Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating Greek Myths

Greek Mythology Party for Nine Year Olds
Soft, pale pink ranuculus paired with blushed purple digitalis -- these are the flowers I chose for our daughter's 9th birthday party.  So perfect, they didn't look real! 

Soon after returning from a relaxing spring break beach vacation, I felt, as I do every year, the pressure of our daughter's quickly approaching birthday, always an extravaganza in our family. This year I was going to make it easy on myself, and suggested that I take her and two or three of her closest friends to a broadway play, followed by dinner in her favorite restaurant, and then cake, ice cream, presents, movie, and sleepover at home. It's perfect, all planned out, done!  That fabulous idea, flawless in every way, was shot down, instantly: "I can't possibly choose just a few friends, dad, someone will get left out!"  I couldn't argue with my sensitive, cognizant little gem. So, once again, as has been the case for the last 8 years, I started planning a large spectacular show, with loads of pomp. Really, it's like Christmas all over, but in spring!

The theme our daughter chose for this year's party:  Greek mythology acting party.
Piece of cake, I thought, on it!
Think again, dad!

The first element in any greek party -- costumes. How difficult could it be to make 20 togas?
A full day of work is what I have now learned.

I started by schlepping into the Manhattan garment district to buy muslin fabric.  After combing through multiple stores, filled with every conceivable, dated fabric, and after painstakingly haggling on prices, I finally scored. 50 yards for $50.  Next up, securing the golden chord belts.  Six more stores, more haggling and even a squirmish (a simple misunderstanding with a salesperson who had heavily broken English), I happily settled on 20 drapery ties -- rather expensive, but perfect.

Suggesting that the hard part was behind me would be an oversimplification. Assembling the togas was harder than I had thought. I cut the bolt into 40 inch pieces. Pulling this diaphanous fabric taute and attempting to cut it as straight as possible is not as easy as it would appear when working with a large oversized bolt.  After getting each piece cut, I then folded them in half and cut a T in the center.  The top of the T was cut into the fold (approximately 9" long) and the perpendicular part of the T was 5" in the center.  I then folded the flaps down and ironed them into place. 
It was nearly a full day of work, start to finish! 

Ideally, I would have liked to garnish the edges with greek-themed ribbon, but even I have my limits! 

The final costume item to manufacture -- the laurel leaf hair piece.  For this, gold and green silk leaves were delicately affixed to metal wire, one by one, by my good friend Jasen.  The wire and leaves can be found at most craft supply stores, or better yet, on Etsy.  At the onset of the party, the pieces were affixed to the hair using bobby pins.

By this point in the party preparations, the script had been chosen (Scholastic has a decent selection), acting teachers had been hired, invitations sent out, greek menu planned, birthday cake ordered, and give-away bags purchased. Everything was moving along in the right direction.

Next up -- set design.  For this, I commandeered close friend and accomplished artist, Tati Nguyen, to  assist.  While our kids played on the terrace, she painstakingly drew out ionic columns (complete with detailed greek wave motif) onto large sheets of paper. We then applied a fixative spray, mounted them to boards, and tacked them to the garden lattice.  Another day of work!

After that, we hung thick white cloth to form the stage curtain, attached greek-blue ribbon throughout the set and completed the staging with large iron candelabras and other ancient looking props.  It was perfect...

...really perfect! And, on the day of the party, after fitting the children in their togas and headpieces, it became magical. There is something simple and pleasing about children in matching uniforms. All the goddesses looked stunning in their laurel leaf up-dos and soft draping togas with matching chord belts.  It was like stepping back in time, a couple thousand years.  

But, before you attempt to take on a Greek-themed kids party, be sure to carve out enough time to make it all happen.  Customizing and personalizing a party for kids of any age and of any theme is a luxury.  

I am thinking BounceU or the local bowling alley works for next year..., I am sure it will be another extravaganza!

By the way, if you have a child that is pre-teen, don't be surprised if they request a similar party.  Thanks in part to Rick Roirden of the Percy Jackson book series and graphic novels such as the Olympians by George O'Connor, kids have a keen and growing interest in mythology. These greek themed books are gaining popularity and are a far cry from the dense Homer we all studied years ago.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Kitchen Helper in the Internet Age -- Umi

Sunday Afternoon in Gowanus

The famous rustic hat on the Eureka building in the Gowanus
This past Sunday afternoon was an idyllic spring day in New York City. The air was dry, sky clear and temperature perfect -- in the mid-60s.  After enjoying a lazy morning, savoring fresh croissants, jellies, fruit and bold coffee on our sunny terrace, we set off to enjoy the outdoors in our beloved Brooklyn. We had only a single commitment -- the launch party of start-up home chef food delivery service, Umi.  Since we needed to be there by noon, and it was located in the trendy, every changing Gowanus, we decided to make a day of it.

There is so much to say about the Gowanus. This historic, eclectic section of the borough is surrounded on all sides by upscale, refined, brownstone communities, and therefore, feels rustic in camparison to its pricey neighbors -- Park Slope, Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens. Once the home to metal fabrication companies, tanneries and tire producers, the Gowanus, like so much of Brooklyn, is undergoing a rennaissance, and is now popular with artists, exercise facilities and young eco-friendly start-ups.

Ample Hills Creamery. Organic ice cream located
on the Gowanus Canal,  and our daughter's favorite. 
Named for the canal that runs through it, an industrial waste site that environmentalists are ardently working to clean up, the Gowanus is one of Brooklyn's real estate hot spots. One can't help but notice the irony in this -- pricey condominiums built along the shores of the most toxic water canal in the city.  But, like its people, this is how it is in New York -- always reinventing despite common logic.

Gowanus' famous Coignet Stone Building -- the earliest known concrete
building in NYC. It was salvaged as part of the deal to build Whole Foods on the
property.  So happy it was saved from the wrecking ball!  

Like so many of the industrial parts of old Brooklyn, where everything old is new again,  the Gowanus is an artistic mix of bygone, ramshackle factories sitting alongside trendy, upscale
restaurants and hotels.  The newly build Whole Foods Market sits across the canal from a scrap metal recycling facility. Blue collar industry in the shadow of organic, yuppie food -- this is so Brooklyn!
Start-ups are attracted to the area because the industrial buildings and warehouses provide ample space to support climbing wall centers (Brooklyn Boulders) and trendy shuffle boards clubs and even tennis and fencing facilities.  The conveniences of the suburbs seem to be migrating into the city.

After checking out all these hot spots, we headed to the event space at Threes Brewing to attend the launch party of start-up meal delivery service -- Umi, named for the Lebansese word for mother.  We had ordered from Umi earlier in the week and were impressed with the concept. They connect cooks with customers who are, perhaps, a little tired of ordinary take-out, and are looking instead for a home cooked meal.  Basically it's delivered food with an infusion of tender care. Think virtual mom meets college care package meets Seamless. At the event, about 30 home cooks provided food samples that can be found on the Umi menu. It was a little like attending Brooklyn Smorgasbord -- two large wedding tents filled with eager Umi chefs peddling their favorite comfort foods -- all willing to dish on the dishes.

Umi kitchen is the brain child of Khalil Tawill and Hallie Meyer whose resumes would make a college counselor blush. And while the concept is innovative,  Umi is still in its nascence, and some kinks need to be worked out. The expertise of the chefs seems to vary, and over time, some may need to be cycled out. But, that said, our favorite home cook, Shalini, is a curry miracle mixologist.  We have now ordered from her kitchen multiple times.

Ostensibly Umi is a solid platform for quasi-professional chefs, ones that aren't interested in going all-in for a restaurant. It's a great place to start, because if you can make it in Brooklyn, you're golden!

Check it out:

Dumpster diving during our Gowanus excursion, this double X table can be resurrected, surely!