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Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

 

This past rainy week in Austin served up some of the most amazing comedic performances—were you able to catch a show? If not, make sure you get a ticket (or fan badge) next year—you won’t be sorry. Four days, ten venues, and over 90 performers—wow.

Headlining this week at the Paramount Theatre was Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, Anjelah Johnson, Kevin Smith, and David Cross. The big-timers sold out pretty quickly but were still a steal at about $40 per ticket on average.

I was more interested in the smaller venues—I wanted to sit as close as possible to the laugh-creators and honestly, I’ve found that less-advertised performances are usually the most amazing experiences. That definitely proved to be true.

First up was Stars in Bars at Antone’s Nightclub on East 6th Street. Local comedian Matt Bearden hosted, and the night started off strong with Martha Kelly, also Austin-based, who’s known for the FX show “Baskets.” Her dark, hilarious anecdotes about her beloved cats passing away were perfect.

Jon Rudnitsky, who’s new to the SNL cast, added not one, but two “dance routines” to his stand-up. If you love Chipotle, you’ll love his burrito-maker moves. Another SNL cast member, Colin Jost, wasn’t on the original line-up, but decided to make a guest appearance I guess! His and Jon’s eight to ten minutes were way too short for me, but I’m not 100% sure if that’s because they were terrific (they were) or if they were both drop dead gorgeous. Something to consider.

Brendan Walsh, Greg Liedtke, and Dana Gould added their own quirky witticisms—the entire night was honestly a blur of sidesplitting laughter, including the closing act, The Sklar Brothers (Wild Hogs, Entourage—trust me, you know these hysterical twins).

But the person who absolutely killed it? Arden Mylin, known for her many panelist contributions to the Chelsea Lately roundtable. She SLAYED (and I would usually never use that word, because it reminds me of the students I teach, but it works here). I especially loved when she called out the obnoxious couple in front of me (who sits in the first row if they’re going to loudly talk the whole time?) and lamented about wearing Spanx. Then she commented on my Instagram post. Then she quoted my tweet. Ok, I’ll stop gushing now.

Next was the Goddamn Comedy Jam at The Parish on Dirty 6th, a place I tend to avoid, but I’m glad I didn’t that night! Josh Adam Meyers hosted, and might I add, made his entrance by grabbing a man in the front row and kissing him, rocking out with the two “roadies” (whose job all night was just to jam out and get the crowd pumped),  and forcing another man in the third row to admit what race he hated the most. Quite the first three minutes.

Goddamn Comedy Jam is all about mixing comedy with music—which is genius, especially since this is the Live Music Capital of the World. Each comedian has to perform their stand-up and then perform a song of their choosing! Such an amazing idea. Joe DeRosa sang the hell out of a Queen song and Janeane Garofalo went with The Monkees—both were more than “funny”  beforehand as well of course.

Matteo Lane stole the show for me—his jests about being gay, Italian-Mexican, and single in New York were hilarious. Plus, he sang Whitney…in the original key!

Brad Williams was the headliner for a reason—he absolutely won me over (I stereotypically thought at first that all his jokes were going to be about being a little person…I know, I’m the worst). You may know him from Comedy Central, but now I’ll forever know him as astounding an entire venue with his sex advice and Kid Rock performance. After Williams’ killer version of “Bawitdaba,” Meyers made all the comics come back on stage to do a final performance together—“Hey Jude.”

As you can see by my overflowing enthusiasm about this past week, Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival is something you simply can’t miss next year. I’ll be smiling about these shows for weeks to come.

Losing a Passion

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I haven’t been writing, guys. At all.

Well I guess that’s a lie–I’ve written a few shitty poems. I’ve written a few magazine articles. But anything of real substance, vulnerability, skill? Nah.

I even thought about giving it up. Yeah, as in, giving up writing. Forever. Not the normal “I’m not good enough, I’ll never amount to anything, I’ll never be a famous author, fuck writing” thoughts that make you a writer. I’m talking black hole depression “I vow never to focus an ounce of energy on stringing words together ever, ever again.”

There are a few reasons for this disaster. I won’t go into those, but let’s just say I’ve been bumbling around for awhile now, and it’s starting to bug the hell out of me. Realization: I’ve never written “to be good enough, to amount to something, to be a famous author”…I’ve written to be true to myself as a person, to stay sane, to feel OK. I have not been any of those things as of late.

Anyway, I won’t allow myself to lose a passion. I may not ever self-publish again, I may not ever even finish another novel…but I’ll keep writing. Even if that means forcing myself to show up to Shut Up and Write! meet-ups at local coffee shops…the only girl in a private room full of old men writing memoirs.

[Sidenote: the group that was using the room before us was a “mens group”…I had to Google that shit. There are men who are emotionally secure enough to admit that they could use friends, mentors, advice, guidance…?! Whaaaaat? That’s badass. But you have to wonder…are they getting much accomplished without a woman in there, telling them what they’re doing wrong? Haha I kid, I kid…]

More on my new writers group. First of all, let me take back what I said about them all being old men. There is one who is not old, but rather, drop dead gorgeous. He is married. Of course. The rest are my grandfather’s age, with the same cranky jokes and wheezy laughs. Ron writes with a pen in a binder full of blank paper. Erwin talks about Chinese-Americans and the pressure they feel to succeed–so much pressure that two of his friends have committed suicide. He’s unsure whether this is short story-worthy. My eyes widen and I assure him it is. I want to read it NOW, actually.

This is going to be great for me.

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Cantine

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Originally written for and posted by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

Cantine Italian Café and Bar: The Upscale Side of Pasta

By Alysha Kaye Mendez

 

I don’t know if you fellow Austinites have noticed, but there aren’t very many solid Italian places here in the capital city. Pizza, sure. But I’m talkin’ homemade risotto, handcrafted bucatini, perfected spaghetti…you get the idea.

Cantine Italian Café and Bar, fairly new to the South Lamar main strip, is that missing element. Although the menu is small, each plate tastes like your long-lost grandmother from Tuscany whipped it up especially for you—slaved over the stove for hours, in fact, concocting each noodle to absolute excellence.

With the deliciousness comes a bit of a price tag—Cantine is definitely going for the upscale, fine-dining look. The wine list is extensive, the wait staff is super formal (in a polite, elegant way), and the décor is chic, modernly minimalistic. However, I was there on a Monday, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mondays are Happy Hour all day! Hooray!

We started off with fried goat cheese—they were so different, really unusual and tasty. They were served with red onion jam and honey. The calamari was standard, but the sauce they serve with it, mojo picon, was not—it was a bit too spicy for me. Amazingly, the chef prepared a simple red dipping sauce for me upon request—much better in my opinion.

Then the main courses—spaghetti carbanara and bucatini amatriciana (added sausage to this one). Both dishes were mouth-watering in appearance. The presentation is lovely and your taste buds will agree with your eyes—YUM! I can’t stress enough how much care every item seemed to have taken—every bite tasted equal to the last in flawlessness.

My only complaint? You have to request and buy your own bread. Call me cheap, call me an Olive Garden girl, but you shouldn’t have to pay for tortillas at a Mexican restaurant or bread at an Italian restaurant…am I right? That being said, the olive sourdough with whipped lardo was suberb.

We topped off the fancy late-night stop with dessert—polenta cake with vanilla custard, Amarena cherries, and cherry coulis! So, so, so good—but we couldn’t even finish it since we’d already stuffed ourselves with various forms of divine carbs.

Set a date night or girls’ night out soon—Cantine is wonderful. It’s location is fantastic as well—afterwards, you can walk to Alamo Drafthouse for a movie or Barlata for a drink.

VOX Table

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

Looking for a new twist on date night? Obviously, Alamo Drafthouse is a perfect movie spot, but have you seen the snazzy restaurant and bar across from the theater? VOX is lit up at night, quite beautifully, but is barely visible during the day—hidden underneath swanky apartments and overshadowed by Highball and Drafthouse. You can easily walk by the entrance and not realize it, which honestly, is part of the draw.

Once inside, however, VOX is anything but bashful. Modern black and white décor mesh well with a tangle of artistic lighting, a bright area to view the chefs hard at work, and a fully stocked bar.

The wine, cocktail, and beer menu is vast—get ready to spend some time on that. Or, if you’re like me, give up and order a glass of Riesling like you always do when confronted with novel-sized drink lists.

Dinner is the real treat—there’s something for every palette, separated into these categories: provisions (cheeses and breads), leaves + roots, fins + shells, hooves, and feathers + beaks. Plus dessert, of course. Lunch is “TBD” on their website, so right now, they are strictly a dinner (and brunch on the weekends) spot. I really enjoyed how they divided the entrees—we tasted a plate from almost every section!

It has to be said that VOX doesn’t just look upscale—it definitely is upscale, price-wise. Plates are small and shareable, but not cheap, much like the close-by Odd Duck. Everything was delectable though, and immediately made the dollar sign not matter much (or maybe that was the wine).

We started with the wood-fired oysters, which were insanely tasty, topped with pancetta, garlic butter, and an herb crumble. Then, we ordered the grilled quail with mushroom bread pudding, which was also delicious, but paled in comparison to the poutine (crispy potatoes with gravy, cheese curds, and pig head terrine) that was next. Although at this point, we were stuffed, the “tongue + cheek buns” called to us, closing out the night. They are basically fancy barbaqoa-stuffed rolls and they are phenomenal. We couldn’t finish the third, and vowed to take it home for breakfast the next day—we had big plans for topping it with a fried egg. I will definitely be back one day soon to try the calamari noodles.

If you are a foodie, if you are in Austin, if you have some time to kill before your Drafthouse showing, if you need a chic night out—VOX Table is for you.  Happy wining and dining!

 

 

About the author: Alysha Kaye is a high school English teacher in Kyle, TX and recent author—her debut novel The Waiting Room is available on Amazon and at BookPeople. When she’s not wrangling 9th graders, she’s blogging, reading, or exploring Austin.

For more, follow her on Twitter @alyshakaye7 or check out her website: http://www.alyshakaye.com

Austin Shakespeare’s Medea

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle 🙂

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Trade in the predictable rom-com at the movie theater for the twisted, intense Greek tragedy, Euripides’ Medea. The Austin Shakespeare Company is well-known for their free performances in the park every summer (this summer, get your blanket and picnic basket ready for Macbeth), but they perform all year at different venues. Medea will be at The Long Center through early March and it’s a MUST SEE.

Medea, portrayed by the brilliant, nationally-acclaimed classical actress Franchelle Stewart Dorn, is a woman scorned—her husband, Jason, is leaving her for a princess. To help with this transition, the king has decided to banish Medea—but she won’t leave quietly, that’s for sure.

I wouldn’t dare ruin the ending for you, so all I’ll say is get ready for an emotional roller coaster—this tragic tale is warped to say the least. But that’s what makes it so fascinating!

Dorn plays Medea with such ferociousness and elegance—you fall in love with her fierce, feminist character quickly. In fact, you’re still rooting for her while she’s plotting numerous insane schemes and violent murders.

Infidelity, friendship, family, revenge, death…Medea has it all.

Buy your tickets now! Eighteen dollars a piece is an awesome deal for this show, especially since the event is held in one of The Long Center’s smaller theaters, so the experience feels really intimate.

Fair warning though—this isn’t a “pleasant” or “romantic” story. Definitely not a first-date kind of feel. Medea is what all Greek tragedies are—shocking and horrific, but solid entertainment.

Adopt Don’t Shop!

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Originally published online for Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

 

I was recently in the market for a new puppy and WOW! I had no idea how intense the adoption process could be here in the Austin area. Do your research, be patient, and be prepared to fall in love with more animals than you could ever possibly fit into your entire house.

Austin is incredibly pet-friendly, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by the vast number of shelters in the city: Austin Animal Center, Austin Pets Alive, and Austin Humane Society are the frontrunners.

First of all, definitely check out the websites and all of their listed adoption availabilities, but don’t limit yourself to that—go in person as soon as you can! Shelters receive animals (young and old, canine, feline, and more) daily. There’s no telling what could happen when you go look on site—someone could be dropping off a litter of kittens at that exact moment, and one of those sweet whiskered friends could be perfect for you. Shelters will set up in front of pet supply stores frequently, but that’s such a small percentage of what you’ll experience at the shelter itself.

On the other hand, some of the baby fur balls are in foster care, which means you can’t meet them until you fill out an adoption application, contact the foster family, and set up a meet-and-greet. Yes, application. As in, you might have to “interview” for the pet of your dreams! Apparently, adopting a pet can be quite similar to adopting a child, and I get it—shelters want their animals to live in the most loving and caring environments as possible. Don’t get discouraged by the meticulous process—it’ll be worth it once you’re home with your new pup or kitty.

Not sure if you’re ready to adopt? Volunteer at a shelter! You can walk, feed, bathe, and play with animals who could really use some one-on-one attention. Plus, you’ll get to know the shelter better and be able to get a more in-depth view of the animals’ personalities.

Finally, don’t forget, there are tons of surrounding small towns with shelters that aren’t really advertised. I wound up adopting the most beautiful lab mix from Seguin Animal Services after a friend of mine shared this Facebook post announcing a total of eight “Christmas puppies” that were ready for a safe home.

Here’s our adorable Abby today, a month later: (top photograph)

We are so happy that we adopted—it’s tragic to think about the life Abby would’ve had if the shelter hadn’t found her or if she would’ve never been adopted. Before visiting the shelters, I was researching buying a lab puppy from breeders—so glad I didn’t go this route. Save yourself hundreds of dollars and save a pet’s life—adopt don’t shop!

 

 

About the author: Alysha Kaye is a high school English teacher in Kyle, TX and recent author—her debut novel The Waiting Room is available on Amazon and at BookPeople. When she’s not wrangling 9th graders, she’s blogging, reading, or exploring Austin.

For more, follow her on Twitter @alyshakaye7 or check out her website: http://www.alyshakaye.com

 

Austin Opera’s Of Mice and Men

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Originally written for and published by Texas Lifestyle Magazine 🙂

Combining a love of classic literature and amazing music—it’s not an easy task. I had my doubts when I scored free tickets to the final dress rehearsal for “Of Mice and Men” at the Long Center. Steinbeck and sopranos?! I thought skeptically. Didn’t seem to be a match made in heaven, especially since the novella deals so heavily with Lennie Small’s mental disability. I underestimated the Austin Opera—they skillfully and successfully conveyed all of the intricate themes of the book.

If you haven’t read “Of Mice and Men,” do so—right now! I’m not sure I would’ve enjoyed the opera if I hadn’t read the novella first—I definitely recommend reading, then enjoying the performance. But don’t worry, you have plenty of time. The novella is called a novella for a reason—it’s super short (but packed with amazingness). However, as I type this, I’m reminded that I went to the opera with someone who had never read the novella—and he still enjoyed it thoroughly! Maybe the English teacher in me can’t help but push reading on people. I will say, if you haven’t read the novella, the opera could be a little too slow for you. It’s not an action-packed plot or a twisted romantic drama—it’s a character piece.

Corey Bix, who plays Lennie, is making his Austin Opera debut with “Of Mice and Men” and wow—what a debut! It’s not only his insane vocals that will impress you, but simply his presence on the stage. You can’t take your eyes off him as he struggles through life on the ranch; you find yourself rooting for him so relentlessly. That’s how you know Bix’s performance was outstanding—Lennie is a character who you shouldn’t be able to help but love.

The orchestra was phenomenal, the props, backdrops, and costumes were perfect, and they even used a real-life dog and puppy on stage—I loved that extra touch (although, if you know the story, that might not excite you too much). Also, lyrics appear on a screen above the stage, which is helpful if you’re like me, and not always fluent in opera. Every effort made by the composer, director, and cast did not go unnoticed—it was flawless.

Austin Opera is currently selling tickets to only three shows—January 23, 28, and 31—so act soon!

 

About the author: Alysha Kaye is a high school English teacher in Kyle, TX and recent author—her debut novel The Waiting Room is available on Amazon and at BookPeople. When she’s not wrangling 9th graders, she’s blogging, reading, or exploring Austin.

For more, follow her on Twitter @alyshakaye7 or check out her website: http://www.alyshakaye.com