Best Way to Chill: Ice cream, frozen yogurt, alcohol (a marriage made in Brooklyn)

Woman enjoy Cereal Milk ice-cream from Momofuku.

The Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream from Uncle Louie G’s ice cream shop which now has two locations locally.

By Mary Yeung

Americans sure eat a lot of frozen desserts, in fact, about $27 billion worth in 2011. That’s about 20 quarts per capita annually, or four times the European average. Boston has the highest consumption rate. All those young people in Ivy League colleges take a lot of ice cream breaks between studies, which may explain the current state of our government—so many captains of industry and heads of state used to spend time in Harvard square chilling out with a cone. Maybe brain freeze is not as innocuous as we thought.

But New Yorkers shouldn’t get too cocky, because the Big Apple also has a long and proud history when in comes to frozen treats. America’s first ice cream parlor was built in 1776 at Park Row in Manhattan, now part of Chinatown. In 1903, Italo Marchiony, a downtown restaurateur, patented a gadget for making edible waffle cups. The ubiquitous Midwestern Good Humor brand once had a manufacturing plant in Brooklyn. In the 1960s, a Polish immigrant from Da Bronx made a premium ice cream called Häagen Dazs for gourmet shops that catered to the rich, and in 1983 he sold Häagen Dazs to Pillsbury for a big chunk of change. Häagen Dazs (still all natural) is now sold in fifty countries. Talk about attaining the American dream! Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, established in 1978, was the brainchild of two hippy-dippy guys who grew up on Long Island. They mixed politics and philanthropy with business (remember the Peace Pop and Rain Forest Crunch?) and got a lot of free press. We all know how sweet that story turned out. Very few people are aware of this, but New York also started the first-ever frozen yogurt franchise—Everything Yogurt—back in the late 70s. By the mid 80s, it was in hundreds of malls.

At Pagoto, you can have your wine and eat it too—the Chocolate Cabernet ice cream has a 5% alcohol content. Photos by Allen Ying

Today, the frozen dessert business is more exciting and competitive than ever. On the weekends, ice cream and frozen yogurt trucks are everywhere in Williamsburg. There is the mellow-yellow Van Leeuwen truck on Bedford Avenue, the Cool Haus Truck ($10 double-decked ice cream sandwiches from L.A.!) parked on Metropolitan or Bedford avenues, and a Yogo truck can be seen roaming around like a lost child, not to mention all the brick-and-mortar sweet shops dotting the neighborhood. You want ice cream? You’ve come to the right place.

Uncle Louie G’s appeared on the Brooklyn scene in 1998 and became an immediate hit. The Italian ice was intensely flavorful and very natural-tasting. It started in Park Slope and spread from there. Today, the 46 flavors of ice cream and 40 flavors of Italian ice are made in Staten Island. I’m glad they’re keeping the jobs within the five boroughs (we need more manufacturing here). My favorites are Lick Me Lemon ice and Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream. The lemon ice is very vivid, with a clean lemon flavor. The Strawberry Cheesecake is super silky with a bit of bright strawberry syrup, a hint of cream cheese, and a lot of vanilla. All the flavors mingle together beautifully. You don’t get those grainy chunks of old cheesecake you sometimes see in other brands. I also appreciate their inventive, bad-ass Brooklyn names: It’s a Crime Lime, Mucho Mango, Wassup Watermelon, Rocky Road Rage, Bada Bing Cherry Vanilla, and Killer Kiwi. And just when you think it’s getting a little too sinister for your blood, they sucker punch you with the oh-so-innocent Coney Island Cotton Candy. And you just melt.
341 Graham Avenue and 674 Manhattan Avenue.

If you want sophistication in an ice cream, Van Leeuwen is your sweet spot. I feel like I should be wearing a pretty summer dress when I’m ordering an Earl Grey ice cream. It tastes so ethereal and dreamy. And their Minty Chip is very refreshing, with a real mint flavor, light on the sugar, and bits of contrasting bitter chocolate. It reminds you of a cool summer breeze. One of their newer flavors is the Palm Sugar ice cream. It’s incredibly sweet, with a rich caramel flavor. Palm sugar has a lower glycemic index than cane sugar and honey (but with the same calorie count as cane sugar), so it’s being marketed like agave syrup, as a healthier natural sweetener. But like agave, it invites controversy. So wait for further research before you spend the big bucks. Meanwhile, enjoy palm sugar for its unique malty sweetness.
632 Manhattan Avenue.

Woman enjoys Cereal Milk ice-cream from Momofuku.

The first frozen-yogurt franchise was started by two New Yorkers, and at least one of them was from Brooklyn. Everything Yogurt had its first store on Wall Street. In the day, if you wanted to charge big bucks for a frozen treat you had to sell it in Manhattan. Williamsburg will soon open 16 Handles, a franchised yogurt chain started in the East Village and a big hit in Manhattan. The yogurt tastes great (I like the original plain with berry toppings), and they kept the tart flavor and all the good-for-you pro-biotic stuff intact. For people with control issues, this is a godsend. You get to pull the handles yourself and take as much as you want. You pay by weight and can spend $3 or $12; it’s all up to you. With toppings from fresh cut fruits to chewy, starchy mochi balls, this place will test your mettle.
141 North 7th Street.

Like weird and kooky flavors? Visit the Momofuku Milk Bar. They have cereal milk—soft serve ice cream that tastes like… cereal milk–flavored ice cream. Duh! It’s topped with crunchy candied corn flakes and tastes like British (Horlick) Ovaltine. I love it. I also tried something called Strawberry Sesame yogurt. It wasn’t good; simply put, strawberry and sesame don’t go together. But those mad cooks at Milk are willing to go where no humans have gone before, and once in a while, they concoct something truly unique and revelatory, but the strawberry-sesame yogurt is not one of them.
382 Metropolitan Avenue.

Pagoto (Greek for ice cream) is an organic ice cream shop that serves ice cream flavored with wine. Oh yeah, I’m with you, baby, I’m totally there. The Chocolate Cabernet was boo-ze-licious! Luscious cream infused with a fruity wine and studded with chunks of dark chocolate. I also liked the mango sorbet—very fruity, but the coconut ice cream tasted slightly off; I’m guessing it’s the preservatives in the shredded coconut flakes. $3.99 for a scoop of regular ice cream. $4.99 for the wine-flavored ice cream.
201 Bedford Avenue.

Frankie Galland eats a dish of Earl Grey ice cream at Van Leeuwen.

I’m not a big fan of Baskin-Robbins ice cream in the States. A few years ago, while visiting relatives in Toronto, my uncle asked me if I wanted to go to Baskin-Robbins. Not wanting to sound like a snooty New Yorker, I said “Sure!” And guess what? The ice cream tasted great in Canada, like Breyers before they added that horrible tara gum crap. Once again, an iconic American product tastes better in somebody else’s country (like Coca-Cola tastes better in Mexico because they don’t use corn syrup). What are we doing to our food? Talented Americans invent great products that the whole world loves, and then some bean-counter/food engineer with no taste buds comes along and mucks them up! It’s unpatriotic! Having said that, Baskin-Robbins is very reasonably priced: only $2.29 a scoop and $1.89 for a kid-sized scoop. If you have a family, that means something. I like the butter pecan best. The mint tasted artificial, and the peanut butter and chocolate is too muddy and gummy.
643 Manhattan Avenue.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Company makes their ice cream in Greenpoint. You can get it directly in their factory/café on Commercial Street (near Manhattan Avenue). Short of making it yourself, you can’t get ice cream fresher than this. They’re like the Brooks Brothers of ice cream and don’t mess around with novelty flavors, only the classics—Chocolate, Vanilla, Butter Pecan, Strawberry, Coffee, Peaches and Cream. Like gelato, the ice cream is eggless. Take a trek over there, and get yourself an old-fashioned sundae or a banana boat.
$4 a scoop.
97 Commercial Street.

Feeling nostalgic for old school Williamsburg? After 30-some years, Fortunato Brothers Café and Pasticceria is an institution that serves gelato, strong espresso, and cannoli. I love the splashy art on the wall and the fabulous display of specialty cakes and colorful marzipan. This corner of Williamsburg really transports you back to a different place and time.
289 Manhattan Avenue.

Remember snow cones? They were hugely popular in inner city neighborhoods. Men with sun-baked faces would cart around large blocks of ice all day long. They shave and shave and then douse the chunky “snow” with neon-colored syrup—hot pink, electric blue, granny smith green. Oh how I miss that chemical-induced summer daze. Newly opened in the mini-mall at Bedford Avenue and North 5th Street is Handsome Dan, a candy and sno-cone shop (manned by Handsome Dan). Gone are the blocks of ice and neon-colored syrups. Modern Dan uses a handy-dandy snow-making machine and creates his own natural syrups with sugar, water, and fresh fruits. It’s all Lo Cal and lactose free, a refreshing summer treat.
218 Bedford Avenue, Mini Mall.

Please, somebody, send me a pair of Spanx!

The Wine Mensch l Baby It’s Cold “Inside”—As It Should Be

By Daniel Mensch

What is the ideal temperature to store or cellar wine?

The temperature often cited as ideal to cellar or store most wine is 55°F (13°C). The practical answer to this query was reached empirically by winemakers centuries before modern technology could scientifically confirm their prescriptions. Before the advent of electrical refrigeration, winemakers would cellar their bottled wine in underground caves. The average underground temperature in Burgundy, France, for example, is 13°C. This ideal temperature has merit beyond custom or regional appeal, which is evident in the fact that winemakers and collectors to this day store their wine in underground cellars set to the same temperature as their predecessors’.

The chemical reactions during bottle aging are myriad, occur simultaneously at varying rates and either increase or decrease depending on the temperature. The trick to properly aging wine is to keep the undesirable reactions (those that make a wine spoil faster or adversely affect taste or bouquet) to a minimum, while allowing the desirable reactions (those that gradually relax the tannins and help overall taste and alcohol integration) to occur at a preferable rate. It may seem reasonable for wineries to store their products in large refrigerators at just above freezing temperature instead of 55°F so that oxidation, the chemical force that inevitably spoils all wine, is slowed. However, the wine’s tannins, softening at a snail’s pace, may take longer than a human life span to unwind and achieve that self-actualized state of optimal “drinkability.” Last, it is important to note that as temperature increases, the rates of reactions are affected exponentially. Therefore, even minimal time at extreme heat (e.g., 90°F for several hours in your car’s trunk) can have serious detrimental effects on your wine. Hence, it is crucial to understand a wine’s provenance, as there are ample opportunities between vineyard and dining room table for heat damage to manifest.

What is the ideal temperature at which to serve wine?

The correct serving temperature for a wine is an entirely different story than storing it; there is no fixed serving temperature for reds, whites and rosés alike. If a particular wine is too warm it may taste boozy or flabby, and if it is too cold it may seem flavorless. Let’s break it down by type of wine into four strata of temperature: In general, for heavy reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, 60–65°F is good; for medium- to light-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir, a cooler 55–60°F; a still cooler 50–55°F for full-bodied whites such as Chardonnay and very light fruity reds such as Beaujolais Nouveau; and 45–50°F for light whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, rosé and sweet or sparkling whites.

If you are like me, and the majority of wine drinkers out there, you don’t own a special wine chiller set to these precise temperatures nor do you take your wine’s temperature once you’ve opened a bottle. Here is some practical advice: Wine at room temperature is never a good thing, whether white or red. In general, it has been my observation that people serve whites too cold and reds too warm. If you need to chill a bottle that is at room temperature, ConsumerReports.org advises that it takes between 5 minutes (for the heavy reds at the top of the spectrum) and 20 minutes (for the light whites at the bottom of the spectrum) in the freezer to cool to their appropriate serving temperatures. If you have a bottle of white in the refrigerator that you plan on serving with dinner, take it out and let it stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before the meal is ready to be served.

“Who cares?” you may ask. Does a 10-degree difference in temperature really affect my wine enjoyment? Think of it like this: If your bottle of Burgundy were a filet of salmon or your Brunello di Montalcino were a porterhouse steak, 10 degrees would be the difference between delicious and completely ruined. A lot of work (hopefully) went into crafting that beverage; treat it with respect from cellar to table and you will be rewarded!

Daniel Mensch is co-owner of Pier Wines (12 North 5th Street between Kent Avenue and the East River). To submit questions for consideration to be explored within this column please email him at info@pierwines.com with the subject “wine column,” or stop by and visit with him in his shop.

The Rules of Grace—Performance art thrives at 840 Broadway 

Colombian artist, Carlos Monroy dancing samba for the speed dater Mona Kamal. The card chosen by Mona was: Hi, my name is Andrea Fraser.

Performance artist Jessica Hirst from Spain at Grace Exhibition in April.

By David Lagaccia

A giant poster of a brain tells you you’re at the right apartment. Under the screaming wheels of the elevated J train, and up the flight of stairs, is a sizable loft painted in gray.

Grace Exhibition Space, a converted loft at 840 Broadway, is one of the few performance art galleries in New York City, ridding itself of a stage and focusing on the immersion of artist and audience. With a suggested $10 donation at the door, the gallery hosts artist talks and art events every other Thursday and Friday, providing several hours of performance by both local and international artists.

Filled with professors, students, the young, the old, the curious, and the frightened, Grace Space is the kind of Friday-night hangout where you’ll drag a friend or date by the arm to come and see something they have never seen, and will never see again. Where, in a single performance, an artist can tax your imagination and push your comfort level to unexplored or previously ignored moral perspectives while you’re sitting idly on a bench with a drink between your legs. Here the barrier between audience and performer dissolves, and you’re encouraged to take action, to participate in the full spectrum of human experience in all its beautiful, humorous, bold, and nightmarish qualities—all created by the shared dream of a mass of people. On each night, and in each performance, the human body is redeemed from the mundane and made anew.

Brazilian performer Luisa Nobrega attempts to break wine glasses while screaming for three hours.

Performance pieces at Grace Space can run from five to 20 minutes, to several hours, the time being dependent on the willingness and resolution of the artist. Each inch of humanity is explored, from the simple act of transferring water with a spoon to a partner’s bowl, to the complete surreality of eating a bowl of Life cereal naked while waiting for a metal pot containing water and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time to boil on a plug-in hotplate.

“We like to say, what God took seven days to do, we do in ten minutes,” said Erik “Hoke” Hokanson, a performance artist and director at Grace Space.

New York City artist, Mathew Silver presented a self-help course to awaken the inner child. Photos courtesy of Grace Exhibition Space

“It took me years to learn this art form,” said Jill McDermind-Hokanson, founder and director at Grace Exhibition Space. She’s the reticent one of the couple, but is the spark behind the busy gallery. “Performance art comes from fine art, like painting and sculpture. I just keep getting fascinated by it.”

After coming to New York City, and seeing a need for a venue for the art form, Jill started Grace Space in 2006 with her friend, Melissa Lockwood, whom she met at the University of Iowa. Jill graduated with a master of fine arts and a master of art in intermedia and video and studied under Hans Breder. She became interested in performance art through filmmaking because, she said, she found herself  “projecting.” She’s been practicing performance art since 2000.

Jill was introduced to Hoke after meeting him four years ago at the Fountain Art Fair in Miami, where he was one of the organizers. Hoke, who has a hobby building working guitars (with 75 or so in a storage locker somewhere), described himself as “primarily an object maker,” and was new to performance art until he met Jill. It was only after her encouragement that he became interested and started performing his own pieces.

“[Performance art] is far less encumbered with rules, and it was liberating,” he said. “Unlike other art forms, it’s not confined to materials and technique, concepts and personality. Discovering performance was eye opening to me. I was always afraid I would screw it up, but you learn you don’t have to screw it up, just do.”

Since then, the Space has been curated by the recently married couple, and has hosted over 600 original performances, giving local artists such as Mathew Silver (from the New York subway stations) to foreign artists like Jessica Hirst (from Barcelona) an intimate venue to show off their craft. Both the professional artist and learning graduate student are welcome, with only one stipulation: their work has to be genuine.

“We’re like a community,” said Jill.

“The curating at Grace Space is really important. We get people who appeal to us. We go to these festivals and see what we think is really strong and we send them an email.”

Colombian artist, Carlos Monroy dancing samba for the speed dater Mona Kamal. The card chosen by Mona was: Hi, my name is Andrea Fraser.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We make a big point of meeting all the artists,” said Hoke. “[We] have them come in and let them get a feel for the place.”

“Sometimes I let the artists go in the order they want,” but he admitted that they usually want to “finish off with a big wild mess of a performance.”

Jill and Hoke usually schedule each artist six months in advance. After they send a friendly email to the artist, they follow up with a formal letter so an artist can use it to get funding. Since their gallery is not yet a non-profit, each artist has to pay their own way to New York, either through a grant, sponsorship, or from their own pocket.

Seeing a need and having a desire to cultivate performance art talent, Jill and Hoke often go out of their way to be as accommodating to visiting artists as they can, buying them meals and allowing them to stay at their three-bedroom Bedford Avenue apartment for free, even if they’re meeting for the first time.

“There’s a day or two of feeling each other out,” said Jill about having traveling artists stay at their apartment.

After a workshop at the exhibition space, they took Finnish artists Päivi Manunu and Ilari Kahonen, as well as Art Institute of Chicago graduate students Sabri Reed and Autumn Hays, her boyfriend Brad, and their intern Ryan Hawk on a night of wining and dining in the private room of the Japanese restaurant “Qoo” Robata Bar, on Metropolitan Avenue.

Monroy trimming a shape of a hearth on his hair for one of his speed daters. The card chosen by the dater was: Hi, my name is Marcel Duchamp.

With a round of saké and a few plates of tempura vegetables to start the night, the conversation shifted from politics to movies to books to performance art, with no word on what would happen the next night. There’s anticipation for each piece, with no want and no hurry to spoil it.

Ilari, who has been involved in performance art for four and a half years, was celebrating his 50th birthday. Sabri sat in repose. Asked what was the matter, she said she was just “taking it all in.” She flew into New York from Chicago the night before (Wednesday), performed Friday night, and flew back Sunday.

After another round of saké, with “cheers” and “saluts” heard from end to end, three platters were set out with rolls of eel, tuna, and salmon, and with clusters of orange salmon roe, shrimp tails, and swordfish—each an aquarium on a platter, in shades of pink sashimi. When the night was finished, Jill and Hoke paid the bill before anyone noticed.

“You see some really, really respected people from their countries,” said Henry G. Sanchez, a faculty member and teacher of digital media for the School of Visual Design, who frequents the gallery often.

Carlos Monroy, who traveled from Colombia, is such an artist. He’s involved in a long-term workshop and internship at the Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics at NYU. On May 18th he performed a piece at Grace Space titled “Art of Speed Dating,” where he played the role of a speed dater, asking curious viewers to “date” him by sitting down with him at a table lined with rows of nametags with descriptions of specific actions. Viewers were then asked to choose a nametag to put on Carlos, which he then had to act out. This forced him to have a simple conversation, to put on high heels and a skinny dress and perform a salsa dance, to strip, or to go on all fours with a collar around his neck and act like a dog. Carlos’s next performance will be at La MaMa experimental theater club in Manhattan.

“There are so many actions that happen in a performance, but the more I do, it kind of gets more to the point, that it’s not about the action,” said Carlos. “It’s about being there experiencing that and kind of being somehow willing to live that thing, experimenting it. Even if you’re not a performer and just being there.”

“That was a very smart piece, not only fun and interesting, but calling from an art historical perspective,” said Henry. “Carlos really stood out. That’s the best one he’s done so far.”

A newcomer may see performance art as bizarre or random, and indeed it requires the spontaneity of live performance, but often there’s a careful process of thinking out a piece, making sure every gesture or object is not mistaken for symbolism, for unintended or ambiguous meaning. If questioned about the intention of a piece, a performer will often talk about an entire philosophy of what, why, and how, although exact meaning is sometimes hard to pinpoint, with the listener playing the role of a frustrated lepidopterist failing to pin down an elusive butterfly.

“Art is about communicating, not about keeping secrets,” mentioned Hillary Sand, a performance artist and also volunteer at Grace Exhibition Space.

This communication starts with the artist’s body through what is called action. Marilyn Arsem, a performer and teacher of performance art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, wrote in a 2011 essay detailing what she believes performance art is: “The artist uses real materials and real actions,” she said.

In line Ms. Arsem’s definition, I believe a performance artist’s prime material is their body, using it to interact with both the space they perform in and the audience that surrounds them. Their imagination for a performance is bound by the limits of their body. This means a piece may also include male or female nudity, and it may be explicit and challenge the edges of decency and morals of the viewer, but like any common object, a lamp, a bowl, a rocking horse, a screaming voice, an exposed penis or a pair of bare breasts, the artist will use the body as an art object, creating action to transcend something material into an idea. This idea is then left for the viewers to discern for themselves, with no single answer being right or wrong.

The artist Carlos adds, “People get shocked and people feel they need to understand, and because of that people run away from performance art instead of going closer. I’m trying to get people closer [to performance art], not just in an appealing way, so at least when you go home you can at least talk to yourself—I had fun today. If after you have fun—you’re able to think of other stuff, I will say, ok, my work was really well done… My point my idea is—after you have the fun, somehow a door opens and you think of other things.”

“I think good performance art results in more unanswered questions than answered questions,” said Hoke. “It’s not about acting, it’s about action. Action belongs in performance art. The work that we show is art through action—conveying the immaculate through the idea of movement!”

“You can have this very simple act,” said Jill, “and it has this intensity of purpose.”

An intensity of purpose they said is found in the gray space of a performance, when the primal gray matter of the brain reacts to the spontaneity and inventiveness of a performance.

“You’re absolutely riveted because this artist can keep your attention,” said Hoke. “A lot of these performers are revealing, and the audience can get a sense of who the artist is.”

A typical Friday for the two has them running and working through the night. During an event, Jill and Hoke meet old friends and greet and introduce new acquaintances; they fix lighting, and help set-up each performance; they announce each artist by using a bullhorn to grab the audience’s attention, making sure everyone is quite and gathers around the next piece. By the end of the night, they’re exhausted with several weeks worth of work finally done. They film each performance for an archive, which they make available by appointment during the week.

With the end of each performance, and after the audience has cleared, comes a sober concern from each performer of what others thought of their piece. A vulnerability and shyness that somehow was masked returns and is exposed through conversation lasting until the early morning. Jill and Hoke give their advice and their thoughts with each artist listening with careful attention. The artists were asked to keep their spaces messy throughout the night, because they’re told it’s part of the performance and theme of the night. But now it’s 12 a.m. it’s time to close; the artists are then asked to clean up their spaces before they leave, with everyone remaining helping with mops and brooms, careful to leave remnants of their mess, a scrawled wall, feathers from shredded pillows, a piece of rope, mementos of the artist and the night.

OP/ED Fudged Test Scores: Middle school teachers left holding the bag

By Phil DePaolo

Stunning recent charges of cheating at PS 31 in Greenpoint and PS 257 in Williamsburg have rocked the two communities. The schools have been regarded as two of the city’s best public elementary schools. In March I wrote about the problems that have now arisen: “The best way to keep effective teachers in our public schools is to have principals who are knowledgeable educators. I have spoken to many teachers who feel today’s principals are driven solely by test scores, since principals and teachers receive merit pay based on the results of standardized tests. Well-rounded curricula, arts, and even gym time are sacrificed year-round for additional test prep time in many of today’s public schools. If we are serious about improving our schools, we must take steps to improve the conditions teachers are forced to work under, while also selecting the best teacher candidates, providing higher salaries to compete with those of suburban schools, offering better support and mentoring systems, and ending merit pay.”

It seems that teachers at IS 318 (a middle school that just won the chess championship) saw a huge drop in the test scores of students coming into the school from from PS 31 and PS 257, the same students who had higher scores from tests administered the prior year.

According to a staff member at the IS 318, who was quoted in the New York Times, “In some cases, students with perfect scores dropped from being in the 99th percentile to the 30th percentile. It was impossible.”

Also according to the Times, last year PS 31’s “math scores were nearly perfect, and 90 percent of its students passed the English test, more than 40 points above the citywide average. To celebrate, staff members tied a sign to the building: ‘School Report Card PS 31 is #1 in New York City.’ ”
The school has 550 students, in pre-K to fifth grade.

At PS 257, where most of the pre-K to fifth-grade students are black or Hispanic, and poor, “62 percent of the children at the school had a score of proficient or higher on the state English exam,” according to the Times.

But that proficiency was not evident at IS 318, where so many scores showed such a drop between fifth and sixth grades that nearly 60 percent of the teachers at the middle school were rated below average or low on their teacher data reports, which were released earlier this year. The teacher rankings are based in large part on expectations of student improvement on test scores from one year to the next.

So the fact is that test scores were fudged to show educational gains that really were fiction. The students were, as at many other grade schools, taught to memorize a standardized test. So when students transfer to another school that is more interested in education, and the students the school has been given are not prepared for middle school, the kids’ scores drop off the edge of the earth and teachers are unfairly reported as bad teachers.

This is another example of the failure of Bloomberg’s educational policy. At this time the educational system is in a pretty hopeless, dire state because of a policy that’s based on test results and teaching children to memorize test answers, rather than on educating them. It’s happening so that principals get additional merit pay based on test results, and to kick it down a little bit to the teachers, creating a lot of divisive policies that don’t make for a positive atmosphere for teachers and students. It’s all based on the propaganda of the mayor as the so-called “education mayor.”

I am encouraged that many parents throughout the city now realize

that their children have been used as props by Mayor Bloomberg and that they are now fighting to end the teach-to-the-test mindset and fight for the right that all kids should have: a first-rate education in the greatest city on earth. Yet the media continues to blame teachers and to call for more charter schools as a remedy. It’s up to all of us to look at all candidates running for mayor in the next election and see who will put
all of our kids first.

Still on fire

Phil

Interactive Movie about Boys Bullying Boys: WG supports Indiegogo project

The Boy Game Interactive from Deirdre Fishel.

The Boy Game Interactive from Deirdre Fishel.

(Click on image to WATCH Video)

TheBoyGameInteractive from Deirdre Fishel.

As Michael Kimmel, Pulitzer Prize nominated author of Manhood in America writes, “while bullying has certainly exploded on the national agenda; most of the conversation has revolved around empathy for those who have been targeted by bullies.  While this is laudable, and necessary, it doesn’t capture the dilemmas, the agonies of those who witness it, who get swept up in its dynamics.”

Who are bullies? Sociopaths or boys who have most often been targeted themselves, caught in a belief that masking their vulnerabilities by posturing as tough will gain them much needed respect?  What if no one applauded? Wouldn’t the performance by necessity have to change? And what about all the kids who aren’t active perpetrators but in watching provide the audience that makes the scene happen? We routinely tell kids to stand up?  But in a culture of masculinity what happens to a boy who breaks rank? Certainly if we really want boys to stick their neck out we have to engage with how hard that really is.  The Boy Game is an interactive website designed for middle and high school kids that looks at bullying through the lens of hyper masculine norms. Users go into the story through the POV of three boys—a bully, a target and a bystander whose lives are intertwined. Michael Kimmel says, “It’s  that rare document that takes you inside the heads of several boys at once.  This prismatic approach enables viewers to enter the scene, rather than simply observe it with greater understanding and empathy.  If the conversation about bullying is going to advance, this is the project that will help us advance it.”  The website is still in development.

To see a trailer, learn more and make a donation, if you can: indiegogo campaign

The Morgan Avenue Stop: Twins, Trains, and Tacos

Top photo: There’s a growing buzz around the neighbor­hood about the brothers’ authentic-style Mexican food.  Twin brothers, Felipe and Sergio Gonzalez, taco cart chefs, found their lucky spot, near the entrance to the Morgan Avenue L train stop, in Bushwick. Photos by Allen Ying

Top photo: There’s a growing buzz around the neighbor­hood about the brothers’ authentic-style Mexican food. Twin brothers, Felipe and Sergio Gonzalez, taco cart chefs, found their lucky spot, near the entrance to the Morgan Avenue L train stop, in Bushwick. Photos by Allen Ying

By Jason McGahan

If you run a successful restaurant or bar in “Morgantown”—that concrete patch of factories and factory lofts where East Williamsburg meets Bushwick—you tend to keep a low profile.

Discretion is the unspoken rule among the area’s business owners.

Pine Box Rock Shop keeps no lettered sign on its storefront, only a wood cut-out coffin suspended over the entrance. Kings County has neither sign nor window. Momo Sushi Shack keeps a sign, but unless the weather’s warm its garage door is lowered like a warehouse dock. And Roberta’s, the local standard-bearer for discreet success, looks, from the outside, like the caretaker’s entrance to a junkyard.

So it’s fitting that a tube of Christmas-tree lights and a plastic sign blinking OPEN are the only ostentation announcing the taco truck on Bogart Street and Harrison Place. Smack beside the entrance to the Morgan stop on the L train, this newest addition to the neighborhood cuisine lets its food do the advertising.

I ask Sergio, the diminutive co-proprietor, if the truck even has a name. He thinks it over. “The sign on the truck says ‘Tacos Tijuana.’ But this truck’s just a rental.”

What’s in a name, anyhow? Call it the Bushwick taco truck. Its range of authentic cuisine is beyond what most Mexican restaurants in the city can provide. Forget other taco trucks.

Melanie Beaudette of Bed-Stuy agrees. “None of the taco trucks in Williamsburg come close to this place,” she told me one recent Thursday evening.

Melanie had come to the truck with a friend after drinks at nearby Kings County. She ordered the carnitas taco, made with braised shredded pork. “It was spicy!” she said with a wince of satisfaction.

Brighid Gannon, a native of the Lower East Side, came from Manhattan to savor the fare at the taco truck. She recommended the quesadilla with chorizo, saying it’s the best Mexican food in New York.

“It’s so hard to find good Mexican food in the city,” she said. “These guys are way above the cut.”

Most everyone orders a taco or quesadilla the first time. And there are plenty more familiar items to choose from, like burritos and tamales and tostadas and tortas and gorditas and chalupas.  The guacamole is made fresh daily with an infusion of fresh-squeezed lime, cilantro, and plenty of jalapeno.

But who among us has savored a sope? Or how about a huarache? Clacoyos, anyone?

For toppings they offer beef, chicken, carne enchilada (fried pork with chile), cecina (salted beef), carnitas, chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage), and lengua (cow’s tongue).

My personal favorite is the tacos al pastor, pulled pork roasted with pineapple and seasoned with smoky chile ancho, and spicy chile de arbol, with a splash of vinegar and a drop of tequila.

It’s not by mistake that every Mexican busboy, stock-boy, and line-cook working in a six-block radius sooner or later will be found standing in line for a bite.

And for $10, the hardiest of appetites is satisfied here. (No item on the menu costs more than $7.) 

“This is the food I remember my mother feeding us,” says Felipe, Sergio’s identical twin brother, fellow chef, and business partner.

Felipe and Sergio Gonzalez hail from Soto y Gama (pop. 500), a village in the dustbowl of the Mexican high plains, 70 long miles southeast of Mexico City. They moved to Brooklyn 25 years ago, started families, and never looked back. These days Bushwick is home.

Like many of their customers, the twins got priced out of Greenpoint and Williamsburg before picking up stakes and moving here. They started in Greenpoint, opening and closing two restaurants over a 14-year stretch. Then for 10 years they ran Taco Bite, a popular Mexican eatery on South 4th Street in Williamsburg. When that closed last year they decided to cut out the landlord and serve their signature dishes from a trailer instead of a restaurant.

“In our restaurants we kept coming back to the same problem,” Sergio said. “Working just to pay our bills. The rent, the electricity, the heat, the insurance. When you look back at all the thousands of dollars we brought in, there was hardly anything left.”

“There’s a big difference between a hundred dollars’ worth of propane for a taco truck, and an 800-dollar heating bill,” he observed.

So they rented a van, bought a generator and some propane tanks, and set out like prospectors in search of the right corner to set up camp.

It wasn’t easy. There were already four taco trucks at Bedford and Metropolitan. At Union and Metropolitan they ran into red tape about something called a parks permit. At Myrtle and Broadway the neighbors were a hassle.

After two months of seeking, Felipe and Sergio nearly threw in the towel. They resolved, however, to try one more corner: Bogart Street and Harrison Place, in Morgantown.

“We got there at 7 and said, ‘Let’s stay until 11,’” Felipe recalled. “We ended up serving food until dawn.”

Six nights a week the Bushwick taco truck does a brisk business. (They’re closed Mondays.) Felipe, Sergio, and Jose, a friend and assistant, have, in six short months, established themselves as neighborhood fixtures.

Felipe says that lately tourists from the hostel down the street have been asking to climb into the truck and pose for group photos. A woman recently brought Sergio a bouquet of flowers. Thespians come by to invite them to openings.

When you’re ready to order, expect to be interrupted in mid-sentence by some passerby shouting hello to Felipe or Sergio. Or vice-versa. Expect to have to wait an extra minute while the customer ahead of you tells them how he is from California or Texas and how he ranks their tacos as equal to or above his exacting standards.

Meanwhile, the food continues to fly out of the trailer.

“We do more business from the taco truck than we ever have in one of our restaurants,” Sergio said. “Last Sunday we served 350 customers.”

“No, more,” Felipe corrects him. “It was at least 400.”

“We never expected anything like this,” Sergio admits.

I predict aloud that they’ll open a restaurant in the neighborhood within the year. Felipe smiles, his philosopher’s gaze set tranquilly above the painter’s brush mustache, and without blinking says, “We’re thinking about it.” ?

Op/Ed Architectural Apartheid

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By Albert Goldson

While walking along the Williamsburg waterfront, have you ever felt that you were being watched? During such strolls, do you have that eerie, creepy sensation that makes the hair stand up on the back of your  neck, that even gives you a sense of foreboding? You’re not paranoid, because it’s them. It’s those waterfront glass Frankentowers—Northside Piers and The Edge—the new, gated communities that cast their menacing shadows over the nabe and shroud the local citizenry in darkness. The multiple towers comprise a colony, an unequal community within a surrounding neighborhood of distinct and incongruous architectural designs. While they’re mute, their sun-reflected, unblinking, glassy stare is a silent scream.

The new glass condo towers are the 21st century’s architectural aliens, with corporate designs that are sterile, cold, and unwelcome in an outer-borough world. Their imposing height and glass exude luxury and exclusivity, while at the same time conveying emotional detachment from the community. This is nothing less than architectural apartheid because these radical structures have a deleterious impact on the community on several levels.

First, the towers distinctly identify the newcomers by clustering them in unique residences instead of integrating them into the surrounding neighborhood. Kent Avenue is the de facto “railroad tracks” separating the wealthy arrivals from the “indigenous,” mostly original, middle and working class residents.

Second, this creates a skewed demographic that is psychologically unhealthy. The glass towers are deliberately and specifically designed to discourage tower residents from mingling with the local residents by offering comprehensive in-house amenities such as a concierge service, pool, gym, sauna, recreation room, and roof deck. These amenities become the psychological leashes that discourage residents from leaving the ersatz mini-city. The towers are the safari truck in the urban jungle as the occupants gaze through the protective glass from up high.

Third, gated communities were traditionally built as “out of sight, out of mind” exclusive suburban compounds featuring high walls and security cameras, with the residences set back from the manned entry gates.

Nowadays they are being constructed in the belly of the urban beast, following a global trend toward larger urban populations—both rich and poor—where the wealthy are now our next door neighbors. It’s a self-imposed apartheid with limited community engagement.

The word combination “glass tower” gives the illusion of transparency. Glass is a barrier that separates two parties. If that glass is a one-way mirror, then you have neither contact nor transparency. The one-way mirror allows one party (the one with wealth and power) to look out without being seen, while the excluded party sees a reflection of herself or himself, reminding her of her secondary social status in the neighborhood. It’s the same demeaning feeling you get when chatting with someone who refuses to remove their mirrored sunglasses.

The wealthy can look out, but you can’t look in. It’s the wealthy’s version of what I call “flaunt and taunt.” Instead of staying under the radar in a suburban, gated community, they arrive in the mega-cities to flaunt their elevated social status with an attitude of entitlement. It’s divisive gentrification: separate and unequal. Next time you look in the mirror, imagine who may be staring back at you from behind the glass.

—agoldson888@gmail.com

Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation mega-projects, energy, and urban planning. He has also been a resident of Williamsburg for ten years and is an internationalist and avid jazz aficionado.


Kombucha Come Home: A different kind of brew

Yuzu Lemonade, Cinnamon Plum, Ginger Bomb, Mint Chocolate Cookie, Honey Bourbon Pu-erh (no honey or bourbon added), Silver Needle Jasmine, and Golden Needle are among the kombucha drink flavors Casper produces. Pictured here, are Peach, Super Green, and Oolong kombucha. Photo courtesy of Brett Casper

Yuzu Lemonade, Cinnamon Plum, Ginger Bomb, Mint Chocolate Cookie, Honey Bourbon Pu-erh (no honey or bourbon added), Silver Needle Jasmine, and Golden Needle are among the kombucha drink flavors Casper produces. Pictured here, are Peach, Super Green, and Oolong kombucha. Photo courtesy of Brett Casper

By Francesca Moisin

If classic Lipton-and-lemon isn’t your cup of tea, maybe it’s time to try kombucha, an effervescent tea-based beverage that bubbles with the satisfying fizz of soda, yet is purported to actually be good for you. Though many are still unfamiliar with the concoction, Williamsburg-based brewer Brett Casper has lately created a local stir with his Kombucha Party™ (kombuchapartynyc.com) libations, all of which are made via a simple—albeit time-intensive—process.

“I first brew fair-trade tea in five-gallon glass jars that look like honey pots,” says Casper. Next, he adds organic sugar and what’s called a starter, or a small portion of already fermented tea. Biology soon takes over. Left unrefrigerated for anywhere from seven days to four weeks, each concoction forms a colony of friendly yeast and bacteria, similar to the kind found in probiotic foods. Such “living” products (like yogurt and miso) are reportedly good for the gut, because they stimulate natural digestive juices and prevent indigestion. “If I get bloated after a heavy meal, I’ll drink kombucha and instantly feel better,” says Casper. “It’s also a great hangover cure!” Others claim it boosts immunity and can even help fight cancer, though all health benefits have yet to be scientifically proven.

Brett Casper stands inside the Pfizer building located in South Williamsburg, which has recently become a booming culinary production facility, and where he plans to lease space for his kombucha tea production. Photo by Benjamin Rosenzweig

Still, devotees continue to down the brew, some simply because they dig the taste. Get past the initial slightly sulfuric aroma that comes from fermentation, and you’ll find that each batch boasts its own distinct palette of flavors, depending on ingredients. Jasmine Pearl, made of green tea leaves and the silvery down-covered buds of jasmine flowers, teases with the tantalizing—and somewhat incongruous—essence of Concord grapes. Mint Chocolate Cookie, a combination of green tea, mint, and fermented cacao beans, can satisfy most sweet tooths, while Ginger Bomb, brewed from fiery ginger root and an aged Chinese tealeaf called pu-erh, will kick you awake on a sleepy summer morning. Choose from 13 different seasonal flavors, each $10 for a 750-mililiter Champagne-style bottle sealed with a punt. Casper reuses his bottles, which are always glass because the acids in kombucha would react badly with metal and plastic containers, leaching harmful by-products into the living brew and altering its taste.

And when it comes to tea—the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water—Casper doesn’t mess around. A lifelong health nut who used to trade lunchroom cookies for carrots, his devotion deepened while living in Tokyo for eight years, where he studied the principles of ancient tea ceremonies. Later, inspired by the teahouses he’d visited while traveling through Hong Kong, Casper opened the eco-friendly Pure Luck Tea Bar on Metropolitan Avenue, selling his bubbly beverage to a diverse clientele, until the café closed in May.

Kombucha Party™ brews are now available for home delivery, or at local eateries like Awakening in Greenpoint and Atlas Café in Williamsburg. Casper also hopes to open a new teashop next spring—and that’s only the beginning. “I’d love to brand my kombucha and see it in restaurants and bars,” says the New Jersey native. “You can go high-end and serve it as a wine substitute with dinner, or stock vending machines with small bottles instead of soda. There’s practically no limit to what one might do with tea.”

Deep Listening Happens at The Control Voltage Faire, Participant, Sharenyc

Rose Kallal, 16mm projections; image courtesy of Participant, Inc.

Rose Kallal, 16mm projections; image courtesy of Participant, Inc.

A lot has happened since we weighed in with the ‘Synth Geek’ just a couple weeks ago. Tons of geeks converged on The Control Voltage Faire at the South Street Seaport (as we promised) and we were among the converted. Upshot: this is an amazing subculture, in which everyone listens deeply, attentively, and (seemingly) without harsh judgement. People will stand around and be ready to take in whatever you throw down.

Loud Objects at work; image courtesy of Andrew Reitsman

Loud Objects consisted of a trio who, with solders and exposed wires in hand, created unfiltered sound that had lots of people in the room either fitting earplugs or hunched over in contorted shapes — in a good way. This was noise generated on-site in real time, namely, by hooking microchips up into circuits that increased in complexity as the performance went on. An old-school overhead projector allowed you to see the shadows cast by the basic elements themselves, and (if you could still concentrate amidst the Absolute Din) the abstract shapes that resulted were pretty compelling.

Mark Verbos’ instrumentation at Control Voltage Faire; image courtesy of S. Schmerler

Apologies are in order, in that we didn’t catch every single act; that said, without question, our favorite artist was Mark Verbos, who, among other things, is an afficionado and repairer of the Buchla electronic music box — a role he understatedly describes as a ‘very specific obsession.’

Obsession = Good in this genre, and Verbos’ choices of (sorry, nomenclature-lack alert) what needed to happen where and for how long were spot on.

At the end of the eve, Xeno and Oaklander rocked.

Earlier in the week, we caught Robert A. A. (Lichens) Lowe (whom we also featured in the synth article) at Participant, Inc — a venue most people associate with visual art. The walls were blank; the room dark; and Lowe set to work collaborating with an artist named Rose Kallal live while her 4-channel video played on 16mm projectors. It was a much more ‘harmonic’ affair than the previous entries here — though the visuals read as somewhat static in the midst of all the amazing looping sound.

One added venue we ought to mention isn’t so much a venue as an opportunity to participate — it’s open to any artists working with sound, and (in the right context) visuals.
It’s called ‘Share’ and you can find it online at http://share.dj/ or on Facebook at sharenyc. Right now, the weekly meetups are located in Gowanus.

Artist-Graphic Designer Paulius Nosokas featured in animated projects at ‘Sharenyc’; image courtesy of S. Schmerler

When we say ‘open’ we mean it: we participated, no prob. Pictured above are visuals that this reporter threw up on the wall and ceiling — even though she only just arrived with a laptop and an idea. ‘Share’ (read: Keiko Uenishi and Geoff Matters, the event’s organizers) are most accomodating. No one judges harshly at ‘Share’; everyone listens respectfully — no matter how bold or how subtle your efforts.

It’s like Utopia — only louder.

Participant, Inc’s show, “Start Begin Feel Again” by Rose Kallal, remains open until July 22.

“Loud Objects” is actually a collaboration between Kunal Gupta, Tristan Perich, and Katie Shima, and you can see what’s on their sonic horizon at www.loudobjects.com.

Sarah Schmerler’s wall projections at ‘share’ combine two videos by Berlin-based artist Paulius Nosokas: one is called “Cardboard Frame”; the other is looping footage from the artist’s series of animated geometries called “Random:Motion.”