Frugal Feasts, Harlem Style


I learned about Frugal Feasts from Sasha Lyutse, who is a Policy Analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council and also teaches yoga.  The idea was inspired by Mark Bittman’s $5 challenge with Slow Food USA, which states, "I pledge to share a fresh, healthy meal that costs less than $5 — because slow food shouldn't have to cost more than fast food."

“The concept is infused with the principle that comes from the work we do,” said Sasha, “to use the most sustainable sources possible."

“Sustainable means we strive to eat lower on the food chain, so the items have less environmental impact.  We use organically grown food from local farmer’s markets.  It’s a balanced meal and it’s created on a budget.”

I attended a vegan feast hosted by photographer, Alexis Percival.  There were three couples at the Frugal Feast, four single ladies, Alexis and Ricky the cat, who lap-hopped throughout the evening.

Each of the four courses had a wine pairing. I don’t really understand wine but in honor of the Frugal Feast, I sampled the first wine, which was a sparkling wine, a Cava from Spain. 

Wine photo by Mikel Washington

This is what I learned about wine that night:

Sparkling wines, like the Cava make an excellent aperitif because they are light and won't overwhelm the palate. Dry wines have higher alcohol content (12% and above) because the sugar has been converted to alcohol.  

Radish photo by Mikel Washington

The first course was Mustard Greens with Olive Oil, Rice Vinegar and Salt, topped with "moo" radish and crispy fried scallion.  Alexis brought out the second wine, a Riesling from France.  I felt I should taste it in honor of the event, but when I contemplated every course having its own wine, I decided to just take a sip.

The second course, Austrian Style Purple Potato Salad, was accompanied by a Beaujolais, also from France.  The third course was Whole Wheat Pizza with Roasted Butternut Squash & Garlic, Portobello Mushrooms, Onions and fresh spinach. The wine was Ribera del Duero from Spain.  At this point, I stopped trying to keep up with the wines.

Ricky the Cat with a Lady, photo by Sasha Lyutse

The other Frugal Feasters were clearly tipsy by the third course. Then Alexis brought out the dessert, Poached Apples with Syrup topped with Candied Walnuts. My wines were lined up, glinting expectantly.

Guests came from as far away as the Lower East Side and Queens to sample Alexis’s feast.  The conversation ran the gamut of world travel, relationships, food and wine and the effect on our minds of video games and social networking. 

The simple pleasures in life, good company and good food, still have a lot going for them, and Frugal Feasts are a great way of continuing the tradition.


More Secrets

© Alexis Percival, from Unwrapped Series

When I offered to model for Alexis Percival’s Unwrapped series last year, I hardly knew her.  But I had seen some pictures from the series at a group show in Harlem and their simple elegance drew me to the wall.

I wanted to know more about Alexis’s work and I thought that modeling for her would be a good way.  As she offered me a glass of wine and Ricky, her fluffy cat, purred around my ankles, I felt that posing and revealing my secret was as natural as sharing a pot of tea.

“At the outset I didn’t ask my friends to do it,” said Alexis, “because I didn’t think they’d want to reveal their secrets to a friend, but actually I know everyone in the project with the exception of a handful and most of them became friends later.” 

The photographs show people peeling bandages away from sections of their uncovered skin.  The words on the bandages reveal a different secret for each person.

© Alexis Percival, from Unwrapped Series

“I used bandages because I anticipated it being something that could be a wound,” said Alexis, “perhaps more painful secrets than a lot of them have been.”

“The models don’t have to be naked,” said Alexis.  “A lot of people don’t understand that.  I don’t choose the secret and I don’t choose the body part.”

One of the models is Alexis’s mother.

“When she [my mother] arrived for the shoot, she just took off all her clothes and said, whatever you need.  The models have come in prepared and they’re generally very open.”

Alexis doesn’t feature in the series herself because, “I definitely do [have secrets], but I’m not sharing them here. That’s not because I don’t want to reveal anything about myself in my photography.  A lot of my earlier photographs featured me.  I saw this as a marker of my evolution.”

So far most of the models are women, but Alexis is starting to photograph more men for the project.  I asked whether she thought men would be more reticent about revealing their secrets.  

"Some people are more secretive than others, men or women," she said.  "Just because someone decides to participate does not mean they have decided to really share a true secret."

These works and others will be for sale at Asali Yoga's art show and reception on December 14th.  

If you would like to participate in the Unwrapped Series, please contact Alexis Percival at