Monday, November 26, 2012

Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker...the sparkle and hair gel:)

 Following a day of gorging out on Turkey, we opened our very new and very fresh production of The Nutcracker.   Boston Ballet's dancers, artistic staff and production teams have been working on this new version for close to a year now; changing our most popular ballet, a token of tradition in the city of  Boston and indeed throughout the country, was a daunting task to say the least...
However, following the incredible opening night performance in front of a sold out audience, not to mention the endless applause and standing ovation we received, there was no doubt that our team, headed by Mikko Nissenen, was successful in building the road to a continued and respected tradition.

Of course, behind all the costumes, glitz and dazzle on stage, there are lots of perhaps less dazzling elements that keep us dancers pumping throughout the Nutcracker season.  Let's be clear, even though we just wrapped up week one, which for any regular production of our season would mean we were halfway through, there are 6 weeks of this baby...a total of 43 shows!
Here are just a couple things that become integral parts of our everyday lives in the dressing rooms:

Various kinds of goop to put in our hair.  Sure, hairspray is pretty common...but some dancers have stubborn bangs....or short curly hair..(ahem...ahem) and need a little extra assistance.  I would like to point out the yellow bottle in this instence, and is for all purposes, hair glue.  
The sentence that sums these products up is undoubtedly, 'whatever works':) 

 We are very lucky at the Boston Ballet, our company is like a small family and we are very supportive of each other. (It would be far too difficult if things were any other way!) In the corps ladies' dressing room, we have a 'snack space' where we set up various treats for the room to enjoy.  My personal favorite is the Sunday morning appearance of Stacy's Cinnamon Pita Chips, courtesy of Corps member, Sarah Wroth.
By the time Christmas rolls around, we have an all out buffet going on here...and it totally keeps us going:)

Throughout the 43 shows, the hair gels and snacks, Nutcracker performances become a routine.  Luckily, we have many different roles to perform, so we are not doing the same dances every single night.
With opportunities presented to us, The Nutcracker becomes a time of bonding and challenge.  Despite the length of the production, it would be difficult to image a Christmas time without it.
In the ballet business, we do not say 'break a leg', but instead, we borrow the eloquent 'merde' from the French.
So to all at Boston Ballet, MERDE for the Nutcracker Season 2012!
Purchase your tickets now!! You do not want to miss this Nutcracker Premiere:)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A 'Foodie' Story Slam

One of Harvard's quintessential spots is undoubtedly Club Passim, a non-profit organization that serves as a multipurpose venue.  Since 1958, this spot, located in the same space as Veggie Planet,  has been a place where artists of all genres have showcased their talents.  From acoustic music, to poetry, Jazz and folk artists to story slams.  This Monday night, Club Passim hosted a Massmouth story slam and I was asked to attend as a judge.   I had never been to Club Passim, or a story slam, and I don't think I have any officiated in the capacity of a judge... you can just imagine my excitement. 
A little research provided me with some background information not only on what a story slam is, but also on  the whole purpose of the evening at Club Passim.  Partnering up with and promoting The Food Project, another not-for-profit organization, the whole evening generates support and awareness for The Food Project.  By the end of the evening and through the fun and creative little 'minute-stories' shared by the Food Project team, the whole audience was well versed in what this organization stands for, which is engaging young people in sustainable agriculture through various avenues like hands on farming, community outreach and education as well as gaining experience and skills through their hunger hunger relief program.    
But what exactly is a 'story slam'?  It is simply an evening of storytelling usually based around a topic, with a number of individuals stepping up to the mike to present their personal 5-minute story.  With The Food Project in tow as well as me being asked to judged, it should come as no surprise that the topic of the night was 'Foodie'.
As judges, we were presented with ten score cards and told to evaluate according to three criteria:
A) The 'arc' of the story (does it have a clear begining, middle and end)
B) Story Presentation (voice, gesture, expression and clarity)
C) Does the story connect to the theme and topic
All of this had to be met in just 5 small feat! 
 Before the slam began and while we were receiving our instructions, we were also treated to dinner at Veggie Planet (sister to Veggie Galaxy) which is known for its delicious vegetarian food, most notably, their pizzas.
 I ordered their soup of the day, a delicious and warming turnip and squash soup.
 I also ordered a small (which was not so small!) pizza with roasted butternut squash, robust goat cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary.  It was all perfect for the blustery day.
Throughout the evening, we heard from 10 different storytellers, with stories ranging from a vegetarian in Siberia to a man's father and his favorite Falafel stand at a Market in Jerusalem.  My highest score, a 9.2 went to David and his story of the significance of food in keeping his family together, the lowest a 5.9, to a story about cheesecake that went unfinished because of a time penalty.  
In the end, we declared the three best storytellers (pictured above), and this time around, the judges' vote was the same as the people's vote (which I always find reassuring).
It was a wonderful experience, I was honored to be a judge and I hope to make it to many more like events.  Follow Club Passim on twitter or facebook to stay tuned in their different offerings.  My favorite part was hearing all the different stories, as well as the tidbits in between.  The space itself is also wonderful and being able to enjoy great entertainment with fantastic, healthful food is such a treat.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Business as usual at The Level Up offices

On Monday morning, I had the opportunity to swing by The Level Up offices to chat with Christian Sann, the Director of Level Up in Boston. He took me on a tour of their new and improved office space at 1 Congress Street and then we sat for a bit while I picked his brain about what makes The Level Up so special.
Originally a spin off from scvngr (scavenger), an initiative built to drive business and give out deals all while creating a sense of local community, The Level Up was born on the other side of the river, like many tech start ups. 
Now, about two years later, they are a quickly growing business and the great team, company goals and future visions attest to this success.

So what is The Level Up exactly? Well, it is a type of rewards program designed to benefit both business owners as well as the customers. Different from most of the other savings and rewards programs like Living Social or Groupon, The Level Up thrives on the concepts of community and loyalty, rewarding you, as a customer, for your returning loyalty at your favorite spots. Business get a kick from returning customers and the fact that The Level Up does not charge a processing fee for each transaction (like credit card companies) is hugely attractive.

Here is how it works: you sign up for The Level Up and get your own QR code (one of those funny looking square things) to use either through a smartphone app or, in the event you do not have a smartphone (like me!), they will send you a personal QR code card., this is then attached to whichever credit card or debit card you choose.  
When you pay at a store that takes Level Up, you simply align your phone to the docket by the register, and ba-da-bing! Your transaction goes straight to your card.
Apart from the convenience of paying with your phone, the very best part is that the first time you use The Level Up at a store, a small gift will be waiting for you in the form of store credit.  This gets automatically taken off of your total. The more you frequent that same store, the closer you get to unlocking even more credit.
Credit can also be found through their referral program, which gives both you as a Level Up user and whoever uses your code, 5 dollars of 'global' credit (which you can use anywhere that takes Level Up)!

 When I first found out about The Level Up about a year and a half ago, they were just starting out, now you can  find The Level Up in many places in and around Boston, and indeed all over the US, your Level Up code has effectively given you added access to places all over the country:)

While chatting with Christian in their fantastic kitchen space (where, just fyi, workers get catered lunch everyday...oh, and most workers wizz around the office on about efficiency:) ), I asked him what the future looked like for the company.  He said that apart from maintaining the products integrity and continuing to make the whole process as convenient for all parties, he believes the Level Up can become even more than just a way of paying.  For example, they have already managed to create a donation feature to The Level Up where you can decide to donate your credit to a charity of your choice.  This new feature can be found on the app and I sincerely suggest you try it out. The app also provides a list of places that take Level Up in proximity to your location at any given time.  
All of this feeds off of their local mantra and certainly helps when you are looking for a mid-afternoon treat in an unknown area of Boston:)
Whatever The Level Up plans for the future, I bet they will continue along the lines of community based support, loyalty and..just plain old fun:)
Sign up now and start saving:)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fogo de Chao, open and full meats ahead!

Much talk has been going around about the new Brazilian steakhouse (or Churrascaria) which sprung up a couple of weeks ago in the Back Bay. Fogo de Chao (pronounce 'shoun') began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1979 and has since expanded its concept and dining experience throughout the US.  Unlike many of the other restaurant openings we are highly anticipating in and around Boston, Fogo de Chao opened on time, as planned and with no glitches.  Truly professional service and delicious meat await anyone who enters this establishment.
Myself along with three friends went in on Friday evening to experience Fogo's 'Gaucho-style' of preparing meats.  The space, which is where the former Palm Restaurant used to be, is huge and open.  I was amazed at how busy they were (and at how well they handled it!)

Luckily, we had a reservation, and I would certainly recommend one. Before sitting down, I went round to check out some of their other for instance, their wine cellars containing 3000 bottles of wine from all over the world...
...or their incredible salad bar complete with fresh mozzarella and a hug barrel of Parmesan  brimming with excitement. As difficult as it may seem, I suggest you go easy here, there is so much more to come!
My friend went in big at the salad bar, trying one of everything they had to offer...*disclaimer* she is a loosely defined vegetarian, so although she suspended her non-meat diet for the evening, the salad bar was her heaven - just goes to show there is something here for everyone:)
Once we were seated, our waiter came over and gave us a run down of the fogo show and got us started with some drinks.  Despite their impressive wine list, I could not help but order one of their equally impressive Caipirinhas, a traditional Brazilian drink which is like a mojito, but without the mint.  I went for their classic, but they are willing to make it however you want, with interesting Brazilian flavors like passion fruit and acai.

With our drinks came another one of my favorite parts of the Fogo meal, their traditional Brazilian buns, shaped like cupcakes, crisp and cheesy on the outside with the most gooey middle.  They are made from yucca and baked with Parmesan right from the start...again, try to go easy on these guys:)
So how exactly does a Churrascaria works?  Well, as you sit down, you will notice a coaster-sized card with a green side and a red side, by your plate.  But don't be fooled! This is no ordinary coaster and in fact, it represents the whole system of service at Fogo de Chao. Instead of ordering from a menu, chefs walk around the tables with skewers of various cuts and types of meat that they themselves have just grilled.  You simply place your card with the green side up if you want what is going round at a particular time, and red side up, if you want to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the meat in front of you.
With 15 different cuts of meat, you will have to pace yourself, which is difficult because as soon as your card is turned to the green side...chefs with skewers of all kinds of different meats descend upon your table and the last thing you want to do is turn them away.

My first two cuts were their Parmesan encrusted pork loin and their roasted pork ribs.  What is so fantastic is that, seeing as the chefs have cooked the very meats they serve you, you can ask exactly how rare they are and you can request a particular part of the cut, depending on how you like your meat. 

Another favorite of mine was their bacon wrapped chicken and bacon wrapped sirloin.  It goes without saying that anything roasted and grilled with a bacony hug always comes out better;)
Although they provide you with a  guide to help you navigate through the different meats, it is always good to keep an ear out for those cuts not on the menu. My ultimate favorite of the evening was a T-bone lamb, grilled to perfection, juicy and slightly charred...yummm!
By the end of all this, and a few moments in between, the red side of my card saw the light. If you want to really enjoy all that Fogo has to offer, use your card wisely and don't feel badly about turning away the chefs.
After all, you want to save room for some of their Brazilian desserts, like their flan, or perhaps the Fogo de Chao signature Papaya cream dessert; a cross between a milkshake and a smoothie with a light but refreshing papaya taste.
All in all, Fogo is a fun and entertaining way to eat out, perfect for large groups.  It is also a great way to try out unusual cuts of meat without having to order a whole steak. I am happy to see Fogo make its first location in Boston such a success:)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

1 dollar oysters at Rialto are back and going fast!

After a brief hiatus, the Rialto team kicked off their famed 1 dollars Oyster Mondays this week with a boat load of over 1,000 oysters from Island Creek Oyster Bar.  Although this may sound like a lot, at a dollar each and combined with the hype of this dynamic team (let's also note that Nantucket Microbrewery Cisco Brewers was a partner for the evening), these babies went FAST!

 Arriving at 6:25, which I thought was an acceptable time, my friend and I only just barely snagged the last dozen. Once they were presented to us, I completely understood why..I have never seen such huge oysters! 
They were plump and delicious and went down an absolute treat with the Grey Lady Ale from Cisco Brewers.  I paired mine with a delicious Falanghina, fruity and medium body, a perfect refreshing accompaniment to our lovely array of oysters.

Rialto also had a trio of mignonettes, my favorite of which was the ginger root and champagne one (in the middle).
Needless to say, when Rialto says come in had better take note because at 1 dollar, these oysters practically get shucked onto your plate...and you will not want to settle for less than a dozen:)
Lucky for us, it looks like Mondays will be 1 $ Oyster Mondays from now on at Rialto!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lovin' Spoonfuls Ultimate Tailgate Party 2012

On the eve of Hurricane Sandy, 350 enthusiastic and supportive individuals gathered for the second annual Ultimate Tailgate Event.  A fundraiser for Lovin' Spoonfuls, one of Boston's most innovative non-profit organizations, this year's event was an evening dedicated to the incredible team behind the wheels of this organisation.  Without a doubt, it was one of the most special events I have been to in a while. 

The event was held at Sam's at Louis, by the Seaport, but wait! Only a small part of it was held indoors, most of it actually happened outside on the lawn, under cover of a tent.  Being outside on a night like Sunday evening gave the whole thing a very powerful feeling, like we were all there to celebrate something extra special.  The sound of the winds coming in added an element of intrigue but overall, it felt like we were all just a bunch of friends hanging out with good food, wine (courtesy of MS Walker) and all for a good cause. 

Before going any further, I should say a few words about what it is exactly that the team behind Lovin' Spoonfuls does.
In January 2010, Ashley Stanley, Lovin' Spoonfuls founder and executive director, put in motion a team with the intention of redistributing foods that would otherwise be thrown away and wasted, to those in need.  With 40 % of food being wasted each year in America, there is no doubt that much can be done to reverse this trend.  By setting out each day in one of their two trucks, the team behind Lovin' Spoonfuls is able to redistribute some of what restaurants, groceries, bakeries and other wholesale food producers cannot sell to homeless and crisis shelters around the city of Boston.

Lovin' Spoonfuls is now in its second year and they have saved 100,000 lbs of fresh, delicious food.  No doubt an organisation like this needs continued support and the Tailgate event was an excellent excuse to generate awareness, produce some funds and the ultimate goal of the tailgate? Put another truck on the road:)
As I mentioned earlier, part of the evening happened indoors, there was a football themed photo booth and a bar inside.  Most of the excitement however, happened out in the tent, where some of Boston's top chefs had created Tailgate themed dishes for guests to enjoy. 
One of my favorites was the lobster roll by celebrity chef, Steve 'Nookie' Postal.  The chunks of lobster in this deliciously buttered and pan-toasted roll were large and succulent. I am not usually a fan of lobster rolls, but after eating this one, I totally get it!

I must admit however, I started the evening off with an ice cream sandwich from the Flour team.  It was the first table I saw and how could you possibly resist a ginger molasses cookie with pear ice cream!? They also had servings of their delectable sticky bun bread pudding...what a table:)
Throughout the evening it was also a pleasure to see Jamie Bissonnette from Coppa and Toro (for two very meat inspired restaurants, it was ironic to see him serving up a spicy tofu bocadilla:) ), Joanne Change and Christopher Myers as well as Will Gilson and other great  names in Boston's food scene. Again, the support at this event was so genuine, Chef Will actually spent most of his time battling the winds outside as he was shucking his oysters fresh for all guests:)

By the end of the night, amid all the delicious food, good music and entertaining live auction hosted by TV Diner's Jenny Johnson, Lovin' Spoonfuls more than met their goal and with over 80 000 dollars raised, there will be a third truck on the road!
From the day I first heard about Lovin's Spoonfuls, I knew it was something special and participating at an event dedicated to its future development was a real treat for me. I so look forward to keeping in touch with the up and coming pursuits of this organization.
Follow them on Twitter and like them on facebook so that you can be up to date as well!

PS! Lovin' Spoonfuls is having another fundraiser this Sunday at the Seapoint Bar and Grill. No tickets are necessary, but a minimum 20 dollar donation is to be expected...oh and so is as much grilled cheese as you please and wine from 90+ Cellars. Be there:)