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Queery: Mara Levi

The lesbian indie singer/songwriter answers 20 gay questions

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(Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Mara Levi has made several shifts in her adult life. She came out in 2000 and was in a long-term relationship for five years, which found her and her ex moving from Massachusetts to D.C. where she lived for five years.

Frustration in that relationship — which ended in mid-2008 — inspired many of the songs on her latest album, “We Listen to Fools,” which dropped in October. She’s touring the album now — look for a D.C. show with her band the Pushovers on Feb. 26 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (details here) and will be in the Midwest this month. It’s her third project.

Levi, a veteran performer at Capital Pride, Phasefest and many D.C. venues, moved to Brooklyn in November 2009 to be with her new girlfriend/fiance, Meredith who, at the time, was in law school there. Levi is also continuing her education — she’s in a graduate program at New York University and plans eventually to teach music. She hasn’t given up on the touring musician/singer-songwriter lifestyle, but says several years of breaking even — an accomplishment, she says — gave way to some practical considerations.

“I consider myself a pretty accomplished musician but I’ve never said I was good at marketing, business, all those other important components that go into it,” Levi says. “You start thinking about savings and wanting to have kids and all those things that are just not realistic if you’re breaking even.”

The Shaker Heights, Ohio, native is still friendly with her ex and spends time in Washington visiting the two cats they had together — Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.

Levi enjoys word games, web design and carpentry in her spare time. She likes to relax on the beach in Mexico.

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?

My family was hard to tell, not because I was concerned about their reactions, but because they were the first people I told. After that, and after they reacted with openness and love, I didn’t really worry about coming out to other people.

Who’s your LGBT hero?

My Uncle Jeff. We haven’t talked a ton about gay things, but I know he has done a lot of political work to make being gay easier for all of us, and he always set a fantastic example for how being gay can be an important part of your life, but also how wonderful it is to do good things for all people.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?

Phase 1.  Always my favorite, always welcoming to all, and always red.

Describe your dream wedding.

I’m planning it right now.  It involves flamingos and smoke machines.

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Social justice in education.

What historical outcome would you change?

The ninth game of the 1997 World Series. Specifically the ninth inning, because that’s where the Indians lost it.

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

When the Pushovers (my band) played at the 9:30 club!

On what do you insist?

Fairness. Life can be fair if we all make it so.

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

Vamonos al Mexico. (Not sure if it was correct Spanish grammar, but it’s what I posted.)

If your life were a book, what would the title be?

“Just a Few More Miles”

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?

You mean change sexual orientation so that gay people could un-gay themselves (or vice versa)? I would lobby to remove science from schools because clearly science would be a waste of time in that scenario.

What do you believe in beyond the physical world?

A universe of love and compassion.

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Sometimes compromise and baby steps are important, but sometimes making a stand on principle and drawing a line in the sand is equally important.

What would you walk across hot coals for?

My family, my friends, my pets and a plantain enchilada with mole sauce.

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

Wait, there are gay stereotypes? I thought we were all open-minded individuals who saw individual expressions of sexuality as enriching personality traits, not a defining characteristic. We’re not?

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“But I’m a Cheerleader”

What’s the most overrated social custom?

Fashion. Give me a pair of sweatpants, some comfy shoes and a T-shirt and I’m happy as a pig in a puddle.

What trophy or prize do you most covet?

The Nobel Prize for chemistry. I keep coming so CLOSE!

What do you wish you’d known at 18?

How (and why) to network.

Why Washington?

D.C. is small but active, friendly, clean, easy to get around and clean (yes, a second mention was necessary). I miss living in D.C. very much and hope to come back some day.

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Real Estate

Building dream homes with confidence

The pros, cons, and LGBTQ insights of new construction

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One key advantage of buying a newly constructed home is the ability to customize its finishings.

Buying a new construction home offers a unique set of advantages and challenges compared to purchasing a pre-owned property. Understanding these can help potential homeowners make informed decisions. Here’s an exploration of the pros and cons of buying a new construction home and the importance of professional real estate assistance.

Advantages of Buying a New Construction Home

Customization: One of the primary benefits of buying a new construction home is the ability to customize it according to your preferences. Buyers often have the option to select floor plans, finishes, and fixtures, making the home truly their own.

Modern Features: New homes are built with the latest technologies and materials, offering more energy-efficient windows, appliances, HVAC systems, and construction methods. This can lead to significant savings on utility bills and a smaller carbon footprint.

Less Maintenance: Since everything from the appliances to the roof is brand new, homeowners typically face fewer maintenance issues in the first few years compared to older homes where systems might be nearing the end of their lifespan.

Warranties: New construction homes usually come with warranties that cover the structure and sometimes appliances and systems for a certain period, providing peace of mind to the buyer.

Disadvantages of Buying a New Construction Home

Higher Costs: Often, new construction homes come at a premium price compared to older homes. Customizations and upgrades can also add up quickly, further increasing the overall cost.

Delays: Construction timelines can be unpredictable due to weather, supply chain issues, or labor shortages. This can lead to delays in the move-in date, which can be problematic for buyers with specific timing needs.

Immature Landscaping: Newly developed areas may lack mature trees and landscaping, which can affect the property’s aesthetic appeal and privacy. It may take years for new plantings to grow fully.

Community Development: In new subdivisions, construction can continue for months or years after you move in, leading to ongoing noise, dust, and traffic.

Importance of Connecting with a GayRealEstate.com Realtor

Expert Guidance: A Realtor familiar with new construction can provide invaluable advice on the quality of different builders, potential future developments in the area, and the negotiation of upgrades and closing costs.

Representation: Builders have their own sales agents or representatives looking out for their interests. Having your own real estate agent ensures someone is advocating for your best interests, helping to navigate contracts and warranties.

Market Knowledge: Realtors have a deep understanding of the local real estate market, which can help in evaluating the new construction home’s quality and price against current market conditions.

LGBTQ Friendly: For LGBTQ individuals and families, finding a welcoming and supportive community is crucial. Realtors from GayRealEstate.com specialize in understanding the unique needs and concerns of the LGBTQ community, ensuring a smooth and respectful home-buying experience.

Before visiting a new home community, connecting with a Realtor from GayRealEstate.com can provide you with a competitive advantage. Their expertise, advocacy, and personalized support can help navigate the complexities of buying a new construction home, making the process less stressful and more rewarding. Whether it’s negotiating the price, understanding the fine print of your contract, or choosing the right community, a professional real estate agent is an invaluable asset in your home-buying journey.

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Autos

Rugged yet ritzy: Ford Bronco, Nissan Pathfinder

One offers retro design, the other an edgy and chic look

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Ford Bronco

Both the Ford Bronco and Nissan Pathfinder have rough-and-ready reputations. Each boasts butch bona fides and some nifty off-road capability. But dig a bit deeper into your wallet, and you can step up to higher trim levels for added power and a bit more bling. 

FORD BRONCO HERITAGE LIMITED EDITION

$70,000 

MPG: 17 city/17 highway

0 to 60 mph: 6.2 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 77.6 cu. ft. 

PROS: Retro design, rousing engine rumble, myriad amenities

CONS: Low fuel economy, bouncy ride, pricey

IN A NUTSHELL: After a 24-year hiatus, the Ford Bronco came galloping back to showrooms in 2021. Today there are nine trim levels, including the Heritage Limited Edition that I just finished test driving for a week. At $70,000, this Bronco—second only to the $90,000 Raptor—still costs a pretty penny: $30,000 more than the entry-level model. Yet the higher price is worth it, with a gritty V6 turbo that offers much more giddy-up than the standard four-cylinder engine. 

There’s also a rad retro design, with heritage-style graphics, multiple skid plates, and special bumpers and fenders. Exterior colors—especially the Robin’s Egg Blue, coupled with a white grille and white roof—are a nice throwback to the 1960s. So are the removable doors and roof panels for a safari-like look à la an old-timey “Wild Kingdom” episode. 

Yes, the Bronco is a truck-based SUV, so expect more bounciness than in a Lexus or a Lincoln. But the stable steering and comfortable seats help make up for it. Ground clearance is high, thanks to large 35-inch mud-terrain tires. Luckily, running boards and numerous rubber-lined grab handles make it easy to climb in and out. 

Despite the sound-deadening insulation, there’s still a fair amount of exterior wind noise at high speeds. But this makes it easier to hear the sweet sound of the Bronco’s strong whinny, er, exhaust growl. 

Along with a vibe that’s decidedly old-school cool, this mid-sizer comes with lots of modern amenities: keyless entry, remote start, heated seats, ambient lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, 360-degree surround-view camera and 10-speaker premium B&O stereo. New this year is a larger, 12-inch touchscreen. I also liked the huge stowage area, with convenient cargo straps to hold down gear, a flip-up rear window for easy access, and a swing-out door to hold a full-size spare tire. 

I guess you could say Ford wasn’t horsing around when it decided to add such a fully loaded Bronco to the stable. 

NISSAN PATHFINDER ROCK CREEK

$44,000

MPG: 20 city/23 highway

0 to 60 mph: 7.0 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 80.4 cu. ft. 

PROS: Roomy, comfy, muted cabin

CONS: So-so gas mileage, tight third row, many competitors 

IN A NUTSHELL: Seeking an SUV that’s more diamonds than denim? Then consider the Nissan Pathfinder, also redesigned just a few years ago and a big step up from the previous model. But instead of retro styling like a Ford Bronco, the look here is a combo of edgy and chic. 

That’s especially true with the Rock Creek version, which sports an aggressive front fascia, grille inserts, trendy black cladding, raised off-road suspension, all-terrain tires and tubular roof rack that can hold 220 pounds. “Rock Creek” badging, which is stamped on the side panels and rear liftgate, is also embroidered in stylish orange contrast stitching on the water-resistant seats. All-wheel drive — optional on all other trims — is standard here. And Rock Creek towing capacity, which is 3,500 pounds on most other Pathfinders, is an impressive 6,000 pounds.

The spacious cabin has enough room for up to eight passengers, though third-row legroom is tight. In the second row, you can opt for a pair of captain’s chairs instead of a three-person bench seat. Regardless, those rear seats are heated, which is a nice touch. 

Nissan has done a good job of making vehicles that feel as rich and luxurious as those in its high-end Infiniti lineup. On the Pathfinder, that means thicker glass and extra insulation for a whisper-quiet cabin. There’s also brushed-aluminum trim and a sporty flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters. Along with smartphone integration, wireless charging pad and voice-command capability, other tech features include a windshield head-up display, 360-degree bird’s-eye camera, ambient interior lighting, 13-speaker Bose stereo and a slew of safety options. 

Nissan Pathfinder

When comparing the Ford Bronco with the Nissan Pathfinder, it’s hard to resist the rip-roaring ride of a fun and feisty Bronco. But the more practical Pathfinder is still plenty adventurous, especially with all the goodies that come in the Rock Creek.

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Dining

Pastry chef Alex Levin creates desserts with global influences

And now he’s on a quest to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie

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Alex Levin

A decade as a decorated pastry chef in Washington, D.C., and Alex Levin knows how to create a global realm of desserts. But he also knows that the whole is tastier than the sum of its parts.

Levin serves as Executive Pastry Chef and as part of the executive team for Schlow Restaurant Group, where he’s worked since 2017. He’s crafted desserts for the group’s breadth of restaurant cuisines, from Spanish at Tico (recently rebranded as Japanese Nama Ko), American at now-closed Riggsby, Japanese at Nama and Nama Ko, and Italian at the several Alta Strada spots. He also throws an annual sold-out bakery pop-up for Thanksgiving and for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. “There’s something fun and so meaningful to spend nine straight days making food that will be a part of so many people’s celebrations,” he says.

Yet as a gay man, he also strives for representation and a focus on supporting the LGBTQ community.

After graduating from Yale and focusing on a career in management and finance, Levin fled that industry to attend the Culinary Institute of America to follow his passion for pastry and restaurant management. After graduation, he trained at restaurants like Jean Georges and Cafe Boulud in New York, and moved to D.C. in 2013 to open Osteria Morini as pastry chef. There, he made a name for himself, earning a spot on Eater’s Young Guns in 2015 and in 2016, he earned the title of Best Pastry Chef from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. 

It was a time of invention in the dessert space. Levin was deeply embedded in some of that boundary-stretching.

“When I first became a pastry chef, all of my mentors were pushing me to create deconstructed desserts. I really fell in love with that approach, because it challenged me to think very far outside of the box to have a guest really understand that a plate with five components on it could be considered a lemon tart.”

Yet at Schlow, running dessert programs across the city for an increasingly demanding clientele, his approach evolved. The deconstructed version might look more beautiful, but he realized that it also has to taste even better than its classic counterpart.

“I realized that sometimes there is no reason to alter a classic dessert but to add perhaps a modern shift. That’s where I feel most comfortable now. It allows me to continue to express creativity both visually and with flavor to create the best version of a classic dessert.”

At Alta Strada (which has landed in the Washington Post’s Dining Guide for several years), Levin leans in to the restaurant’s homey style, with a touch of his signature flair, in the several desserts he makes. Traditional bomboloni get a glow up, given depth and tang with ricotta, vanilla, and orange in the batter and receiving a liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar; they’re served on a platter with chocolate hazelnut crema (i.e. liquid Nutella). He also crafts a brownie-cheesecake mashup: a whipped ricotta (sense a theme?) cheesecake sits atop a rich brownie, the black-and-white dessert set off by a single Luxardo cherry on top.

At Nama Ko, Levin’s menu is more concise but takes some additional liberties. The star is the Miso Honey Black Truffle soft serve ice cream, drizzled in chocolate sauce and caramel, under a shower of chocolate and toffee (there’s also a passionfruit sorbet with ube shortbread crumble). Now an expert at adjusting his soft serve machine to the right ratio of sugar, dairy, and flavor, Levin matches the sushi restaurant’s entrees with the ice cream’s balanced umami. Speaking of matching: he also plates a matcha crème brulee.

“When planning the dessert program for Nama Ko, I wanted to do something totally different for dessert — something the restaurant could be known for all on its own. The program had to be fun and allow the guests to have a Japanese dessert but with a twist. Once we landed on soft serve, the proposed flavors needed to have a level of simplicity and complexity.” The rollout received accolades, including in Washington City Paper and Eater’s Soft Serve map.

Levin, though, also serves as director of Strategic Business Initiatives. He coordinates operations, recruiting, reporting, marketing, menu design, and photography. He is constantly rethinking: refining his rotating selection of chocolate bonbons for special events, using colored cocoa butter for visual effect. He stays up on cookbooks, YouTube, and Instagram as resources for explanations and demos, “even how to braid a challah dough using a new technique.”

After coming out in 2000, Levin says he never encountered much homophobia in the culinary industry. In D.C., he works to support LGBTQ groups, personally and through his restaurants. “That might mean making Thanksgiving desserts for SMYAL’s annual Thanksgiving dinner for the kids, or even transforming one of our restaurants into a destination for D.C.’s annual Pride.” Levin also picks up a shift at the special seated dinner tables at the annual Chefs for Equality event, one the largest (and most fabulous) fundraisers for Human Rights Campaign.

Levin won’t rest on his soft serve laurels, continuing to find creative space. Stay tuned to his latest project, going on three years: to create “the best chocolate chip cookie. The current version is pretty close, but I continue to make some small modifications to improve the outcome.”

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