Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bright Lights, Big Bellies

Zabar's - West side of B'way & 81st
Originally uploaded by Ed Yourdon.

Continuing the tradition that I began in London, I took myself off on some experimental bus travel this morning. As is my way, I knew where I needed to go conceptually, but by virtue of my very dodgy sense of direction I wasn't convinced I would actually get there.

Today's destination was Zabar's, the famous Jewish market on the Upper West Side, and a New York insitution. I could have taken the subway from my place to get there (the No.1 train stops a block from the market's front door), but I figured that if I took the bus and stayed above ground, I had a better chance of getting my bearings. Well that was the plan anyway. I took the express bus up 1st Avenue, then switched at 79th street and headed west through Central Park. Snow flurries had started to fall, but I was so excited about my culinary expedition I didn't even care. When the bus deposited me at 79th and Broadway, I saw the subway exit and immediately headed in the opposite direction of the market. Typical.

In my defence though, heading towards me were people carrying Zabar's bags, so I concluded they must be walking away from the store. Fair assumption, right? Whatever. Anyway the point is I finally worked out my mistake and changed my direction (nonchalantly of course, just in case anyone had been watching me do anything dorky). On the upside, my geographical error did take me past Fairway Market, one that a lady at my office told me that she actually prefers over Zabar's. Certainly the fresh fruit and vegetables piled up out the front, including big fat strawberries, looked very tempting indeed.

But I was focussed on Zabar's so I was so glad when I finally found it. I didn't go in there with any particular shopping list, but I did want to have bagels and cream cheese. As it turned out, on my way into the market I spotted H&H Bagels that I remember from an ancient episode of SATC. So I called in there and bought my bagels and cream cheese instead. Did I mention the bagels were still warm, just fresh out of the oven? Praised be.

Back to Zabar's I went and was instantly hit with the amazing aroma of cheese, smoked fish and fresh bread. Wandering around the store, picking up jars of Euro goodies and little tubs of pate, dips and spreads I was just in heaven. I didn't pick up a shopping basket (else I would have easily filled it), so I only bought what I could carry. I grabbed some signature rye bread - that the lady kindly sliced thickly for me. The rye is topped with lots of fresh caraway seeds, which I can normally take or leave but in this case, they are soooo good. I bought some Israeli hummus that is so garlicky nobody will come near me for days, and I also bought some whole wheat pasta (love) and some French raspberry & pomegranate jam. I couldn't resist throwing in some delicious cinnamon rugelach, gorgeous dense pastry shaped almost like little croissants but not as flaky. As I type this, I am dunking one into my espresso. Jealous, much?

I allowed the crowd to push me towards the registers and I made my way out of Zabar's, bag of goodies in hand. I was feeling rather fabulous at this point and brave enough to take the subway home. I don't know why I do these things to myself. I caught the right train in the right direction, so I started well. Then I listened to two Jesus preachers on the carriage, prompting the young guy next to me to suggest that we were possibly on the most entertaining subway in Manhattan. Alighting the train at 34th Street (my stop), I was in completely unfamiliar territory. This wasn't a part of 34th street I'd ever seen before. Why hadn't I thought to bring a map?

Rather than completely lose my nuts at this point, I went and bought some makeup and a giant coffee and just started to walk. Slowly but surely, 34th Street started to look more familiar and then off in the distance I could see my building. Success!

With the Presidents Day public holiday I get to be a good little ethnic for the next few days and enjoy my yummy delights, before heading back to work on Tuesday.

The next time I head back up that way, I'm going to be brave and try some of the smoked fish that other Zabar's shoppers were sampling today. I think that would be quite tasty. I'd also buy some guacamole because that looked delicious - and obviously I'd need to leave room for more signature rye bread and rugelach - a girl's gotta have her pantry staples after all.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Seek and ye shall find

coffee break-eh
Originally uploaded by alvin lamucho © busy!!!.

I find myself three weeks in to this New York experience and I've thrown myself into a crusade of sorts. I'm on a mission to find delicious coffee and so every work day from now, I'm going to do my best to buy my morning coffee from a different place en route to my office.

This is actually easier than it sounds, as I reckon I probably pass at least 50 places that sell coffee in the 8 blocks between my apartment and work. And that's just on the direct route. If I go one or two blocks out of my way, imagine the options I'll find!

The first week that I was back in the US, it was too easy to become a slave to Starbucks. There is one right next door to my office (let's face it, there's one next door to everyone's office!). I figured I had enough on my plate just settling in at work that I couldn't really be bothered mastering a different coffee shop's menu or ordering protocols.

Then K took me to Macchiato Espresso Bar, and the lady at the register knew what we wanted when we ordered a flat white - which I thought was lovely. Granted the barista called it a "no foam latte" but at least we can work with that. I love this place but so do many people, because it's always really crowded whenever I walk past these days.

For a while I was also going to Metro Cafe, literally across the street from my office. I like their coffee - it's nice and strong and not too milky - but the women in there are so surly that I find it hard to deal with them. I'm grouchy enough in the morning - I need a pleasant (but not too pleasant) person to greet me at the register. Picky, picky.

Then across the street there's that old staple, Pret A Manger. Nothing wrong with this place - their filter coffee is pretty terrible, but their lattes aren't too bad. I always seem to get served by the same guy on the registers and he's overly pleasant which kills me (maybe he's having too much Pret caffeine on his breaks!?).

Quite by mistake I found Aroma Espresso Bar. This place is also about a block from my office but is one of those places that is always so busy that I wouldn't go in there unless I was with someone else. Their coffees are milky but strong, but the sandwich menu (that I could see from where I was sitting) is so confusing I just can't do it.

Today's effort was Cafe'o on 3rd Avenue, a tiny little place accessible through the lobby of a large office building. The coffee was milky and not nearly strong enough, but the thing that ticked me off first was the fact that the lady on the register began serving the customer behind me before I'd even stepped out of the way. What's up with that?! It happens so often these days and it never ceases to drive me nuts.

Not only does this search demonstrate that I am clearly a loser in desperate need of a life, but it shows the amazing array of choice in this city. You literally never have to have coffee at the same place twice and I love that. Tomorrow, the quest continues.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bacon, Be My Valentine?

mmmm, Bacon!
Originally uploaded by magpie-moon.

I had forgotten just how much the US loves its Hallmark Holidays so when I got back here, I was hit with the full force gale that was Valentine's Day.

Now I assure you that I'm not bitter and twisted about being single on February 14. That wasn't always the case though. I remember being at high school and over the course of the day, announcements would be made over the PA system summoning girls to the front office to collect their $5 roses sent to them from pimply kids from our brother school. At the time I was so envious and would ooh and aah along with the lucky girls about just how fortunate they were to have some hormone factory so obviously in love with them.

But as an adult, is it just me who thinks that the ladies who receive flowers at the office are in the minority? I don't actually know any couples who even acknowledge Valentine's Day, much less make a fuss of it. Maybe that's just a consequence of growing up, or maybe its a grizzled effort to stick it to the man and stubbornly refuse to subscribe to an overly commercialised excuse to jack up the price of flowers and sell cheap cards with lame messages. Maybe.


So yes, rather than debate the pros and cons of Valentine's Day yesterday, K and I just flat-out ignored it and instead invited P to join us for dinner. It was the first chance we'd had to cook a full meal in our new kitchen, plus I had wanted to roadtest the bacon-wrapped steaks that I'd recently bought.

I think most people worry about overcooking steak. I am quite the opposite. I couldn't quite manage to crisp up the bacon around the steaks; something that I think would have been much easier on a traditional BBQ. All the same, the bacon infused a delicious smokey flavour to the meat and kept the fillets nice and juicy. We served some vegetables alongside so that we could assure our mothers that were at least ingesting beneficial vitamins of some description. There are vitamins in sparkling shiraz too, right?

Dessert was a delicious affogato, using Haagen-Dasz vanilla bean ice cream with cold Baileys & hot espresso poured on top. We stopped counting vitamins at that point.

As far as February 14 celebrations go, it was a wonderful one. And just when you try and catch your breath after an overdose of paper lovehearts, soppy messages and cheap chocolates, the greeting card aisle is blasted in bright green as we move on to St Patrick's Day on March 17. Good grief!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Warm(ish) Weekend That Was

The phrase 'everything in moderation' really sums up my weekend. In pretty much equal measure, I've done my share of shopping, laundry, eating and drinking - and NY turned on some lovely weather to let me fit it all in.

Dinner on Saturday night was at Arte on the Upper West Side with some friends and it was delicious. Hearty and authentic Italian - I couldn't resist the spaghetti & meatballs. Washing it down with some Chianti just added to the experience. After dinner we walked to The Amsterdam Alehouse for a farewell get-together for one of K's friends. The music there was especially good - as the red wine (etc) flowed, we sang along. Okay, K and I sang along and danced in our seats. We were awesome.

Today we headed to the Upper East Side and had a late breakfast at a gorgeous neighbourhood cafe that we stumbled across. Restored by strong coffee and OJ, we wandered up the street and spent a silly sum of money at Bed, Bath and Beyond to further kit out the new apartment. Fortunately we had the good sense to get the purchases delivered so we didn't have to lug everything around with us. Totally worth it! We then walked a couple of blocks south to have brunch with a couple of K's friends. We met up at Ze Cafe and I am definitely going back there again. The service was great and everything on the menu tempted me. Don't you just love those kind of places?

So here we are on Sunday night (already!?) and it's back to work again tomorrow. K's disappearing overseas at the end of this week and I'll be unsupervised for 2 whole weeks. Invitations to brunches are heartily encouraged.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Theatre, Sushi and Music....oh my!

Project 365 day 36 2/5/11
Originally uploaded by MDanalakis.

Another busy week at work is over and it's Saturday morning again. I am reclining on the couch nursing the laptop and a strong cup of coffee.

My brain is pretty sore at the moment but I know it's just because I've been taking in a lot of stuff at work again this week. We've had a number of meetings and events that have introduced me to new people, new topics and yes, new acronyms. I have a lovely office of my own at the moment and I can see the Empire State Building from my window. I defy anyone to complain about that! Come 4pm though, the sun comes streaming through my window and the whole place heats up like an oven. Not very conducive to concentrating on work stuff, let me tell you. I find myself wandering back towards the window and trying to squeeze my butt on the window ledge to soak up the rays like a cat. Blissful.

But this week hasn't been all about work either.

Earlier in the week my friend from work SK took me to the Library Hotel, not far from our office. The rooftop bar there is called "Bookmarks", which totally appealed to the geek in me. We had a couple of glasses of Bordeaux, which the lady told us is not normally on the 'wines by the glass' list, but someone had ordered a bottle of it and changed their mind so they had one open. It was delicious and just what we needed after a busy day. It was nice to catch up with SK because we don't see much of each other in the office really.

K has also been introducing me to the more cultural pursuits available in this wonderful city this week. On Thursday night we went to a very cute little theatre in the East Village to see "Three Sisters", starring the gorgeous Maggie G (can't spell her last name) and her real-life husband Peter S (can't spell his last name either). The acting was really impressive and the chemistry between Maggie's and Peter's characters was excellent. Still being a Russian play, there were 3 hours worth of tears, 'woe is me' speeches and all that, but I still really enjoyed it. One of our fellow audience members was that guy who was in that SATC episode where Carrie goes to work at Vogue and the big chief editor guy gets her drunk on martinis and calls her "Cookie", then drops his pants. Yep, he was our celebrity spot of the evening. Well, WE were impressed anyway.

Friday night we met up with ES for sushi at Haru, not far from Union Square. I am relatively new to sushi, and I can't use chopsticks, so I need to keep whatever I eat really simple. I had some lovely pomegranate martinis (not authentic), to pair with my spicy maki roll selection (very authentic). The restaurant was really busy and it was great atmosphere.

After dinner, ES headed home and K and I continued to a place around the corner called Irving Plaza. It's a live music venue that is spread across a couple of floors. We were there to see one of Kate's favourite bands, Morcheeba. I know some of their stuff, but not a lot, though I know that they changed lead singers at one stage, with mixed results. The original lead singer was back with the band for last night's show and it was excellent. The crowd really got into it - even the weirdo hippy woman in the pixie hat who bought her hula hoop to the gig and stood behind us, holidng her hoop aloft and singing along. Much to our relief she then wormed her way to the very front and apparently ended up ON the stage with the band. I didn't see that part - I didn't see much actually.....there were lots of tall people there haha. After Morcheeba finished we ended up walking back to our apartment. The night was cold but we were all rugged up and there were lots of people around.

I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow though and I slept the sleep of the dead, which I must have needed.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Back on the grid and back in the game

Today is Superbowl Sunday but in this new apartment, a real football-free zone, you wouldn't really know it. We have been in the new place less than a week and now that we've got our cable TV and internet connected, I think we're feeling a bit more settled. The floor is still dotted with moving boxes that we've not found the energy to unpack, but otherwise we're doing really well.

On Thursday we took the night off from unpacking to go out. With our friend KW, we went to a wine tasting at Crush and then to a hidden little burger joint inside Le Parker Meridien hotel. A total treasure, trust me. Then K and I went on to Times Square to see "The Importance of Being Earnest" - it was fantastic. I have always loved Oscar Wilde and this production was typically witty and charming.

It's been a busy week because even though we took Tuesday off as a moving day, we've otherwise been at work full time. It was my first week in the new job and I was trying to take so much in that by Friday afternoon my brain was fried. I have been sleeping really well as a result, so I'm feeling pretty good. But I am also really challenged by my new job. Even though I know I can do my job and I feel very comfortable with the operational aspects of the role, the new environment that I'm in is really new to me. I'm working on issues that are so foreign and interesting, alongside people whose subject knowledge is so rich that I can't help but be impressed by it all. I love this part of new job - where everything is exciting, confusing, and full of potential. I'm really looking forward to soaking up as much expertise from my colleagues as I can and really getting my teeth into the new work. The girls in the office took me out for a welcome lunch on Friday afternoon too, which I thought was a really lovely gesture.

NYC is a dynamic and wonderful city. People here have been so friendly to me - saying good morning, holding doors open, asking me how I am - it's such a change from my London experience. One of the girls at work suggested that I'm just getting out what I'm putting in - that I'm trying that little bit harder here than I did in London, and perhaps she's right. I think I know that I want to be here, so I'm making more of an effort to get along with people and make my mark. Plus my accent helps, as I knew it would. But you know, so what? I am just glad that I'm back to my positive self - I missed that.

But it's funny how quickly life goes back to normal. Here I am in a new city, being challenged by a new job and settling in to a new apartment. And yet Sunday morning, I'm back to scrubbing the shower and then doing loads of laundry. The life of a big city girl, eh?!