International Volunteer Day – Give Thanks

Today, December 5, is International Volunteer Day, created by the United Nations in 1985 to give thanks to those who volunteer in one way or another “for their efforts and increase public awareness on their contribution to society.” Thank you all, for without your efforts hundreds of thousands of people, many of them children, would perish — and that is not an exaggeration.

And what better time of year, when thoughts turn to celebrating holidays and exchanging gifts with our families from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day to be thankful for what we have and to help others less fortunate.

A week ago, I joined others volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in New York – the first and biggest of the havens allowing families to stay together to support their child or sibling s/he undergoes treatment for cancer and other diseases to unpack holiday decorations stored away last year and start to bring some holiday cheer to the house. I tell you it was an extremely fulfilling experience as we brought a little bit of cheer to the 85 families who call RMH home.

Ronald McDonald House
There were three times I almost lost composure, touched by what the staff and guests deal with every day. Read more of this post

All the World’s a Stage (My New York #2)

I don’t think the bard was thinking about New York City when he wrote those words, but if not he should’ve been. Certainly, working in New York City gives me front row seats to see actors and audience mingling together on the streets by day, and theater at night. L.A. can have its movies, New York, where one of my favorite T-Shirts reads, “So you’re an actor… What restaurant?”, is the home of the Great White Way — Broadway, where there’s a light for every broken heart who tried to make it here.

OK, enough of the Jerry Orbach impression. Here’s some things about NY theater in general and some theater festivals in particular.

When it comes to theater, there’s Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway. Now, here’s the skinny — those categories have nothing to do with geography. You can have an Off-Broadway theater on Broadway; a Broadway theater not on Broadway; and so on.

What determines the difference? Say it with me, ladies, “size matters.”

Broadway theaters have 500 or more seats, Off-Broadway 100-499 and Off-Off Broadway under 100. I am lucky enough to have seen many Broadway shows — more on them at another time — but this is the time of year I overdose on Off-Off Broadway shows.  They’re ususally fun, sometimes odd, generally well staged and acted — and cheap!

It’s festival time here in the Big Apple, and so far this year I’ve seen:

Bad Musicals Festival ’08 Jul-Aug Went to three, I liked these two:

  • Stranded — three men stranded on a deserted island find a genie bottle; guy #3’s wish really pisses off Guy 1 and Guy 2. I thought it was amusing.
  • The Plastic Surgeon of Oz — Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Crab Louse (yes, crab louse) seek the talents of the Plastic Surgeon of Oz in order to get into a career in porn (yes, porn). Always funny, this was, at times, LOL hilarious.

Fringe NYC Festival: Aug-Sep The odd, the irreverant, and occasionally the breeding ground for future Broadway shows (“Urinetown’)

  • Becoming Britney – Britney’s last few years as set in Promises-Promises, a rehab center for the marginally talented but Very Beautiful. Saw this last night. Molly Bell is great as the pop tart.
  • Tim Gunn’s Podcast (a reality chamber opera) – Using Tim Gunn’s words from ‘Project Runway’ to describe the behind the scenes battles. Seeing this Sunday.
  • The Deciders – Haven’t seen this yet but I’m betting they don’t have kind words fro the current president.

New York Musical Festival: Sept-Oct Fun, lyrical, and also occasionally the breeding ground for Broadway shows (‘[title of show]’ <– yes, that’s the name) Here’s what I am scheduled to see (with official descriptions plus my notes):

  • The Bubble: A Musical Dot-Comedy The rise and fall of the dotcom decade — in a single day.
  • College:The Musical They sing. They dance. They sometimes go to class. (Or, why wasn’t my college years filled with spontaneous dance and song?)
  • Wood A sexy musical romp that will have you tapping your toes all the way to the public restroom stall!  (Based upon a Mid-summer night’s dream
  • Bedbugs!!! A hell-bent exterminator must save NYC from killer mutant bedbug Hair Metal Rock Gods… of her own creation. (Sci-fi musicals — gotta love ’em)

And the best thing about all of these? Typical ticket price – $15!

So, the next time you think NY Theater is aloof or too expensive, get yourself off — Off-Off Broadway, that is.

My New York: The Proper Chocolate Egg Cream

We all have our own New York. The New York of our youth, or the one we’ve adopted. The one we love or the one we hate. You’re welcome to yours, but my New York is the real New York (note the New York attitude). From time to time I’ll deign to share some of my New York with you.

My New York: The Egg Cream

Also known as the Chocolate Egg Cream, it contains neither egg nor cream (“tawk amongst yerselves”), and is proffered as the quintessential NYC beverage. It is also the one whose simple recipe is most often passed along as gospel — incorrectly.

The ingredients are simple: milk, chocolate syrup (more on that later) and seltzer (ditto). The trick is in the execution.

First up, the ingredients:

  • Milk (whole milk, please, as close to the kind the milk man used to deliver to our doorstep left in those utilitarian metal boxes)
  • Chocolate syrup: You want a real NY Egg Cream? Fox’s U-Bet syrup is what you need. No, it’s not the best on the market, it’s a bit runny and has an inconsistent texture at times, but we’re talkin’ real Lower East Side Egg Creams here — not some fancy white-bread suburban version.
  • Seltzer. Yes, Seltzer. Not Club Soda. Not Perrier or club soda or even Pelligrino =:o Seltzer (preferably in the fountain-head bottle)

The big mistake people make (and others swear by) is in the order of the ingredients. They typically say (yes, even the “experts”): Milk, syrup, seltzer and then stir. No. No, no, no, no! This does not produce an egg cream! It produces a chocolate soda with milk – blech!

Now, the correct method:

Milk (about a 1/2 inch of the glass)

Seltzer, until about an inch from the top of the glass

The carbonation will cause a white creamy head to rise to the top (leave the spoon in the glass!)

Then, carefully, slowly, with precision, pour the Fox’s U-Bet into the glass – pour it just inside the edge of the glass; do not disturb the creamy white head!

Slowly stir the syrup in the milk, causing the bottom section of the drink to be brown, while maintaining the creamy white foamy head on top.

You see, it’s all about the head. It needs to be fluffy and white — reminiscent of meringue created from beaten egg whites (hence the egg reference).

Note: Even Fox’s recipe for an egg cream on its web site is wrong. It emphasizes the chocolate (as we say in French, ‘Quelle surprise’) and not the cream.

If you are ever offered an egg cream and the head is an everything-mixed-together sticky-brown — throw it in the face of the one who committed the blasphemous act of giving it to you.

Tell ’em Ron, from New York city, says “Hi”

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