Saturday, March 26, 2011

Culture and Conscience

Sometimes even I am surprised at just how nerdy I can be. I'm back to cooking on weekends so I can freeze the results in little Tupperware containers and take it to work for my lunch every day. Sure, it's a cost-saving initiative (which is sort-of working), but I really do find that the cooking process relaxes me. The eating part is also pretty fun. Last weekend's cooking effort included potato & leek soup and a pasta sauce that I wasn't too happy with but is so chock-full of vegetables I have to persevere with it.

There are some times though when it's nice to have someone else do the cooking for a change. So it was great to head out last Friday night to Wild Edibles, a wonderful pocket-sized restaurant not far from my apartment that doesn't take reservations - but does take an ethical stance on the sustainability of local fish populations. Their paper placemats profile a particular species available in the restaurant (that is also a seafood market), so you know a bit more about where the food comes from and how widely available it is - or, in some cases, isn't. I remember when I was in Chicago and The Shedd Aquarium produced these terrific wallet-sized cheat sheets about sustainable seafood, so you could make sensible, responsible choices at the supermarket or restaurant. I love that the wallet cards are still available for download on the Shedd's website too - good for the environment, and good for your conscience!

After dinner, we retired to a literal hole-in-the-wall pub down the street where P introduced me to the mixological taste sensation that is Jameson and ginger ale. I've never been a whiskey drinker, or at least not a good one, but that combination is really tasty. It was so good in fact that we had three of them...each. I didn't realise what a dodgy idea that was until the next morning, but it was a lesson well learned.

Tuesday at work had been chugging along like any other, and then Skilla at the office asked me if I'd like to go to the theatre with her. I've known Skilla for a while now and she's from my home town. We share a love of the theatre - the good, the bad and even the ugly. So I trust her judgment and I was really excited to go along with her. After work we walked together to Times Square and then caught the subway to the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village to see the MCC Theatre's production of The Other Place. Starring Laurie Metcalf (Aunt Jackie from TV's Roseanne and also a proud Steppenwolf alum), the play was a fantastic study into the destructive potential of dementia. When the play was over, Skilla and I stayed on for a discussion with the playwright, some dude from the theatre company, and a neurologist who had been brought in to validate some of the scientific content of the play. When we left the theatre, Skilla and I had a great chat about what we each thought the play was about, and our overall reactions to it. We had been sitting side-by-side in the same theatre, watching the same production, and yet we came away with such different ideas and questions. I guess that's the beauty of the theatre and probably the thing I love the most about it. I am also very fortunate that this city gives me almost never-ending opportunities to see such interesting and different plays all over the place; on Broadway, off Broadway and then off-off Broadway.

I roamed the streets this morning to get some fresh air and generally to run errands. I dropped in to the drycleaners across the street where the owners, a mother and daughter team, were screaming at each other in Korean (I think). They didn't even care that I'd come in - they just kept yelling. It was pretty amazing. Leaving my clothes with them, I silently hoped that they would keep their animosity focussed on each other and not take it out on my work stuff. Fingers crossed. Then I moved on to the fantastic 24-hour hardware store not far from K's old apartment, where the guy took pity on clueless old me and helped me find the new lightglobes that I needed to bring my Hollywood bathroom mirror back to life. Thanks, man.

With the exception of the unseasonal snow that we had on Monday, the weather here has been steadily improving and I think that with it, people are starting to come back to life and cheer up a bit. I know that's certainly been the case with me and I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of this sunny weekend even if I am going back to my nerdy, homemade lunch-toting self at work next week.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Everyone Loves a Happy Ending

Hairdresser 2
Originally uploaded by dutch_merlijn.

I was out getting coffee the other day and walked past a hairdressing salon not too far from my office. I'd been thinking about having my hair done for a couple of days, so the find seemed quite timely. The clincher though was the fact that the salon I found is an Aveda concept salon. I absolutely adore Aveda products so I was sold on it.

Heading over for my appointment last night, I was really looking forward to the glamorous, fragrant, relaxing Aveda-style pampering that I remember from my exposure to other salons in Chicago and Adelaide. I was introduced to my stylist, a Russian expat who exuded "fabulous" out of every pore. I was also introduced to a giant fellow who would be my pre-Russian pamperer.

Maybe it was my fear of giants and/or Russians bearing scissors, but I relented on my usual no-touch policy and I consented to an Aveda scalp massage before my haircut. Over comes Giant, cracking his knuckles and bearing a grin that I took to be raw sadism but was probably just concentration. He drizzled some fragrant oil onto the crown of my head and then got started on the most amazing cranial manipulation I have had in a looong time. Oh Aveda, how I have missed you.

Giant Man kneaded the nape of my neck, massaged my temples and worked his magic on my knotted shoulders. Every single follicle of hair was responding - I was feeling relaxed and energised at the same time, it was really weird.

Then Giant took me over to the sinks for the pre-cut hair wash. As the water ran over my head, my hair felt like it was fizzing. A really strange sensation. Shampoo. Rinse. Conditioner. Rinse - but with cold water. OMG it was like heaven. Happy Hair, Happy Gab.

Russian dude was classic - a man of few words but someone who certainly knows how to use a pair of scissors. He prides himself on being the best short-hair stylist in the salon. I think he might have conducted that poll himself, but who am I to doubt him?

As if my sensory Aveda appointment experience to this point wasn't memorable enough, Russian dude then turned his attention to cutting the back of my hair. As he cut and cut, he leaned forward and gently blew the hair strands off my neck.


Yes, friends. Rather than brushing the cut hairs away with his fingers (as he had done up until then), he again leaned forward and - ever so gently - blew the cut hairs off the back of my neck. I was sitting at the front of the salon - right by the register! People could see! This is not part of the usual Aveda treatment, and it was so amusing I didn't know what to say. So I just shut up and blushed furiously. Hopeless.

After my do was done (and I honestly feel he did a great job), Russian dude slipped me his business card and said he hoped to see me soon.

On the way out the door, I made a comment about the Aveda soy candles they were selling.

"Oh they're really good," says the Russian. "We keep ours in the toilet". Interesting sales pitch, man. So of course I bought one. And guess where I keep mine? Uh-huh, you guessed it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Walking Wounded

Scottish soccer in Times Square, New York
Originally uploaded by Mike G. K..

So my poor tired feet are literally throbbing at the moment Before I start to feel sorry for myself though, I have to think back to all the walking I've done this weekend and I feel pretty proud of the battle scars.

I was up early again today and I made plans to meet K&N for brunch not far from Macy's, where I knew that they had wanted to do some shopping. We met at The Crooked Knife and I stuffed in toast, bacon and a poached egg - it was tasty and even the coffee was delicious. Plus the bar was decked out in fairy lights and as my aunt JoJo says, "you can never have too many of them". She's so right.

K&N had bought my Saturday shopping bags with them, so I went back to my apartment and dropped them off while they did some more shopping and stocked up on gifts for family.

I headed home via Borders. The store is closing soon (like all the others around the world) and the place looks like a jumble sale. They didn't have the Keith Richards autobiography that I wanted, but I can get it online another time. And in any case, I did find a couple of books to keep me busy. Typical book nerd!

When I got home I made the mistake of sitting on the couch and I could quite easily have nodded off. So I got up and started to make sense of the flat pack bedroom furniture that I delivered last week. The screwdriver I was using was a little slippery and I ended up carving a chunk out of my hand, so needless to say that put a stop to the furniture assembly. I've slid the flatpack under my bed, where it will no doubt remain for the foreseeable future.

K&N called not long after I sustained this minor injury, and so I jumped on a bus to go and meet them at the fabulous Zabars deli. Some of the shoppers up there would easily have had their 100th birthdays already, but I don't even care about tottering along behind them at a snail's pace. I love the market so much and all the sights, smells and sample plates make going there a fun experience. I picked up some more cinnamon rugelach and a small loaf of signature rye bread and I reckon they will both keep me happy for a while yet.

Walking back from 79th Street, we cut across to walk along Central Park. In the fading daylight the Park looked really beautiful and families and joggers alike were out enjoying the fresh, cool air. It was probably about that point when my feet started to throb (at least in a way that I could clearly feel). Farewelling K&N, I strode across town to 2nd Avenue and jumped on the express bus home.

I really hope that this weekend's weather has been a sign of things to come for us. I'm really looking forward to walking around next weekend, perhaps spending a bit more time in Soho, down through the Lower East Side and around to Battery Park - just for something different. I even got a power adapter for my camera so that I can start documenting my future adventures in pictures for a change.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put my feet up for a bit!

Satisfying wanderlust, locally

New York Skyline - Three
Originally uploaded by daverobson.

I had a fantastic day yesterday, hanging out with K&N who are visiting New York from Ottawa this weekend.

I got up early and caught two buses to their hotel and thus began our amazing self-guided walking tour of the city.

First stop was FAO Schwarz, quite possibly the most incredible toy store anyone has ever seen. Two guys dressed as toy soldiers opened the doors for us when we arrived, and then those employees closest to the door gave us a standing ovation when we got inside. What the?! It was crazy but quite funny. And remember the giant floor keyboard that Tom Hanks jumps all over to make music in "Big"? Well that's at FAO Schwarz and it is amazing. The employees take requests from the crowd and then they play the tunes - I was there to watch and hear them perform Beethoven's Fur Elise, just crazy. Around that point the kids started to crowd and it all got a bit intense watching the 'musicians' jump up and down from key to key. All I wanted to do was bellyflop and slide across the keyboard. I wonder if you'd get stun-gunned for that?

After that K introduced me to Bloomingdales; such a gorgeous place. We made friends with the shop assistant at the Chanel counter, then got stalked by every fragrance spritzer in the place, and finally allowed ourselves to purchase a pair of gorgeous Calvin Klein ballet flats (they are not grey, they're 'graphite'). Bloomies is onto something when they have a gorgeous man selling ladies shoes - it's an inspired sales tactic. Cha-ching!

We walked slowly back to the hotel to drop off our shopping bags and somehow ended up at Tiffany's. This is not a hardship, trust me. We convinced N to let us go in ("just to do one lap") and I went into a trance as I browsed the shiny, sparkly, shimmery displays of gorgeousness. The 4th floor is where all the Tiffany silver jewellery is and I just love it - the whole place; I mean, I can't pick a favourite. I am proud to say that I walked out empty handed though that was not an easy feat, I can assure you.

It was quite a relief putting down our bags at the hotel and heading off again, with two hands free for more commercial adventures. All the walking and fresh air had given us quite the appetite, so we went to visit The Soup Man (made famous on Seinfeld, "NO SOUP FOR YOU!!") who has reopened his little hole-in-the-wall store on West 55th. I had a delicious jambalaya and for $10, I got the large soup, some bread for dunking (hooray!), and for dessert - an orange and a Lindt chocolate. It was delicious and really good value. The store has little collapsible chairs and tables stacked up against the wall, and you just help yourself to set up an area to eat and when you're done, you just collapse the chairs & tables down again and stack them where you found them. No muss, no fuss - and nobody yells at you either. I loved it.

Replenished by the hearty soups, we kept walking downtown along Broadway, through Times Square which was typically nuts. It's easy enough to bypass Times Square when you're on foot, but sometimes you owe it to yourself to get caught up amongst the craziness and push and shove with the best of them. I think it has to be all part of the experience. I was actually quite pleased to go there because the only exposure I have to Times Square is when I've been going to a play or cutting through there to take the subway home. I've always been en route to somewhere else. This time I was literally just a pedestrian, looking around and soaking in all the souvenir stores, clothing outlets and struggling actors waving pamphlets in their desperate attempts to convince tourists to come and see their shows.

Once we'd made it through the hustle & bustle, we reached our destination - Fishs Eddy (which N, and now me, can't help but call "Eddie Fishers"). It's a dinnerware, houseware, bit-of-everything store which is amazingly cluttered but really gorgeous. And they sell groovy New York-inspired bowls and glasses etc that make excellent gifts. I couldn't resist the NY architecture magnets - even though our fridge is almost collapsing under the weight of our existing ones. These ones are little anyway; they won't do any harm.

While N browsed a nearby camping/outdoors/sports store, K and I rested our weary legs at Union Square. The sun was shining and everyone was out, enjoying the shops and the farmers market and generally just the great opportunity to get out and about.

We headed in the direction of the East Village and wandered past a guy on the street selling amazing vinyls. K couldn't resist picking up some Springsteen - one of the records had never even been opened before, so that was a great find. The guy selling the records suggested we visit the oldest alehouse in New York, so we wandered there next.

At the corner of E 7th St & 3rd Ave, McSorley's Old Ale House was established in 1854. It is a little bit tucked out of the way but was almost bursting at the seams by the time we got there. With sawdust on the floor, a creepy bouncer and low, dark ceilings it's a very 'old time' atmosphere. I couldn't tell you what kind of beers they have, or what the service is like, because we didn't stay. I am certainly going to come back another time, but maybe when it's a bit earlier in the day and the place isn't quite as busy.

We walked a bit further to the corner of 1st & 1st, to The Tuckshop - a great little place run by an Australian-Irish guy. Neither K nor N had been there before, and I had lured them there with the promise of Aussie beer and meat pies. I delivered on the former (Coopers Pales) but instead of the latter we split a pork & sage sausage roll which was delicious.

By this stage we were hungry again and we agreed that Italian food would go down a treat. I did a bit of Googling to find something nearby and we chose to visit Three of Cups. The restaurant doesn't have Italian decor at all, but the menu is really diverse and authentic and delicious. I devoured my mushroom tortellini and I don't think my lemon sorbet dessert even touched the sides. I was so famished! But the meal was great and the bottles of Chianti we shared were a wonderful reward for such a great day's exercise.

I'm up early again today (Sunday) and my legs are admittedly feeling a little tender. I don't think I'm going to be as tough on them today, but I am still going to get out & about. There are some flea markets that i want to see, plus a girl's gotta brunch - so that's on the agenda too. I'm just not sure where any of these things will take place. I had better put on comfy walking shoes - just in case...

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Kneading to try new things

So I'm a total slave to The Food Network - I know it; and I'm pretty sure that on some level, the Network also knows it. I love getting into the kitchen and cooking up a storm. I've always been way more into cooking than baking - for me, the precision of baking has always intimidated me. Well, that and a very clear memory of trying to bake Anzac Day biscuits and instead, setting them on fire and dashing out of the kitchen bearing flaming baking trays, ready to fling them off the balcony. Just awful.

I think I respond to the more experimental, have-a-go nature of cooking because it's more experimental and a bit more forgiving. Sure, things still catch fire from time to time but there doesn't seem as much of a science to it.

This past Saturday I wanted to (literally) try my hands at a bit of baking and I went along to a bread-baking workshop at the commercial bakery at Le Pain Quotidien on Bleecker Street. Under the expert tutelage of Le Pain's resident baker Karen, I joined a small class of 6 other novice bakers to learn the basics of baking bread.

When we all had to introduce ourselves, I learned that none of us in the class had ever baked a loaf of bread before - not even with a bread maker. I was certainly in safe company. Keen consumers of baked goods, my fellow classmates and I listened intently as Karen talked us through the different stages of bread baking. After a basic overview and a bit of demonstration, we got our hands dirty.

Helping to pre-shape, rest, score and bake baguettes and dinner rolls, I realised that I know so little about baking. Kneading bread looks easy but if you've never done it before you have no idea what the dough is supposed to feel like, how much pressure you're supposed to apply, and how much kneading is too much. I was a bit lost, I have to say.

Still, Karen was a very patient teacher and fortunately all our baguettes and rolls ended up mixed up once they got into the oven, so nobody's screw-ups stood out. That said, when I was scoring a baguette before it went into the oven, I did it rather gingerly because I was afraid I would slice straight through it. As a result of my sissy cuts, the ends of the baguette baked so crispy and spiky that the class declared it to be pretty dangerous. A true standout! The bakery assistant suggested I snap the spiky ends off before I got on the subway to go home, lest I puncture someone. They may have looked deadly, but those spiky ends were tasty!

There was a lot to remember in the class - weights, measures, temperatures, procedures. I don't know, maybe practice would make perfect but I just find that cooking is so much easier. Unless you're making something notoriously tricky like a souffle, cooking is a fairly simple affair. With baking bread (in particular), you're dealing with a living dough that needs to be treated well and as such, you need to pay so much more attention to it. If your baking conditions aren't exactly right, your end product will be compromised. That's a bit too much pressure for me, I'm afraid.

My three-hour crash course in the bakery was a lot of fun and I'm glad that the other people in my class were also beginners. Karen was a patient and enthusiastic teacher who clearly demonstrated that baking can be fun, but that there's also a real art to it. Knowing how much work and passion goes into the bread baking, I don't think I'll scoff at paying that little bit extra for the good stuff from now on.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Waking Up To Myself

Super-Cat! (Aka Evie)
Originally uploaded by Chrissie64.

You may or may not be pleased to know that I am not dead.

I have been taking a blogging hiatus because real life has been so mundane that blogging about it seemed totally pointless. I know it sounds ridiculous to think that life could possibly be mundane in such a vibrant and wonderful city as New York, but life (as I know it anyway) has been exactly that. Home-Work-Home. But trust me when I tell you, it has been completely blissful. I've had self-indulgent weekends spent catching up on Food Network and DVDs, reading the latest edition of "The New Yorker", and cooking for myself.

I am on a bit of a health kick, you see. In less than six months, Baby Sister gets married and I'm maid of honour. That means that photographs are going to be taken of me/us. In some of them i'll be posing and the rest will no doubt be candid ones taken from any number of bizarre angles. I loathe having my photos taken, but there's not much that one can do about it for a wedding - they're part of the territory. So I'm getting a jump start on "Project: Body Modification" so that from as many angles as possible, I don't look like a blob.

As I walked to work the other day I was thinking about HOW I might approach this weight loss/body improvement task. Stage 1 is getting my diet back on track - not dieting per se, but a healthy eating plan is what I mean. I was going to put 'exercise' at Stage 1, but the very thought of doing sit-ups literally made me dizzy so I'm shelving the fitness bit for a while. I'm on Day 3 of this healthy eating plan and I'm so far doing pretty well. I'm taking my lunch to work every day - salads - so I feel very smug about that. I drink about 4 litres of water in the office, and so obviously I pee about every 12 minutes which is way too much information for you. I can't remember the last time I had a beer (maybe in K's old place when I first arrived) and with the exception of a spectacular albeit unscheduled fall off the wagon this past Friday night, I haven't had wine in two weeks [the Baileys I drank during the Oscars doesn't count because I was celebrating Colin Firth's win. It's the "Colin Firth Defence", so there]. On the food front at least, I'm headed in the right direction to be camera-ready by late August. I just need to psych myself up for some sort of gym-related business. Ugh. The things I do for Baby Sister.

With K due back from Europe this weekend, I'm also more energised to come out of hibernation and get to know the city. I don't mind doing touristy things on my own of course, but it's just nice to have someone else around who can recommend places you should/shouldn't visit. So yes, more outdoor activities are essential - particularly as the weather is slowly improving and it is staying lighter longer. Plus next weekend K&N are in town from Canada and I'm tagging along with some of their activities - can't wait!