Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cooking $ 🎓🎓 💪

Cooking is another great hobby that a lot of people love.  You don't have to take lessons, you can learn from cook books/the web.   But I have taken a lot of interesting cooking classes.

If you love to eat, then why not learn to make the food?  Eating is a major life activity, something you do multiple times a day, it makes sense to learn how to make the food worth eating.   And it's a great skill to show off for other people.

For most forms of cooking, you have already spent the required money on big ticket items  like a stove, refrigerator, etc.  Yes, you will have some extra costs, particularly if you take classes, but it tends to be a relatively cheap hobby.   It's not that physically demanding, people in wheel chairs can easily do it if their kitchen is set up correctly.

If you do take classes, Cooking, like dancing,  tends to be an equal opportunity event - you meet just as many women as men.  But there are exceptions to that rule - if you take a class on how to butcher a pig there will be more men than women.  Another advantage of cooking is that there is no age limit on either side.  Unlike dancing, Grandparents can easily do it with their grand-kids, no holds barred/.

In any major city there are a lot of classes you can take and we are not just restricted to the normal stuff.   'General' cooking classes are not my preference.   Instead I recommend focused, one shot workshops rather than a class you take every week for a month.  That makes them cheaper, easier, and you learn how to make one or two unusual things really well rather than a bunch of things acceptably.

There a lot of specialty classes available:   deserts, pies, sushi, dumplings, Vietnamese, Chinese, grilling, etc.  Good cook stores love to teach you these workshops cheaply because they usually get to sell you gear along with the lesson.   Obviously take a class on a food type you like to eat - because you may end up eating a lot of it.

Some of my favorite classes were Pizza, Cupcakes, Ice Cream and Molecular Gastronomy. 

Pizza making is relatively easy.  It's a simple food, mostly about making the dough.  The sauce and toppings tend to be simple to do.  The main problem is that it takes a long time to make it from scratch - hence people buy it more than make it. 

I enjoyed my class here:

Cupcakes are always a big hit.  They don't take too long to make (no dough rising), and are sweet. 

I took classes here:

Ice Cream is another big hit.  You get the flavors you desire and it's not that hard to make.  The main weakness is that it doesn't always travel well.  On the other hand, when you show up at a picnic with a cooler full of home made ice cream you get more bragging rights than with most stuff.   Particularly if you make "Bourbon Brown Sugar Ice Cream".  Can't get that at Baskin Robbins.  (Note you need to add other stuff and/or remove some sugar, to keep the ice cream solid if you want the alcohol to be more than just a flavor - take a class and learn how.)

The Brooklyn Brainery has a lot of good cooking classes, and that is where I learned how to make Ice cream:

Molecular Gastronomy is not as likely to be useful in your daily life.  But if you want to show off bacon flavored "caviar" on top of transparent ravioli can be very impressive.  The place that offered my Molecular Gastronomy class is no longer offering it, but you can find others.

One final place to check out is The Brooklyn Kitchen.  It has a lot of interesting classes, including that one on pig butchering I mentioned.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kayaking $ 🎓 💪

Take a small boat, one or two people, WITH a paddle, and welcome to the Hudson River.  Kayaking is a great, lazy out door sport.  Unless you are racing, you won't be burning many calories.

Kayaking is cheap and remarkably easy.  If you want to be more outdoorsy but don't want to overdo it, kayaking is for you.   It's cooling, you wear a bathing suit, and it's different - so it makes a great  summer date.  It's the only 'water sport" I tried that doesn't require any muscle so I said it isn't exercise. 

You need to be willing to get wet, you can do it even if your legs don't work, and in Manhattan at least, it's free, at Pier 26.  They even give free lessons and a free locker (please bring a lock).    It takes almost no effort, and requires minimal skills (besides swimming).

If you go to Pier 26,  you will want a bathing suit and a T shirt.  They provide a life jacket.  You must know how to swim.  Gender balance is fairly even and they take all ages.  Younger children must share a boat with an adult.  They have successfully accepted people weighing 400 lbs.  

I would wear water shoes, but they are not necessary.

Each session lasts 20 minutes, but if it isn't busy you can do more.  Weekend times are 9-5, and during the week they are open from 5 to 7:30.  (last boat enters water at 7:10).

From May 21 to Oct 10, Kayaking is free from Pier 26 at the Downtown Boathouse. 

If you like kayaking, you can buy a kayak and life jacket for relatively cheap, and go kayaking wherever and whenever you feel comfortable.   I have taken trips from one lake to another (only problem is bringing the kayak back to the car....).

Friday, June 17, 2016

Glassblowing $$$ 🎓 💪💪💪

Glassblowing is remarkably easy.  It is a bit expensive - to do it you need three large ovens - one to hold the molten glass (the furnace), another to heat up the item you are currently working on (the glory hole - and don't confuse this one with other kind :D) and an annealer to slowly cool your finished piece without cracking it into a million pieces.  The furnace is usually kept on for extended periods of time (weeks), the annealer is constantly being cycled on/off every day or so, but the glory hole can be turned on only when you need it.

Then you need a whole bunch of other tools - mostly metal, though a few wooden items.  Pipes to blow bubbles, punty's to hold pieces while they are being worked on, giant scissors and tweezers, wooden molds (keep them wet so they don't ignite), benches to sit on and iron tables to work the molten glass on. 

Finally, as we are using temperatures over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, you need a teacher for safety and for many things you want an assistant.   So basically you can't just decide to do it on your own, you need a studio.  

It requires short bursts of physical effort, and you need to be strong to move things around. Also, the heat can take a toll on your body.  But unlike dance, it isn't an effective form of exercise.

But the good news is that it is pretty easy to come away with something GORGEOUS.  If you pick nice colors, you get a pretty piece.  The hallmarks of an expert is thin glass, rather than than pretty glass - so don't be surprised if your first glass cup is more like a mug than a delicate piece of whimsy.  If you want a handle, that takes more training.

You can take a beginner class for less than $300 and come away with a nice, hand made glass paperweight full of whatever pretty colors you choose.   For more money you can learn to make bowls, goblets, vases, pitchers, Christmas ornaments, etc.  Glass pumpkins are pretty easy to do. 

Gender wise it again is surprisingly equal.  Lots of women and men.  It tends to be a slightly younger crowd (takes a lot of physical effort), but there are some older people doing it.  Schools will accept teenagers, often with a discount, but it still is not cheap.

I would suggest wearing  clothing that protects your bear skin.  The radiant heat is high, and sometimes bits of hot glass will drip - you don't want that on your toes.

Classes tend to be small - no more than about 8 people at the maximum, and quite often it is 1 teacher and two or three students.  Often you need two people to make a piece - we are talking hot glass and you can't just put it down to go get a tool or something.  The glass 'remembers' everything you do to it, and time is very important - wait too long and it cools down too much.  

There are a lot of other glass related artistry usually taught in the same place where the teach glass blowing.  Things like slumping, neon signs, 'flame work' (small pieces - think jewelry sized), kiln work, cold working of the glass (filing away rough parts, etc.).

There are several good places to learn glassblowing in Brooklyn.  Look here: 

Scanlanglass is a smaller, one artist place and where I took my first lesson.  Urban glass is huge with a lot of great classes.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Dance has become one of my greatest loves.  It got me through some very dark times  - when I am poor, lonely, and depressed, I can always find solace in the arms of a young woman - even if it was only a "one night dance" so to speak.

(Note, Dance is more of a category than just one thing to do, so this first post is going to be a bit longer and different from future posts.)

Most dances and dances classes are surprisingly gender equal.  Just as likely to have more men than women as more women than men dancing.  But a few tend to be off balance - and men tend to get there early, while women tend to get there late (particularly in bad weather).  In NYC, you should be able to find LBGT friendly dances, but that may be a problem in smaller metropolitan areas.   Lots of dance styles have straight women dancing with each other and a few have straight men dancing with each other (Blues for example, sometimes does this.).  

When I was younger, I did not want to learn to dance.  I thought dance was for the popular people, those naturally good at it and old people taking boring classes.  I was wrong.   There are a lot of different kinds of dance, some look like that others don't.  Yes, if you take a class on the Fox Trot, you will be dancing with old people.  But you can also take a class on how to do hip hop moves and it will be full of young people.

I have tried a lot of different kinds and this post is going to talk about style have which advantages.  But dance is different in different parts of the country.  You will find a lot more country western dancing in Texas than in New York.  What I describe is what I have found in New York City, but you can expect similar events in other places - but some more crowded than less.

In general dance tends to be cheap, but does requires some work and some physical capabilities.  You don't have to be in fantastic shape, but if you have mobility issues, it's not going to be easy.

You do not have to spend big bucks on private lessons - some people get by by just going out dancing and learning on the dance floor.  But most people find that group lessons are money well spent, particularly for some dances.    I dislike chain schools (Fred Astaire, etc).  It's a little bit like going to a fast food place.  They tend to focus more on what they can automate and push out to the various schools than on finding good teachers and letting the teacher teach what they know best.  Look for a place that has a non-franchised name.

In general I advise taking group lessons - at least for the first month or so.  A single one hour private tends to cost as much as a whole month (1 hour class a week for four weeks) of group lessons.   Also, group lessons are more social, you meet new friends.

 A good way to find a dance school is to look for dances.  You don't want to learn tango from a place that doesn't offer a weekly tango dance.   At the very least it gives you a place to show off what you learned.

Another good idea is to find someplace CLOSE to where you work.  That way you can go there directly from work, before you get home.   If you try to do it on the weekend or far from where you work, there will come a day when you are just too busy/tired and miss a class.   Then next week you are lost, so you are more likely to give up.   Make it easy to go to class to help you do it consistently.

Dancing also tends to be a late night activity.   Some people get home at 3 AM after going dancing.  Obviously you don't want your teenager doing that.  That is not a necessity, one can arrange your schedule to be home by 9 PM, but that does requires some effort.

In New York City, the three big dances are Tango, Swing, and Salsa.   There are enough places offering those dance styles to go to a different place every day of the week.   I will also discuss less well known dances, such as Contra, Hip Hop and Blues.  Let's begin with the easier dances.

Don't try dancing with flipflops or any other shoe that comes off easily.

Contra Dancing:  $ 🎓 💪💪.
One of the easiest dances to do.  No lessons required, so it is very cheap.  If you can walk without pain, you can do this dance. Contra dancing is similar to English Country Dances seen in period movies.  They also look like a less western version of square dancing.  The key point is they have a "caller" yelling out what dance move to do, so you just have to do what he/she says.  They don't care about footwork or the 'count' that much. Sneakers are fine. 

Contra dances are often filled with lots of young people. Particularly near a college town, their average age can be 20's.  If you want to meet young people, this is a good choice.  Contra dancing is not a big dance, it can be harder to find.  Women may ask men to dance.

Look here for information about Contra dancing in Manhattan.

Blues Dancing:  $ 🎓 💪💪.
Another easy dance.  Most people can pick it up in one or two lessons, so it is very cheap.  Basically this dance was created in the past 20 years by swing dancers that wanted something simpler and easier to do.  If you want to have fun and learn a couple of moves to not embarrass yourself, this is a great choice.  You can easily use what you learn at a club, wedding, or similar event.  In addition, learning this gives you good prep work for other dances.   This dance is slight bit more physical than Contra Dancing, as well mainly because you might get a good partner who could do a dip or similar harder steps.  Foot work is a bit more important here, but not a lot.  People usually don't track the 'count'.  Sneakers are fine. 

Like Contra dances Blues events trend young.    Average age is 20's.  If you want to meet young people, this is a good choice.   Blues dancing is not a a big dance and can be hard to find.  Women sometimes ask men to dance.

Look here for information about Blues dancing in Manhattan.


Salsa Swing and Tango are big dances and need more instructions.  I would check out the larger schools, which include DanceSport, Stepping Out, and You Should be Dancing.

Swing and Salsa Dancing:  $$ 🎓🎓 💪💪💪 
Swing and Salsa are similar.  Salsa is the most popular dance in New York - we have a significant hispanic population, Swing is about the third most popular.   The main difference is 'feel' plus a few traditional moves - if you are good at one, you can probably become good at the other.  They both are much more energetic, and generally require taking weekly classes.  You need to be on the right foot and getting off the count (beat) is much disastrous than with contra or blues. You need to learn patterns so that you will complete each six or eight count together.   Group lessons becomes essential - unless you were raised dancing.   Privates are NOT necessary unless you become addicted.  If you want to become really good, I suggest taking multiple group lessons a week.  You will sweat a lot dancing swing or salsa.  Some men bring extra shirts, particularly in hot locales.  Swing dancers tend use sneakers, salsa dancers tend to prefer fancier dance shoes. For Salsa, you can easily use what you learn at a club dancing, less so for swing.

Salsa and Swing dances trends towards 30 year olds.  You need enough time and money to learn to dance, but have to be young enough to take the lessons.  Salsa and Swing are popular dances and you should be able to find them in any large city.

Look here for information about Salsa dancing in Manhattan.

Tango Dancing:  $$ 🎓🎓 💪
Tango is probably the second most popular dance in NYC (circa 2016), after Salsa.    It is usually less energetic than other dances, but can be danced with extreme vigor.  I have seen people dance it with a cast on their leg.  (Total addicts won't stop even after they are hurt), but I would not recommend it.  Like Swing and Salsa you need a lot of group classes (you do not need privates) - and once again I suggest multiple group lessons a week to become good.    But unlike swing and salsa, the groups teach you how to lead and follow non-verbally, rather than concentrating on teaching you a set of moves.  That is, you do not have to learn a six or eight count step (even though some of the moves are taught that way).  Tango dancers are use dance shoes.   Unlike all the other dances I mentioned above, you usually dance with someone for at least 3 songs.

Tango is the most sensual of the dances.   In all dances there is a bit of sensuality, but tango really likes it, in part because you do less with the arms, so you spend more time in close embrace.    While you don't have to dance close embrace, many want to.  You are in effect hugging your partner.  This is why it was the original dirty dancing that mothers did not want their daughters doing.  It's also why some people do it - it can be a 10 minute love affair.

But Tango trends older.   40 and 50's are more common than 20's or 30s.  Many salsa and swing dancers switch to Tango as they get older because their body can't handle the more energetic dancing.   Note, you can still dance tango energetically, you just don't have to.

Look here for information about Tango dancing in Manhattan.

Hip Hop/Club Dancing:  $$ 🎓🎓 💪💪
You can get lessons from people that are really good at club dancing. But Club/Hip Hop dancing does not have an established teaching method - no declared 'basic' moves.   So if you take a group class you tend to learn a set routine of whatever the teacher likes is good at.  Here I would consider getting private lessons.  They cost about 4x as much as a group class but you can concentrate on learning a set of moves really well, focusing on your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses.  Generally energetic, but not you don't have to be as energetic as swing or salsa (no dips for example).  Dress shoes are worn to ensure that you get into the clubs (bouncers check your feet - and won't bother to tell you why they don't let you in.)

Hip Hop/Club dancing tends younger - 20 year olds.   A lot of people are looking to hook up.  If you already know another dace style, Hip Hop is easier to learn.  Some people just use Salsa or Blues stuff at a Club and they get along fine for some songs, but they will not look like the best dancer in the house.

Other types of dancing. 
 There are a lot of other types of dancing - Hustle (Disco), variations on Swing (East Coast, Shag, etc.)   Country Western, Line Dancing, Fox Trot, Samba, variations on Salsa (Mambo, etc.).  Cost, physicality and difficulty will vary.  If something is popular in your area it can be a good choice, but if you don't have a choice of at LEAST two places to dance every week, there will be issues.     Even if you only want to go once a week, you want a choice of places to go.

Then there are the non-partner dances - things like Flamenco, ballet, pole dancing, belly dancing.  Those tend to be dominated by women, but some men (straight as well as gay) do take some classes.