Thirty One.

Tara’s birthday is one of my favorite times of the year.  It’s an opportunity where I get to celebrate her entirely.  Because birthdays are a big deal for her as well, it always extends for the entire week.  It also stretches me to be unique and creative with each one that I get to be a part of.  To read about last year’s birthday, click <<<here>>>.

Her actual birthday this year fell on a Tuesday (July 30th) which was good and bad. With it being in the middle of the work week, we had to wait till Friday to really do something BIG with friends. It did, however, give us an opportunity to do some small little things throughout the week.

This year I feel like we’ve hit a new stride personally as true NYC locals.  Last year, our first in NY, we hadn’t really developed any close friendships in the City so we ended up planning a big birthday bash with her FL friends and family.  Thanks in large part to the small group we started at our church, our “network” of close friends has grown quite considerably since the beginning of 2013.  This is how the birthday week unfolded.

Monday
It just so happened that it was the closing night of our small group season.  We had almost everybody at the group that night (which has grown from 12 to 20 people).

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Last year for Tara’s 30th, I had a cake made by the fabulous KaraBoo Bakery and we
included on the cake 30 things that defined Tara.
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Karaboo always hits it out of the park.  I was bummed that I couldn’t fly in a cake
from them.  In an interesting twist of fate, I ended up meeting a cake maker, Amy Noelle of Sugar Flower Cake Shop, on the Friday prior to Tara’s birthday week at a networking meeting in the City.  She is extremely talented, creative, uses local ingredients and does not use fondant on anything.  She was showing pictures of her work on her iPad and after I left the meeting, I e-mailed her to see if she could take on making my wife’s cake.  She accepted and we came up with a local NYC cake idea.  As I said earlier in this post, I feel like this year we’ve really settled into our NYC life.  We don’t feel we’re tourists anymore and we’ve embraced this City as our own.  So here’s the cake we had made to represent our “local” status in the Union Square area and I surprised Tara by bringing it out on that night to share with our group…our NYC friends.
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As for the cake ingredients/flavor, here’s the breakdown.  We decided on a Champagne Cake with chocolate buttercream filling and NYC Honey Icing.  Champagne cakes are all the rage this year plus that’s one of her favorite drinks!  The honey is sold in the Union Square farmer’s market (Andrew’s Honey).  Andrew has hives all around Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and keeps the harvests separately.  The variety they are using right now is the Chelsea honey.  The chocolate was Valrhona dark chocolate.  Since chocolate doesn’t grow in the state of New York, she had to look outside and use one of the best quality French chocolates (which was great because Tara has a personal affinity for all things French!).  The champagne is a pink champagne which fit in with the purple and green color scheme.

Her gift that night was a mophie phone case/charger…a real game changer as a NY’er.  More on that in a future blog post.
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Tuesday
This was the actual birthday.  I got up at 5:30AM to wait in line at Dominique Ansel’s Bakery, the inventor of the Cronut (more on this in a future blog post as well).  I was able to score 2 cronuts when the bakery opened at 8AM and deliver them to the wife at work as my “surprise” gift that day.  The cronut had a blackberry glaze with bits of pulverized berries mixed in and it was rolled with a mix of coarse sugar and lime zest. It was filled with blackberry-swirled vanilla cream. Every month they change flavors.  It tastes every bit as good as it sounds!!
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I had some flowers delivered at work a few hours later.
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We went and ate at Pierre Loti, a wine and cheese bar in Union Square – one of Tara’s favorite things to do.  It was great to spend some time with her out on a date – just the two of us.  We tried a few different plates and shared a bottle of wine.
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Wednesday
We had dinner scheduled with some friends of ours from a few weeks ago, so before we went, I gave her a card with 2 plane tickets to the Dominican Republic.  We have not taken a vacation at all this year.  So this will be a great break for us in the Fall (even if it is just for a weekend) before my travel/gig season gets crazy and hopefully we can come back with some good looking tans for the winter!
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Thursday
Finally a night at the house just to chill and catch up on some DVR shows.  But to make the night a little special, I had ordered some ZD wine (T’s favorite) to be shipped in from Napa and it came in that day so we enjoyed a bottle with dinner.
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Friday
I had a DJ gig on Saturday so this was our night to live it up!  We went out with our good friends, Cameron and Leslee, to Beauty and Essex on the lower East Side.  I will do a separate blog post on that location later on but let me just say, this place blew our mind!  From the outside, you wouldn’t have any idea what the vibe is like.  You actually walk THROUGH a pawn shop (the front door) and it opens up to this massive 3 story space.  It’s very trendy.

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beauty inside
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They are known for their FREE “champagne bar” that is INSIDE the ladies restroom and you better believe that Tara and Leslee took FULL advantage of that.  Did I mention that it was FREE?
*NOTE: The men’s restroom, was not at all furnished with that type of amenity.
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The food at B&E is very tapas style.  We hung out there, shared some amazing food, drank some quality wine and had great conversation.

Afterwards, we went out to a hole-in-the-wall bar called Nurse Bettie for a night cap and then finished eating tacos out of a taco truck called Tacos Morelos (Cameron and Leslee’s first DATE night spot in the NYC -TRUE story and yes, this is one of the many reasons why we love them)!
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Great way to cap off 31 in the City!
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HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

Tara and I lead what our church calls a “community group” (other churches call it a connect group, small group, life group, etc.).  Our particular group is for married couples. As we were going into the Summer season, we changed the format from the Spring semester to a more social and less study feel, taking advantage of all the things NY has to offer in the Summer.

We designated one night for going to the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, which is absolutely free!
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It runs from the middle of June through the middle of August and they show some classic films.  Each week it’s a different film and you can see all the options on their website.  We picked “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” because it’s a classic and frankly seemed easier to follow then most of the others.

Here’s how it works.  The green lawn is closed to the public all day until 5PM.  Unlike Shakespeare in the Park, there are NO tickets needed.  Instead, you line up on the gravel surrounding the lawn at 4PM.  Then at 5, they open the lawn and it’s a free for all to make your claim to the best view of the big screen.  People bring blankets and chairs to mark their territory.

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Once again, because of my flexible work schedule, I was designated as our group representative to grab our seats.  Surprisingly enough, with my one blanket, I got us perfect seats.  All that half marathon training paid off in the mad dash.  So cool having the cityscape as your backdrop behind the screen.

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Tara HBO Film Festival spot

The only problem is that you then have to WAIT until 8:30PMish for the sun to go down and the film to begin.  People bring books, mess around on their phones, eat dinner, etc. until the film starts.  In our case, Tara met me there after she got off work and we watched flying cameras and played a few rounds of thumb war (which I dominated..duh).

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Our group mates made their way to finding us before the film started and everything worked out perfectly.  Here are a couple tips:

#1: Try to secure a space as close to the middle of the lawn as possible.  For one, all the speakers are located in the middle so if you’re on the sides, you catch the echo and it’s hard to hear clearly.  Also, if anybody leaves, you’re less likely to have people walk over you being in the middle.  If you’re on the edges, you’re subjected to it all movie long (much like having an aisle seat on a plane).

#2: Bring 2 blankets if securing for a large group.  Looking back, I wish I would’ve brought a second one.  They don’t allow “sheets” so don’t bring those.

#3: Bring an umbrella!  Summer showers in NY are subject to happen at any time and there is no covering on the lawn.  In fact, a slight drizzle DID come down for about 2-3 minutes before the movie started. The nice thing is it cleared out a few folks who did not bring umbrellas, which allowed us to spread out a bit.

#4: You can bring your own food and drink but they do inspect bags again, so don’t bring professional cameras.  There are a couple food places outside of the park that are good and relatively cheap.

#5: Use the restrooms before the film.  It is pitch black once the films start and trying to make your way to a restroom at that point is tough.

They showed a preview and an old school Bugs Bunny cartoon before the film started.

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I forgot how good the original Willy Wonka is.  Gene Wilder is the man!  So glad we picked that one.
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We caught this on the perfect night.  The humidity was extremely low, because of the rain, the temperature actually dropped a bit and we actually had a slight breeze.  All in all, this was a total win!  Highly recommend this in your NYC summer plans!

Shakespeare In The Park

Since it’s been forever and a day since we last blogged, it’s time to take my friend, Lisa, up on her blog challenge and give it a shot of a full week of blogging to get some 2013 posting momentum started (better late than never).  So why so long between posts?  It’s a sad excuse but we’ve been extremely busy.  I’ve been gigging a lot recently (most of which has been out of town) and Tara has been working a ton holding things steady in NY while I’ve been on the road.

For this week of posting, I thought we’d highlight some NYC bucket list items we’ve checked off our list over the summer.  We’ve tried to make a point of doing a lot of local things this year and surprisingly enough, we’ve made a ton happen.  Living in this City sure does have its advantages and the summer gives you so many things to do.

Shakespeare in the Park was something my wife read about in an e-mail from the skint last year. So when we recently watched a DVR’d episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jessie Tyler Ferguson was a guest and he was plugging his involvement with Shakespeare in the Park and Tara remembered reading about it.

So what exactly is it? Throughout the summer, the public theatre sponsors free showings of various Shakespeare pieces with a few Holywood headliners lending their talents to them.  This has been happening for the last 60 years.  The first play (of 6) this summer was The Comedy of Errors and it starred Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater. We talked our friends, Cameron and Leslee, into going with us.

This is how it works with tickets.  Every show day, they release tickets at noon at the ticket booth in Central Park.  They only allow 2 tickets per person and seating preferences is a crapshoot…first come, first serve.  With my more flexible work schedule, I got there at 11AM and held a spot for us then Cameron came down and met me at noon and we scored 4 tickets.  The line moved quickly and wasn’t too bad at all.
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You return at 8PM when the amphitheater opens and you can bring your own food/drink or buy it there.  With Leslee, we knew she would have plenty of snacks so we took care of bringing the coffee mugs 😉

The amphitheater was very intimate and there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  The set design was incredible, the lighting/production was top notch, the central park backdrop was surreal and the weather was phenomenal.
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I think our only regret was not having read up on the play ahead of time…talking in old English and in this particular play, some of the actors playing multiple roles, made it tough to follow initially.  Don’t even try to bring professional cameras in there as they don’t allow any photos to be taken and they were stopping people at the door.  Of course, being the sneaky photographer I am, I took a few stealth photos.

Added bonus was that one of our friends from Liberty Church, Adrienne Weidert, was dancing in the show.  Dancing in a Shakespeare play?  Yes!  They used it in such a creative way.
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If you get a chance to come to the City in the summer and you appreciate Shakespeare (or just enjoy live theatre in general), put this on your to do list. It is such a great experience.  And the price (free) makes it all the more worth it!
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Brian Approved: The Bitter End

So a few posts ago, I introduced you to my friend Beth.  Well, she happened to be in NYC recently and when Tara and I joined her for dinner, she mentioned that she had gone to a place called The Bitter End to watch some live music a few days prior.

Not familiar with the spot, she quickly gave me the low down.  This club is located in Greenwich Village and is a cultural icon in New York.  Fred Weintraub opened the place in 1961 as a no-alcohol talent showcase where he presented up-and-coming acts like Peter, Paul and Mary (who made their debut there that year), Joan Baez and Woody Allen. Paul Colby became the club’s manager and talent booker and eventually, owner. The club has given some other little known artists their start….folks like Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and more recently Ingrid Michaelson, Norah Jones and Lady Gaga to name a few.

Last weekend Tara and I went out to dinner with some of our new friends, Cameron and Leslee.  After dinner, we were looking for something to do and I suggested we check this place out.   We arrived pretty early by “clubbing” standards (8PM) and it turned out that we got there just before the first band was to go on.

The cover was only $5 and the night featured 6 bands (they are open 7 days a week and feature that many bands nightly).  Despite the low cover, there is a catch.  Each person must buy at least 2 drinks per band performance (while that may not be a problem for my wife, it is for an alcohol lightweight like myself).  Although there is a sign on each table stating this policy, we found out that it is not heavily enforced.

The décor inside definitely makes it feel like you’re in an old school rock n’ roll club.  That said, the stage lighting and  sound gear are up to all the latest standards.  They’ve even got streaming video on their website (they’ve positioned a studio mic in the center of the room used exclusively for the streaming) so you can preview the talent before you even get there.  No celebs at this particular show that we went to…just bands trying to get their big break.  I was pleasantly surprised by the talent level.  According to the door man, each band performs about 6 or so songs and then the next band gets set-up to play.

If you’re looking for a live music spot, this is a great spot to go.  Here’s a couple quick snipets below of a band we saw (unfortunately, we didn’t catch their name).  They did mostly their own original music (kinda bluesy) but also sprinkled in a few covers as well.

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