Saturday, May 30, 2009

Half-Marathon Man, Take Two

I found myself in Coney Island this morning for the second time this month, but this trip wasn't for hot dogs.

I was there to watch my husband cross the finish line. Today was the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, Paul's first race of the season.

Paul ran the 13.1 mile course in 2:01:08, cutting a full ten minutes off of last year's time. That's a 9:14 minute mile, beating his personal goal by 16 seconds.

Last year the race started in Coney Island and ended in Prospect Park. This year it was just the opposite, with the finish line in front of the old Parachute Jump. More than 9,400 runners competed, and the boardwalk was crowded with friends and family cheering them on.

And it was hot. I wouldn't be surprised if more than one runner took a dip in the ocean between the race and the ride home.

I think Paul was tempted, but all in all he looked a lot better after this race than he did one year ago. There were only a few traces of salt lining his face, and his breathing was completely normal by the time I finally caught up with him about 20 minutes after he finished.

No photos of him running-- I didn't see him on the course until it was too late. But I did call his name as he sprinted by, and surprisingly, he did see me. I guess sometimes you have to live in the moment instead of taking pictures of it!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sunset in Sunset Park ... Almost

Before visiting last Saturday, I had technically seen Sunset Park from a bus window.

But the park is up a steep hill, which makes truly seeing it from Fifth Avenue next to impossible. All you can really see is a steep, grassy wall.

Sunset Park is only a few blocks from Brooklyn's Chinatown, so we decided to make a short detour before supper and see how the park got it's name.

The park was busy-- dozens, maybe hundreds of people have parties on the lawn, playing volleyball, basketball and soccer and crowding the playground. However, we easily found a bench facing Manhattan, admired the view, read the newspaper, and waited for the sun to set.

And waited. And waited. And the temperature dropped. And dropped.

OK, so we didn't quite make it to sunset. But I got some nice photos anyway.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dog Surfing and Other Things To Do in NY

We've lived in New York for more than a year and a half now, and yet I still have so much left to do.

But with the three-day Memorial Day weekend, I at least made a serious dent in my to-do list.

On Monday we ate at Hinsch's, an old-school neighborhood luncheonette just a few blocks from here. It's not open at night, so we haven't had too many opportunities to give it a try. My waffle was good, but next time I'll be heading straight for the superb-looking sundaes.

On Sunday we went to the pub quiz night at our favorite bar, Pacific Standard. We did just as horribly as I feared (unfortunately I am an expert on neither the Philippines or Provincetown, Massachusetts), but we didn't do too badly in the general knowledge category.

On Saturday we visited a basilica about 20 blocks from here followed by a stroll through Chinatown.

But Friday ... ahhh, Friday.

What better way to start a long weekend than a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on a beautiful night? The entrance is just a short walk from my place of work, so after a few drinks with my co-workers, we took off.

When we stepped foot in Brooklyn, we vaguely knew where we were and decided to go exploring. Finally Paul recognized some landmarks and realized we were pretty close to his office. We were walking through a pedestrian area that Paul crosses on the way to Starbucks, when all of a sudden he said he just had to show me something.

That something? A statue of a dog.

His wish? To have a photo of him surfing on it.

Yes, this was what Paul crossed off of his to-do list last weekend:

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Chinatowns

Chinatown is on nearly every tourist's to-do list, as it was on mine almost six years ago on my first real visit to the city.

Chinatown's charm, however, quickly wears off after a couple of visits. The thrill of seeing a non-Roman alphabet doesn't last very long, and it's a pain to contend with the crowded sidewalks -- crowded even by New York City standards. I'm sure there are gems of restaurants and stores throughout the neighborhood, but I haven't been patient enough to find them.

There is another alternative: Brooklyn's Chinatown. It's only about a mile away, yet Paul and I had never managed to visit. That changed on Saturday.

We didn't browse through any of the shops; I was content to walk the 20 blocks or so of 8th Avenue that make up the neighborhood. That was enough to confirm that Brooklyn's Chinatown seems much more authentic, even if it is a bigger pain for Manhattan tourists to visit.

The two Chinatowns are alike in the most obvious way: Chinese restaurants and bodegas on every corner selling meat, fish and other delicacies. But unlike Manhattan's Chinatown, in Brooklyn Paul and I were the only white-bread faces for blocks. This Chinatown was actually filled with Chinese instead of tourists. In a rare moment of thinking-before-doing, I left my camera in my purse. By snapping photos it seemed like I would be destroying a bit of the very atmosphere I was lauding.

All this, just 25 blocks away from our apartment.

By Brooklyn standards, Bay Ridge isn't considered a very diverse community. I would strongly disagree more now than I would have when we moved here a year and a half ago.

Not only are the Greeks and Italians that were stereotyped in "Saturday Night Fever" still around, but the ethnic communities that used to be outside Bay Ridge's borders are slowly moving toward the center.

I regularly meet women covered in veils strolling down the sidewalk. I sometimes get couscous from the Turkish grocer a couple of storefronts away. My favorite bodega is run by a Middle Eastern man. The Lebanese restaurant a few blocks away has live entertainment, and the Moroccan place a few blocks in the other direction is known throughout the city for its couscous dishes.

Walk 20 blocks north and you'll pass through both Arab and Latino neighborhoods. A few blocks east of that and you're in Chinatown. There's also a Jewish community nearby-- in fact, the Ace Hardware store a couple of blocks from here is closed on Saturdays so the owners can keep the Sabbath.

Bay Ridge and the surrounding neighborhoods are a real-life melting pot. Maybe it doesn't have as many ingredients as other New York City locales, but it's twice as spicy as any other place I've called home.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yankee Stadium: A Second-Hand Report

I was the first to go to the Mets' new stadium, but last Monday Paul beat me to Yankee Stadium.

A friend from Columbus was in town for business, so the two got tickets for a 7 p.m. game versus the Twins.

When I asked Paul about the stadium, I basically learned two things:
  • The high-def screen is so amazing that it's almost as much fun watching that as the game itself.
  • Beer is $9 a glass, which isn't too expensive considering the price at most New York City establishments.
With any luck I'll get myself to a game this summer and provide a more detailed account. Until then, photos:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eating My Way Through New York

I felt like a bit of a glutton on Saturday in the best possible way.

I made plans to drag Paul to three places in Manhattan, and they all involved food. Good food.

First up, the 34th Annual Ukrainian Festival. We're still trying to sample as many different cuisines as we can, and Ukrainian hadn't yet been crossed off the list. I've liked the Eastern European food I've tried and figured this would be similar. And besides, where am I going sample Ukrainian food that's more authentic then at a church festival with booths manned by grandmas?

It lived up to expectations. I had two delicious dumplings (which I think were really peirogis), stuffed cabbage filled with rice and meat and some type of small pastry topped with powdered sugar. I also tried Paul's sauerkraut and sausage.

Dinner came with a show on the outdoor stage-- first some traditional dances followed by a Ukrainian pop singer. Only in New York would I ever see a Ukrainian pop singer. Well, New York and the Ukraine.

The street festival was only a couple of blocks from my favorite cupcakery, Butter Lane, so of course we couldn't leave the East Village without a sample. But that wasn't it for desserts. Next it was off to the Shake Shack.

The Shake Shack is an outdoor eatery in Madison Square Park (adjacent to the famous Flatiron Building) that specializes in burgers and custard. We saved the sandwiches for another time. I came for the flavor of the day: red velvet custard.

The pieces of cake were underwhelming, but the custard itself was creamy deliciousness and exceeded my expectations. What's more, the weather was beautiful and it was easy to find a table in the park despite the 30+ minute wait in line. We'll be returning.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Carriage Ride Through Central Park

It's not quite what they make it out to be in the movies, but a carriage ride through Central Park is one of the quintessential New York experiences. It was certainly fun once, but I'm not sure I would ever do it again.

May 5 was my parents' 31st wedding anniversary, so last Saturday's carriage ride was officially in their honor. The ride wasn't long enough to be romantic, but it had to do.

We boarded the carriage near Tavern on the Green, and the 15-minute trot made a circle along Central Park West, Strawberry Fields and back to the restaurant. The carriage was comfy, the ride was smooth and the pictures were great. My only complaint? Way too short!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Night (Err ... Afternoon) at the Museum

It's taken me three trips, but I finally feel like I'm starting to know my way around the American Museum of Natural History.

Mom and Dad suggested a visit last weekend, and Paul and I were more than happy to oblige. We saw all of the museum's main attractions -- the animal panoramas, the dinosaurs, the astronomy displays -- and even managed to find one exhibit that Paul and I had always inadvertently skipped before. Please don't ask me how we were never able to find the giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling during our previous visits.

And yet I still haven't explored the entire museum. I think that'll take another three visits, at least.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pastrami, Stars & Sweet, Sweet Knishes

I tried to take Mom and Dad to my favorite restaurant in New York -- Clinton Street Bakery -- but a 90 minute wait convinced us to change our plans. Instead we ended up a few blocks away at Katz's Delicatessen. It was a good choice.

You might know Katz's for the famous scene set there in "When Harry Met Sally," but it's had more than its fair share of star turns as one look at the wall confirms. Pictures of dozens of famous customers cram every available space.

After a bite or two you start to understand why Katz's remains a New York institution. Paul said his sandwich contained the best pastrami he'd every had. My sweet potato knish tasted more like pumpkin pie, and that's certainly no complaint.

It was an experience, and not just because of the food.

Walk in the door and you are handed a green ticket. When you order from one of the many meat-shearers, soup-scoopers or burger-cookers, that person takes your ticket and marks the price. As you leave, you hand the cashier your tickets and pay -- cash only.

Clinton Street's still my favorite restaurant, but when I want a knish that tastes like dessert, I now know where to go.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Gray Afternoon at Coney Island

My parents left early this morning after paying us a visit since Wednesday afternoon. They know two or three subway lines well enough that they can easily get to most of the tourist attractions while I'm at work, but I wasn't so sure about the one thing they actually requested to see: Coney Island. Specifically, they wanted a real Nathan's hot dog.

So Mom, Dad and I took our umbrellas and appetites to the boardwalk Friday afternoon. We got the hot dogs out of the way first thing. Mom and Dad opted for chili cheese dogs and a bacon and cheese dog, but I got a plain one doused in ketchup and mustard. I liked it much better than the only other one I'd ever had- a chili cheese dog last Memorial Day. It was a lot cleaner, too.

Last Memorial Dad the place was packed, but it was also sunny and a holiday. On a gray Friday afternoon, Coney Island was nearly empty. We saw two people ride the Cyclone, but few of the other rides were even running.

A group of friends were at a table on the boardwalk, but it was mostly bare. Some of the food stands looked like they were still boarded up.

We snapped quite a few pictures, but we still spent only about an hour there. Makes you wonder about the glory days.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Morning in Manhattan

Showers and flowers.

I've seen plenty of both over the last couple of weeks, which have made for some pretty (though not always pleasant) Manhattan mornings.

Luckily, I work in an area of the city serviced by plenty of subway lines. When it's raining, snowing, or cold I always take a train that drops me off less than a block from my office.

If it's warm and sunny, however, I'll stay on the R train and get off at a stop that's about a 5 or 10 minute walk to work. And if it's a Thursday, I get the added bonus of picking up a chocolate chip scone at the farmer's market in the park (read: slab of concrete) that's on my way.

And if I'm extra lucky, I'll have a couple of extra minutes before I rush up to my third-floor desk to snap a quick photo or two of Manhattan in the morning.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Eating. Writing. Saving Money.

Eating and writing.

They're two of my favorite things, so it's only natural I'd want to combine the two if I could.

That's why I'm now a contributing writer at The Thrifty Gourmet. That's right-- I not only get to write about eating, but also about saving money. It's like a dream job come true.

Explore the site and tell me what you think! I have three posts there now, and more on the way. Please comment on the site as well-- especially if you're in New York. Writers of some of the best comments receive restaurant gift certificates! Oh, and you'll also get my eternal gratitude as well.

See that photo at the top of this post? That's the topic of my next Thrifty Gourmet entry, so be sure to check out the site soon to find out what it is and how to make it. Your stomach will thank you.


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