Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Literal Candy Bar

The first meeting of my NYC book club met last night, and Jannette chose a wonderful location: Dylan's Candy Bar.

The basement and first floor are filled with all types of chocolates and sweets imaginable, in addition to gift baskets and clothing stamped with Dylan's logo. The second floor is a large cafe with ice cream, brownies, malts and other goodies.

All of the tables had glass tops with big bright gumballs underneath, and Jannette said the wallpaper looked like the lickable kind from Willy Wonka. The speakers blasted songs only with lyrics that had something to do with sugar, candy or sweets.

After much deliberation, I settled on a Smores cupcake- a chocolate cupcake as large as my fist, with chocolate frosting on top and filled with vanilla frosting in the middle. I'm already craving another.

After I left, I realized I forgot to take photos. Next time.

The book we discussed was "Manchild in the Promised Land." It's an account of the author's childhood in Harlem in the '50s and '60s and mostly about gangs and drugs. I think we couldn't have found a topic further from lollipops!

Monday, July 28, 2008

My First Visit to Ikea

Yes, I took a photo inside what is essentially a department store.

But I wasn't the only one with a camera at the new Ikea Brooklyn. It opened about six weeks ago, and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about.

Paul liked the kitchenware, I like the lighting displays, and we both enjoyed walking through the mock rooms. Ikea actually makes living in a 375-square-foot studio look doable. But I would prefer not to try.

I especially found the bookcases amusing. They were filled with Swedish books. No fear of anyone stealing them, I guess.

The store also has a restaurant with Swedish food, and a mini-store near the exit sells Swedish jam, juice, chocolate, coffee and desserts. We didn't buy any food there, but Paul did make Swedish meatballs for supper last night.

We left with more than simply a craving for Scandinavian food. We also left with a dutch oven.

Friday, July 25, 2008

At Least They're Not Bird Droppings

Around here, you should probably carry an umbrella not only when it's pouring rain but also when it's burning hot.

Ancient apartment buildings = No central air.

No central air = Air conditioners in every third window.

Walking to and from the subway stop four blocks away, I see many a sidewalk puddle on a 90-degree day. That means watch your step. Walk through the puddle and your head will probably feel a few drops of condensation from the air conditioner above.

New York experienced another heat wave last weekend, so the a/c was obviously in high demand. Early Sunday morning someone with a loudspeaker drove through the streets asking everyone to turn off all non-essential electrical appliances because of a power outage in the neighborhood. Luckily it didn't affect us.

And my air conditioner is essential. We didn't turn it off.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Love Peanut Butter (dot-com)

In my family, the birthday girl (or boy) gets to choose a restaurant to celebrate with no input or complaints from anyone else. Paul and I have continued that tradition, and I begin to narrow down my choices weeks in advance.

This year it was even more difficult because there are so many places I know and love and even more I don't know and want to try. Ultimately the deciding factor was the "no complaints from anyone else" (i.e. Paul). That's why I chose Peanut Butter & Co.

Yes, the site address really is

It's a small sandwich shop near New York University selling gourmet peanut butter sandwiches and desserts. Since I eat peanut butter for at least five meals a week and usually more, this place is right up my alley.

I got the special of the week: cinnamon-raisin peanut butter topped with granola, almonds and shredded coconut. Paul chose the spicy peanut butter over chicken.

The sandwiches were thick and gigantic- at least twice as big as normal sandwich bread. And each order comes with a few carrot sticks and a bag of chips-- just like a packed lunch.

Other items on the menu: The Fluffernutter (peanut butter on one side, Marshmallow Fluff on the other) Peanut Butter Cup (peanut butter on one side, Nutella on the other-- this I've made at home) at sandwiches with their white chocolate and dark chocolate peanut butter.

I'll definitely be making a return visit. If I can convince Paul.

I stretched out my birthday privileges by ending the night at Max Brenner, a restaurant about 10 blocks away at Union Square with a 12-page dessert menu. We shared the fondue sampler- toffee, dark chocolate and white chocolate with a variety of goodies to dip into them (and a miniature roaster for our marshmallows).

The place was made for tourists-- I've read comparison's of the restaurant to Willy Wonka's factory. You can watch the chocolate swirl in large jugs at the entrance, and pipes (barely visible in the upper left corner of the photo below) transport the chocolate overhead.

With the last bite, my birthday was over. But I did manage to stretch it out to five days!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Birthday and Ricky Gervais

Paul knows me well enough to realize that I hate when things are over. Like my birthday.

So on Tuesday he presented me with Wednesday tickets to see Ricky Gervais (creator/star of the of "The Office") at Madison Square Garden, effectively stretching my birthday to two full days.

The 5,000-seat theater was full, and from our seats you could kind of see the features of his face if you squinted a bit. But it didn't really matter. His routine was unsurprisingly like his character, David Brent. And some of his jokes could make you just as uncomfortable-- like when he talks about the Holocaust or teens with cancer.

We had a great time, and my birthday still isn't over. We're going out to eat (where else?) at a peanut butter restaurant Saturday.

Outside of Madison Square Garden / Penn Station

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Culture and Video Games

I had wanted to visit the Cloisters, but it was so far away that it never seemed convenient to go.

Paul had wanted to visit Barcade, but the lack of a direct train route from Bay Ridge would make that a pain, too.

So what did we do? We decided to make both inconvenient journeys in one day.

First, a little explanation.

The Cloisters is a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, it's in the far northwest reaches of Manhattan, and you can only get their by subway followed by a bus or a 10-minute walk. It's small but is well-known for its tapestries and architectural displays.

Barcade is a (what else?) cross between a bar and an arcade. It has a wide selection of microbrews that regularly changes along with about 30 old arcade games you can play for a quarter apiece.

So with the Saturday newspaper in hand, we boarded a subway after lunch and made the 90-minute ride to the Cloisters. I knew it was on the edge of a park, but I didn't realize we would also have beautiful views from the museum of the Hudson River below. I had never seen it, aside from out an airplane window.

As for the museum, I especially like the stained glass windows and the unicorn tapestries, like this one. Obviously, the doorways, archways and exhibits were beautiful.

We were at Barcade in time for happy hour. I don't know if Paul was more excited about the beer or the games. We sampled them both. I watched him play a Mario Brothers, Marble Madness and a couple games I had never heard of but which he assured me helped form his childhood. I played a couple of games of Frogger and found out that I'm not nearly as good as I was 20 years ago.

We capped off the night at a Polish restaurant, where I ordered the potato pancakes and some delicious blueberry pierogis.

After that: home. And it didn't take as long as we had anticipated. I guess we'll be going back to Barcade after all.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Three Maine Things

We took our first road trip during the long 4th of July weekend. The destination? Portland, Maine.

Paul especially wanted to visit because of the quantity and quality of microbrews. (His favorite, Shipyard, is brewed there.) He wasn't disappointed. We sampled something like 25+ beers. Two of the bars we visited offered $1 samples. At 5 oz. apiece, these tasters were an even better deal than buying a pint!

With it's location along the ocean, Portland obviously also is known for its seafood. I tried lobster for the first time (yummy), and Paul went on a successful mission to have something from the sea at every meal. Lobster roll, clam roll, crab salad and avocado wrap, fish and chips-- he had 'em all.

Portland is a city of only about 65,000, but the bar scene is amazing. I'm not talking about nightlife-- just the number of beer bars. One acclaimed bar in Portland has something like 60 taps. Another that just opened will eventually have 100. Not to mention the brew pubs that serve the beers they make.

This was truly the first vacation in which I really had planned nothing. We took it easy- slept in, dropped into some shops and mostly just ate and tried the beers. It was relaxing, but I probably couldn't have done it for an entire week.

The weather was perfect- sunny and even cold at night (I was freezing at the fireworks Friday). And the trip was educational, in a sense. I learned three main things:

1. Maine seems to have strong ties to Canada. Obviously, I knew they bordered each other. But I wasn't expecting the mile signs on the highway to be in kilometers as well as miles.

2. Everyone there is a Red Sox fan. Boston's AA team is located in Portland, and I'd never seen so much Red Sox gear for sale. Everyone there seemed to own (and wear) a shirt.

3. Maine has moose. If a store wasn't selling Red Sox souvenirs, it was selling something with a picture of a moose. I thought they were exaggerating a little until Paul saw a Moose Crossing sign on the interstate on the way home.


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