Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Underground Fish on the Lower East Side

The subway platforms on the line I take most often are plain and boring.

Here's the station closest to our apartment:

See that orange on the wall? On the next stop it's blue. Two stops later-- yellow. After that-- gray. You get the idea. I don't even have to read the signs on the subway. I just have to catch a glimpse of the wall.

But many of the stations in Manhattan are much more creative. Take the Delancey Street/Essex Street station on the Lower East Side. It's one of my favorites. Fish murals! It almost makes waiting for the train pleasant.


Monday, September 28, 2009

My Favorite Neon Sign in Bay Ridge

I don't like dogs. I don't much care for cats. But I do love neon signs for animal hospitals.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ohio, Iowa, Idaho: Three Separate States

In New York, your home state seems to be about as popular as the weather when it comes to topics for small talk. Ask someone where they come from originally, and it's a 50-50 shot that you'll hear a location outside of the tri-states.

So my roots in Ohio come up fairly often. I usually like talking about home, but I came away from one such recent conversation pretty annoyed.

After learning I was from Ohio, one woman said she had plans to go there for a wedding. Then she remembered that in fact it wasn't Ohio she would be visiting, but Iowa.

Ohio. Iowa. I guess I can see how they might be confused. Ohiowa? But seriously, if you've attended an elementary school in America at any point in your education, there's really no excuse.

(By-the-by, the mix-up happened to me once before, in Austria. But the people doing the mixing up were British, so I gave them a free pass. I was impressed they'd ever even heard of Iowa.)

I've brought up the confusion to some friends, and I'm far from the only one with geographically-challenged acquaintances. At least two friends have encountered people who thought their potatoes came from Ohio.

When I left Defiance for Columbus for college, I frequently had to describe where in the state my hometown was located. But I never thought I'd ever have to describe where my state was located.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New York Meets Sweden

Where else but New York would I attend a Swedish-themed barbecue?

Perhaps Sweden. But until I make it there, my friend's apartment in Queens is a pretty good substitute.

Our host carried the theme to the extreme, with blue and yellow crepe paper and plenty of Ikea goodies. Sure, there was your typical American burger, but Paul managed to Scandinavian-ize even that with a sardine and dill.

Cheeseburger with sardines

The food didn't stop there: Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, herring, crawfish and even Swedish fish. Maybe the latter wasn't *exactly* authentic ...

Crawfish: Like little lobsters

Paul plays with his food before ripping off its legs

A stop at the Scandinavian bakery a few blocks from our apartment allowed me to produce a raspberry kringle, a sort of thin coffee cake. It was Danish, but it tasted pretty good anyway.

Raspberry kringle

And to wash it all down: Swedish vodka (for many) and mixed drinks made from Swedish fruit juices (for me).

I learned a lot about Swedish food and a little about Swedish culture. The most important thing I learned: Skol! Cheers!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What I Miss from My Daily Commute in Ohio

I didn't exactly enjoy my 50-minute commute to and from work each day in Ohio, but I did have it down to a science.

I left home at exactly 7:42 a.m. to get to my desk by 8:30. It was a long, boring drive (after I got out of our subdivision, the drive involved exactly two turns), but my radio routine helped to pass the long minutes.

In the morning I would listen to my favorite radio station and Columbus' lone alternative option, CD101. On the way home, I'd flip the channel to NPR for All Things Considered (or, if I got off a bit later, Marketplace).

I don't miss the drive, but I do miss the radio. Now I rarely listen in, and my knowledge of new music is nearly zilch. But what I really miss most is the ability to sing.

Don't get me wrong-- I am absolutely, positively a horrible singer. But in the privacy of my own car, no one knows that.

Even in our house in Galloway I would crank up my MP3s and belt out a few tunes when Paul wasn't around to get annoyed. In the close quarters of our current six-family apartment building, however, I am much too embarrassed. And besides, our downstairs neighbors are likely already annoyed enough at us since the cats tend to knock something heavy onto the floor at least twice a week.

In any case, my blooming career in music has been put on hold for the last two years-- to everyone's relief, I'm sure, except for me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Best Pancakes in New York City

My favorite restaurant in all of New York is the Clinton Street Baking Co. & Restaurant, and I've only ever had just one dish: the blueberry pancakes.

Now, I can make pancakes. I've even watched a TV show on the best way to stir the batter and flip the flapjacks. I've taken mental notes. I've perfected my technique.

But they're nothing like Clinton Street's. Their pancakes are really more like cakes. Hot blueberry cakes. Not only is the top of the stack covered in a generous portion of wild Maine blueberries, each pancake is packed with fruit.

And that syrup on the side? It's not Aunt Jemima. That's warm maple butter. My mouth is watering just typing this.

Clinton Street is known for its superb brunches ... and also its long lines. But the pancakes are also on the dinner menu, and we've never had to wait for a table.

With the dim lighting and candles, it was also the perfect setting to mark our sixth anniversary a few weeks ago. A restaurant that both Paul and I can agree on? Now that's really something to celebrate.

I probably look happy because I ate one of Clinton Street's delicious cream scones.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Walk Across the Williamsburg Bridge

When it comes to New York City bridges, the Williamsburg Bridge is the ugly stepsister to the Brooklyn Bridge's Cinderella.

But no matter. I wanted to walk across it anyway.

I've seen the bridge dozens, maybe hundreds, of times from the confines of a subway crossing the East River, but I'd never once stepped foot on it, never once driven across it.

The Williamsburg Bridge connects Manhattan's Lower East Side to Williamsburg, Brooklyn's hipster enclave. Now that I've made the crossing, I understand why no one exactly sings its praises.

For one, it's just not that pretty. The Brooklyn Bridge is gorgeous. The Williamsburg Bridge is the dowdy sister.

Two, the views aren't that great either. When they aren't blocked by tall buildings nearby, they're difficult to see through the chain fences on each side of the walkways.

One of the "lovely" views.

And three, it's a little claustrophobic. That's about the last thing I would expect from a bridge, but the bars overhead made it seem like the bridge actually had a ceiling.

Looks like the bridge has a ceiling.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant walk ... and since our favorite restaurant in all of New York is just a few blocks from the Manhattan entrance to the bridge, it's very likely we'll even make the trip again.

I asked Paul to take photos, too, so there's finally some pictures of *me* on the blog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Driving in Ohio vs. New York

Since moving to New York, Paul and I have been introduced to the wonderful world of car rentals.

Before we relocated, I had rented a car exactly once, a few years ago on a vacation in Washington state. Now we rent a car two or three times a year when we fly into Columbus or Detroit to visit our families.

Labor Day weekend was no exception. We always reserve the cheapest car but usually get upgraded because we land at the airport so late and the compacts are already gone.

Not this time.

We were stuck with an ugly two-door taxi-cab-yellow Chevy Cobalt. We literally thought we would get hailed on our way home from the the bars Saturday and Sunday nights. By Sunday afternoon, Paul had already christened the car "Old Yeller."

We still have our Saturn in Brooklyn, but cruising in Ohio is a completely different experience than driving in New York.

We hadn't even been in the car for half an hour when Paul declared he would've blared the horn at the car in front of us if we were in New York. (You have to do something really bad to get honked at in Ohio. Like maybe actually hit someone.) Later in the weekend Paul marveled that he could actually drive the speed limit on the interstate without fear of rear-ending someone.

Alas, I didn't drive once during this trip to Ohio. But I did listen to my favorite radio station within the confines of a car-- something I haven't been able to do in way too long.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Snow Cones for Grownups

When it comes to drinks, conventional knowledge says that New York far exceeds Columbus in variety-- if you're willing to pay.

But maybe Columbus is catching up ... without the corresponding price tag.

For example:

When my friend Sam wanted to visit Columbus' Bristol Bar during her bachelorette party Labor Day weekend, I was eager to follow. Our book club met there nearly every month, drawn by the $2 martinis during happy hour.

But Bristol had just undergone some renovations and had introduced some new drinks.

Snow cones.

For $3 the bar fashioned a mixed drink over crushed ice in a traditional paper snow cone cup. My vodka-and-passion-fruit-cordial was tasty, messy, and cold. Maybe it's not as classy as a martini, but it sure is more fun.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labor Day Weekend in Ohio

Nearly every Friday night for maybe the last two years we lived in Ohio, Paul and I would meet our friends Sam and Don over pizza and beers at one of our favorite Columbus bars. Not only did Sam and I work together, but Paul and Don have several joint friends. Good times were had by all, with the occasional game of darts thrown in for good measure.

So when Sam and Don announced they were getting married on Labor Day weekend, there was never a doubt that Paul and I would make the trek home for the long weekend. But I did plan to squeeze as much into my mini-vacation as possible.

The whirlwind trip didn't leave time for a drive to Defiance, so my parents came to Columbus instead. We mostly shopped, but we did manage to visit two of my favorite restaurants as well as the Worthington Farmers' Market, where my mother-in-law sells mostly heirloom tomatoes, garlic and flowers. Mom and Dad seemed to enjoy it more than I anticipated, walking away with garlic, a spaghetti squash, some gigantic onions, and even a mum.

Mums at the Worthington Farmers' Market

Paul regularly helped his mom at the market when we lived in Columbus, but I must admit that I normally skipped it and slept in instead. Even so, it was fun to be in the mix of things again.

Of course, whatever time I didn't spend with my own parents or meeting up with friends at night was spent with my in-laws. My mother-in-law visited us in Brooklyn in June, but I hadn't seen Paul's sister, her husband or their 4- and 9-year-old sons since Christmas. I put together a puzzle, played on the swing set and participated in various games of pretend with the younger, and Paul didn't seem to mind at all playing video games with the elder.

Paul's Mom lives in the rural outskirts of Columbus (Hilliard, to be exact), and it was pleasant to be in a place where the hum of insects far exceeded the roar of traffic. And Paul was extremely happy to be able to grill again.

Apple trees at my mother-in-law's house.

And, of course, there was the wedding on Sunday. It was held at Columbus' Park of Roses, a destination in and of itself when the flowers are in bloom.

The ceremony was as beautiful as the setting, and I saw friends from several segments of my own life. A handful of my old co-workers were there, some of Paul's high school and college friends who I've now known for eight years, a girl I introduced to the book club I was in (which Sam started), and even a New York friend who Sam introduced to me after I moved to Brooklyn.

As if that wasn't all good enough, their reception was at Schmidt's, a restaurant in quaint German Village (cobblestone streets and all) with delicious spaetzle and spicy sausages that even I like. Any reception with both cream puffs (their specialty) and wedding cake is alright with me.

The wedding.

The reception.

But all good things must end, and for me that was on Tuesday morning when I flew back to New York. Paul remains in Columbus until Monday morning.

All quick trips to Ohio make me reconsider our decision to move to New York-- especially when I compare real estate prices. But no regrets. Now I'm just looking forward to my return in December.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Easiest $400 I Ever Made

The 4 o'clock hour is one I don't often see. It's too late to stay up, too early to awake.

Unfortunately, I had little choice on Tuesday morning.

OK, I could have flown from Columbus to New York anytime on Monday, but I wanted to maximize the family-and-friend time on my all-too-rare visit to Ohio. So I was up at 4:10 a.m. to make a 6 a.m. flight, with a plan to go straight from LaGuardia to work.

The plan was slightly derailed, however, when my flight was overbooked and Delta asked two or three passengers to take the next flight at 9:40 a.m.

With a $400 voucher.

Sign me up.

The wait was long, but I miraculously found a bench near my gate without armrests. I scrunched up in the fetal position and covered my eyes and torso with Paul's suit jacket, which I was transporting back to Brooklyn. I was obviously exhausted, so it was a nice surprise when I finally boarded the plane and learned I'd been bumped up to first class.

Of course, that doesn't mean much on a plane with fewer than a hundred passengers. But I did get a candy bar with my normal complimentary cookies, and my orange juice came in a real glass. I also got a blanket and pillow, a wide and comfy seat, and enough room to stretch my legs out straight. I was almost sad when the hour flight ended.

Alas, my window seat was revoked, but I'll gladly give up a view for $400. Even if I do feel like a zombie the rest of the day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Love Donuts ... But Not From New York

Pizza. Cupcakes. Cuisines from around the world. New York City offers an astounding amount and variety of some of the best food available anywhere.

Yet it can't make a good donut.

Admittedly, I haven't done tons of research on this. I would if I could. It's actually difficult to find a non-chain donut around here, although Tim Horton's and especially Dunkin' Donuts seem to be as ubiquitous as Starbucks.

But Tim Horton's and Dunkin' Donuts are least-common-denominator donuts. In other words, they suck. They're dry when they're not soggy, and Betty Crocker makes better frosting.

Just because I don't prefer them, however, doesn't mean I won't eat them. It took three or four tries before determining that the coconut-topped donut and chocolate donut holes from Dunkin' Donuts are OK. And don't get me wrong-- all of their donuts are edible when someone else brings them to work to share.

But when I crave a donut, my thoughts still revert to Ohio. Buckeye Donuts. Schuler's. Frosting and filling so sugary and rich that I can practically hear the cavities forming.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pirates in Bay Ridge?

Sidewalk "art" near the Shore Road Promenade, Bay Ridge:

Left of skull: I Pillage Ye Booty
Right: Your Arse Be Kicked

Enough said.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kitchen Supplies: From Closet to Hole in the Ceiling

The hole in our kitchen ceiling earlier this year.

In Ohio I had a closet dedicated to kitchen supplies.

The spare room closet was filled not with clothes, but with a wok, bamboo steamer, and various pots and pans.

I don't have that luxury in New York. Heck, I don't even have a closet in our bedroom.

So the kitchen supplies go anywhere they fit. The cabinets are full-to-overflowing, and we store the colanders, saute pans, and even the wok and bamboo steamer in the space above the cabinets, a couple of feet below the ceiling. Luckily Paul and I are both tall.

In June you might remember my passing reference to a giant hole in the kitchen that appeared when Paul and I returned from a long weekend in Defiance. To make matters worse, the hole was stuffed with our frequently-used kitchen supplies.

Long story short, the landlord cut the hole because of some water issues in the apartment above us, blocked the hole with the kitchen stuff so our cats would stay away, and planned to fix it before we came back. Unfortunately, we came back a day earlier than he expected.

Obviously we (OK, Paul) washed the pots and pans before we (OK, still Paul) cooked with them again. But it wouldn't have happened if we still had our closet full of kitchen supplies. Or if the landlord had -- revelation of revelations -- a bag to cover the hole.

And if I still had the closet, I would definitely have a waffle maker by now. I do have a griddle dedicated only to pancakes and french toast, stuffed into a place of honor in the linen closet. But the waffle maker will have to wait.

All fixed, but still not painted.


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