Friday, June 28, 2013

Ted's Hot Toddy Tea Wins for Taste of Summer!

It might be strange to contemplate that drinking a hot beverage could be refreshing during the summer, but with a rainy forecast on the rise, you'd surprised just how comforting a hot beverage could be.

Thanks to Ted G. for his creative hot toddy recipe submission which was the winner of the WGINY's Lipton Taste of Summer contest. Want to know how to make it? 

First gather the following ingredients:
1 bag Lipton tea
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon honey (or enough to coat the bottom of your cup)
1 shot Calvados
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick 
Lemon slice

Then, get your mixing stick and:
1. Coat the bottom of the glass with honey.
2. Add Calvados and lemon juice.
3. In a separate glass, combine tea bag and hot water to make tea. Add tea to glass containing mixture. 
4. Add cinnamon stick and allow to steep until sufficiently cinnamon-y.
5. Stir. 
6. Garnish with a lemon slice. 
7. Enjoy!! 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

This Summer, Lipton Seeks to Redefine Refreshing.

This summer, forget that Long Island Iced Tea, which isn't actually made with tea at all, and go in for a really refreshing beverage. Lipton Tea has teamed up with New York City mixologist, Scott Fitzgerald, to help New Yorkers "feel the taste of summer" with innovative concoctions that incorporate Lipton Iced Tea products into delectable adult beverages, such as a White Citrus Sangria. What goes into such a drink? Watch Fitzgerald and actor Mario Lopez teach you how to make this special sangria here, including variations for a kid-friendly version.

Katharine McPhee and the Lipton Sun
photo by Insider Images/Andrew Kelly for Lipton

This past Thursday, on a clear, balmy night with the East River and Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop, and marking the summer solstice, Katharine McPhee played celebrity host to Lipton's "Summer Taste" party at South Street Seaport. McPhee was radiant as she unveiled the "Lipton Sun," a spherical, illuminated sun sculpture created by students at Pratt Institute, and representing the brighter side of summer beverages. Lipton bartenders served up the refreshing White Citrus Sangria, alongside Fitzgerald's stronger cocktail creation, a surprisingly low calorie Mint Tea Julep, made with Lipton's Ready to Drink Diet Green Tea Citrus, fresh orange juice, mint and bourbon. Looking for a light, crisp feel, WGINY staff sipped on another Fitzgerald favorite, Berried Green Iced Tea with Pomegranate, made with vodka, fresh strawberries, and Lipton's Tea & Honey Blackberry Pomegranate Iced Green Tea Mix to Go Packet. This flavorful, sweet cocktail was really a delight to drink.

What's YOUR favorite way to use Lipton Iced Teas as a mixer this summer? Become a mixologist for a day and send your own Lipton recipe cocktail or mocktail idea to by Wednesday, June 26 at 5pm, and you could win a prize package from Lipton. The most creative and palatable recipes will be featured on WGINY.

One lucky reader will win this prize package from Lipton.
Winner will be announced on or about June 28. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summerstage Goes "Airborne" at Central Park

Following the recent release of their third studio album, "The Airborne Toxic Event" was churning out nothing but addictive music at their recent Summerstage* show in Central Park. If you like bands like "The National" and "Stars," then you'll love these indie darlings whose beautiful, haunting ballads can't help but captivate you.

"The Airborne Toxic Event" plays Summerstage at Central Park
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner**
With a versatile array of instruments, including incorporating the Calder Quartet into many of their live shows, "The Airborne Toxic Event" mixes just the right amount of tranquility and edginess to create a unique sound for their audiences. Tuesday's show began with a slower, more mellow rock repertoire, gradually working up to faster paced jams, and the fans were loving it. This marked the group's 869th show as a rock band, lead singer Mikel Jollet explained as he introduced the song "The Storm," written about living life on the road. "The Storm" debuted last month on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," as "The Airborne Toxic Event" was promoting their latest album, "Such Hot Blood."

Anna Bulbrook on viola
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner 
"The Airborne Toxic Event" will be taking to the festival circuit this summer, and if you're wondering which band they might be, just look out for the best looking band you've ever seen close up, ever. Also keep an eye out for Anna Bulbrook, whose viola skills are prominently featured in many of the band's songs.

Though "The Airborne Toxic Event" has rarely a song that exceeds three minutes long, each song says so much. Listen to Jollet sing, and with his charming stage presence and charisma, you'll be sure he's singing directly to you. Some fan favorites that were raved about at Summerstage included "Sometime Around Midnight," from the band's eponymous first album, and the sing-songy "Timeless" from "Such Hot Blood." Drum, guitar, violin, and especially bass solos were highlighted, as Jollet noted there are just not enough bass solos in modern music.

Noah Harmon on the upright bass
Photo by Heather-Ann Schaeffner

The Summerstage show ended with "The Airborne Toxic Event" performing seemingly impromptu covers of
classics from Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springstein, bringing their wannabe Americana-style home full circle. "The Airborne Toxic Event" is making waves in the indie rock community and the small splashes they've achieved over the last few years are sure to only continue to propel them into stardom in coming years.

*"Summerstage" is a three month long festival that brings free cultural events to parks in every borough of New York City.  There is something for everyone whether your interest is dance, opera, theater, music or family events.  See the full calendar of events for more information. 

**See Heather-Ann Schaeffner's full photo reel from the show here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Frankenstein Upstairs" Breathes Modern Life into an Old Tale.

Nearly 100 years after the publication of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," even the most avid fans sometimes forget that "Frankenstein" is a story not so much about a creature of the night, but rather about the monsters that live inside of us all. How far might we be willing to go to achieve our most desired objectives in life? What could we create if there were no limits? What might we destroy in the process? In an imaginative new drama, award-winning playwright, Mac Rogers, examines these and other lofty questions, and brings Shelley's old tale into the 21st century.

Marisol (Diana Oh) and Sophie (Autumn Dornfled) share a moment
photo by Deborah Alexander used with permission
"Frankenstein Upstairs" begins with a young couple, Sophie (Autumn Dornfeld) and Marisol (Diana Oh), living together in a hip Brooklyn apartment, and trying to come up with ideas to merge their small social media start-ups. Awkward as can be, Sophie is as serious and high strung about her business as she is about her relationship with Marisol, who happens to be her polar opposite in every way. Marisol is a goofy, carefree spirit with little interest in things like planners and time management, while Sophie schedules every minute of her life, including "sexy time" with Marisol (interestingly, that the couple's romantic chemistry is a bit less than believable, only makes their polarizing archetypes more believable). 

Sophie becomes more annoyed as her efforts to nail down a "SWOT" strategy (Strategies, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) for their companies keeps getting interrupted by momentary lapses in power, as well as Marisol's complete inability to actually focus on anything that might constitute working. Enter the elusive upstairs neighbor, Victoria Frankenstein (Kristen Vaughan), who too easily takes responsibly for causing the power outages in Sophie and Marisol's apartment, and jumps on the opportunity to befriend the girls. With a mysterious ancestry, an old journal from her grandfather, and a secretive work project she's reluctant to reveal, "Vic" impresses Sophie and Marisol, and especially begins to win over their friend and social media contact, Taylor (Rob Maitner). 

Victoria Frankenstein (Kristen Vaughan) examines an unconscious Marisol (Diana Oh)
photo by Deborah Alexander used with permission
Relations don't stay chummy for long, as the more the four players interact, the weirder and more oppressive things get for all involved. Following an argument between Sophie and Marisol, Sophie awakes to find Marisol unconscious. Usually cool and collected, Sophie begins to panic, until Victoria Frankenstein appears with an idea that will literally shock this couple to their core. Sophie is forced to make a choice that will forever change her, and she learns that every choice has consequences, and every action a reaction. 

Including a 10 minute intermission, "Frankenstein Upstairs" has a running time of nearly 3 hours, and could probably be cut in a few places, but overall it is a thought-provoking work of science fiction that will leave audiences questioning their own ideals, faiths and pragmatism. "Frankenstein Upstairs" is now playing at The Secret Theatre, in Long Island City, through June 30. This show may very well end up reanimating itself on a larger stage one day soon, but don't miss your opportunity to see it in this intimate setting. Purchase tickets now, and if you enjoy the play, vote for it to win a New York Innovative Theatre Award.

Read more about this and other of Mac Rogers' intriguing plays in his interview with The Brooklyn Rail.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Let The BTK Band Rock Your F---king Face Off.

The BTK Band
photo by KL Thomas used with permission 

It's 9pm on a rainy Monday and I'm waiting at the door to UNDER St. Marks while "The BTK Band" can be heard rehearsing downstairs for their regular rock improv show. A small line is forming behind me, but the lady accepting the $5 admission fee at the door is so far only letting in "Storytellers and go-go dancers! Only storytellers and go-go dancers please!..." My interest is now officially piqued, and so begins what becomes the most fun I can ever remember having on a Monday night.

Go-Go Dancer with The BTK Band
photo by KL Thomas used with permission
Known for drinking hard and rocking out even harder, The BTK Band plays every second Monday of the month, welcoming storytellers to beguile audiences with witty yet true tales of sex, love, lust and other life experiences, as BTK literally makes up lyrics in the background to complement the stories. Their June 2013 show happens to fall during Pride month, and just when you think they couldn't ham things up more, BTK decides to become "BTGay" for the evening, and band members emerge in various assortments of rainbow outfits and transgender apparel. Surrounding the band and offering tantalizing interpretive dance moves are buxom, rainbow outfitted, scantily clad male and female go-go dancers (who, by the way, apparently work for tips). This is all especially fitting, given that the band got its start at the infamous Stonewall Inn, oft credited with being the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.

Immediately shocking and hilarious, the BTK Band, led by the larger than life Peter Aguero (who sometimes goes by his mother's married name, The Duchess Barbara Pillsbury, especially when he's in drag), introduce some of their go-go dancers. There's "Cliff Hanger," and "Amelia Bareparty," to name a few. To get the party started, after an outrageous rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the band calls on a random audience member to come to the stage and reveal a bit about himself. Giving up nothing more than that he is a gay drummer who likes baseball, audience member "Ian" is awkwardly serenaded by the catchy tune "Ian, When Will You Be Mine?"

Shortly after, the featured storytelling begins. We first hear from John Flynn, who describes, in three parts, a lascivious story of his first ever one night stand, while traveling in St. Louis, as the band chimes in, "He's in St. Louis and he's lookin for a man..." As the twisted lyrics continue, it becomes easy enough for the audience to join in, if they can stop laughing long enough to actually sing along. (Sidenote: John Flynn also hosts a Thursday night storytelling open mic show at UCB East, which I now feel compelled to catch soon).

All puns aside though, this band is really no joke. Their songs are clever and creative, and the band's obvious zest for life is just unstoppable. Rory Scholl, who sings and plays several instruments for BTK/BTGay, has got some impressive pipes on him, as does the band's one female vocalist, Margo Bercy. This is musical improvisation at its finest. Consider, for example, the band's alluring accompaniments for storyteller Tara Clancy's "coming out" experience, or playwright Edgar Oliver's good/bad dream.

The saddest part of the night was learning that The BTK Band, performing since approximately 2007, will be ceasing their residency at UNDER St. Marks at the end of this year. As they are also entering a summer hiatus, that means there are very few opportunities left to catch The BTK Band live, and I certainly wouldn't want to miss them if I were you. Look for them to play UNDER St. Marks on the second Monday in September,  Monday the 9th, to be exact (WGINY surely plans to attend again!). While you are listening to new and interesting stories and songs, you may even find the answers to some burning questions, such as, "Will harmonica player, 'Handsome Brad,' take his shirt off during the show?"

In the meantime, follow The BTK Band on facebook and twitter where you can learn more about upcoming shows and appearances, and also amuse yourself with their sort-of NSFW youtube channel. (Hint: check any of these pages for official videos from their June 2013 Pride show and other gigs from as far back as 2009). As you explore, just think of this motto: "BTKwill rock your f---king face off!", but remember, you have to see it live to get the full effect.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Lesbian Love Octagon" -- Eight Times the Fun!

By Guest Contributor: Tami Shaloum

What do you get when you mix a recently single lesbian, her long list of ex-girlfriends, and an even longer list of exes’ girlfriends and their exes? You get “Lesbian Love Octagon,” a fun, campy, tongue-in-cheek musical comedy about a group of gay women living in the Lower East Side. The incestuous cast of rotating bedmates centers around the likeable, serial monogamous Sue, who tends to turn her exes into close friends. Rounding out the cast are more lesbian stereotypes than you can shake a dildo at. They all hang out at the lesbian bookstore, drink at the lesbian bar, and shop at the lesbian sex shop. The drama between the eight main characters reaches a fever pitch when Sue and Darla, her girlfriend of two years, break up. This sets in motion a series of events in which the characters fall in and out of bed with each other, hearts are broken, and new relationships are formed.

Caitlin Lee Reed as "Sue" and Jax Jackson as "Jerry" in "Lesbian Love Octagon"
photo by KL Thomas used with permission
The music brings to mind Sondheim, with its layered medleys and sparse, speech-like solos. The singing is solid, with strong and clear voices comprising an array of diverse vocal styles. The cast weaves seamlessly in and out of the minimalist set design, and the characters are deliciously fun, from fashionable, sex-crazed femme Anya to scene-stealing, outspoken Wendy. Sue is, of course, the "normal" one, almost milquetoast in comparison to her flamboyant friends. Her role serves mainly to ground the others. Another sincere character is Jerry, another ex of Sue’s back when Jerry was Jenny. Now a transgender male, Jerry is dating the bisexual Darla who, Jerry suspects, is using him to add to her collection of alternative relationships. The strength of this character is his insistence on not being a token for his mate. When Sue goes through an identity crisis, there is a sweet exchange between her and Jerry. He reminds her that there are a thousand things that make her who she is, and only one of those is that she is a lesbian.

The humor of “Lesbian Love Octagon” exists mainly to poke fun at lesbian culture, including an entire song listing things lesbians like: camping, Sleater-Kinney, cats, tofu scrambles... Whatever political message the play espouses about acceptance and equality usually goes so over the top it becomes satirical. At the same time, there is a real celebration of the culture and the way New York City helps it thrive. Above all, the show celebrates female sexuality and friendship. With each character oozing more sensuality than the next, you are never left wondering why they go through so much drama to be together.

"Lesbian Love Octagon" is playing at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) only through June 29, so purchase your tickets now. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Spotlight on Spring Dumpling House

Interior of Spring Dumping House -- 36 W. 38th Street 
You don't have to head to Chinatown to find some of the best dumplings in town.  Instead, try Spring Dumpling House, conveniently located in midtown, at 36 W. 38th Street between 5th and 6th Ave.  The chic, minimalist decor compliments the exposed brick, as mellow lighting and eclectic world music set a smooth dining scene. Peppy, friendly waitstaff provide you with some complimentary peanuts to snack on, as is Chinese tradition, and iPad is presented to patrons highlighting menu and daily specials such as staff (and WGINY) favorite, pork belly sliders. Your server will describe each dish and sauce in detail and, if you ask, even explain exactly how to eat and dip these Chinese "tapas."  

Spicy Pork Dumplings -- One plate is never enough!
Priding itself on being "The House of Pot Sticker, Yummy Dumpling and Tasty Noodle," Spring Dumpling House is full of delicious surprises, like the savory meat exploding out of their popular spicy pork dumping. The name of the game is definitely pork here, and you'll find several combinations of it-- pork and chive, pork and cabbage, pork and scallion-- as you look over the extensive menu of dumplings and potstickers. Each plate of dumplings or potstickers is served piping hot and ready to be devoured. Potstickers are lightly pan seared while dumplings are boiled, and the chefs at Spring Dumpling House seem to have perfected the art of blending just the right amount of sweet and sour and spice in each creation.

Of course a tour of Northeast Chinese delights would probably not be complete without some shellfish, so make sure to order a plate of sesame shrimp toast. Served with a side of vinegar-based sriracha sauce, this is a delicacy that will melt in your mouth. For another shrimp specialty, try the shrimp, chive and mushroom dumpling.

Sesame Shrimp Toast

The most difficult part of a visit to Spring Dumping House is knowing when to stop. You can't eat it all, but you'll probably want to. If you go and you love it like I did, don't forget to "like" Spring Dumpling House on facebook. Live close by but don't feel eating out? Spring Dumping House also delivers.