Living in NYC, from a Californian’s Perspective

Next week will be my five-month mark of living in New York City, and although I’ve already been here this long, there are some things I just still can’t get used to:

  • This city is obsessed with plastic bags.  Coming from Los Angeles, where plastic shopping bags have been outlawed, it is still a strange feeling for me to be offered plastic bags.  The phrase “paper or plastic” has been removed from my vocabulary.  The weirdest part, though, is when I go to buy something small like a soda.  I still get asked if I want a bag to carry my 20 oz bottle of soda!  It’s also weird when you get food delivered, and your food comes in a bag that is inside of another bag.
  • The trusty Trader Joes Wine Shop on 14th Street.

    You can’t buy liquor or wine at a grocery store.  As I’ve learned, this is very common in New England and along the East Coast.  If you ask any native Californian where is the best place to buy a bottle of Chardonnay or a handle of vodka, they will send you to the grocery store, most likely Pavilions or Ralphs.  Fortunately, Trader Joes, which serves as a mecca of cheap wine in California, has their very own wine shop in Manhattan.  Just imagine walking into a store that looks like Trader Joes, has all the cute chalk drawings and Hawaiian-themed decore, but the shelves are stocked from wall to wall with wine, wine, and more wine.  The best part is that two doors down, there is a real life, honest to goodness Trader Joes.

  • Times Square really is hell on Earth.  Most people think of the cute and bustling
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    The 2009 Broadway production of Guys and Dolls.

    depictions from Guys and Dolls or the Rhapsody in Blue segment in Fantasia 2000: a diverse group of people dressed in a coordinated color scheme, moving in a well-choreographed hurry.  This is not the case.  Trying to walk down 7th Avenue is like trying to drive on the 405 Freeway during rush hour traffic–except worse because you have to contend with people hawking bus tours and tickets to Broadway shows, being groped by a man in an Elmo costume, and lost tourists who just stop walking.  I usually end up making a detour around Times Square if I have to get anywhere in midtown, just to cut that stress out of my life.

Despite all of these strange occurrences, there is so much I love about New York City.  I love the subway system (as long as it doesn’t suddenly stop running from Manhattan to Queens, where I live, as it is sometimes prone to do).  I always tell people that there is something for everyone in New York.  It’s like that line from the musical Company, “If you don’t like it there, they got every subway you can name to take ya where ya like it better.”

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Mad Scientist’s Kitchen: Vegetable Stir-Bake

I love a good stir fry.  No, not some mushy plate of frozen vegetables with teriyaki sauce haphazardly tossed on, but a true stir fry, where the vegetables are a bit charred on the outside, tender on the inside, and full of flavor.  Now, if you are somebody who knows how to make a good stir fry, you know that the number one rule is not to crowd the pan.  This means that in an average-sized wok or frying pan, you can really only make enough for one or two at a time.  I don’t know how many times I’ve made a stir fry at my parents’ house where I’d hear:

Them: “What are you making?”
Me: “A stir fry.”
Them: “Can you make me some?”
Another Them: “Me too!”

This limit of one to two servings also makes things difficult for someone like myself.  I like to cook four to five servings of a meal at once, so I can pack them up in my mason jars and eat them throughout the week. Last week, I roasted some sweet potatoes in the oven, and they came out just the way vegetables should in a perfect stir fry: 1. a bit charred on the outside, 2.tender on the inside, and 3. full of flavor.  So then, if the sweet potatoes came out just like that, why couldn’t I just bake the vegetables to be “stir-fried”?  Thus, I began an experiment.

Question: How can I make more than one batch of a stir fry without a commercial-sized wok?

Our Mad Scientist/Chef

Our Mad Scientist/Chef

Hypothesis: If I bake the vegetables, they will taste just as delicious as stir fried vegetables and without all of the extra cooking oil. Here is what I did: I planned to make a stir fry with broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, and bok choy.  Now, my original plan was to bake the bell peppers too, but because I was making so much food, I did not have room for them on my tiny baking sheets.  The bok choy would get too crispy in the oven, so I stir fried the bok choy with the bell peppers using the traditional method.

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

I chopped the broccoli and carrots into evenly-sized pieces.  This is important because they will cook more evenly this way.  Otherwise, you will get some broccoli pieces that are raw and some that are over-cooked.  I put all of the vegetables into a big bowl, tossed them in just enough grape seed oil to coat them evenly, seasoned with Mrs. Dash (Original Flavor), and placed them in a single layer on a baking sheet.  This detail is important too.  You can not have any pieces of vegetable overlapping.  Otherwise, you will run into the same problem as a crowded pan and that is the problem that we are trying to avoid in the first place.  I baked my vegetables in a 400 degree oven for fifteen minutes.  And that was it!  I tossed them in a little bit of a store-bought teriyaki sauce and mixed them all together.

The result: The vegetables came out perfect!  They tasted just the way they would as if stir fried in a huge wok full of oil.  Then, I made some brown rice, and placed a cup of rice in each jar with a huge portion of vegetables.  Now I have some delicious stir fried veggies to get me through the week.

Don’t Cry For Me, Spilled Milk

Today was such a typical newbie in New York City kind of morning. I got on my usual train to get to work, and we hadn’t even traveled one or two stops when I began to notice some action on the train. Now, I had my head phones in, so I could not hear the drama, but this is what happened:

A homeless-looking lady bumped into a kind gentleman holding a Dunkin Donuts coffee. The coffee spilled everywhere, leaving a puddle that took up about a third of the train. Now, from what I gather, the woman must have said something to the man that incited him because the next thing I know, I see him sling the rest of the coffee right into her face. Now, she is pissed, and I began to worry. I’m afraid that one or both of these people is going to come for me next (completely unjustified), so I got up and moved to the next train car.

Once I finally got to my destination, I looked down at my coat and noticed that a bird must have pooped on me. That or somebody dropped whiteout on my coat without me noticing.

Shaken, Not Stirred

It’s been a busy day, and for me, it’s only just begun!  I don’t get to my production job until the afternoon, so for me, dinner time feels like lunch and days seem to blur together.  My phone tells me it’s Friday. Good to know.  It’s weird doing performances six days a week.

I woke up this morning to finish preparing my meals for the next few days.  Yesterday, I made a delicious minestrone soup and today I made these delicious Chinese Spring Roll Salads.  Of course, I packed them into my mason jars, so that I could enjoy them through out the week.

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After that, I rushed to Manhattan for a job interview, or at least what I thought was going to be a job interview.  I got to the high rise building fifteen minutes early for my scheduled time.  When I got inside, it was a very high security building.  Good thing I got there early!  I had to have my ID swiped and a name badge was printed with my name and photo and everything.  I was told to go up to the sixth floor, where the production company that I was interviewing for had their office.

I get there and strangely, there were no signs.  I began to peak around the hallways to see if I could find a sign to let me know where I was going.  Instead, I hear a receptionist call out, “Sir, we’re in here!”

I go up to her and say, “I have a 1:30 appointment with Natasha.  Is this the right place?”

“I think so,” she replies, “Just wait in the open room around the corner”.

Okay, that was strange.  I find the open room and see a group of people sitting around a table.  My first thought is that it was a group interview or that I was being interviewed by a group of people.  Turns out the group of people were all applying for various jobs with this production company, from production assistant to receptionist.  They tell me that there is an application that I need to fill out and then somebody will call me in.

I go to pick up the application and notice that it is a lengthy pile of papers, all asking for various items of personal information, such as addresses and social security numbers.  There were also your typical tax forms, the kind of information one gives after being hired.

As I filled out the form, I began to get a really sick feeling in my stomach.  I felt nervous but not in the way I usually do right before a job interview.  Once I finished filling out the forms, I decided to google the company on my phone.  The only research I had done so far was to look at the company’s website, which was “under construction”.  I gave them the benefit of the doubt and decided I would ask about the company when I got there.  After that I googled the company’s name + “scam”.  Well, it turns out that this company, called Storja Productions has several reports of being a hiring scam.  I asked the people at the table, “Did anyone bother to google this company?”

The woman next to me, about 40 with a wiry hair piled high on her head, responded, “Yeah, I did.  I kept reading that it was a scam, but I am an adventurous person and a risk taker”.

Another person chimed in, “Everyone wants to vilify things that are unfamiliar”.

I wish I was making this up.  I’m as much a risk taker as anyone I know, but I am not stupid enough to hand my personal information to a complete stranger.  I asked the girl “running” the interviews how far behind they were.  She said that there were two people waiting before me and asked if  I could please wait in the lobby.

I went back into the lobby and saw about a dozen people, all who had been in there when I arrived.  Surely, they were more than two before me.  I grabbed my bag and my lunch and headed back into the elevator.

On my walk back to the subway, I felt very shaken and uncomfortable.  I was so distracted, that I took a train going in the wrong direction.

The good news is that I got a call this afternoon for a real interview and look–my phone is ringing as I type.  Hope that’s another person calling to hire me!

Stage Kiss

Here’s a little update on me: It’s been a busy week with the production I am working on.  I was put in charge of all of the wardrobe, which has been a huge undertaking.  The biggest part of that job is orchestrating all of the laundry, as some of it gets hand washed, some gets taken to a laundromat, and some gets dry cleaned.

Last week, I went to see Stage Kiss, the newest play by Sarah Ruhl, esteemed MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, Tony Award nominee, and my favorite playwright.  At first glance, the story of Stage Kiss is simple: two struggling New York actors are cast in the revival of tired, old 1930s melodrama, where the leading actors are forced to kiss each other again and again.  Naturally, this would lead to emotions stirring up between the two and a possible “showmance” would begin.  This gets complicated when the married leading actress, played by Jessica Hecht, meets her single leading man, played by Dominic Fumusa, because they are ex-lovers.  The rehearsal process opens up old wounds from the past between the two, as they struggle to keep their on stage story separate from their personal lives.

The bumbling director and supporting cast of the play within Stage Kiss make up the rest of the characters.  Most memorable among them was Michael Cyril Creighton, who plays the director’s assistant and who later fills in as the leading man’s understudy.  Creighton completely captures the essence of that actor who just doesn’t “get it” during rehearsal.  All of the laughs in Stage Kiss come from watching the scenes where the actors are in rehearsal for the forgotten, old play.  Their antics are all too relatable for anyone who has ever been inside a rehearsal room.

Ruhl is a writer known for rebelling against realism.  She writes in a poetic style and imbues her plays with surreal landscapes.  For example, Ruhl’s Melancholy Play features a languishing young woman who speaks in similes. There is also a scene in her play Eurydice where the heroine appears in a elevator, where it is raining inside.  In some ways, Stage Kiss feels like her most realistic play, yet Ruhl still manages to add her signature touches to the story.  There are a few bold moments that step outside of reality, such as a darkly tender musical number in the second act.  Other moments subtly walk the line between fantasy and reality, which left me wondering if what I was seeing was part of the play-within-the-play or the backstage life of the characters.

Ruhl and Playwrights Horizons have an absolute hit on their hands!  I foresee Stage Kiss to be the Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike of the next season; that is, the hilarious audience favorite that gets produced regionally all over the country.

A Little Update

Hi all,

It’s been a busy week.  On Monday, I began rehearsals for the play I am working on.  There isn’t so much for me to do, but it is great just to be a part of a professional production in New York City.  The cast is really inspirational, and I think I have made some great friends in the stage management crew.

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Chili and a burrito in a jar. Photo by Jaymie Bellous.

On Tuesday, I had a day off from rehearsal, so I cooked up some lunches and dinners to last me through my busy upcoming week.  I learned from this article how to pack salads and other meals into mason jars, where they can be preserved for several days.  It’s a great way to save money too because you buy a bag of groceries and use up every last morsel of food in a meal, rather than letting that leftover half of a carrot waste away in your fridge.  My meals included a Super Food Burrito in a Jar, Sweet Potato Chili with Kale, and a vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie based on this recipe and this recipe.

After that, I saw the Broadway revival of Pippin starring Patina Miller.  An overall really great production with some spectacular circus feats.  Rachel Bay Jones completely stole the show as Catherine, the quirky and spastic ingenue in the second act.  Her performance reminded me of a comedy legend like Carol Burnett or Amy Poehler.  While many of the Broadway regulars in the cast dazzled with splashy circus tricks, Jones is the lone member of the cast that does not partake in the illusions and gymnastics.  Her comedic prowess cuts through the flashy effects, leaving a lasting impression.

And finishing off my week of theatre-going, I saw the new play Stage Kiss at playwrights horizons last night.  But that is worthy of it’s own post–coming soon!

Kinky Boots

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The complimentary pin for winners. Photo by Jaymie Bellous.

I really don’t want to jinx it, but I tend to have great luck with winning lottery tickets to Broadway shows but not with getting rush tickets.  As of now, I am three-for-three.  Last year, I won lottery tickets to Newsies; this past fall, I won one seat to Matilda; and today, I won the lottery for Kinky Boots.

This 2013 winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical (among many others) was based on the 2005 film of the same name.  Following the plot of the film closely, Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie, a young man who inherits a struggling shoe factory from his father.  The factory produces sensible men’s loafer shoes, and as Charlie soon learns, the factory produces the shoes even when there are no buyers.  One day after visiting his fiancée in London, Charlie attempts to help a woman, who is being harassed by a couple of hoodlums.  Charlie underestimates her self-defense abilities and ends up accidentally getting knocked out when he tries to help.

Cut to a vibrant bar, where Lola is the starring act in a drag show.  When she steps off stage, she greets Charlie, whom she brought back to the bar to rest.  Charlie, the shoe connoisseur, notices the broken heel on one of Lola’s boots and begins to hatch a brilliant plan.  The drag queens at the bar perform in women’s boots that could not possibly hold up the weight of a man’s body.  Why not create a heel designed to support the body of a drag queen?  In an endeavor to save his father’s factory, Charlie switches from making plain, leather shoes to extravagant and colorful stiletto boots that will stomp down the runways of Milan.

Billy Porter as Lola with the cast of Kinky Boots. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Kinky Boots takes the audience on a roller coaster of emotions, from the exuberant joy over the prototypes of their new kinky boots to the painful apologies that come after accepting those we’ve judged.  You see, on the surface, Kinky Boots has the parts that make up your typical Broadway musical: flashy and ornate costumes, music that makes you want to dance in the aisles, and well-known source material. 

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The marquee of the Al Hirschfield Theatre. Photo by Jaymie Bellous

  Yet behind all of the sequins and eye shadow, the strongest scenes in Kinky Boots are the ones that tug hard on the heartstrings.  Tony Award-winner Billy Porter, who stars as Lola, ignites these moving scenes with unabashed honesty and vulnerability.  Those tears won’t last for long, though, with Porter on stage.  In the next moment, the audience will no doubt erupt with laughter from a Lola one-liner.

Jerry Mitchell’s direction and choreography were innovative and fanciful, featuring the actors performing acrobatic tricks on tread mills in the first act’s finale.  Harvey Fierstein’s riveting kept this viewer at the edge of his seat, and Fierstein’s script provides the actors with the right material to make their performances honest and grounded.  Kinky Boots features a rocking score by Cyndi Lauper with standouts like the seductive tango number “What A Woman Wants” and the inspiring finale that had the audience clapping along, “Raise You Up/Just Be.”