Betting on the best cocktail ever mixed

mojitoJuly 31, 2013 – My nephew reached a right of passage over the weekend.

He’s old enough now to enjoy the traditions my family cherishes; he visited Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City to gamble with my mother, and he sat at the poker bar to have a beer with my father. We teach them well.

Later we dined at “the high class joint”, my father’s way of describing Luke Palladino’s where I had the best mojito. Recently, the summer quencher surpassed the margarita as my favorite warm weather drink.

What’s your pleasure? I’ll bet it appears on Ranker.com’s list of the best cocktails ever mixed.

A lunchtime tourist in her own city: The Franklin Fountain

franklinfountainJuly 29, 2013 – Did you know that it takes about 50 licks to finish an average scoop of ice cream?

Since July is National Ice Cream month, it’s only fitting that we close out this tourist series, with a fun fact and a trip to Philadelphia’s famous Franklin Fountain.

The Franklin Fountain, located at 116 Market Street in Old City/Society Hill, is an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that not only gives you a refreshing kick on a hot day, but also takes you back in time. It doesn’t matter that the fountain opened in 2004; a trip inside makes you feel like you’ve time-traveled back to America’s past.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Fountain serves homemade ice cream in a variety of Americana flavors, such as vanilla bean, chocolate, cherry vanilla, peanut butter, Franklin mint chip, chocolate chip, Hydrox cookie, teaberry gum, black raspberry, coconut, peach, banana, strawberry, green tea, pistachio, butter pecan, maple walnut, rum raisin, coffee and cotton candy. It also caters to the modern taste with gluten-free and vegan choices. The bakery and coffee and tea selections make the Franklin Fountain and all around dessert oasis.

The interesting twist is that when the summer winds down and the seasons change to autumn and winter, the Fountain changes right along with it. They serve their famous ice cream year round, but the menu is enhanced with cold weather delights such as European Drinking Chocolate, Wilbur’s Hot Cocoa, their own line of hot sodas, and their specialty, the hot milkshake, an invention not available anywhere else in the world.

After a day of touring Old City, or working in one of the many surrounding office buildings like me, it’s a real treat to visit the Franklin Fountain. They are open every day from 11 a.m. to midnight.

This concludes the lunchtime tourist series for summer 2013. Be sure to check out the other options, as these excursions are perfect if you want to explore Philly on your lunch hour (and work downtown), or if you’re a visitor with an hour or so to spare.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art
Franklin Square
The Wanamaker Organ
The City Tavern and McGillin’s Olde Ale House
The Philadelphia History Museum
The Italian Market
The Reading Terminal Market
Chinatown
Jeweler’s Row
Old City

Come on, we’re not that bad

boobirdlee-300x291July 26, 2013 – Philadelphia, also known as the City of Brotherly Love, has an undeserved reputation.

We have our unfortunate share of crime like any large urban area, yet crime rates are down significantly from our worst rates of two decades ago, and we are not on the top ten lists of the most dangerous cities in America. Still, it is not crime that is on everyone’s lips about when speaking ill of my city; it’s the residents who live here.

In sports circles, we’re known as the world’s worst fans because we throw snowballs at Santa, a 45-year-old story about a poorly dressed and drunk Santa at an Eagles game that won’t die. We throw batteries at the opposing team, another incident about a couple of stupid teens who threw batteries at J.D. Drew, not the smartest thing, but try to find a city without stupid teens. We’ll throw up on you in the stands, beat you up in the parking lot, laugh when you break your wrist, and make you very afraid to wear your team’s jerseys here, which is all absurd. Let’s not forget that we boo our own players, probably the most accurate description of our fan base, but many consider it passion over actual displeasure. Booing is an east coast thing anyway, and not just prone to Philadelphia.

Now, we can add comedian Chris Gethard to the hate list, who has stated that Philly is the worst city to perform. He recently wrote in a vice column, “I feel like a lot of performers’ worst shows happened in Philly. There’s something about that town. Kids have a real chip on their shoulder and are always ready for a battle.”

I’m not sure about a chip on our shoulder, we seem to roll with the best of them, and as far as being ready for battle, I do have friends that enjoy our reputation, especially concerning sports. They believe it gives us the advantage because other teams fear coming into the city to face our boys. Perhaps that was true in the old days, when the Eagles played at Veteran’s Stadium, however, that is not a good enough reason to dis Philadelphians.

Hey, Gethard, did you ever consider that maybe you’re just not that funny? Or, perhaps we took issue with the name of your show, “New York is better than Philly,” a title you wouldn’t have used less you were trying to stir our famous “passion”. Whatever your reason, do you really think it’s wise to anger an entire fan base? Who are you, anyway? It’s not as if you have a name like Carlin, Pryor, or Seinfeld to back you up.

Why not ask a few musical acts like The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel why they love to play in Philly. They’ll tell you the audience is great, and that they always add several shows on their tour schedule to play here, usually more than any other city.

We are purveyors of good talent in our fair city. And we like the best. Sorry if you don’t fit the bill.

Movie review: Girl Most Likely

imagesJuly 24, 2013 – Hollywood’s newest romantic comedy formula: Write an offbeat, witty script and ask Kristen Wiig to star. She pulls off “outside of the box” better than most these days.

In “Girl Most Likely”, Wiig plays a character similar to her “Bridesmaids” character, a down on her luck female who’s descending spiral forces her to move back in with her mother, and things get a lot worse before they get better. Same formula, slightly different story.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. For now, it works for Wiig because she’s a competent actress who plays this character type well, and is supported by the wonderful cast around her, namely Annette Bening and Matt Dillon, both in hilarious roles that add to the storyline. Ask me if the formula continues to be successful after a few more movies, and I might have a different opinion.

Perhaps the thing I like best about this formula is that Wiig is a woman of a certain age (she turns 40 next month), and she is still offered romantic, albeit quirky lead roles. I’m not sure if we can call her America’s Sweetheart like Meg Ryan back in the day, but it’s great to see women over 25 considered as the romantic interest.

The film takes place in New York City, and in Ocean City, N.J., a vacation resort for folks that live on the east coast, in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Bening spends a good portion of the film in a Mack and Manco tee-shirt, something locals can relate to as a business offering arguably the best pizza on the boardwalk. Mack and Manco, now known as just Manco and Manco in Ocean City rules, and always will.

The premise of “Girl Most Likely” isn’t going to change the world or make you think about philosophy or any other deeper subject. It’s meant to be silly fun and it is. Wiig stars as Imogene, a writer for a New York magazine and a failed playwright who loses her boyfriend, her job and her fancy Manhattan pad, and after an unfortunate attempt to gain attention, lands back in her childhood home in Ocean City, in the same state her well to do and snobby friends poke fun at every time they are reminded she is from New Jersey.

Imogene arrives home only to find her mother (Bening) has moved in her new boyfriend (the hilarious Dillon). Her brother still resides there as well, played by a charming Christopher Fitzgerald, and her mother has taken on a new border (Darren Criss) who has taken over her old room.

The script, written by Michelle Morgan, has plenty of humor with offbeat characters that I am drawn to, and although the ending is predictable, it gave me hearty chuckles. The story is comedy through and through, and there are some tender moments, yet it is not one of those films that emotionally connects you to any character. It is what it is — entertaining.

Rating: 3+ -It’s one of those films you can wait for on DVD, yet it is better than OK that typically is attached to a 3.

Rating System
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother

A lunchtime tourist in her own city: The Philadelphia Museum of Art

thJuly 23, 2013 – Paris has the Louvre. Rome has the Sistine Chapel. Philadelphia has The Museum of Art.

As one of the largest museums in the United States, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, an architectural wonder of Greek design that sits atop the Schuylkill River on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is world-renowned, and can proudly stand among its fellow museums in Paris and Rome.

The main museum, visited by nearly one million people annually, contains more than 227,000 art objects from European, Asian and American paintings, prints, drawings, and other art forms. Exploring the museum takes more than one hour, but you could view a special exhibit in that period, which is why it made its way on to the lunchtime tourist list.

ladderThe museum has hosted many special exhibits through the years, including Cezanne, Dali, and Renoir to name a few. Two exhibits that I visited included Van Gogh and O’Keeffe. Last year’s “Van Gogh Up Close” was a remarkable sight, and the only American stop on a groundbreaking tour. What an honor for Philadelphia. A few years before, the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit gave me the chance to see one of my favorite paintings live, “Ladder to the Moon”, which she painted in 1958. It’s simple, but it makes me ever so happy.

This summer, the “Art Splash” exhibit invites you to channel your inner child. Through Sept. 2, the special exhibit features creations that appeal to both kids and adults, and brings interactive activities to the museum. One of those exhibits, “Candy Coated Wonderland”, is the brainchild of local Philly based artist Candy Depew, also known as Candy Coated. Her creations feature costumes from storybook characters; they can be seen on the mannequins throughout the exhibit, and also cover the walls and floor of the exhibit hall.

stepsFor those with a more serious take on art, there is plenty to explore in that venue. Go back to the middle ages with rooms of armor and weapons on display, along with paintings dating back to 1475. Or explore the wide halls and many rooms filled with priceless paintings, such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, or Monet’s Japanese Bridge and Water Lilies.

Perhaps you have a taste for pop culture. The museum can provide that fix, too, as the building featured prominently in the 1975 movie “Rocky”. The title character is shown running up the museum steps as part of his training routine, and dancing at the top its many steps with his fists high in the air. Philadelphia’s visitors and locals alike can be spotted doing the same in broad daylight or after a night on the town. After the movie, a bronze statue was commissioned of Rocky, and it sat at the foot of the museum until it was moved to a Broad Street location, where it rests among the sports stadiums that host the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers.

The grounds surrounding the museum are an artistic wonder in their own right. A stroll outside allows you to enjoy several pieces of outdoor modern art, the summer weather, and beautiful Boat House Row along Kelly Drive.

Check out the other options in the lunchtime tourist series. These excursions are perfect if you want to explore Philly on your lunch hour (and work downtown), or if you’re a visitor with an hour or so to spare.

Franklin Square
The Wanamaker Organ
The City Tavern and McGillin’s Olde Ale House
The Philadelphia History Museum
The Italian Market
The Reading Terminal Market

Chinatown
Jeweler’s Row
Old City

Celebrating Philly’s Eraserhood

thCA1RN4XYJuly 19, 2013 – I have lived in Philadelphia all my life, with the exception of the two years I ventured into Montgomery County to reside there. Philly is a wonderful city, and although I have had to defend it on occasion to the less informed, most people understand its appeal, whether it is the city’s proximity to the Jersey shore or the Pocono Mountains, its variety of unique neighborhoods, many of which have been refurbished, its sports mania, or its cosmopolitan nightlife.

Learning that the Philadelphia recently hosted an Eraserhead Forever (and ever) event to celebrate David Lynch’s odd film “Eraserhead” just upped its coolness factor for me. I also learned that Lynch filmed Eraserhead in Philadelphia’s Fairmount section, and that he once lived in the neighborhood.

Lynch said of Philly, “It’s the sickest, most corrupt, decaying, fear-ridden city imaginable. I was very poor and living in the bad areas. I felt like I was constantly in danger. But it was so fantastic at the same time.” Much of what he said is not flattering, but Lynch lived in the area between 1966 and 1970, and since then the neighborhood, known by fans as Eraserhood, has greatly improved, developing into one of the more trendy areas in the city. However, if it inspired him to make “Eraserhead”, I suppose I can take a little criticism.

“Eraserhead”, Lynch’s debut 1977 feature film has to be one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. I can’t say that I love it, but I like its unusual factor, and appreciate the imagination that went into the film. The film tells the story of a paranoid man (Jack Vance, pictured above) living in an industrial wasteland who suddenly becomes a parent. Shot in black and white to give it a creepy feel, along with its eerie soundtrack put it in the category of a horror movie, and it is horrifying, but not in the traditional sense. If you’re a fan of Lynch and his offbeat films, you’ll most likely enjoy “Eraserhead”.

Another reason Philly is ultra-cool is its Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, the venue for the Eraserhead Forever event, and a building that was once a showroom for tombstones and mausoleums. I’ll admit I didn’t know this existed either, but now that I am aware, a trip is in the works. MOCA, as it is known by the “it crowd”, sits at 531 N. 12th Street in Eraserhood, and features gallery space complete with stage and screen. It displays works from artists, musicians, photographers, writers, filmmakers, dancers, clowns, acrobats, comedians, jugglers, strippers, puppeteers, game show hosts, and many more in various artistic circles. Here is a schedule of upcoming events.

Channeling my inner artist

lJuly 17, 2013 — There’s a new creative outlet in town that has folks asking why paint a coffee mug or vase when you can paint a masterpiece instead.

Painting with a Twist is an art studio experience popping up in different locations across the United States. The local studio in my area is in Skippack, Pa, although studios are opening soon in Jenkintown and Philadelphia, and like the others, it offers a place to gather with your friends or loved ones, tap in to your creative side, and complete a work of art. The twist part is that it’s also a BYOB event, so you can relax and enjoy an adult beverage while you paint.

The professional staff is upbeat and funny, and they play the perfect music to keep you inspired. Themed events run each night for famous paintings such as Van Gogh’s A Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lilies, along with other themes such as Christmas in July, Window Shopping in Paris, and plenty more. It’s the hottest trend in birthday, bachelorette, and other private parties. The studio also runs all age events, with more focus on kid friendly beverages. A list of themes is available on their website.

painting-twist-fireflies-27 2Last Friday night, I attended a “Fireflies” themed night with a few girlfriends, hoping to catch up with the latest news and also discover a hidden talent for painting I may have overlooked all of these years. The original painting (left) is the one we hoped to reproduce, and I love it because it has the same look and feel as a Van Gogh. When I walked in to the studio and saw the replica the artist/instructor painted, I knew it would be difficult to copy. I mentioned to him that my painting will most likely not look like his version, and he smiled and agreed that it was one of the more difficult paintings to produce, but he would provide step by step instruction that would make it easy for all of us. He also added that I would be surprised at what I could accomplish.

Along the way, I doubted him, but in the end he was right. Although it’s far from an exact copy, I provided my own twist and was surprised that it came together as well as it did. I’ve never painted before and can’t draw, yet I did better than I expected. I learned a lot about painting and brush strokes–I tend to have a heavy hand when painting and that can be trouble–and I noticed definite improvement by the end of the night. Next time, I will do better, and I say next time because as a group, we had a lot of fun and can’t wait to go back.

IMG_0131To prove I’m a good sport, even though my type A personality did emerge when I became frustrated by my imperfections, I’m happy to show my first masterpiece (right). It appears there is a pond in the middle of my painting, the moon is larger and sort of resembles a bowling ball, and my jar of fireflies looks a little more like a cocktail shaker, but I pushed on and finished. Sure, I may have appeared stressed and serious to those around me, but I had a great time.

Now, if I can only figure out what to do with this one. Any bidders?