Author Archive

Staying Fit Virtually while Making a Difference

I woke up this morning and forgot what month it was. I had to ask Siri what day is was, as I usually do, but this time I also had to ask her what the date was. As each day blurs into the next, it’s the shimmers of light that make a difference. Like when Siri’s response causes the screen on my sleeping iPhone to brighten, or when I hear the birds in the morning now that the sounds of traffic or planes have pretty much disappeared.

And it’s the efforts of people that add to the glow. People who are going above and beyond to help others in so many ways during our very confusing present.

Dennis Hunter and Adrian Molina of Warrior Flow

One such person is someone that I’ve known for 12 years. A friend and instructor who I met at a Manhattan gym when I was in the midst of another pivot — a time when I had to move out of my apartment — Adrian Molina was a newly minted instructor at Equinox with an exciting form of yoga that he had named Warrior Flow. Warrior Flow yoga led by Adrian in his calming yet motivating manner helped me survive some crazy months of uprooting and was the beginning of a friendship that has survived my move and his relocation from New York to Miami.

Adrian Molina

As Adrian evolved his career, he also found new ways to give back to the communities where he lived, with one such endeavor being the Warrior Flow Foundation. Through the Foundation, Adrian and his colleagues are able to take their yoga, stress management and mindfulness techniques to some of the populations who need it most including those on the front lines of crises and those without resources. Initially, the Warrior Flow Foundation reached out to homeless shelters, women suffering from abuse, and prisons in Miami. With the severe strain on first responders and medical workers at present, the program has expanded to police, fire fighters, EMS workers, doctors and nurses. The Warrior Flow Foundation continues to develop to reach out to new communities with a goal of making a difference and helping. Future plans include outreach to other cities in need as the program develops.

Warrior Flow Foundation in Miami

With this in mind, Adrian curated a weekly program of donation-based online classes for those of us confined to our homes and unable to work out, practice yoga, meditate or even socialize since the shelter-in-place regulations went into effect. In so doing, he has helped people like me stay centered and connected while raising money so needed to support those most stressed around us.

Warrior Flow in Tuscany

You can join the online Warrior Flow community by subscribing on a monthly or annual basis to Warrior Flow TV for unlimited online classes, plus a daily roster of live programs which are archived for viewing at any time. The line-up is impressive, taught by some of the country’s most accomplished instructors, many of whom have worked with Adrian during his tenure at Equinox. A portion of the proceeds goes towards the Warrior Flow Foundation. As a bonus, The Foundation’s newsletter not only includes the full schedule of classes but also adds motivational as well as introspective thoughts, interviews and readings, all very welcome as we try to make sense of the present .

Adrian Molina

The light from this group has helped me stay grounded during the past tumultuous months. Unlike other yoga practices that you might be familiar with, Adrian’s yoga classes are a refreshing, distinctive breath of community punctuated by interactive chat from members around the world. But this is still serious stuff: Adrian’s classes will give you quite a workout and will leave you sweaty and serene. So will the other classes throughout the day. Beyond yoga, I’ve also powered through Abs, Cardio Sculpt, boot camp, barre and Pilates classes, with an end-of-day reward of Dennis Hunter’s soothing and calming sound bath.

Arthur Murray NYC Dance Marathon

I’ve also kept my sanity by adding in my favorite form of cardio: dance. Arthur Murray NYC has a daily Dance Along @arthurmurraynyc on Instagram Live that has refreshed my ballroom experience from years past and brought it into the present with current music and steps. They even have a dance workout session that riffs on a theme such as the 70s or 80s, appropriate music and attire included. All classes are free, too.

Arthur Murray NYC IG Live Class

Keeping us entertained and connected, Arthur Murray NYC hosted an entertaining showcase of students performing along with the pros — you can view it on their YouTube channel. The dance school’s first 24-hour dance marathon raised money for two worthy organizations, Feed Our Superheroes and the Nurses House Campaign with non-stop instruction, films, discussions, interviews and more, all related to dance. I was captivated by the professionalism of the dancers, the sophistication of the video techniques, and the knowledge imparted. And this super community-uniting effort raised more than $6500.

Karma Yoga's Jessica Gershman

After all this working out and actual and vicarious dance, I’m grateful to have someone qualified to put me back together again. Jessica Gershman, who leads yoga and therapeutic classes online with Karma Yoga, offers a weekly myofascial release class. WFH might be productive but it’s definitely hard on the body when you don’t have the best ergonomic set-up. By helping yourself heal, you’re also giving back: Jessica selects organizations in need and donates all proceeds from designated classes to organizations such as Front Line Foods which supports local restaurants helping to feed frontline healthcare workers, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Lori McAlister of LoriYoga

Another yogini who I’ve known for many years from her classes at New York Yoga, Lori McAlister of LoriYoga, has channeled her passion into support for the BLM movement as well via the Black to the Future Action Fund. Lori’s classes are a soothing and invigorating mix of vinyasa yoga styles in a methodology she calls Sequencology.

While there are many free Zoom classes and IG Live classes offered online, as well as subscription-based and fee-based classes, it’s the ones that go beyond to help those in need that resonate with me. And they’re the ones that I encourage you to support.

For more information:

Warrior Flow, www.warriorflowfoundation.org, www.warriorflow.tv

Karma Yoga,  http://karmayogaindy.com/

LoriYoga, https://loriyoga.com/

Arthur Murray NYC, https://nycarthurmurray.com /

Real New York City Foods

There’s nowhere like New York City when it comes to dining options, fast food to fine dining and everything in-between. What makes the city so appealing, however, is how many of these choices are true New York creations, with some pedigreed from the end of the 19th century. These are the foods you shouldn’t miss during a trip to the city with some available for shipment anywhere in the US. Most are presently offering takeout and delivery as well. Call to verify hours and availability.

Katz’s Delicatessen

Often, visitors crave dishes made famous in iconic New York City movies and TV shows. “I’ll have what she’s having,” trills the woman sitting next to Meg Ryan at Katz’s Delicatessen in “When Harry Met Sally.” Everyone’s familiar with that scene, but do they know what to eat? Absolutely not what Meg was eating in the movie, a turkey sandwich. What gets my vote is the oversized hot pastrami sandwich, served on rye bread, perhaps with a little mustard or even Russian dressing. Have a side of pickles with it for the full experience. Don’t love the smoky, peppery hot pastrami? The corned beef is equally ambrosial, and both hearken back to Katz’s opening in 1888. Free shipping nationwide. 205 East Houston Street at Ludlow St., Manhattan, 1.212.254.2246. https://katzsdelicatessen.com/

Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn

Another deli with a specialty worth seeking out is Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. While Junior’s has locations in Manhattan, it’s the Brooklyn one that causes me to drool. The must-order here is a piece of their phenomenal cheesecake. Junior’s New York style is rich and creamy, made with cream cheese rather than ricotta like the Italian version. Order the strawberry cheesecake with glazed whole strawberries on top. You’ll love this so much, you’ll want to have a whole cake shipped home via Goldbelly. 386 Flatbush Ave. Extension, Downtown Brooklyn, btw DeKalb Ave. and Fleet St., 718.852.5257.

Zabar’s

Delis and their offshoot cafes seem to have a hold on the city. Note Zabar’s on the Upper West Side. A food mecca for anyone who visits New York City, Zabar’s is the king when it comes to what we call “appetizing.” You could start with a tasting at their smoked fish counter, sampling Scotch cured salmon or a piece of smoked whitefish, and then finish with one of their rugelach, a sweet dessert that’s a pastry pinwheel encircling a chocolate or cinnamon center. If you want to use your credit card, be sure not to mix up the checkout lines as Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks did in “You’ve Got Mail.” Zabar’s Café next door gives you a chance to enjoy a bagel with nova and a schmear (of cream cheese) in a sitdown setting. 2245 Broadway btw W. 80th and W. 81st sts, Manhattan, 212.787.2000. Nationwide shipping. https://www.zabars.com/

H & H Bagels

While we’re on the topic of bagels, bagels are a New York City staple and the best in the world are found in the Big Apple. True New York bagels have a crisp outside and chewy inside. Eat them plain or as a sandwich – they’re the perfect on-the-go carb loader. Many varieties are available including some vegan ones, perfect with a vegan tofu spread. H&H has been supplying the city with these gems for nearly 50 years. Homesick New Yorkers avail themselves of their overnight shipping, or you can visit their storefront and choose from 19 varieties of bagels that have just been boiled and baked on burlap-covered boards. Don’t trust any impostors! And, remember, a great bagel doesn’t need to be toasted. 1551 2nd Ave., btw E. 80th and E. 81st sts, Manhattan, 212.734.7441. Nationwide shipping: https://www.hhbagels.nyc/

John’s Pizzeria

Discussion is ongoing among city foodies as to where to get the truest, purest pizza. In my opinion, the prize goes to John’s Pizzeria of Bleecker Street. Baked in a coal-fired brick oven as has been done for 75 years, John’s perfect thin-crust tomato sauce and mozzarella pizza can be further enhanced with toppings like fresh garlic, sausage and basil. No slices. 278 Bleecker St., btw Morton and Jones sts, Manhattan, 212.243.1680. http://www.johnsbrickovenpizza.com/

Nathan’s

Similarly, hot dog mavens debate the merits of Nathan’s original stand in Coney Island (a “Seinfeld” favorite), Gray’s Papaya or Papaya King. Each claims to have hot dogs as good as filet mignon. I’ll let you do the comparison. (In actuality, the first hot dog introduced to Coney Island was Feltman’s in 1867, now found in a variety of kiosks and grocery stores throughout the city. Order them via FeltmansofConeyIsland.com). Dress these all-beef dogs with sauerkraut, cooked tomato-based onions, and mustard. Pair them with the curious papaya drink offered, and you have a quick meal or snack.  Nathan’s, 1310 Surf Ave., btw Stillwell Ave. and Schweikerts Walk, Coney Island, Brooklyn, 718.333.2202; Gray’s Papaya, 2090 Broadway, btw 71st and 72nd sts, Manhattan, 212.799.0243; Papaya King, 179 E. 86th St., at Third Ave., Manhattan, 212.212.369.0648. Nationwide shipping for Gray’s Papaya and Papaya King via Goldbelly https://www.goldbelly.com. Nathan’s hot dogs are available is grocery stores or via Amazon.com.

Delmonico's

But perhaps you’d like a more serious meal before you have a snack or dessert? Consider a visit downtown to one of New York’s most iconic restaurants, Delmonico’s, where dishes like Baked Alaska and Lobster Newberg were invented. Lobster Newberg, dating back to 1876, is shellfish set in a rich sauce of cream, sherry, cognac and pepper. You could sample the signature Delmonico ribeye steak here as well, or head to Brooklyn to another of the city’s iconic restaurants, Peter Luger, for their buttery sliced Porterhouse steak. Sometimes gruff, always crowded and consistently delicious, Peter Luger’s is the real deal, founded in 1887. Be advised that credit cards are not always accepted.

Waldorf Salad

Vegetarians have something to cheer about as well: the Waldorf Salad, created for a private party at the venerable Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue in the 1890s, mixes candied walnuts, apples, and greens with a delightfully light yogurt and crème fraiche dressing. Although the hotel is currently closed for renovations and will likely morph into more of a residence space than a hotel, you can make their classic recipe at home.

Grand Central Oyster Bar

I also suggest a visit to the 101-year-old Grand Central Oyster Bar, located down the ramp in the beautiful Beaux-Arts Grand Central Terminal. Walk to the bar area to the right, where their special oyster pan roast is prepared before you in original steam kettles. A combination of butter, cream, sweet chili sauce and oysters in a soupy concoction, this makes for an indulgent lunch or dinner that pairs beautifully with a Bloody Mary or local brew. Delmonico’s, 56 Beaver St. at South William St., 212.509.1144; Peter Luger, 178 Broadway btw Diggs and Bedford aves, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718.387.7400; Grand Central Oyster Bar, 89 E 42nd St., btw Park and Vanderbilt aves, Manhattan, 212.490.6650.

King Cole Bar and Salon

Although the Bloody at the Oyster Bar is a worthy selection, you should really pay homage to the “temple” where the cocktail was perfected, the King Cole Bar and Salon at the St. Regis Hotel. Once named the Red Snapper, the Bloody Mary was created 80 years ago by bartender Fernand Petiot and the original recipe of vodka, tomato juice, celery salt, pepper, lemon and Worcestershire Sauce is still served. While you’re there, take in the beauty of the mural that holds a secret only the bartenders can disclose. 2 E. 55th St., btw Madison and Fifth aves, Manhattan, 212.339.6857.

Sigmund’s Pretzels

Two other favorite libations in the Big Apple are the light and dark ales found at McSorley’s Old Ale House, with a heritage dating back to 1854. Revelers order saltines with Cheddar cheese, onions and mustard to accompany. 15 E. 7th Street, btw 2nd and 3rd aves, Manhattan, 212.473.9148. But I prefer to drink my brews in the company of another of the city’s iconic foods, the pretzel. Since you can’t imbibe outdoors in New York City unless at a sidewalk café with a liquor license (and they rarely serve pretzels), grabbing a pretzel from one of the many food carts isn’t a good option for a glam night on the town. However, Sigmund’s Pretzels in Alphabet City has you covered for this favorite. They ship their hand-rolled German pretzels nationwide. Following a recipe dating back more than a century but modernized with six flavor choices, the soft pretzels give you a nice reason to throw back a couple of cold ones as well. Be sure to dip them in some whole grain mustard to enhance their doughy center. 29 Avenue B at E. 3rd Street, Manhattan, 646.410.0333. https://sigmundnyc.com/

Yonah Schimmel’s

As long as you’re downtown, you should really stop by Yonah Schimmel’s for another of New York’s best, the knish. Baked fresh on premises with a variety of fillings, the knish is a potato- or sweet cheese-based pastry-like finger snack. Yonah Schimmel’s has been doling them out to hungry customers for more than 110 years. Ask for a Dr. Brown’s Cel-ray soda to wash them down. Nationwide shipping via Goldbelly East Houston St., btw Forsyth and Eldridge sts, Manhattan, 212.477.2858.

Eisenberg’s

If your sweet tooth has started to rear its fangs, New York is long on treats it can call its own. The 90-years young Eisenberg’s on Lower Fifth Avenue is a luncheonette oozing history and tradition. Try one of their refreshing egg creams made with neither cream nor egg. Choose from chocolate or vanilla – it’s a frothy drink made with Fox’s U-Bet syrup, icy cold milk and fountain seltzer, very much a New York original. 174 Fifth Ave., btw W. 22nd and W. 23rd sts, Manhattan, 212.675.5096.

Benfaremo Lemon Ice King of Corona

Many of you might remember the Italian ices in the opening credits from the TV show, “King of Queens.” Tucked behind Citi Field, Benfaremo Lemon Ice King of Corona scoops out 40 flavors of the slushy dessert that’s both portable and refreshing.  52-96 108th St., btw 52nd and 53rd aves, Corona, Queens, 718.699.5133.

William Greenberg Desserts

At the city’s bakeries, you’ll find a cookie distinctively New York that was made famous in “Seinfeld” when the bobka ran out. Head to William Greenberg Desserts on the Upper East Side for a black & white, a cookie-cake combo that’s made from vanilla cake dough and frosted on one half with soft vanilla fondant and the other with chocolate fondant. For the kids, there are even mini versions. Online shipping is available. https://wmgreenbergdesserts.com/ 1100 Madison Ave., btw E. 83rd and E. 84th sts, Manhattan, 212.861.1340.

Celebrate Stay-at-Home Cinco de Mayo in Style

Cinco de Mayo is an interesting holiday. While it commemorates a battle that was fought in Mexico, Mexico doesn’t celebrate it. And what’s even more perplexing is that outside of Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is often confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is actually on September 16. For those of you interested in the origins of this crazy fiesta day, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Batalla de Puebla fought on May 5, 1862 in which the small town of Puebla defeated invading French troops.

Courtesy: Morton Beebe/CORBIS

So, why is Cinco de Mayo such a big deal north of the border? The origins of its celebration began in California in 1863 as a symbol of solidarity with Mexico against France. And, Americans being Americans, we love having a reason to celebrate.

Since we can’t join our friends at a Mexican restaurant or share a toast at our neighborhood bar this year, we’ll just have to bring the party home.

Spice up Your Space and Your Energy

Prep your home with the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag using bandanas, towels, streamers or anything you might have on hand. Involve the kids in making a colorful piñata that you can fill with candy or small toys. If you have some balloons, any colors will work!

Set the mood with an all-day Instagram fiesta put on by Solmar Hotels & Resorts @Solmarhotelsandresorts. Through a series of IG stories dubbed “An Ode to the Avocado,” you’ll get the intel for making avocado-inspired facials and typical Mexican recipes and cocktails where avocados are king.

Add an educational dimension to the fiesta with a free online cooking class. TakeLessons TV will show you how to cook a lime chicken taco bowl with sweet corn and avocado salsa. You’ll also mix up a pineapple-mint agua fresca drink.

You’ll need a soundtrack for the evening, and Spotify has some great Cinco de Mayo playlists. I especially like the one put together by sassyshannah — it will keep you rocking into the wee hours —  as well as listanauta’s compilation of traditional Mexican tunes.

Visit Your Favorite Bar Virtually or Bring a Restaurant Home and Support the Hospitality Industry

If a bar date on Cinco de Mayo is more your speed, Virtual Cheers invites you to create your “night in” while also supporting the hospitality industry. By downloading a Zoom background from your favorite watering hole, you “purchase a round,” with all proceeds going to employee relief efforts. In the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, Latin-American bar Leyenda offers a paloma, a refreshing tequila cocktail with a grapefruit-flavored soda mixer.

Tanteo Tequila + The Wayland’s “Party in Place” will deliver a margarita party package in NYC in concert with cocktail-caterer Cocktails in Motion, keeping you safe at home while also benefiting hospitality workers via The LEE Initiative.

Show your support to local restaurants offering to bring the fiesta to you. The East End’s Bistro Ete and K Pasa will put together a takeout package covering the entire Cinco de Mayo celebration from margaritas to dessert.

A Stay-at-Home Trip to Margaritaville

No Cinco de Mayo celebration would be complete with some sort of margarita.

There are many traditional margarita recipes using either fresh limes or Rose’s lime juice. I’ve listed some of the ones devised by mixologists at hotels and restaurants that go beyond tradition to inspire you to invent your own new favorites with ingredients that won’t be impossible to find.

You can also opt for a pre-made margarita mix like Lt Blender’s Margarita in a Bag. Just add tequila and Triple Sec or Cointreau and freeze the entire bag to make a slushy margarita.

This video from Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya shows you all the right steps to create the classic version.

PATRON offers a twist using coconut and cucumber:

1.5 oz. PATRÓN Silver

2 oz. coconut water

1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

½  oz. simple syrup

7 thin slices of cucumber, 3 for garnish

Guavarita

For something fruitier, try a Guavarita, a specialty at Hotel Xcaret Mexico:

1.5 oz. guava nectar

3 oz. tequila reposado

garnish with a lime wedge

O'Rita

Mustang Harry’s gives the margarita an Irish spin with the O’Rita:

2 oz. El Tesoro silver tequila

1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice

1 oz. simple syrup

1/2 oz. Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

To garnish, turn half a lime husk inside-out to create a “shot glass,” fill with Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey and carefully set on top

My smoky favorite is a Mezcalita that substitutes mezcal for tequila. Add pineapple juice, muddle a piece of roasted pineapple (if you have it), sprinkle in a bit of Cointreau and rim the glass with Tajin, the classic Mexican chili, salt and lime mix (you can order it on Amazon.)

Mezcal Manhattan

Or make it smoky, sweet and bitter with a Mezcal Manhattan from La Esquina NYC:

2 oz. Doña Vega Espadín mezcal

1 oz. sweet Vermouth

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Garnish with an orange peel, maraschino cherry or brandy cherry

Bring on the Food

You can create a Mexican-inspired meal with these four dishes from chefs in North America:

Guacamole is a must-have starter at any Cinco de Mayo fiesta. Solmar Hotels & Resorts shares this recipe for a version with a kick: one ripe avocado, chili pepper, ¼ cup of onion, half a tablespoon of crushed garlic, chopped cilantro, two tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Guacamole

Serious Eats’ Mexican street corn (elote) is the perfect side salad

Mexican street corn

Mexican Fajitas with Red Sauce and Avocado, courtesy of Velas Resorts, are easy to make with ingredients that you likely already have in your cabinet

For non-meat eaters, food writer ChihYu Smith offers this delicious Paleo recipe for Fish Tacos

Teach Me, Please and Feed Me

If staying at home has made you kind of of lazy and you’d rather have someone else do most of the work, sign up for this margarita making class and happy hour. All you’ll need to do is supply your own tacos.

Jose Cuervo

Jose Cuervo has that covered for you, too. In the spirit of #TakeoutTuesdays and #TacoTuesday, Jose Cuervo is offering to pick up the tab for thousands of taco orders nationwide on Cinco de Mayo. Just tweet a photo of your receipt with the hashtags #CincotoGo and #CuervoContest to @JoseCuervo to be eligible.

And, finally, since this really is a holiday revolving around tequila, you’ll need to know the proper way to taste and drink the potent spirit. Javier Moreno Gomez, tequila and wine sommelier at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, offers these tips:

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun

To taste the subtleties of tequila, drink it in a wine glass.

Similar to the methods used for wine and other spirits, the basic tasting method is swirl, sniff, sip and swallow.

Check the color; there will be noticeable differences in a reposado or añejo. While color doesn’t affect the flavor, the density or hue can suggest the amount of wood in the tequila and hint towards its complexities.

Swirl the tequila. Look for the legs, the tears of the agave. These suggest essential oils in the tequila and the presence of alcohol. If the tears fall quickly they have less alcohol but if the tears fall slowly you have more alcohol. Swirling the liquid also releases some of the molecules into the air.

Tequila has more alcohol than wine. Different parts of the tequila will have different aromas. Tequila is known to have 600 different aromas including citrus, mint, freshly cut grass, floral, honey, oak, almond, vanilla, butterscotch, chocolate, leather and caramel.

Sip a small amount and hold the tequila in your mouth for about 10 seconds while sucking in a bit of air. Move it around to get it over your tongue, and suck in some air over top of the tequila to bring the aromas up to your nose. Breathe out through your nose before swallowing. There are different taste zones on your tongue — four specific areas for salty, sweet, bitter and sour. Have the tequila wash over the entire tongue.

Swallow and savor the finish and aftertaste. Remember that everything you eat before a sip will affect the taste of the tequila.

Salud!

Celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 90th Birthday with a Musical Tribute Sunday Night

The Broadway community comes together, separately, to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday as only the theater community could do.  Giving of themselves to raise money for ASTEP, a galaxy of stars will bring their talents to the musical library of Sondheim’s many songs on Sunday, May 3. The tribute will be broadcast at 8pm on www.Broadway.com or the Broadway.com YouTube channel.

The all-star special online concert, “Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration,” is a free show, hosted by Raúl Esparza, a true Sondheim fan who wowed audiences with his portrayal of Bobby in the 2006 revival of Sondheim’s Tony-award winning Company. The scheduling coincides with the date of the 50th anniversary of the opening night of Sondheim’s original production of Company on Broadway on April 26, 1970. A new production of Company with groundbreaking role reversals was set to open this spring. With the opening date of Broadway still to be determined, the updated Company remains on hold.

Courtesy of Broadway.com

The show’s stars represent some of the greatest talents of musical theater, many of whom have appeared in Sondheim musicals.

Annaleigh Ashford, Laura Benanti, Melissa Errico, Beanie Feldstein, Josh Groban, Jake Gyllenhaal, Neil Patrick Harris, Judy Kuhn, Linda Lavin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Platt, Randy Rainbow, Lea Salonga, Meryl Streep, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Mandy Patinkin, Christine Baranski, Donna Murphy, Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara, Aaron Tveit, Maria Friedman, Iain Armitage, Katrina Lenk, Michael Cerveris, Brandon Uranowitz, Stephen Schwartz, Elizabeth Stanley, Chip Zien, Alexander Gemignani and Ann Harada will perform songs of inspiration from the Sondheim catalog.

There will also be special appearances by Victor Garber, Joanna GleasonNathan Lane and Steven Spielberg.

Writer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is revered for the many musicals that he brought to Broadway. Highlights of his prolific work include Company, Sweeney Todd, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Follies, A Little Night Music, Gypsy, West Side Story, Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion, Anyone Can Whistle and Road Show.

This special online event is a fundraiser for ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty), the organization conceived by Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Juilliard students to transform the lives of youth using the most powerful tool they had: their art. Today, ASTEP connects performing and visual artists with youth from underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.

Visit Sweden’s Incredible Treehotel and ICEHOTEL and Enjoy Some Serious Arctic Adventure….. All Virtually (and Free)

Travel is a very important part of my life. Exploring new cultures, meeting people who live very differently from how I do, trying local foods, and experiencing the joy of discovery are things that I’m missing in a very big way. I’m finally ready to feed my travel hunger again, and armchair and virtual travel experiences have made me smile a little more every day.

I love this new virtual program, and it’s taking me somewhere I’ve never been before. I love that. I hope to bring you more of these soon. I’m ready to travel, somehow, again.

Virtual travel experts Virtually Visiting have created the world’s first four-day holiday that you can experience from home. I click on the link from my computer or phone, and I’m exploring Swedish Lapland. It’s really cool. And each day of the four-day vacation is brought to you one day at a time. Given the vagaries of my schedule nowadays, I’m grateful, too, that I can watch each day whenever I want, as the links will stay online.

The first holiday started today, but you can watch today’s event tomorrow, tonight, at 2 in the morning, or whenever it suits your “I don’t know what day it is – I don’t know what time it is” schedule of the moment. And this vacation isn’t costing me anything – it’s free. You have to love that!

You’ll go on a wintry tour of the Arctic region of Swedish Lapland, no passport required, with real-life, local guides who know the locations inside and out. Just click here to begin your journey. Or, if you don’t feel like traveling yet, here’s a teaser of what it will be like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQ-PnjjxqnE&t=32s

First you travel 144km north of the Arctic Circle to Kiruna just in time to see ICEHOTEL 30 before it melts back into the river. I’ve always wanted to go to the ICEHOTEL after braving the frigid temperatures to attend the Ice Festival in Rovaniemi, Finland many years ago. I visited ice rooms and enjoyed an ice cocktail in an ice bar, but I didn’t have the chance to stay in an ice hotel. Here’s my chance to see what it’s like, firsthand sort of. Really cool.

On the first day, Saturday April 18, ICEHOTEL guide Matilda takes you on a personal tour through four of the jaw-dropping, individually designed and carved ice rooms and explains how the ICEHOTEL all comes together, from the frozen water in the river flowing beside the hotel to the transformation of the ice into these beautiful masterpieces you see before you. It’s like a museum of ice. Gorgeous.

On the second day, Sunday April 19, the tour goes south 250km to Lassbyn to meet local guide and founder of the Aurora Safari Camp, Fredrik Broman. Fredrik will be leading us on one of my favorite things, a snowmobile adventure, this time through the stunning Swedish wilderness visiting two frozen lakes and learning about local wildlife and landmarks on the way. Although I’ve never done this in Sweden, I’ve been snowmobiling in Finland and in Vermont, and I love the thrill of it.

Monday April 20 is more leisurely and we go to one of the places that have been on my bucket list for a long time, the famous Treehotel. Today, we take a personal tour inside four of the seven amazing treetop hotel rooms. Each room has its own theme, which is showcased in the design of the exterior and interior.

The final day of the itinerary, Tuesday April 21, goes east 90km to the wilderness around Kroktask where we do something that’s truly exhilarating, dogsledding. In Finland, I dogsledded both in a sledge and standing up on skis with those gorgeous, gorgeous dogs. This lets me relive that experience. Erik Hordijk from Yellow Snow Husky tours teaches us how to harness a team of huskies in preparation for the journey across the frozen landscape.

Each day a new virtual experience and additional information will be released so you can virtually travel through the region and get a sense of the people and places that you’ll encounter hopefully IRL in the not too distant future.  One of the other places to come through these virtual tours is the Arctic Bath, a really exciting project with a floating spa set in the middle of the river that floats in summer and stays frozen in winter. I would love to be there right now.

Join me on this free four-day Virtual Arctic adventure from Saturday April 18 – Tuesday April 21 at https://virtuallyvisiting.com/360-journeys/ (and don’t worry, if you miss one of the days, the video can be accessed at the same link).

Why Is This Passover Different from All Other Passovers? Celebrating in Quarantine

Passover is the holiday when Jews throughout the world get together to celebrate the exodus from Egypt. It’s a time when we reflect on what it means to be free and we retell the Passover story, the magid, as a way to provoke new questions, to educate the youngest family members, and to keep the history alive.

This year, Jews are challenged with a different kind of Passover. Families are separated from one another and many of the traditions associated with the holiday, like welcoming strangers, are not possible and are certainly not advisable.  The Passover dinner, the Seder, which initiates the holiday will have to be configured in a different way.

Passover is from April 8-16.  How should we celebrate this year?

Importantly, we need to celebrate Passover. Passover refers to the final plague passing over the Jewish families in the days of Egypt. This year, we pray to have Passover relieve us from the plague of coronavirus and from the plague of social distancing. Our virtual Seders won’t be the same and they won’t be perfect. But the Passover story is an important one about resilience and success, and this year the freedoms we cherish matter more than ever.  We can rely on our memories of Passovers past to guide us as we modify and adapt to our current reality.

The first Seder will be held on the evening of April 8 with many families celebrating a second one as well on April 9.

Making It Happen

This year, you’ll need to be a bit tech-savvy to bring the family together. The easiest way is via Zoom, the online meeting software that allows multiple people to be online at the same time. Download it onto your computer or phone from https://zoom.us/ or with the Zoom app and you’ll be ready to go.  Then, someone can invite each participant with a link to join the meeting, or, in this case, the Seder. Click to join with video and sound and you’ll soon see everyone on your screen.

Courtesy of Park Avenue Synagogue

In addition to having someone coordinate the invitations, you’ll need to appoint someone to take charge of the order of the Seder, similar to how it would be done if you were sitting around a family table in one room.  That person, the leader, will then call on participants to read sections from the Haggadah, which sets forth the order of the Seder and its contents, or ask attendees to comment on questions that will personalize the Seder for your family.

What Does a Seder Mean Right Now

In these unprecedented times, the Seder lends itself to many applications to the present.  For example, when you discuss the ten plagues that Moses invoked on the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to allow the Jews religious freedom, you might want to relate the plagues to what is happening right now with a different set of plagues: the plague of disease, the plague of scarcity of food and supplies, the plague of unemployment and so on.

The Four Cups of Wine take on new importance this year, too.  Wine was considered a royal drink in the past, and hence drinking wine meant that you were free. While there is no concrete reason why we drink four cup at a Seder (or even three or two), we still need to remind ourselves that we are free, even though it may not seem that way right now. No one will argue that wine this year will also help us relax and recline (as you’re supposed to on Passover) during this difficult time.

There are numerous other opportunities to increase the relevance of the Passover story to our present situation.

A Seder by the Books

The contents of the Seder (which means order), can be found by downloading any number of Haggadot (try https://www.haggadot.com/clip-search for some suggestions or how to make your own). The Haggadah will help you track through the Seder’s dozen or so steps:

1. Candle Lighting

2. Blessing of the Wine (Kadesh)– drink the first cup of wine

3. Washing the Hands (Urhatz) – a perfect opportunity to mention why this is so important right now

4. Karpas – dipping greens into salt water as a symbol of Spring and new beginnings but marked by tears

5. Yahatz – with three pieces of matzoh, take the middle piece and break it in half, setting aside the larger piece as the afikoman (the final piece eaten as dessert). While this was said to symbolize the breaking of the Ten Commandments or the parting of the Red Sea when the Israelites fled Egypt, perhaps this “breaking” can refer to the “broken” existence that is now being shared throughout the world.  It’s a perfect time to stop and reflect on what it means to you today.

6. Magid – the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.  It includes the explanation of the symbolic items on the Seder plate (as best as you can create one), recitation of the Four Questions by the youngest present, traditional Passover songs and readings of a variety of explanatory passages. Drink the second cup of wine.

7. Washing the Hands – another 20-second reminder of what is happening at present.

8. Blessing the Matzoh  (Hamotzi) – giving thanks that we have food to eat and can share it with our families and friends

9. Maror – eating something bitter like horseradish as a remembrance of the mortar that the Israelites used to build the bricks for the Egyptians’ buildings

10. Charoset – eating a sweet mix of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, together with some Maror on Matzoh, a Hillel sandwich, sweetness with a remembrance of bitterness. Perhaps you’d like to mention what you feel you’re missing at the moment?  And what you’re grateful for?

11. Dinner – drink the third cup of wine

12. The tradition of Elijah’s Cup and Miriam’s Cup (pouring the Fifth cup of wine for Elijah and a cup of water for Miriam) – welcoming the prophet Elijah to the Seder and recognizing Miriam’s well that provided water for the Israelites while in the desert. The symbolism of Elijah as a virtual guest is more apparent than ever this year.

13. Conclude the Seder and drink the fourth cup of wine.

Making It Your Own

While some of these steps may be difficult to execute this year, you can adjust what you might remember from past Seders to the reality of what we have to use at this moment.  It’s important to accept that you might not have a perfect Seder, and that’s fine. If you don’t have all the ingredients or you don’t have a Seder plate, you will still have a Seder as long as you come together and recite the Passover story.

The Seder can be as long as you want it to be, and you can choose to forego the order and leave the dinner part to the end if that works best for you, following the pre-meal steps of the Seder on Zoom and then signing off to dine. You could also decide to reconvene afterward  to have some schmooze time and to reflect on what the closing statement, “Next Year in Jerusalem” might truly mean as we self-quarantine now and think ahead.

Planning a trip to NYC?