Monday, June 27, 2011

Hair pulled back. Wayfarers on. Baby.

This past weekend was a festival of summer – a celebration of all things sunshine, outdoors, beer, food and friends.

Owing to a rather monstrous hangover on Friday and the obligation to go to work in spite of it, I tucked myself in for an early night on Friday and emerged on Saturday morning looking and feeling substantially more human. Hooray for rebounding!

We had Little Miss Korea staying with us over the weekend, and while she went to the airport to farewell her Aussie boyfriend, I hoofed it down to South Street Seaport (Pier 17) as part of my ongoing Global Corporate Challenge efforts.

It is really quite sad that my sense of direction is so totally woeful. Even on 2nd Avenue, which is pretty much a straight road until you get to Houston, I managed to take a bit of a dodgy turn and end up going the wrong way. I was still heading towards the river (phew), just way further out of my way than initially intended. Thanks to the ravings of a lunatic ahead of me, I got myself back onto Broadway, and followed the signs to Market Street and down to the water.

Saturday was a pretty warm day, and having jostled through the crowded Chinatown streets (sensory overload to boot), I was quite hot and bothered. The cool breeze off the river was absolutely beautiful. Families dangled fishing rods into the cool, murky water and I remember thinking I wouldn’t be too keen to eat whatever took their bait. But maybe they never intended to either, and perhaps the fishing was just an activity to get together and pass the time. Judging by the lack of activity on the end of their lines, it certainly seemed like a relaxing one.

Having made it to Pier 17, where I had agreed to meet Little Miss Korea, I settled down at a long trestle table at the Beekman Beer Garden, facing out over the River and the uninterrupted view of the Brooklyn Bridge. I could just make out the pedestrians and cyclists going across the giant structure and I sipped my cold (and local) Sixpoint Ale and read a couple of chapters of The Hunger Games, hardly noticing the beer garden filling up with tourists and locals around me.

When Little Miss Korea arrived, we enjoyed a delicious beer and bratwurst lunch (plus sauerkraut and grilled corn cobs of course), and then we left to walk home. We headed up through the South Street Seaport shopping precinct (cute market stalls and handmade goods); through Little Italy (vintage stores and loads of cafes and pastries); past the World Trade Center site; skirted around Soho (lemon & pomegranate sorbet? Don’t mind if I do); and plopped into El Parador for some restorative happy hour margaritas.

Even though my feet were throbbing by this stage, I was pleased to have explored some new parts of the City (some of it accidentally) and chalked up 19,900 or so steps (woohoo!). After a day of activity like that, I really think the kiss of death is sitting on the sofa. How hard is it to get back up after you do that?! Yikes.

We had another quiet night at home on Saturday, emerging on Sunday morning with enough get up and go to visit Pipa for brunch. The fantastic tapas place has great decor (chandeliers dangling overhead and all), plus a very cool brunch menu, including my favourite dish on the menu – Huevos Rancheros. It’s fun to say and fun to eat. But Pipa also has passionfruit caipirinhas on the drinks menu; made with sugar cane rum, lime and sugar. They are very delicious but very strong. One serve of huevos rancheros does not adequately absorb the rum from two of those little beauties, trust me.

The restaurant is located behind the gorgeous ABC Carpet store, and it was lovely to browse around there afterwards, trying not to let the rum get the better of me. We even had a bit of a celebrity encounter, seeing Aussie chef Curtis Stone and his lady friend Lindsay Price (plus baby-on-board), shopping for goodness knows what. We didn’t say anything of course – we are far too cool for that. Plus I didn’t want to get maced, or breathe rum all over a pregnant lady.

On leaving the store we could hear the whoops and hollers from the nearby Gay Pride Parade, but we kept our distance and instead wandered through Union Square. A sporting injury prevented K from striding along too much – the best the poor thing could do was hobble around valiantly. When it all got a bit crazy and we were ready for home, we took the subway and collapsed in a heap on the sofa. Blissful.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Drinking Mammal Shit" and other stories

There is a reality show on some cable network or other here in the US called “Extreme Couponing”. Actually I don’t think that’s what it’s called at all but whatever.... Anyway, the show basically focuses on these people who are completely obsessed with clipping coupons – even for things they don’t need, want or could ever use. They get a rush from clipping coupons for 9 hours a day just so they can walk out of a store with 400 tubes of toothpaste, having paid nothing for them. It’s pretty compelling TV actually.

While I’m not an extreme coupon-clipper, I do like to save a dollar where I can. I had heard about the Chicago-based Groupon company a while back and since I moved to New York I’ve become quite a devotee. Unlike clipping coupons, the Groupon site doesn’t give me free stuff (so far anyway), but I do buy things at a discount – often a significant one – and giving me lots of opportunities to see and do interesting stuff in my new home town. Bonus!

Yesterday I had a long-overdue catch up with RS who I have known for a while and works upstairs. I had wanted to use two new Groupon certificates I had bought (henceforth referred to as G1 and G2), and RS and agreed to keep me company on the excursion.

So after work yesterday we caught a cab to Limelight Marketplace – a place I was convinced I’d never been to, until we got there and I realised I had walked past it about two weeks before. Originally a church, the interior was gutted years ago and the building transformed into a nightclub. Then some years later, the club closed down and developers turned it into a bright and ultra-modern market. The space is really beautiful, if not a little rabbit-warreny, but you could easily lose hours just wandering through the funky stores selling many unique pieces from independent retailers but with a flashy department-store feel.

Our first stop was Jezalin’s, a fancy gourmet food market nestled in a far corner of the Limelight Marketplace. G1 was good for two cups of coffee – but not your standard-issue, over the counter coffee either. Oh no, friends. This G1 gave me two cups of the Rolls Royce of coffee. Normal retail price? $30 per cup. Yes, you read that right – per cup. WTF?! We’re talking about rare kopi luwak arabica coffee that comes from Sumatra. The coffee is fancy all because a civet (or luwak, to the locals) eats the ripe coffee cherries, chemically treats & ferments them in its stomach and then poops out the beans. Yes, G1 was good for two cups of luwak poo-coffee. And I have to tell you, it was actually pretty good – if you can get past the notion that you’re drinking something that started its life as an excretion from a mammal’s furry buttocks. Reading the tasting notes online this morning, I don’t recall the coffee tasting like chocolate, but it was certainly smooth and easy to drink. RS and me agreed that it didn’t have that harsh, almost-burnt aftertaste that coffee can sometimes have. Even though I normally take milk in my coffee, I wouldn’t add milk to this one. I liked it, but I wouldn’t pay $30 a cup for it. Unless of course I could drink it in St Mark’s Square, while Venetian minstrels serenaded me; then it would probably be okay.

Having been somewhat revived by our Sumatran adventure, we headed upstairs to Cana Wine Bar, a cute little place on the Limelight Marketplace mezzanine level, to redeem G2 (for $20 worth of food/drink). Surrounded by stained-glass windows and overlooking the busy shops below, we enjoyed a bottle of Cava and a cheese plate. As boring as it sounds, I think the parmigiano reggiano was my favourite – and the raspberry (?) jam offered alongside was pretty delicious too. Bear in mind if you visit that the toilets at Cava are very tricky to find but if that is the only thing I can complain about, that’s quite good. Oh wait, the music there was pretty loud but I think that’s just because I’m an old lady and I’m aurally sensitive and crotchety when it comes to these things.

I think by this point we were feeling rather peckish, and so we figured we’d walk uptown and stop in at whatever restaurant took our fancy along the way. We didn’t get very far, because right next door to Limelight Marketplace – part of the tenancy, in fact, is a brand new restaurant called CrossBar. It opened about a month ago and while I didn’t remember it at the time, I now recall reading about it in my “New York” magazine. They have pig’s ears on the menu – not just for dogs anymore, guys! We didn’t have that though – we enjoyed a lovely bottle of Willamette Valley (Oregon) rose, some duck sliders and also some pulled pork tacos. So tasty! Despite the threat of rain, we sat at a table outside, under an exotic umbrella. It was definitely another success story of the evening.

At this point we finally decided to leave the vicinity of Limelight Marketplace and we walked up Fifth Avenue, through Madison Square Park and over to RS’s old watering hole, The Crooked Knife. Strangely enough, I’d actually been there before – but only for brunch. In the evenings the place comes alive and they have a fantastic collection of 80s tunes on their system – I was in heaven! As we chatted and people-watched, I had one too many ciders and at 1.30am, we removed ourselves from the venue and taxied home. But in typical New York fashion, the bar and even the city streets were still well and truly buzzing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The One About The East Village

Every day for the past few weeks I've been faithfully recording the steps I've walked as part of The Global Corporate Challenge (GCC). I know you're supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day as part of a healthy lifestyle and some days I've definitely exceeded that target. But to be honest, my daily average tends to hover around the 8,000 steps mark - not ideal, but still nothing to sniff at really.

Today I accompanied K to the East Village where she had a brunch date, and I had resolved to walk around and give my GCC pedometer a bit of a workout.

My first stop in this healthy dose of fitness was to Butter Lane, the cupcake emporium. I know, I know but bear with me. I redeemed one of my Groupon vouchers, good for six assorted cupcakes. Ordering anything in the US is not my strong suit and the sheer expanse of the frosting/icing menu at Butter Lane was totally overwhelming. So I asked the cashier to just make me a box of her favourite cupcakes and she ended up giving me all manner of toothache-inducing options. Peanut butter & banana; caramel and vanilla; and key lime pie - just to name a few.

Next stop was another calorie-free enterprise, The Chocolate Library. I mean, come on - its name alone blends two of my favourite things in the world. How could I go wrong? Somewhat disappointingly, the store has nothing whatsoever to do with books. But on the chocolate front, the store well and truly delivers. Offering tasty treats and gourmet bars from all over the world, it really was quite hard to choose just one thing. So I chickened out and bought a tasty sampler from the Chicago chocolate company Vosges, oh and then I pinched a couple of samples from the front counter.

All that calorific shopping worked up an appetite, so I called into the second Tuck Shop store on St. Mark's Place. Ice-cold Coopers Pale and a meat pie? Hell yeah! The strong flat white coffee I had afterwards rounded out the lunch perfectly.

By this stage I was feeling completely stuffed and the drizzly rain was showing no sign of letting up. So I crawled from shop to shop on the 30-block walk back home. Coming through the front door I was met by our Super, who was proudly holding aloft a plate of cupcakes that he swore to me were him, no less. Stuffing in a vanilla cupcake with delicious chocolate icing, we chatted for a few minutes before I had to excuse myself to come upstairs and lie down.

6,000 steps and the calories to match. Now that's doing the East Village in style!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Silver, Bubbles, and Chinese manipulations

Before I launch into my story, I should probably explain the radio silence we've been experiencing on this here website.

I have been away for the past few weeks back in Australia for a combination of work and private reasons. Work-wise I had the great fortune to participate in a week-long induction course for overseas-based employees of my agency. So not only did I get to meet my counterparts from some of our wonderful offices around the world (Vanuatu, PNG, Burma, Nairobi - to name a few), I also got to say hello to some Australia-based contacts who had, up until that time, only been names on the bottom of an email. I got a lot out of that exhausting week of training, but especially the confidence that I have made another career move in the right direction.

Another positive outcome of the training week was that it afforded me the chance to visit Canberra, our nation's capital and a city that I have not visited since a school bus trip in 1992. Oh my God was it THAT long ago? And yet I'm only's a maths miracle! Canberra is a confusing city - at street level anyway. I'm assured that if you climb up Mount Ainslie you get a birds-eye view of the metro area which actually makes the city look like a feat of architectural genius. Something that would have been useful to know beforehand, perhaps. But I will not slag off Canberra, because I really can't. I'm just used to grid cities, that's all. Canberra is laid out in a seashell shape, as far as I could tell. Once we found them, the restaurants and bars were fantastic - Tongue and Groove, Cream, Milk and Honey took my money but they were totally worth it. Canberra is also home to some wonderful cultural institutions - The National Gallery of Australia, The National Portrait Gallery, and the Australian War Memorial - all of which are within walking distance of one another, and definitely worth a visit. Breaking up the walk with a constitutional around Lake Burley Griffin was also really fun.

Then I spent a week at home with my family, which is always a plus. No real tourism potential this time around, though I did get to call into the Haighs factory and replenish some much-depleted chocolate stocks.

Before I knew it, it was back to real life in NY and I have to say I really did miss the City. Even getting off the plane at midnight at JFK (after a flight path from Adelaide to Canberra to Sydney to LA to New York), I was really pleased to be "home". But I have to tell you, when I got back to Australia, the Customs & Immigration guy said "welcome home" to me - and then when I got back to the States and went through Customs in LA, the dude there said the same thing. Total spin out, to be "welcome home"-d in two places. I remember thinking that was weird and yet kinda cool at the same time.

So yes, back to yesterday and what was quite possibly the most girly-girl day I have had in a long time.

The beautiful summer weather has arrived in NY and with it comes the bright sunshine at ridiculous times of the morning. It's not unusual to have searing light burn your retinas at 6am and sure it's my own fault because my bedroom windows are wide open; a) because I am clearly an exhibitionist; and b) because the weather has also been so humid lately that I need as much fresh air as I can get. So I've been sleeping with my QANTAS eye mask on and feeling very in the manner of Audrey Hepburn - though admittedly my mask is plain black, and not satin with fake eyelashes glued onto the front.

So in a very Hepburn way, I got up yesterday and decided to walk to Tiffanys to get my necklace fixed. My chain has had a knot in it for some time and I have neither the patience nor the dexterity to untangle it myself. So after breakfast I put on this dress with a simple pair of black ballet flats, and set off on my walk to Tiffanys. En route I stopped off at Culture, a fantastic coffee place that serves strong flat whites - just the way we make them back home. Excellent fuel for walking the New York streets on a busy Saturday morning.

By the time I got to Tiffany's, 5th Avenue was already swarming with tourists. Once safely inside the gem-filled inner sanctum, I marched straight to the elevators at the back of the store and got some lovely compliments on my dress from the elevator dude and some Tiffany's customers alike. Blush. In the repairs department, I bonded instantly with the staff who were not only able to untangle my necklace chain, but they also talked me into paying for a polish (they are so smooth). While I waited for my necklace to get all sparkly-like, I chatted with one of the sales staff and learned about his apartment, his recently-deceased cat, his previous career with Ralph Lauren, and his advice for where I might spend fantastic holidays with incredibly rich people (Nantucket, anyone??). By the time my necklace was ready, me and the good fellow were best friends and he gave me a bunch of free stuff to keep my necklace in tip-top condition. Blush. I swear, nothing bad can ever happen to you at Tiffany's.

After that, I took my new sparkly jewellery out for a walk and headed for home. On the way past Grand Central Station I thought it might be nice to have a glass of bubbles and an oyster or two. As you do. I usually get a bit "thingo" about eating seafood so far from the ocean, but the Grand Central Oyster Bar is supposed to be fantastic. Unfortunately with all the crowds around in the terminal, I got all turned around and couldn't find the damn bar so I just wandered upstairs to Cipriani Dolci and had lunch there instead. The little restaurant looks over the Main Concourse of the iconic train station, but you're high enough up that you don't feel part of the rushing madness. My bellini and mini steak tartare rolls were just delicious.

Heading for home, I looked down at my hands and realised that my nails and cuticles were truly in a disgusting state. Oh sure, they've been in a disgusting state for a long time but I've never really been too inspired to fix them. Heading down my street I literally walked past a nail salon so I didn't have to go out of my way or anything. Looking inside the shop I could see a few empty chairs so I just took the chance and went on in. The Chinese ladies know a non girly-girl when they see one, and instantly they swung into helpful mode. Welcome, Come In, Sit Down bla bla. So I played my part and pretended to be completely useless, muttering something about ugly hands, weak nails, liking French manicure tips etc etc. Next thing I know I have not one, not two, but three sales assistants peering down at my hands, getting stuck in to fitting me for some false French nails. Sort of like the ones you can buy at the chemist but the prep they did beforehand was really thorough and the nail glue they used is a lot stronger. The end result is a set of talons that are well-fitted, feel really secure and don't make me look like a Vegas stripper. The Chinese girls told me never to get acrylics because those nails will give me cancer. At least that's what I think they said. I was too distracted by the post-manicure shoulder massage that all three of them insisted on giving me after the appointment. Most distracting.

After an early night, I've awoken to a sunny Sunday and a strong desire to get outdoors again. I have some reading to do for work so I think I might have to scope out a spot early and set up camp somewhere close to clean toilets and an ice cream stand. Not that I'm picky or anything.