Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taste of DC - A Recipe for Fun

The Taste of DC is a wonderful annual festival for foodies.  Whether you enjoy upscale restaurants, the convenience of a food truck or grabbing a sample from a vendor, Taste of DC is “one stop shopping” for all of these experiences.   It is wonderful living in a city that is so rich in history, culture and adventures.  I look forward to Taste of DC each year.  I learn about a new restaurant or dish.  I sample beverages, desserts or creations that chefs hand out after demonstrating a recipe.  I enjoy finding out about new vendors in the area. 

Taste of DC CEO, Steuart “Stu” Martens said, “Having all of these restaurants all in one place makes “Taste of DC” unique.  We have three music stages and the ABW Culinary Stage.   We’ve taken a parking lot and transformed it into a venue.”  There were 65 restaurants, dozens of vendors and several food trucks at RFK Stadium this year. 

The location was a departure from Pennsylvania Avenue and it worked.  There was a glitch with the software loading credits to wristbands.  Some of the guests had an inconvenient wait and shared their disappointment on social media.  I guess I am a “the glass is half full” type of person. And there were plenty of vendors to fill it!  The team worked hard to fix the issue and it is worth returning next year!

Here are reasons to attend Taste of DC:

The food, the food, the food!

Chicken grilling at Teak Wood's booth.
The grills were sizzling and restaurants from all over the city where serving incredible dishes.  Chef Zeb Markham said that he wants Maggiano’s to be known for “more than a pasta house.”  But, let’s face it. The pasta is popular.  The ravioli was incredible.  McCormick’s & Schmicks were serving seafood items. Teak Wood had chicken sizzling on the grill.  I enjoyed their Lo mein.  If you weren’t sure about a food item, you could purchase a smaller “bite” to taste.  I was sure about District Doughnut amazing rounds of sweetness. Colorful food trucks lined the stadium grounds.  It was hard to decide which to pick.  The Oyster Truck had one of the longest lines. Uncle Dave’s Kettle Korn was available by the tub, bag or taste.  Food is a special thing.  The aroma can trigger memories.  Taste of DC Ceo, Stu says that his last meal on earth would be his mom’s Tamali pie. 

There were lots of bites and food items for sale and a ton of samples. Zico Coconut Water poured four samples.  The chocolate was my favorite.  NakedJuice had several tastes of their fruit and vegetable flavored items.  Coca Cola had sips included diet, zero and low calorie cokes.  They didn’t mind repeat visits! Giant food handed out healthy snacks and nutritionists were available to share tips.

The variety was convenient.  It didn’t matter if you were vegetarian or vegan or had special restrictions.  There was something for all foodies.  The large variety of food choices included: lamb, seafood, grilled items,  fries, salads, sandwiches, sweets and so much more.   As if the food choices weren’t enough, the beverages were varied too.  There were wine samples, frozen daiquiris, craft beers, brewed sodas and teas.

You can watch chefs prepare dishes as they share their secrets.
Colada's Chef Mario Monte, Chef Matt Finarelli, Rebellion's Chef Travis Weiss

Chef Matt Finarelli must have sampled some of the energy drinks.  He cooked several dishes on the ABW Cooking Stage (including risotto and crabcakes), MC’d Southwest Airlines Snackoff competition AND had time to judge the ABW Chili cook off!  Some of Chef Finarelli’s tips for success included: squeezing the water out of the meat before making crab cakes, using fresh black pepper for any dish and squeeze your own lemons.  Southwest Airlines sponsored it’s annual “Snackdown” cooking competition.   Coloda Chef Mario Monte served Peanut  Rum Cake and Rebellion’s Chef Travis Weiss served Potbelly Pork with peanut butter and jelly.  Chef Mario won the “savory vs: sweet “ competition.  The chili cookoff was sponsored by ABW Appliances.  Each chef cooked on equipment that could be purchased in one of ABW’s showrooms.  This year’s winner was Anna Maria Angelakis from Angeli Gourmet.   Her spicy Greek chili was delicious.

There are music samples too!

DC Band Cue The Deer
Musicians shared a variety of tunes on three separate  stages.  One moment you could hear opera, jazz, rock, a choir or salsa. LBF (Latin, Blues and Funk) was a highlight for me.  It was also nice seeing the return of Batala DC.  This colorful women’s group play drums with joy.  Taste After Dark continued the musical feast with additional acts.  It was nice having so many local bands showcasing their talents.

My recipe for a successful Taste of DC:
  • Charge your phone. 
  • Wear sun block.
  • Bring baby wipes or hand gel. 
  • Bring a cinch sack or rolled up grocery bag for samples and swag.
Read the web site before you come to familiarize yourself with the sponsors or cooking demo you might want to see. 

Wear comfortable shoes - you will do a lot of walking.
Pace yourself.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Firefly Music Festival - Buy Ticket, Attend & Repeat

Firefly music festival is an incredible event that takes place every year in June. Firefly 2017 will be my third wristband.  The reason I keep coming back is because the experience is amazing and wonderful.  Firefly 2017 has a line up of over 140 acts.  There is a little bit of something for everyone.  You can travel with a group of ten people or come alone and still have a one of kind experience. There are several reasons why I keep coming back.

I love music.  Music is portable and easy to find. It doesn't cost much to enjoy music. Sirius/XM, Spotify, Pandora, online radio stations including Iheartradio, make it really easy to find and savor music.  Music is something that we can enjoy alone or as a group.  It is an amazing adventure to hear artists with people who love them as much as me.  In 2016 Florence and the machine jumped into the crowd to say hello to a little girl. She ran through the security line and hugged a child who simply adored her.  We were just feet away and enjoyed the moment with hundreds of people in the immediate area.  When Paul McCartney played in 2015, his performance included a multi-media show including flashbacks from Wings and The Beatles.  It was a musical movie, rock concert and art show.  Those are the moments that make the entire trip worth it.

I love the venue.  I appreciate the backdrop of trees and beautiful sunsets every day of Firefly.  Red Frog does a lot of planning to make the festival look effortless.  From the smooth pebbles on a path, the colorful hammocks, to the brightly displayed lanterns and access to stages, the entire venue and locations are wonderful.  The racetrack is interesting to view.  The decorations, balloons and banners are colorful and amusing.

I love taking pictures.  I can tweet in my sleep.
I love taking pictures as much as I love hearing music.  I always bring extra memory cards.  Firefly has lots of photo opportunities all over the property.  You can take a selfie with a prop, and tweet it to @LiveAtFirefly or one of the sponsors.  Sometimes there are contests for tweeting. Toyota Music upgraded my GA wrists bands to VIP just because I was excited about the Toyota music stage and tweeted about it.  I wasn't even aware there was a contest or award. I was tweeting because it brings me joy.

I love swag.  The excitement starts at Dover Downs, before you even reach the security lines. There are dozens of vendors by the racetrack.  Starbucks has introduced limited edition coffee flavors Lipton has shared new canned beverages.  Fructis passed out shampoo and conditioner by the showers one year (genius).  Showtime gave backpacks or blankets in exchange for uploading their application. Sometimes you can "earn" swag by playing a game or answering a trivia question. Toyota has given away fun items (Firefly cinch bag, bandanas, lip balm, buttons & more).  By the time the weekend is over, your swag could include items such as cozies, fans, hand towels, earplugs, coasters and sunglasses.  In addition to all the great swag, there are vendors with clothing, music related items, food & beverages and pop up grocery stores to cover your basic needs.

I love meeting people. If you are picking up wristbands at Will Call, you will chat with people in line. We had fun talking to people while waiting in line before security. Everyone has a favorite band and it is fun swapping stories about previous festivals.  The attendees are friendly and approachable. I have met some nice people while waiting for an artist to perform. Firefly feels like a giant campus where everyone belongs to the same sorority. There is a community feeling of belonging.

Firefly music festival is a wonderful experience, no matter how young or old you are.  See you in the Woodlands!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Review: RAIN - A Tribute to the Beatles OR How to Travel to England Without Needing a Passport

Last June 2015, I was sitting in The Woodlands with a crowd of thousands as Paul McCartney brought the house down at Firefly MusicFestival.  I was twitter pated to be in the presence of Sir Paul.  Fast forward to March 9, 2016.  I was hearing Beatle tunes at Warner Theatre.  “Rain - A Tribute to the Beatles” was on the marquee.  These artists were skilled at performing.  “Performing” isn’t accurate enough.  They were channeling the Beatles.

The “Fab Four” (okay five counting keyboardist, Chris Smallwood) included:
Steve Landes - John Lennon
Paul Curatolo - Paul McCartney
Alastar McNeil - George Harrison
Aaron Chiazza - Ringo Starr

The performance is a musical conversation with the audience.  Everyone is encouraged to cheer, clap or dance.  Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles is much more than a show.  It is a love song to The Fab Four, musical time travel, a magical light show and a gift to the audience.  If you haven’t already seen “Rain”, go buy your tickets now!  You can check tour dates by visiting raintribute.com.

This was a show within a show within a show.  The lighting was spectacular.  The acoustics were incredible.  The images drove us through Liverpool.  I walked on Abbey Road.  I sat in the audience while Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles.  I danced with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band.  I got by with a little help from my friends.  When I lived in London, I honored the Beatles by visiting Liverpool.  I felt as if I had returned.  I traveled to England without needing a passport.

My husband and I ushered at Warner Theatre for 10 years just to experience the arts.  During “Rain,” I swam in notes and did the back stroke through guitar chords.  These performers are so authentic that Paul Curatolo taught himself how to play the guitar with his left hand, just like McCartney.  During the performance, we met the Beatles as they were starting their career and we cheered them goodbye as they morphed into their older selves.

It was not lost on the crowd that uber producer, George Martin had just passed away at age 90.  The band dedicated, “Yesterday” and “In My Life” to the often credited “Fifth Beatle.”

It is hard to pick just one favorite moment during the show.  Some of my special tunes included, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Hey Jude.”  During “Across the Universe,” I closed my eyes and had my own little church service for a minute.  My dad was a preacher so I know what I am talking about!

All you need is love, and a ticket to @raintribute.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Things to Know Before You Go to Firefly 2016

Before you pack the tie dyed shirts, take time to research your trip for Firefly Music Festival 2016.  Buying your wristband(s) gives you one duck in a row. Here is how to line up all your ducks:

My number one Firefly 2016 tip is DO NOT put your wristband on too tight.  Save room to feel comfortable all weekend.  Tie the excess band into a small knot or loop it inside the band.  Cutting the band will cause the material severe unraveling and inconvenience.   I can’t convey how unhappy you will be if your wristband is too tight.  You can always pull the band a bit tighter.  You CAN’T loosen a wristband.  You’re welcome.  Read instructions to understand which wrist to put your band on.  Sometimes artists use one wrist and attendees use another.

Hotel  vs: Camp Site
If you are going to book a hotel, make your reservations early.   There are more attendees than hotel rooms.  Don’t wait until the last minute to book your room.  Don’t be afraid to look at hotels  10 - 20 miles away.  You may have less competition if you expand your search.  I stayed with friends 25 miles away, slept soundly and didn’t get wet in Firefly’s 2015 storm.

Camping Tips:
Bring an extra tarp.  The grass can get damp. The ground will get muddy.  The camp parking area can become a messy gravel pit. Drive s-l-o-w-l-y through the camping areas.

Getting from Point A to B Takes Time:
The lines for the shuttles were long.  It was much easier just to walk from the racetrack to the fields.  Pace yourself.  Firefly is spread out over giant fields.  Take a break and plan your journey based on which artists you want to hear.  You will wait in line for the bathroom, food, drinks, merchandise and security.  Give yourself extra time each day.  We claimed our spot for Paul McCartney 5 hours ahead of time.

Be Safe:
Lock your valuables in your car.  Those large blue IKEA bags make excellent suitcases.  They are easy to move items between your tent & car. They are also great for hauling groceries.  Keep your cooler in the back of your car for easy access.  Don’t leave any valuables inside your tent.  If your tent has a zipper that opens at the top and bottom,  get a luggage lock to keep your tent more secure.  Don’t assume that everyone is as nice and honest as you.

Handy Items to Pack
Bring cash (save on ATM fees), flashlight, rope, duct tape, bug spray, umbrella, whisk broom to sweep your tent floor, trash bags, One sheets (they are washable), freezer sized zip lock bags,  scissors, a giant water jug just for bags of ice.  When the ice melts, you have chilled water.   The free water stations can run out of water.  Last year, bottles of water were $4 a pop.

Rain Preparation:
Have an umbrella, raincoat and/or reusable ponchos that can also cover your backpack.  Water proof pouches for your wallet, camera, phone & charger.  Bring boots or shoes that can handle mud. Gardening crocks are my favorite.  They keep your feet dry and are easy to wipe off mud.

Walmart or any sporting good s store will have water resistant & waterproof cases/pouches.  Ziplock makes giant plastic bags that can fit pillows or a sleeping bag.  I kept one in my back pack.  You never know when the rain will soak everything.  A large gardening trash bag is great to put under your towel or blanket at performances.

Survival Kit: a large water bottle, sunglasses, a hat or cap, sunblock, bug spray (Avon Skin So Soft is my fav for both), baby wipes, tissues, glucose tablets, water bottle,  power bars, gator aid bottles or powder, extra socks, bathing suit/towels.  Shamwows save space & also dry efficiently.  I carry a wash cloth and sporting chill towel.  Bring a bandana for those dusty moments.  The Woodlands is on a farming field.  Bring portable chargers for your phone & other items.  I carry three.  Firefly will have recharging stations throughout the grounds.  Walmart has inexpensive chargers in many colors.

First Aid:
There are lots of stores near The Woodlands, but will you really want to leave the area? Bring band aids, aspirin and Pepto-Bismol.  Ginseng tablets work great for nausea or an upset stomach. Soy sauce is great for minor burns.  Black activated charcoal is another wonderful natural remedy for food poisoning,  cramps and other ailments.

Gotta  Have’s:
Download the Firefly application onto your phone.   You can read the lineup, look at The Woodlands maps and get important updates on set changes from Firefly.  Last year’s storm cancelled some acts.  Get a map when you receive your wristbands.  Take a picture of the back of your wristband before you put it on.  That makes registering your wristbands much easier.  Bring ear plugs.  They are handy if you are near a speaker or trying to sleep.  Having a plan will make your Firefly experience much richer.

Food for Thought:
We enjoyed checking out all of the food stands on the grounds.  My favorite food item was the pizza.  If you are saving a spot to hear your favorite band, you may not be in a position to grab a bite.  I carry Kind bars, glucose tablets and a piece of fruit.  As long as you aren’t carrying your entire cooler onto the grounds, security isn’t going to mind if you have a few snacks. Trail mix is a convenient item to have.  Some of the vendors sold fruit last year. The vendors that sell food by the racetrack are just a good start.  There are tons of items for sale inside The Woodlands.  Study the maps posted all over the place.

Have Fun:
Bring a deck of cards or a Frisbee to pass the time at your camping area or The Woodlands.  If you need a break, the casino is close to the racetrack.  Make sure you visit early so you can take pictures at all of the great photo opp areas.  There are creative spots to take pictures all over the grounds.

Be Considerate:
Your momma didn’t raise you to be a pirate.  Pick up your trash.  Don’t be so rushed that you bump into people waiting in lines.  If you have to smoke, try not to blow smoke in people’s faces.  It is rude.  Be respectful to the security guards.  They aren’t persecuting you.  Everyone gets searched.  If you drink too much, throw up in the woods and not in a port-a pot or on a person!  Note – Walmart umbrella bags are great barf bags.  If you are walking around the grounds at night, try not to hold onto strangers in the dark.  It is creepy.   Carry a flashlight or use the flashlight app on your phone.

Do Your Research:   Spend time on Firefly.com to learn policies, information and great suggestions.  Read the threads on everything.  There is a good chance that your question was already covered by someone else.
Get excited.  The weekend is going to be extraordinary.
DO NOT put your wristband on too tight.
Stay dry – it will probably rain.
Be nice – you will be around thousands of people. Let’s make everyone’s experience a great one.
Be smart - Pack your daypack with practical items that you may need during the day. It is a hike to return to the racetrack and camping area.  Make sure you understand contraband and what NOT to bring.  People seemed shocked that they couldn’t bring in glow sticks.  Fireflyfestival.com  clearly spells out the rules.
Protect yourself - Take a picture of the back of your wristband before you put it on. 
Did I mention not putting on your wristband too tight?

Have fun and make sure you tweet or post pictures about your experience during Firefly 2016!

For more information about the festival, check out fireflyfestival.com

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Boo at the Zoo


DC National Zoo Halloween Kids Boo at the Zoo Decorations Spider
Not so "Itzy Bitzy Spider" at National Zoo
The Smithsonian National Zoo has events throughout the year.  A Halloween tradition is "Boo at the Zoo."