freaking out and answering all my NYC related questions. He's been the sweetest tour guide and consultant a girl could ask for, and my first month here would have been confusing and dull without him.

     Almost everyone I have met in New York has been so friendly and welcoming, especially my new co-workers. Life is starting to feel more secure, and as a result, my overall mood has brightened despite the early morning commute and sleep deprivation. I've only been living here for less than a month, but I can tell already that this city has a special place in my heart. I've grown so much in my short time here, and I hope that it foreshadows lots of positive changes to come.