Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Margaritas, Margaret, Musical Mondays, and . . . oh shit it's May!

April has come and gone and May is quickly upon us. How the time does fly! Since my Elaine adventure, I have been busy with work, planning my June adventures, and even some auditioning. Spilling over with excitement from Elaine sighting, I neglected to mention in my last blog that I recently made my "television debut" with a bit of extra work on Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Depending on how editing goes, you can find me on Episode 12: "True Legacies" walking down the sidewalk, waiting in line for the falaffel cart, and doing my best version of a New York City pedestrian. This was my first assignment through Central Casting and proved both a fun and learning experience, not to mention I actually got paid to act. In fact, though my paycheck was a mere $$, it currently holds the record as my biggest acting check yet (take that "If This Ain't It"). While on set, I observed the camera people and production assistants, and for one shot I was within arm's distance of Jeff Goldblum. Yes, he is that tall and quirky and just a bit creepy (celebrities should not have that much access to self tanners and hair coloring, no matter how much money they have). Between takes, I got to gorge on the treasures at the Craft food table, yogurts, Gushers, nuts, doughnuts, cold coffee, oh my! The glamour truly never ceases. After what seems endless bouts of rain and grey, we finally sun again in New York, and I am loving it. Of course, I am not actually venturing outdoors to enjoy it, but rather soaking up the fresh breeze from my bed/desk, sunning myself at my Happy Hour perch, enjoying wearing even less clothing when I go out at night, or running away from Stefano to the outside section. My room is all but settled, and should I get the hooks I bought for my closet hung up, it will be a real accomplishment and my first real effort in interior decorating. Things with Liz are going swimmingly, in part because we are never home at the same time, causing any meeting a chance to chat and catch up and limiting any competition over bathroom time. I have been zipping through a selection of movies and books, maxing out my Queens Library card. After an affair with contemporary essay/humor writers David Sedaris, Chelsea Handler, and Nora Ephron (love, love, and love), I have returned to my quest for the classics with Love in the Time of Cholera. Let us hope the book leads me closer to love and far, far away from cholera. It seems I have been running more errands than usual, but what I am getting accomplished don't ask me. I've mailed post cards and greeting cards, packages and presents, ordered new checks and updated my address, and taken advantage of some great spring shopping while I have been at it. I grow more and more excited for my upcoming show as well as my upcoming trip back home. I keep thinking of "A Weekend in the Country," from A Little Night Music, though I suppose my sabbatical from the city will last a little longer and hopefully not involve any duels (but then, again . . . ). Last week saw me on a mad hunt for my phone, as we unfortunately were separated from each other during my first visit to Musical Mondays at Splash. Held at the beginning of each week, this bar night celebrates the musical theatre with some of the rarest and most entertaining stage clips around, not to mention 2-for-1 drinks before 9. Arriving at 8, Quinto and I enjoyed a mini-IU reunion and somehow found ourselves at the bottom of about 6 rounds by 10 o'clock (my parents always taught me to be frugal and take advantage of a good deal after all). To the boon of all those in attendance, I was quite loosened up by then, just in time for viewings of clips from Chicago and Promises, Promises. After showing off my Fosse style and best Donna McKechnie (not too mention a whole host of other musical theatre icons), I discovered I was both phoneless and shameless. Searching the dance floor and my empty pockets, I set forth to inquire whether the bartenders or coat room had seen my precious phone. Defeated, I decided to call it a night and hide my sorrows in late night McDonald's and a quick nap on the N-train (how did I miss my stop again?). If I had a dollar for every time I woke up confused at the Astoria-Ditmars stop. The next day, after punishing myself at the gym, I braved the city, a phoneless American, and decided to show my face once again at Splash. There again was the same shirtless bartender from the night before, and yes, there was my beloved phone, contacts and pics intact (though I did have to face quite the interrogation before reclaiming my ENV3). In summation, all I can do is quote that Gaga/Beyoncé classic "I should've left my phone at home 'cause this is a disaster."
Cinco de Mayo proved equally as amusing, as I made my way to the Crescent Lounge to meet a friend following disgustingly slow evening at Locale (what part of expensive Italian food does not spell Cinco de Mayo - By the way, we have a new menu and wine list and Stefano wants everyone to know). As soon I entered the bar, I saw my friend and before I could get a proper "Hello" out, I was accosted by who was to become our new friend, Margaret. Somewhat of a real-life Carol Channing, at least in age and timbre, she quickly said, "Well, who are you? Have we met" She then went on to inform me just who she was, telling me about the Sheet Music Society ("I call it the Sheet Metal Society") and her (obvious) evening at Hurley's beforehand. She applauded Kelsey Grammer and his current performance in La Cage aux Folles, relating that her friend, who hates everything ("This woman, she hates her name, she hates her kids, she hates her cat, and let me tell you, the husband's no bargain"), even celebrated his now Tony-nominated performance. She asked me if I had any available, heterosexually uncles, and luckily was able to respond, "No." Then came the songs. This woman probably sang "Gary, Indiana" to me about 15 times that evenings (I think we met about 5 times). Other favorites include, "What'll I do?" "My Indiana Home," "Friendship," and a personal favorite, "Bosom Buddies" - i just couldn't resist. I did manage to spend a little time with the friends I came there to see, but not of course without some interruptions from good old Margaret. Apparently, she is a regular there and lives across the street. Apparently.
So, now it is May and I am writing my first blog of the month. As I see the dwindling number of blog entries each month, I feel ashamed and sad. What kind of a blogger am I? What kind of abusive give-and-take relationship am I putting my readers through? What about their wants and needs? I promise to write soon, or at least soonish. Well, "Promises, Promises."

Elaine and I

Last night, I met one of my all-time theatre idols, Elaine Stritch. Ok, I hate to use the word idol, because that makes me think of a Golden Calf in the desert, but let's just say I really, really like and admire her. Currently doing an encore performance of a cabaret show she did earlier this year, Elaine Stritch: Singin' Sondheim . . . One Song at a Time, I sat at the bar of the beautiful Cafe Carlyle, in awe, tears, and bliss. Located in the iconic Carlyle Hotel, an epitome of Upper East Side grandeur, its cabaret dining space holds nightly performances by icons of the American theatre, folk, and cabaret traditions (coming up at the Carlyle, Woody Allen, Judy Collins, and Sutton Foster). Coincidentally, this is also the hotel where Ms. Stritch lives, interestingly enough, in the same apartment she and her late husband once occupied. After a long day of work (more on that later), I snazzed myself up and gussied myself over to the Carlyle Hotel, hoping to get a seat for the night's performance. Finding a seat at the bar, I surrendered my credit card as a security, hoping that one of the reserved seats would bail. The Cafe is really a large dining room that only holds about 90 people; starting price to sit at a table $125 a person (depending on the show). I opted for the more economical bar seats, a mere $75 (or was it 85?) a pop, available on a first come, first served basis (unless you are a VIP of course). Oh boy, oh boy, did I feel out of place. Oh boy, oh boy am I glad I called ahead to see if they had a dress code. Outfitted in my best (only) suit, I attempted to fit in to this mix of the ultra rich, or at least, much richer than I. With the exception of one or two other stray 20-somethings, I had a good 10 - 20 years of youth on the rest of the room. And while I am sure everyone knew at least something of Ms. Stritch, I think I am the only one you could qualify as a "fan" (attempting to keep my cool, and not appear a "fanatic" - hard work after 1 or 3 martinis). Interestingly enough, one of the other stray youngsters actually knew me, identifying me from Locale fame. He was sitting at a table, with only a sense of the coming show, I was at the bar, cycling this woman's entire career in my head. I was just a little bitter. Patiently reading my book (currently Chelsea Handler's Are You There Vodka?), I sipped my martini and counted the minutes. Sighting my literary choice, the gentleman at the bar next to me and I struck up a conversation. Come to find out he is Elaine's press agent. Thank you Richie, I owe you everything. As the show approached, the room soon filled with UES luminaries, I settled into my staked out position, determined to Stritch or Bust. My bar pal Richie, busy with the evening's events and VIP audience, was replaced by another older gentleman, guzzling vodka martinis and looking disgruntled (he called out during the show and was almost escorted out; I about died, and would have - for Elaine). As the hour approached, my seat secure, the lights dimmed, and out she came, all bones and wrinkles and black. Her loose fitting skirt and blouse looked much the same as what she wore to the 1985 Follies concert, only with shorter heals and a little less leg (maybe it was the same outfit). She opened the show with a gruff "I Feel Pretty," all irony and camp, eyes rolling and arms waving. As soon as I saw her, I though wow she is really is old, but still kicking (in my mind I imagined a younger - ha, who is younger at 85? - Granny Boiles standing onstage in a room full of people). Though she doesn't have the fire and vim you hear on the Company soundtrack (or better yet, her rare 60's album Stritch, why did not I think to pack that??), a stage pro she is, and a master of song interpretation at that, milking every line for what's it worth. From there she went to praise her pal Stephen Sondheim, noting his genius and vast contributions to the musical theatre ("musical comedies are what they called them in my day, it's what we should call them now!"). After "Pretty," she surprised the audience with "Rose's Turn" the finale from Gypsy (my favorite musical). Being an intensely character/plot driven song, one would generally steer away from such heavy fare in a cabaret, or at least save it until the end. That is, unless you are Elaine Stritch. Claiming she unfortunately never got a chance to tackle what is arguably the musical theatre's greatest female role (a real pity), she launched into the number, doing a bit of the preceding dialogue. While she may no longer have the pipes for the song (typically demanding the big pipes of a Merman or Patti Lupone), she made the song her own, the look in her eyes revealing Rose's desperation and sorrow. Though she has aged, she still drips confidence and command of the stage like no other. From there, she went on to do numbers from Company, Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, A Little Night Music, and others. A truly touching moment was her rendition of "Send in the Clowns," spoke-sung (as it's meant to be, fuck you Barbra Streisand) and interlaced with a story about her husband John Bay. Funny, I had never really pictured Stritch as the wife type, but there singing that song, talking about her husband, one got the sense that she still loves him, considers herself his wife. The portrait she painted of Stritch the wife and widow was in sharp contrast to her usual Stritch the Ball Buster, the Drunk, the Invincible, the Bitch, etc, her acid tongue put aside for a sweeter sound. The whole show seemed to have a more sentimental and softer energy, Stritch no longer the reeling alcoholic, her old anger seemingly displaced, a soft candlelight instead of all fire and vim. Referencing a show currently in revival on Broadway, she performed an eery, truthful rendition of "Everyday a Little Death" as a monologue. Later on, she pulled out signatures "Broadway Baby" and "The Ladies Who Lunch," still claiming ownership of two of Sondheim's greatest songs. I was hoping for "I'm Still Here," but perhaps by show's end that choice seemed beside the point (or maybe she was tired, or decided we didn't deserve an encore number). By show's end (I ran out during one of last numbers because my bladder simply could not hold out), I was astounded and believe it or not, I got to meet her. She was tired and wanted to go upstairs to bed, but I wrangled an autograph and photo out of her, thanks to bar friend Richie and some Indiana charm (I told her she helped me move to New York: true). Leaving the Carlyle, I immediately burst into tears, a dream of mine realized. Now today, I am asking, was it all just a dream?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making a House a Home

Or at least making a room, a room. A large percentage of my early April efforts have been devoted to moving into, organizing, and decorating my new apartment. After a determined march up and down Steinway this Tuesday, Katrina and I secured both a bed and some Popeye's Chicken, the one bringing hope of a comfortable night's sleep, the other inducing an unplanned siesta. Yesterday, my bed finally arrived, along with its own crew of moving men to carry it up the stairs and even assemble it for me (the bookshelf was enough of a challenge, for the bed I kindly swallowed my pride). After giving him my thanks and scurrying off to work, I returned home last night to a bed and a room full of cardboard. Kicking the cardboard into the hall (good thing no one lives above me), I removed my full size sheets from their cozy home in the closet, finally restoring them to proper use and the promise of a good night's sleep. My bed made, I set forth to shuffle and scoot and rearrange my room as I saw fit, spinning the jigsaw puzzle until all was in place (or at least kind of). The combination of my white bedspread alongside my new white bed frame and bookshelf give my room a look of cleanliness and light, something an air mattress just cannot give a room. With all that white, one would think I am a super-clean person. We shall see how my room is doing once a week's worth of subway dust has wafted in to dim my domicile. I have purchased the flour and sugar for our anticipated kitchen canisters and our wine rack has been stocked. The spice rack is spinning and filled with seasonings. Tomorrow, Time Warner will arrive to once again grant me the powers of home Internet, freeing me from my Panera Purgatory. Our table is set, and I have successfully cooked a few meals at home. Our drains have been snaked, the clinging remnants of the former tenant finally removed from the apartment. We have cleaned and wiped and shined and swept. We are already making good use of our dishwasher and EZ tie trashbags. Instead of packed away in boxes or piled in stacks on the floor, my books are properly displayed and picture frames in safe view. Jessica's angel sits on my bookshelf, looking down on me as I sleep. This new apartment already feels more homey, more promising, and distinctly more me. Liz and I are getting along just great. For a moment, I saw cause for alarm in the constant presence of a shot glass in the sink. While my wandering mind imagined some late-night shot guzzling Liz, she in fact has been doing nothing more than measuring Oxy Clean with my Daiquiri Deck steal. I am considering starting a club for the growing society of single women that have lived with me. The tally stands at 8, but I suspect there will be new members before long. Just imagine the stories that sorority would have to talk about.
So, what makes a house a home? Is it the stuff? The considerable portion of one's income forked over every month? The comfort gathered from the peace of mind associated with being able to walk around naked, nap on a whim, or enjoy an uninterrupted number 2? Perhaps it is a familiarity with the neighborhood, a friendly acquaintance with the people who dry clean my clothes, pour me drinks, or rent me movies. Unlike when I first moved here, NYC feels much more my home, my one year lease guaranteeing my residence here for at least another year. As opposed to my college apartments, my bed is new, my bookshelf is new, I even have a little bedside lamp, all of my choosing. Midway through writing this blog (yes, sometimes it does take a couple of days), I witnessed the miracle that is home Internet. Instead of looking like a crazy person in the Panera, I am free to be a crazed recluse in the privacy of my own home. This week has partially been spent waiting on strange men to install, fix, and assemble. Unlike the usual crowd of strange men that enters my apartment, these all were carrying tools. For now, all that remains is some essential poster and hook hanging and a proper house warming party. This latest project completed and my camp at least somewhat established, I set my eyes towards the task at hand and the future. Who knows what this next chapter will tell, what this new apartment will witness. I am anxious for the warm weather to return (it has been quite gray the past few weeks) and my next artistic endeavors to begin. Let us hope that the rest of April and May are more than a waiting game, that I may find something meaningful before my planned escape from New York.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bradley Meets Brooklyn (Plus a Recipe!)

After a 6-month standoff, Brooklyn and I finally came face to face, resulting in immediate attraction, my curiosity peaked. My first journey across the canal (don't ask me what the body of water separating Queens and Brooklyn is called) took place this Saturday as new-roommate Liz and I ventured that beacon of interior design, Ikea. Placed waterside in Red Hook, this massive shopping center, surrounding by residential Brooklyn and New York skyline, instantly brought back memories of Midwest malls and all-encompassing corporate checkouts. After all, there was not only a parking lot, but tons of open spaces, and all for free (a rarity in congested NYC). For the Ikea virgins among you, I come to you like a newly deflowered teenager to tell what it's really like. Part Lowe's-esque warehouse, part of showroom/gallery, one ascends the opening escalators into the maze of interior showroom and model households (i.e. "Your Home: in 360 square feet). Demanding smart-shopper principles, you traverse the beautiful assemblies of bookshelfs, ottomans, and light fixtures, touching, feeling, and measuring, exploring the infinite possibilities of what your home (let's be honest: apartment) can be. Once a set item, the piece that will simply complete your living room, you take not of it's item, aisle, and bin number. Before you know it, your notepad is full and you are wondering how you will get this treasure trove home (not to mention if your credit limit will suffice). Like a grown-up Candyland, filled with winding paths and wondrous sights, one should not underestimate the journey to the final checkout. As you venture from model rooms, to kitchen gadgets, to the garden of planters, and the hall of lights, one's perseverence and patience can quickly fade, the eyes becoming numb to the many treasures. Soon enough, you have forgotten why you have entered this plexiglass paradise and are longing for your unfurnished home. Then you turn the corner and before you know it, you are scarfing down there cinnamon and Swedish meatballs (they are a Swedish company after all), refreshed, an easy sucker to their money-grabbing ploys. After bounding through a final battleground of candles, plants, and pet accessories, you find yourself in the daunting warehouse section. Mountains of cardboard boxes abound and if you happened to miss an aisle or bin number, you are shit out of luck. Do your best to drive one of the unmanageable flatbed carts, steering clear of small children, intricate displays, and wandering Asians. Push on soldier, you are almost there. And finally, one finds oneself in the checkout line, the end in sight. After surrendering your credit card up to the pursuits of greater feng shui (and if you bought small items like we did, you will undoubtedly buy one of their reusable shopping bags), good luck hobbling to your car then making it home with your purchases (if you aren't lucky to have a roommate with an SUV-driving boyfriend, this step is much more difficult). Back in Queens, following a minor "Low Gas Light" scare, Liz and I ambled our purchases to the third floor. All in all, it was a successful, though daunting trip. I even managed to (mostly) put together my book shelf, a glass of wine by my side. Now, if only I had a bed . . .
Sunday interestingly brought me to Brooklyn yet again for Brunch fun with my friend Carrie and her boyfriend Michael. As I took the L-train out of Manhattan, I emerged from the subway in Williamsburg, home of hairy chested hipsters, cool cafés, and sidewalk sales. I saw tattoos of all sorts, bold lipstick and mascara choices, the tightest of pants, and cut-off everythings. The sun was shining and Brooklyn's best were out with everything hanging out. While we had our sights set on much-talked-about Egg, its never-ending wait list eventually got the best of us and we opted for its next door neighbor Cafe Julliet. The French-inspired menu was quite admirable and after much debate over the fried striped bass sandwich or eggs with goat cheese, I opted for the Autumn Salad, a delicious (and I'd like to think healthy) mix of poached chicken, pumpkin seeds, shaved manchego, roasted butternut squash, green apples, and mesclun greens. It went wonderful with my Blood Orange mimosa and left me feeling light and happy. Carrie chose the Eggs Florentine Benedict (I decided the Hollandaise and I needed a break), while Michael had a deliciously golden brown Croque Monsieur. It looked delicious and reminded me of my summer with Tom (my attempts at the classic French sandwich never quite looked that way). On the way back to the train, buzzed from another near-religious brunch experience, I fell victim to a sidewalk book sale, picking up a copy of Dr. Seuss's You're Only Old Once: A Book for Obsolete Children. It looked like something I simply couldn't resist and might never find again. I found my first visit to Brooklyn, the haven of cool white kids, a success and am looking forward to my next visit. And remember, the early bird gets the Egg.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Sausage with Quinoa
This is a great, healthy dinner using some of my favorite products. Quinoa is a seedlike grain, similar to rice that is packed with nutrients including Omega-3's. Treat it like rice or pasta and enjoy.

1 Bunch Broccoli Rabe, Washed and Cut into large pieces
1/2 large onion
Red Pepper Flakes
Anchovy Paste (optional)
2-4 cloves Garlic
Olive Oil
1 package Italian-Style Turkey Sausage
10-15 grape tomatoes (eyeball it), halved
Italian Seasoning
1/2 cup Red Wine (eyeball it): I used Cote du Rhone, but Malbec, Shiraz, or Chianti would also work great (or whatever you have on hand)
Parmesan Cheese

For the Quinoa (Some of these steps can be done simultaneously):
Use a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa. If you have chicken broth/stock, use that, if not just use water. Bring 2 cups liquid plus 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 TB butter or oil to boil. Once rolling boil is established, add the quinoa and reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occassionally, until the quinoa becomes translucent and is tender.

For the Broccoli Rabe:
Before beginning the dish, blanch the the broccoli rabe for a few minutes until tender in boiling, heavily salted water. Once tender, immediately put in a ice bath and set aside until later. This removes some of the bitterness and insures a properly cooked vegetable.

In a large, deep skillet, heat a couple turns of E.V.O.O over medium heat then add 1 tsp (less for a milder dish) red pepper flake and one squirt of anchovy paste. Allow to cook for one minute until the oil becomes fragrant and ingredients are incorporated. Add the onions and allow them to work for a few minutes. Next, add the ground sausage and begin to break apart with a wooden spoon. Season with salt, pepper, and Italian Seasoning. Once the meat is cooked through, drain off some of the fat and add the tomatoes, garlic and cooked broccoli rabe. Sauté together for a few minutes until ingredients are mixed together. Add the red wine and allow liquid to reduce. Check for proper seasoning and serve once the vegetables are hot. Top with freshly grated or shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve alongside the quinoa and a glass of the wine you used to cook with.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Post-Easter Posting

Happy Belated Easter to all of you out there in the world of blogdom. My apologies for the late well wishing, but I hope your holiday was joyous nonetheless. My Easter was a bit strange, as most things have been a little strange or at least different this year. Instead of hunting eggs or going to Church or eating ham, I spent the majority of my day at the Locale, running food and drinks and contemplating whether to wish my customers Happy Easter or not (after all, I am not in Indiana anymore). One of my brunch regulars (we call her "Nails") and I had a discussion about being Easter or Passover people, and decided that both were ok in my book (and then are those who are neither Easter nor Passover people, and yes we even like them!). We also discussed my Hoosier origins for the tenth time, once-again establishing that I am not from Gary and that she did go to Indiana once. She has become one of my many Locale fans, my little adopted family that come flocking to my workplace crying for brunch and dinner delights (as opposed to spells and potions). The sun is shining, Spring seems to finally be here to stay, and I am more or less moved into my new apartment. Major projects include finding a bed, obtaining actual Internet access (I think the Panera people are on to me), a bookshelf, and a microwave (because trying to drunkenly reheat in a pan is very dangerous). As we observe the Resurrection and witness the earth's gentle spring, I am hoping to experience my own rebirth, a rejuvenation of my senses, my soul refreshed, a new chapter in my life. Easter has me thinking about my sister, not that she ever leaves my mind much. I think of the yearly fights to get her hair brushed and into an Easter dress, taking pictures in front of the deck or Mom's purple irises. She still is able to make me laugh, but more often than not she makes me cry. I keep feeling like I should just be OK, that I should be moving on, that I shouldn't be scared or hurting anymore. The bubbly, funny, always-smiling Bradley does come out to play now again, but more and more I am a different self, drier, quieter, perhaps a little more genuine, and genuinely humbled. Oftentimes, I find myself either manic, crazed, and super-busy, or disinterested and listless, mostly seeking silence and distance. As I learn to swallow and accept my grief, this treatment seems a bitter pill, leaving me moody, jaded, and angry. More and more, it is hard for me to talk about the accident, to revisit the pain, choosing rather to carry my baggage in silence. Flashes of the hospital, the plane ride, the funeral still haunt me, questions and doubts flood my mind, and I consider it a triumph if I can keep it all from overwhelming me. Still, I am thankful for my life here, for work and growth, and a somewhat sense of direction. I have been very fortunate of late, with work coming my way (I will be performing in Hairspray at the Millbrook Playhouse during the month of June) and the warmer weather bringing us better business at Locale. I am thankful for the city, for its energy and inspirations, the people who have become familiar, a few even friends, the comfortable familiarity of my neighborhood and the always-going subway. As I forge ahead, I attempt to keep myself open for change, for learning, malleable in God's hands. Though what I am doing every day may not be super exciting or full of concrete accomplishments, I hope this is a time of "artistic marinating" (to steal the phrase from Lady Gaga), the journey that will take me where I dare to dream, the person I hope to become. I have so many questions and hunger for so many things, I pray for patience and guidance as I attempt to find answers and satisfaction. Most days I feel like I am banging my head against a wall, waiting for pain to subside and dreams to come. Though it is easy and tempting to live in the world of coulda-woulda-shoulda, I know I must live in the now, seeing what is in front of me and anticipating what is to come. For now, I am going to keep going, keep trying to live my life, to bravely look ahead instead of painfully looking back. Happy Easter; here's to life and a beautiful Spring.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Visitor's Guide to New York: Bradley's Abbreviated Version

With March Madness now coming to a close, April is upon us (Happy April Fool's Day, say hello to your favorite fool for me), the sun is out, and I am oh so happy to be enjoying a peaceful cup of coffee (not to mention free Wi-Fi) at the local Panera this morning. Now on my second large cup of coffee (1/2 dark roast, 1/2 hazelnut, 1/2 packet Splenda, splash of 1/2 & 1/2, and skim, can't beat it!), I am wide awake and ready to blog again. March was a bit of a crazy month in my life, I am glad to get that one in the books. I am all the way moved in to my new apartment, well at least all my stuff is there, audition season is easing up, and all seems well at work. Along with all the "to-do's" of March, I had the pleasure of entertaining several visitors this month. We visited lots of places, ate a lot of good food, endured wind and rain, and did lots and lots of walking. In retrospect, here is a list of some of my favorite New York spots, a taste of my personal New York, and a launching pad for your next visit to the Big Apple.

1) Central Park
The giant greens oasis in the middle of the city, it may be expected or cliché, but it is one of the essential stops for any New York experience. Encased in a mix of arbor and skyline, the Park on a sunny day is one of the simplest (and free!) pleasures to be enjoyed in the city. Every time I go to the Park, I end up getting lost, never following a specific path, rather heading in the general direction of my next destination. Hidden in the Park are several statues, benches, plazas, and rocky areas, not to mention its plethora of bodies of water (the Lake, the Pond, the Pool, the Reservoir, etc). You can usually catch a mix of prayer groups, singing groups, saxophone players, street dancers, and jogging/exercise groups on your walk through the Park, and maybe even catch a celebrity on the their morning run. By the way, skip the hot dog cart and instead head to the Upper West Side for a some of the great dining fare on nearby Columbus or Amsterdam Ave (favorites include Good Enough to Eat and Franzia soaked Silk Road Palace). (especially in between 70th and 90th streets), or if you prefer Park-side dining, hit up the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle and take your nutrient rich goodies to the closest bench available.

2) Union Square
One of my favorite spots in the city (and easily accessed via my train), the daily Green and craft markets are worth checking out during the day. For shopping there is DSW, Filene's, Forever 21, Diesel, and an American Eagle surrounding the Square. Check out the produce and seafood selection at Whole Foods, you're not going to find this stuff in Indiana, that's for sure. If you are hungry check out Coffee Shop or Republic, or if you are looking a special meal check out Blue Water Grill, Mesa Grill, or nearby Craft (just make sure to bring your blinders and your Amex). And of course, any quintessential visit to this area includes a visit to nearby chocolatier Max Brenner and the Strand Bookstore. Max Brenners offers a full service menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, making it a great stop for a meal, a coffee/hot chocolate, or dessert. It can get crowded at night, so check it out during the day for a more relaxed visit. A little less touristy than Times Square eateries, I always take my visitors, even it is not quite legit New York. Besides, who doesn't love chocolate? Before or after your cocoa inspired high, stop into the Strand, another New York institution, and scan the aisles. Again, avoid weekends and evenings for a more relaxed visit. Along with their huge selection of fiction and non-fiction, check out their huge selection of art books (your coffee table is awaiting its next arrival) and the rare books on the 3rd floor. Totes, magnets, and post cards make a great gift for the literary-minded in your family.

3) Hell's Kitchen
Located just west of the sprawling Times Square area, hit up this up and coming area for your next Pre- or Post-Theatre meal. Located on 8th, 9th, and 10th avenues, you can find legitimately New York restaurants, whose food and prices put all those Times Square Tourists Traps to shame. Favorites include Room Service for excellent and cheap Thai in a chic setting, Blockheads for cheap margaritas in the sun, and any of the other great Prix-Fixe packages offered for brunch and lunch. It's where all the cool kids are hanging out nowadays.

4) Astoria
It's where I live and clearly you came to visit me! Come visit me at work for a great brunch, special dinner, or cool cocktails at what I think is one of best restaurants in Astoria and beats Manhattan prices hands down. For the museum-minded, we have Astoria-Kaufman Studios, not-too-far Silversup Studios, and the Museum of the Moving Image. Check out the mix of Greek, Italian, Brazilian, Latino, Asian, and a whole mix of other immigrant groups, along with young actors from around the country, and young families that make up this community. If you want Spanokopita, Baklava, or Gyros, this is the place to be. Other favorite spots include Pomme Café, always open Sanford's, chill Vesta, karaoke at Broadway Station, and the loads of other eateries and bars popping up in the area (the two beer gardens are supposed to be amazing during the summer). Less complicated than the city, it's worth checking out if you have the time.

5) Soho
Take a big breath, be ready to walk, and channel your inner fashionista as you check out this downtown area that has quickly become one of the hippest and most expensive areas of the city. Almost any clothing store you could ask for keeps a shop here, including Japanese-owned favorite Uniqlo (beats American Apparel hands down) and new favorite CB2, hipster child of Crate & Barrel. For wild fashions, check out the Patricia Fields (Sex and the City costumer) store. Can't get enough shopping, head southwest to nearby Chinatown, home of hanging ducks and streetside Louisbuton.

6) The West Village
Located south of 14th street and west of Broadway, this area is home to many gems, including the NYU/Washington Square Park area, Christopher Street and the historic Stonewall Inn, uber-popular Magnolia Bakery, and many others I have yet to discover. After getting lost in the criss-crossing streets (I have a special map of just this area), checking out the many restaurants (including New York magazine faves The Spotted Pig, Jane, and One If By Land), cruising past the many sex shops, and gnoshing on those famous cupcakes, take a breather and sit in Washington Square Park, a perfect spot for a photo-op. Personal favorites in the area include Benny's Burritos and sentimental favorite The Cowgirl Café (mac'n'cheese with collard greens, get it now!). If you are feeling super hip and up for a bit of a walk, journey to "the ends of the earth" at the Meatpacking District. Once a smelly mess of blood and butchery, this trendy area is now home to super-chic restaurants and boutiques (Diane von Furstenberg has her flagship here). Channel your inner Samantha (this is the area in which she supposedly lived) and strut your stuff on the cobblestone.

7) The East Village
The grungier alternative to its western namesake, the East Village is home to lots of great eats (including The Smith, Gnocco Cucina, and Curly's), roaming NYU students, Yoga to the People, and many Off- and Off-Off Broadway theaters (including the Public and my recent venue Theater for the New City). Slightly sequestered and off-the-map, you can get a real taste of New York here, as this is primarily a tourist-free area. Once the home to heroin addicts, this has become a somewhat bourgeois and hipster area. To be safe, stay west of 1st Ave if you don't know your way around, but take the chance and explore some of the best eats and vintage shopping in the city. If you are need of a break from the city's craziness, ride the L to 1st Ave and enjoy a cocktail and free pizza at the Crocodile Lounge.

8) Broadway
It's the place of dreams and the reason I moved here. Stop in at the TKTS booth on 47th street for cheap tickets or bring your student ID for even better deals (doing a little research can pay off big time). Avoid the mega shows like Lion King, Mama Mia, Phantom, and Wicked (don't worry, they will run forever), and instead check out the season's new plays and musicals. Following recent Broadway trends, you can find lots of Hollywood luminaries making appearances on The Great White Way, this season alone including Julia Stiles, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hugh Jackman, Lucy Liu, Jude Law, Will & Grace's Sean Hayes, and the indomitable Angela Lansbury. Do your homework (, Backstage, Variety, The New York Times), find a good show, and sit back and enjoy. Pricey it can be, but believe me these are no high school productions.

9) Brunch
We do it here in the city better than anywhere else. From the classy to the trashy, you can find all levels of this weekend ritual. Wear your Sunday best and enjoy something fancy or find hair-of-the-dog solace in endless bloody marys or mimosas. You can find great deals across the city, some meals including a free beverage or even better the "crunk brunch" deals to be found at Essex, Sip, or in Alphabet City. The first time my mom was here we found a place in Hell's Kitchen that offered unlimited drinks for an hour for only $5. We got our money's worth. Start your weekend right and brunch with the best of them.
10) Museums Galore!
The city is home to some of the best museums in the world (and I'm not talking about Madame Toussad's), including the MOMA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museo del Barrio, Museum of Natural History (Night at the Museum), the Whitney, the Guugenheim, and even the Museum of Sex. Again, do your research; you can find great deals and see when's the best time to visit the museum. Though it's a well-kept secret, you can get into both the Met and the Natural History Museum for only a quarter (giving you more cash for food & booze). If you have the time, explore one of these halls of knowledge on your next visit, I'm sure there will be something to interest you.
Bonus: Drink with Bradley
One of my favorite metropolitan occupations, there are so many wonderful late-night spots in the city, favorite areas being the Villages, Hell's Kitchen, and Astoria. On Thursdays, journey with me to the Eastside for croons and cocktails at Uncle Charlie's, a fun bar without the pretentous attitude. Just be sure to plan for a cabfare home, the drunk subway ride (not to mention waiting for the subway) is never fun (and sometimes not safe).
Well here it is, a slice of my New York life. From the stinky fish markets of Chinatown to racing taxis of Midtown, this is my New York, my city. There are places to go and things to do for almost any personality - the city is full of both hidden treasures and tourist traps. Explore and enjoy!