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.


Chipped Cup Open Mic

Photograph by The Chipped CupOn Thursday November 15th, the Chipped Cup held its first open mic evening.  If I’d known the scope of neighborhood talent ready to jump in front of a mic, I might have hesitated before offering my short prose reading.

The first performer was an 11-year-old girl called Sirena. She played guitar and sang one of her own compositions about the beauty of her neighborhood in Harlem. Sirena has a soulful soprano voice that made me think a little of Kate Bush. Unsurprisingly, Adele’s songwriter is interested in Sirena.  Her music brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of the purity of the human spirit. 

It also reminded me that I would have to follow this act with my story about men with facial hair. As I walked toward the mic, I wondered if I could just walk right past it and out the door.  But I’ve embarrassed myself often enough to know that it’s usually over in a few minutes.  And then the memory stays with me for the rest of my life.

But the Chipped Cup audience listened attentively to my story, even when I fumbled with a mic in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other.  A few people even told me they liked it afterwards.  

Sitting next to me was Mark Blackman, director of Welcome to Harlem the Movie.

“That was good,” he said.  With perfect timing, he followed this by saying, “This is the most patient audience ever.” Or maybe he said "best crowd."

There followed musicians, poets, another reader of prose, and several stand up comedians.  Patricia, one of the barristas who is also an MFA student at CCNY, read a poem, like a piece of music, to great applause. 

I felt privileged to be able to view such a lot of talent, for free and just down the road from where I live.

Joe Boover, singing "Low Budget Fairytale"

Singer-songwriter, Joe Boover, performed two humorous and touching songs.  Mark Blackman, accompanied by barrista Kerrianne on guitar, did some comedy and sang a song called, “Columbia f@#$ed a dog.”  Mark clearly doesn’t like the way Columbia is moving into the neighborhood. The room was cracking up with laughter. 

“This is the high point of the evening,” my friend said, after loudly interrupting Mark several times. "Sometimes we need to laugh."

The interruptions didn’t disturb Mark and I began to understand how he really loves Harlem, and how I’d better finish my review of his movie.

The first Chipped Cup Open Mic was organized by baristas Kerianne and Mary Jane.  Open Mic’s will be held every third Thursday of the month at 7pm.  All are welcome.