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Community Gardens Thriving in NYC

Farmers and sustainable living enthusiasts are convening throughout NYC to support the GreenThumb program’s community gardens. Spread across numerous neighborhoods, these gardens offer a green summer sanctuary as well as fresh fruits and vegetables to local communities who may be in need.

This summer, the garden count has reached 553, all of which are cultivated by a dedicated crowd of 20,000 volunteers. There is now an annual budget of $2.9 million as well as a staff of 35 people who offer free training and ongoing support, as well as tools and materials. Located on public or city-owned property, the gardens have been the subject of several real estate-related disputes.  For the most part, though, the gardens are considered an integral piece of NYC.

GreenThumb director Bill LoSasso, explained that the project is especially beneficial in communities with many new immigrants.

“Sometimes when you arrive in a new place, you don’t have a network you can tap into for support. By joining a community garden, you’re joining a network of neighbors who are coming from diverse backgrounds who can help new members of their community to get settled.”

Many newcomers to NYC have roots in agriculture as well, making community gardens a familiar, comfortable place for them to meet like-minded community members.

Mr. Efrain Estrada, for example, grows peppers, eggplants, okra and squash. Originally from Puerto Rico, Estrada has confessed that he used to hate working on his family’s farm. Now, he is actively involved in his community garden, and grows so many vegetables that he sends some home to his relatives. “I had farming in my blood,” he says.

Oodles of Noodles

At least if you’re in the East Village.  Noodle eateries are all becoming increasingly popular these days in the region.  One example is Simone Tong’s Little Tong Noodle Shop at the East Village’s 177 1st Avenue.  Somewhat appropriately named (in the sense that Simone is, well, quite small) but does not represent the size of the servings, which are pretty large.  Using mixian for her dishes (which directly translated from the Chinese means rice threads, but are more commonly known as rice noodles) which have a springy texture and a little tang in taste due to fermentation.  They originally come from the Yunnan Province of China.  They are not seen all that much in America but that will likely change if Tong has anything to do with it.

So large is the noodle explosion in the area that when one eatery closes, another opens in its stead.  After Biang closed its doors at 157 Second Avenue, Jacob Ding took a detour in his career as a financier and use family recipes to open up a Guilin boiled rice noodle and dim sum parlor.  Responding to his wife’s wish that such a place existed, plans to open Yuan Noodle began to form.  And it seems like he has the backing for it, having been raised in Guilin (China) where rice noodles reign. At the restaurant, these will be served dry (unlike the traditional way of being served with soup), as well as classic dim sum dishes.

Then there is the Momofuku Noodle Bar from David Chang, featuring a slatted wood design and an antique credenza displaying the menu. Food options include Berkshire pork belly and deep-pink shredded shoulder as from the long-simmered stock, one can choose from healthier toppings such as chopped scallions, slivered snow peas and  chewy preserved bamboo shoots, as well as somewhat unique Greenmarket corn, briefly sautéed and still crunchy, topping.  Having been awarded the Best Pickle Plate (2006) and Best Pork Tamale (2010) New York Awards, this restaurant is most definitely holding its own in the New York noodle market.

Adult Learning Center Celebrations

educationHaving been in existence now for five decades Manhattan’s Adult Learning Center is marking this milestone with an event at the Chic-Fil-A.  The school that was established for adult and alternative education back in 1966 is, according to the Director of the ALC, Vickie Turkowski, “still benefiting students and community” today. It is continuing to grow and this celebration is to thank those who have helped the organization thrive all these years.

One example of how the school has thrived is marked by the event’s attendance of 65+ year old students Leon Havens and Sandra Hobbs who graduated with their high school diplomas thanks to ALC.  Hobbs pointed out that when she first came to the school she couldn’t even read or understand what she’d read.  now she has a high school diploma. Her next step is to learn how to sew.

There are a variety of programs on offer at the center as well as specialized classes for adults to gain a vocation.  For example: the Open Door Diploma Completion Program, English as a Second Language, computer literacy classes and more.  In addition the ALC works together with the Manhattan Area Technical College giving students the opportunity to obtain a certification as a Certified Nurse Assistant, Allied Health Field, or Building Trades and Welding.

Russia Comes to Flatiron

martial-artWell, Russian martial arts anyway. Located at 5th and 6th avenue the Polygon Elite is home to Russian Systema Martial Art, guiding “the most efficient, realistic, competent and comprehensive solution to elite hand-to-hand, close quarters combat instruction, ‘forged out of the most brutal training regime ever created’.”

These classes are great for “law enforcement, security professionals, professional contractors, consultancy to corporations, organizations & educational entities, as well as specialized civilian self-defense training in the New York City area and worldwide.”

The classes are taught by Russian Airborne Brigade and the students come away with “elite hand-to-hand fighting skills, including striking, strike absorption & pain compliance, offensive and defensive weaponry skills with a variety of weapons, including improvised & unconventional weapons, ground survival, including dive/roll/falling techniques, body movement, stealth techniques and escape, evasion & ambush tactics against individual and multiple attackers, strikes, confined spaces fighting, psychological & physiological training, including life-saving Russian Breathing/Healing work.” This can then be used in real situations when faced with “negative ‘recall/autopilot’.” As well as this core course, there are modified versions for “civilians, offering defensive, self-protection procedures.” The course is a great way to become familiar with “battle-proven hand-to-hand close quarters combat fighting tactics.”

Times Square on Christmas

christmasTimes Square on Christmas is a must-see for tourists. Possibly a must-avoid for locals but for those who find themselves vacationing at Shimmie Horn’s luxurious Washington Jefferson Hotel, the theater district is filled with joy and tinsel. Try getting through the spray paint artists, costumed panhandlers, theater patrons and tourist bus ticket sellers though and you might decide it’s time to go back to Shimmie Horn’s hotel!

The holiday season in Times Square is indeed a bit stressful but for tourists, it really is a great place to visit. Granted, on a daily basis, around 170,000 commuters pass through the area so over the holiday season it is going to be really crazy. In fact the figure for this time of year is around 450,000.

But wouldn’t it be a fun after dinner party story to share with friends back home after your vacation? How bad would you feel if you had to reveal that you stayed at the Washington Jefferson Hotel, right smack bang in Times Square and didn’t even venture out at the most colorful time of year?

And don’t forget, it’s not as bad as it seems. There is of course the extra infrastructure that is set up just before all the celebrations begin to deal with this additional traffic. Isn’t it worth just taking a peek? Go on, brave it; everyone deserves a bit of Christmas spirit!

Finally! Cirque De Soleil is Coming to New York

theaterAre you on vacation in New York? Perhaps you have taken your partner to luxuriate for a few days in one of Shimmie Horn’s top Triumph hotels? Or maybe you are just visiting New York for a few business meetings and find yourself with a window between executive pow-wows.

Either way you might be excited to learn that Cirque du Soleil “is ready to flip over the Big Apple.” But there’s no need to book your tickets just yet. The plan is for two traveling shows to come to New York by next fall. Yet in the spring, there will also be a visit. It is anticipated that the event Cirque de Soleil designed for Broadway theater – Paramour – will come to New York first.

Of the fact that the show has never been in New York, President and CEO of Cirque, Daniel Lamarre pointed out, “for us, New York is an underdeveloped market and it’s surprising because it’s still the world capital of entertainment. We are a strong player worldwide with a worldwide brand and we have spent a lot of time developing the Las Vegas market and not enough focus on developing the New York market,” he said.

East Village Pizza

pizzaWhen it comes to pizza there is good, better and great. Bruno Pizza at 204 East 13th Street in East Village probably doesn’t even fit into the top category. Indeed, it is THAT good. One of the newest pizza parlors in the hood, it is also extremely fancy. Not only are the toppings something to talk about but the entire process of making the dough is something out of this world. Indeed chefs Dave Gulino and Justin Slojkowski – in conjunction with Demian Repucci (the owner) spent many months trying to create the perfect recipe for their 00 pizza flour. So much so that they used their very own mill to grind the whole wheat berries to their specific desires!

Was it worth it? Oh yes, the end result most certainly was. And the tasting menu that it is now offering is something out of this world! Added to that is the fact that Bruno Pizza has instituted an up-and-coming trendy no tipping policy. What more could one ask for? Great prepared dough, fabulous toppings and no tips!

So what are these great toppings? Well you really should go to the tasting menu one day but until then tantalize your taste buds with this: the $16 Bucatini (corn, squash blossoms, scallions and squash) or pea green with gorgonzola-made butter. But what Repucci is really pushing is interaction between chefs and diners – an idea he got from Box Kite wherein there were no servers “so they just talked to the diners.”

He sees the restaurant as a “kind of a hybrid, where there’ll be walk-ins for pasta and pizza, and then there’ll be tasting menu people.” What fun. And certainly not one’s run-of-the-mill pizza place!

New York Culture Over the Weekend

This coming weekend sees the return of the Mark Morris Dance Group.  Yes it’s time for the annual Mostly Mozart Festival, featuring Acis and Galatea and more.  Performed by the San Francisco Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, which is led by Nicholas McGegan, it will be choreographed and directed by Morris.  Make reservations at the David H. Koch Tehater at Lincoln Center, any time from tomorrow til Saturday, so don’t miss it.

Also on Saturday is the 9th annual street fair at the Everett Center for the Performing arts, between St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Avenue.  The Dance Theatre of Harlem will be putting on performances from both professional and amateurs around the city.  Street vendors will line 152nd Street, selling various American and ethnic foods, books, clothing and other fare.