Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tourism at Home

Each year my birthday gives us an excuse to explore new neighborhoods.  Two years ago we toured Red Hook (and good thing because just two months later the whole 'hood was ravaged by Sandy.)  Last year we spent the day in lower Manhattan.  This year we spent the day exploring our new borough - Queens.  Amazingly, it didn't just feel like a day of exploring NYC, or a "staycation" - there were times when we actually felt like we were in a foreign country.  I think that's one of the things I'm going to really like about living here.  (That, and the amazing views!)

Our day began with brunch, which is my favorite meal.  We jumped on the train and headed into Astoria to Sanford's.  Like so many restaurants in Queens, it was sleek and there was club music playing.  But we're willing to forgive that for a restaurant that serves brunch EVERY Day.  (And you should absolutely click on the link.  They have a CBS spot embedded in their website that is hilarious.  It's such a stereotype it could easily be mistaken for an SNL sketch.)  J had the Nutella S'mores waffles and scrambled eggs and I had the banana chocolate chip pancakes.  They weren't as fluffy as Clinton Street or as buttery as Luluc, but the flavor was good and they served real maple syrup.  I gave it my best, but ultimately, I was defeated by the huge portion.

From there we rode the 7 to the end of the line, Main Street Flushing.  Wow.  There was actually almost no English to be seen or heard.  Thousands of people flooded the sidewalks, jostling amidst storefronts with dumplings, fried food, and sweets.  Most of it was wrapped or batter-fried such that I couldn't identify what was inside.  One of the few English signs was labeled 'honey-glazed chicken fingers' with a picture of a chicken's actual finger, luckily, still full from my pancakes, I passed on the food samples.  I haven't been to China yet, and this experience made me both excited and a little intimidated to visit.  

After a short walk we arrived at our destination, the Queens Botanical Garden.  So often I forget to enjoy the beautiful parks and gardens here at home, though they are often a point of interest in foreign cities.  Thanks to J's great idea, we had an afternoon filled with my favorite things, a walk, plants and flowers, sunshine, and an opportunity to take some pictures.  

These are some of the roses from the rose garden.  I love how they all look and smell so different!

As we continued to wander, we saw a beautiful array of bright colors and amazing shapes.

But the highlight came just as we were leaving.  We stumbled upon baby olive trees.  One of my birthday presents was a piece of olive wood.  We fell in love with the silver-green beauty of olive leaves in Morocco, and they are what I'll be carrying in my bouquet for our wedding.  Olive trees have lots of symbolism regarding light, peace, and endurance.  Did you know that olive trees can live to be more than 1000 years old and still produce fruit?  

When we left the garden, we headed to Corona Park.  Unlike the gardens, this is truly an urban park.  There were kids playing sports, couples dancing, people reading, and locals enjoying the nice weather.  We wandered over to the US Open to see the hoopla, which was surprisingly quiet, and then stopped to admire the symbol of Queens, the whole world.

We left the park and headed to Coco Spa.  This is an authentic Chinese massage parlor where J indulged me in both a back and a foot massage.  Unlike western spas, this is not about being pampered, but is more medicinal.  It was a unique experience, sharing some elements with the German and Turkish bathhouses, some elements with western spas, and having some unique elements all its own.

Finally, we ended our night by melding a little bit of our old home with our new one.  We went to Milkflower in Astoria for some wood-fired pizza.  The aesthetic was definitely more Brooklyn than Queens, but the people were warm and friendly, as they've all been here so far.  And we ate the most delicious avocado toast appetizers.  The beautiful day ended with a beautiful night.  First, a spectacular sunset, and then a perfect walk home.

Thanks, J, for a great birthday and a terrific introduction to our new home!

Monday, August 11, 2014

I'm so Meta.

As usual, it has taken me the better part of the summer to get to a mental place where I feel like I have enough creative energy to write.  Like cooking, and baking, and photography, I miss writing when I don't do it.  But like physical exercise, which I also miss, it requires energy.  I find both my mental and physical processes to be similar.  First, I need some down time free from obligations, stress, and exhaustion.  Then, I need some time to think about doing it.  I often spend weeks thinking about running before I begin again.  This summer I've been thinking in blog posts and status updates, but it's taken until today for me to find the spark to actually start typing.  I'm trying to figure out what the spark is so that I can harness it for future use.  I'm not quite there yet, but I'm starting to triangulate the pieces.  It seems to be part artistic inspiration, part socialization, and part time alone.

For those of you who don't know, this summer has deviated far from what we expected.  We thought we'd leave June behind with a bang--me in an intense summer grad class and J prepping for two new courses.  We'd hit July ready for a break, but also feeling ready to head back prepared in September.  There was talk of a cross-country road trip, one that we've both been wanting to take for a long time.  There were dreams of a "staycation" in which we were tourists in our own city, for all too frequently do we neglect to take advantage of the cool things our home has to offer.  And there were visions of the ever-illusive relaxation.  Days spent at parks or beaches, reading, taking pictures, sailing with friends.  Oh yeah, and we thought we might plan the wedding we're having in 138 days.  (OMG, J, did you know it was so soon?)  But none of those things happened.  Instead, on June 29, the first day of my grad class and the second day of "summer vacation," everything changed.  It's a long story not worth retelling, so we'll just leave it at landlords in NYC are insane and:

And so began our apartment hunt.  July, divided into thirds was first devoted to finding an apartment.  After viewing hundreds of apartments and pounding out miles, we found one.  Naturally, not one that was vacant as so many were, and so began the second third...the waiting.  We couldn't really pack because we still had to live in our place for three more weeks.  We couldn't afford to travel anymore since all of our money was forked over in a broker's fee--NYC friends, you know how much that hurts.  So we tried to be as productive as possible pre-move: clearing out stuff we could donate or throw away, planning a little for the wedding (we nailed down a band, invitations, and a florist, so there was some success), and trying to knock out the Brooklyn bucket list since we were expatriating our borough in favor of a move to Queens.  (We did well, including farewell drinks at the corner watering hole,

Italian treats from Esposito and Caputo's,
and trying the new Hay Rosie ice cream shop where we ate two flights of ice cream.  Ice cream flights - genius!  And for the record, fennel ice cream is delicious!)

Bucket list completed (except for necessary visits to some of my favorite bakeries for wedding cake tasting), we were on our way to our new home.

The last third of July was all about the packing.  For people who have over 50 moves between them, and who had only lived in 800 square feet for only 3 years, WOW, do we have a lot of stuff.  J pined for the days when moving meant packing his car and hitting the road.  I just wanted to hit the road.  Alas, the 31st arrived and we headed out to our new 'hood.  As moves go, it was a good one in that nothing was broken or stolen, our movers did not commit extortion by holding our stuff on the truck while they demanded more money, and we did not spend any nights homeless.  But we were still yet to put it all back together.

So here we are, August 11, my back-to-school nightmares have begun and we're unpacking.  Don't get me wrong.  We're mostly done.  There has been major progress--shelves hung, furniture assembled, air conditioners installed.  But there is more to do and now J has joined me in wanting to just run away.  

We love our new apartment.  We're enjoying getting to know our new neighborhood and meeting our new neighbors.  (In fact, the first picture in this post was taken on a walk with our new friend, M.)  But now, with a marathon school year on the horizon (oh yes, I'm taking more grad classes this fall, J still has those two new classes to prep, and I have a new class as well,) we need a vacation more than ever.  Remember, there is a wedding in December!  Since there is still school work to do, among many other things, we opted for a one day mini-vacation upstate where the air smells different, where the pace is slower, where I feel at ease.

Below are a few pictures from Storm King Art Center and a shot of my dad and me, because every trip upstate includes a surprise visit with my Pops.

Three Legged Buddha

I don't know the name of this one, but I totally think it's a Star Wars guy going into battle in an episode of The Jetsons.

The Mermaid

This one was super-cool.  It waved symmetrically from this angle.  From the other side the two poles looked as though they were intertwined.  They moved like sea creatures dancing.

This is my favorite photo of the day.  I love the three little girls contemplating the sculpture.  I also love that the sculpture looks like a playground.

I hadn't been to Storm King in about 25 years, but I remembered this piece.  I still think it's awesome.

A little bit of Greece in New York


So here's to hoping our new home, which has both happy and sunny in its address, brings us the peace and joy to be creative.  (And that maybe we can sneak in a few days for some R&R before school starts again!)  

Friday, August 30, 2013

NYC Birthday!

Yesterday was my birthday.  Usually, I reserve blog posts for stories of travel, but since my birthday involved a food tour of NYC, I figure this a good place to write about it.  (Especially since 1.  We've spent so much time traveling this summer that all we want in the world is to enjoy the comforts of home.
2.  We live in a place that is often a tourist destination, so it makes sense that sometimes we should be tourists here.)

Those of you who know me, know that birthdays are a BIG deal.  It's the one day a year that everyone who loves you gets to celebrate you.  I love celebrating other people's birthdays--throwing parties, baking treats, and buying gifts.  You may remember this, which was the same year as the infamous 5 surprise parties:

Some people I know don't care to be celebrated, others are overly concerned with which birthday they are celebrating.  I subscribe to my dad's theory that you're only as old as you act and feel.  (Incidentally, he proudly tells people his age after they guess, since they typically guess he's nearly 20 years younger than his date of birth indicates.  And he LOVES being ID'ed to use his senior citizen discount!)  The more birthdays I have, the better I feel and the more fun I have.  So yesterday, we celebrated youth, vigor, life, and love.  It was amazing.  This is my modern-day, techie-way of saying thank you to everyone involved.  Thanks, guys!  <3

The celebration began the day before.  J asked if I wanted a birthday breakfast game or to go out somewhere to eat.  I love eating out, but I can do that any time.  How often does one get to turn breakfast into a birthday game?  The rules were simple.  I was to create a list of ingredients that I wanted to eat.  J would decide how to use them and what the end products would be.  This was a challenge.  I sent him the following list:

some herb:  rosemary, mint, parsley

Later that night, I came home from a baking date with Z (nectarine and lavender crostata--the recipe from my new cookbook from J's Aunt R and Uncle J):

to find these on the kitchen table:

I often joke that we should celebrate birthday weekend. (Perhaps as a result of frequently spending my birthday as the new kid on the first day of school, or you know, celebrating during a hurricane with 6 days of no electricity.)  So J let me begin the celebration a little early.  In addition to the flowers, I got my first birthday present--a video from Boo (and with a little help from her Papa.)

After many hilarious viewings, I was warned to set an alarm before bed because I had a surprise coffee date coming the next morning at 9:30.

Even though she had awesome plans of her own, my dear friend Z made sure she could say "happy birthday" in person.  She arrived with an iced coffee with soy milk to ensure that I'd be alert enough to enjoy birthday morning.  She also made sure the  celebration would continue beyond just the one day with these:

I'm a lucky girl to have such good friends (including everyone who called and sent messages and gifts on FB).  I have such good neighbors too.  Sweet J, from upstairs, made sure to leave a card taped to my door so that I'd find it when I returned home from my day of celebrating.  My dad sent some cards, and even Boo got me a card!  (You can guess which one came from her.)

And then there was breakfast...

a cold ginger apple soup, honey grapefruit bruleƩ with fresh mint, Turkish tea-poached eggs on toasted brioche, homemade bubbly orange juice-soda--DELICIOUS!

As if this wasn't enough, of course there were also presents.  Boo insisted on going first.  (She loves chasing the ribbons on presents!)  In true kitten fashion, her present involved birds.  She gave me these super-cute owl earrings, which are not only so much fun, but also my school mascot.  She let J go next.  All summer I've made poor J stop at every junk jewelry store, every pharmacy, and every H&M or Hema we saw in Europe on a crazy quest for barrettes.  (I did finally find several that I liked.)  To add to my collection, J gave me an awesome knit barrette.  Then, after breakfast (because we're responsible adults) he gave me dessert - a vanilla, rooibos chocolate bar.  It's amazing, and I shared.  To fuel my continued love of baking, and my new quest to make it both more beautiful (my desserts always TASTE good, they're just not always so, um, professional looking) and more healthy (STOP publishing articles about how bad sugar is, Internet Scientists!), J gave me two new baking cookbooks:

J led me to the closet to show me my clothing options for the evening.  He had some surprises planned and would clue me in only to the level of formality.  But before we dressed for dinner, he took me to a neighborhood boutique to pick out two beautiful picture frames for the photos he had printed as part of my present.  One now resides in our bedroom...the other is slated to go to my office, although at the moment it's on our living room side table and I kind of love it there...

My clues: we're taking one train.  Nice, but casual.  What's your favorite dessert?  (For the record, the answer is chocolate mousse.)

On we went... F train to W. 4th.  Our first destination, in keeping with another of my philosophies, that one should eat dessert first, was to Buvette.  

It is an homage both to our trip to Paris, where they have a second location, as well as to our recent trip to Belgium, land of delicious chocolate and chocolate mousse.  Buvette didn't disappoint!

Next, since we still had some time before our next mystery reservation, we decided to grab a pre-dinner cocktail.  We wandered through the West Village, stopping in Jo Malone to enjoy the delicious smells (and to gather some free birthday samples!), and then on to Fedora, a literary themed bar.  J had the Pocketful of Steinbeck and I had License to Dill.  They were both delicious.

For dinner, we made our way over to Pure Food and Wine.  Anyone who has ever shared a meal with me, or gone for ice cream, knows 1)  I have incredible food envy.  I want to taste what everyone else has.  And, 2)  I LOVE samples.  I sample every ice cream flavor available, unless the people behind the counter or behind me in line get frustrated and then I do my best to make a decision.  (Which is a much easier task if I can select more than one flavor AND have bites of what my friends have ordered.  Seriously, I've even ordered hand-packed pints with multiple flavors in them.)  So you can imagine my joy when J suggested that we order the 5 course tasting menu.  (Which is really 7 courses if you count the amuse-bouche and the intermezzo.)  But wait, it gets better.  When we inquired about said chef's choice tasting menu (since Pure is raw and vegan, we had no worries about getting something we wouldn't like or couldn't eat), we learned that it would be 3 savory courses, a soup course, and a FULL SIZE DESSERT.  And that we would each get different dishes except for the soup, so we would actually get to taste 9 things from the menu!  Pure's birthday present to me!  :)

The entire meal was innovative and fantastic.  It's a special occasion place, but definitely one to which we'll return.  (Probably in late fall or winter since their menu changes seasonally.)
Even though our meal took 3 hours, we weren't finished yet.  (Though at that point, J did promise that we were done eating for the night.)  We walked over to the McKittrick Hotel where we had a reservation at Gallow Green.

It's an awesome English Garden on the rooftop.
Some day, we'll go back to participate in Sleep No More (hahaha, how appropriate!).

As the clock neared midnight, marking the official end of my birthday, J and I headed home, and he proffered one final gift.  Remember how I said I like to celebrate birthday weekend?  Maybe I underestimated a tad.  Sometimes I like to celebrate birthday week, or even birthday month.  (Some teachers refer to August as the Sunday of summer vacation, a rather dreary moniker.  I prefer to think of it as birthday month.  Far more celebratory!)  Due to all of our travel, we hadn't actually done much anticipatory celebrating, so J is extending my birthday into September.  My last gift is tickets for September 20 to see these guys:

 at this place:


(If you still don't know who they are, listen here.)