Sunday, February 28, 2010

February Snow

I hate February, or at least February weather.

This month was no exception, as the snow came down in piles. Sure, the snow is pristine ... for about two hours. You have to enjoy it while you can. Quickly.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Our First Brinner Party

It's cold outside, but what's cozier than breakfast for dinner?

So went the thinking behind our recent "brinner party." And so about a dozen people crowded into our apartment for mimosas, Bloody Mary's, sausage souffle, a vegetable frittata, turkey hash, mini quiches, donuts and way too much more.

I enjoy having guests, but I can't remember a time since we moved to Brooklyn when we've had more than two at once. In fact, this was the first time we'd ever even used the folding chairs we dragged here from Ohio and have stored under the spare bed ever since.

Paul and I both had a terrific time, but I must admit that hosting a party here was much more difficult than throwing one in Columbus. This was almost exclusively because of the amount of space.

We had seats for everyone here, but just barely. In Ohio, we had space in the living room to spare, a deck and a backyard.

And the kitchen. At least one person commented on the spaciousness of our kitchen, but it sure doesn't feel that way when two people are cooking nonstop for eight hours.

And despite the more obvious joys of having company, there was a more unexpected one-- a clean apartment. It hasn't looked this nice since ... oh, wait. It's never looked this nice.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

High-End Shopping on Fifth Avenue

I'm not a Fifth Avenue type of girl.

Never been to Tiffany's. Or Barney's. I've been to New York's flagship H&M store, but it's too reasonably priced, so I don't think that counts.

Earlier this month, I added two more Fifth Avenue retailers on the "visited" list.

The first was for Paul- an Omega store with watches so expensive I'm not sure they even had price tags. Paul tried on two and dreamed. Then we went to nearby Takashimaya.

Takashimaya is a Japanese department store, and its only U.S. location is on Fifth Avenue. I somehow heard or read about it after our vacation in November, and I wanted to check it out.

I can pretty much describe it in four words: High class, high prices. It was small-- seven floors, but each floor wasn't much bigger than a tennis court. For the most part, it was like any high-end store, with a few Japanese touches, like the chopsticks for sale and a plush sumo wrestler in the children's section.

The lower level had a selection of teas and Japanese treats, but I unfortunately couldn't find any of the pounded rice treats I loved so much on vacation.

I was obviously browsing-- something I normally hate to do. But this was actually a pleasant shopping experience, even if I didn't leave with a treat for myself. Paul may have been dreaming of watches that night, but my thoughts were on Japanese handbags.

Monday, February 22, 2010

S'Mac (and Cheese) Talk for Supper

Romantic or lowbrow. Pricey or dirt cheap. New York's restaurants run the gamut. If you can think of it, this city has it. That goes double for gimmick restaurants.

We've been to a restaurant dedicated to peanut butter, and another focusing on rice pudding. This month we added another gimmick restaurant to our list: S'Mac, with nothing other than macaroni and cheese.

I like the neon orange Kraft stuff just fine, especially on top of Ritz crackers. (Neither my nor my sister Katie's husband can understand this, but Katie and I both use the crackers like tortilla chips to scoop up the mac. Yum.) It's not my favorite thing in the world, but I get in the mood for it once in awhile.

Well, S'Mac is definitely not Kraft, and that's a good thing. This was high-class mac in a college crowd setting. We walked into a dozen options-- I chose the Napoletana (mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic and basic), and Paul opted for the Cajun (cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, sausage, green pepper, onions, celery, garlic and Cajun seasonings).

The restaurant was small, but the portions were huge. I got the small, Paul got the medium, and our $20 of mac and cheese completely filled us up.

No crackers, though.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Paul's Luxurious Night with the Knicks

Today's guest blogger: The author of Presidents by the Book, and (more importantly) my husband, Paul.

I had the opportunity last week to do something only a rarefied few have had the privileged to do.

I was invited by a friend to attend a Knicks basketball game. I know what you're thinking-- ho hum, why does this warrant a guest post on Diane's blog?

Sure, Madison Square Garden is an iconic venue with a storied past, and attending a Knicks game is a classic thing to do. But lots of people go to Knicks games and suck down $10 beers watching replays on the video screen and eating stale popcorn.

What sets this night apart? It was no night in the bleachers. We had good seats. Really good seats. Rap video-good seats.

We were in a luxury box to watch the game. Catered food, top shelf liquor, and an attentive hostess who was there to act interested in everything the VIP's there had to say. As we walked by the other luxury suites with the doors closed, I couldn't help but wonder what dignitaries, politicians and actors were there.

After the game starts, you can move about at your leisure eating and drinking. And when there's a lull in conversation, for entertainment you can watch the professional athletes fighting it out on the court or better yet, amuse yourself with the thought of all the huddled masses below and their silly general admission seats.

Needless to say, I highly recommend luxury box seats. It was a great game too, although the Knicks lost ... I think.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Two Hours in Line ... For Nothing

Last weekend I had yet another quintessential New York experience: Waiting in line.

I've really wanted to see Scarlett Johansson in the Broadway production of "A View from the Bridge." I'd planned to get discounted tickets for about $35, but they were sold out by the time I tried to order them. So my options were:

1) Not seeing the show.
2) $60 tickets.
3) Standing in line for 2 hours for a chance at $25 tickets.

Fool that I am, on Sunday I chose option #3.

The box office sells rush and standing-room-only tickets the day of the show, but you have to stand in line long before it opens to even have a shot. I got in line Sunday at 10 a.m. -- a full two hours before the box office opened -- and even still I was about the 30th person in line. In 35 degree weather.

The tickets sold out four people in front of me. My freezing feet like anvils, I unhappily dragged myself to meet Paul at a museum about a mile away (my Valentine's Day present to him was standing in line for the tickets by myself).

But the day wasn't a total bust. With our extra time not spent in a theater, we instead tried Pinkberry for the first time (not quite sure what all the fuss is about) and made my first spontaneous purchase in about 7 years-- Rock Band 2. Could've been a worse day!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jane Austen at the Morgan Library

Spending the weekend with "Emma." Reading "Mansfield Park" in bed.

"You could bring a person to bed, and that would be nicer in some respects, but not as fully satisfying," thLING_ERROR_1">e novelist Colm Toibin explained in "The Divine Jane: Reflections on Austen."

The video was part of a Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library, which I finally visited on Friday night. Hearing Toibin on screen, I couldn't help but think I'd met my match. Is this a person who appreciates Jane Austen even more than I do? (In any case, he appreciates "Mansfield Park" much more. I could have understood if he would have said "Pride and Prejudice," but never "Mansfield Park"! Hehehe.)

The exhibit was small but fascinating. It included many of Austen's personal, handwritten letters (I believe the library has the largest collection of Austen letters anywhere), and several were "crossed letters," which I found extremely interesting. In order to save money on expensive paper and postage, she would continue her text perpendicularly over what she had already written.

Several old volumes of her books were on display as well, highlighting three of the primary illustrators of her novels. And I even learned a little bit: Marvel Comics released a "Pride and Prejudice" comic last year, which I now must find!

This is what I love about New York. I never would have planned a visit to a city around an exhibit like this, but here it is anyway, in my own backyard.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Brunch at the Russian Tea Room

Paul and I were already thinking about having lunch at the Russian Tea Room, so when I read that there would be tours of the landmark for a limited-time only, I didn't hesitate. Reservation made.

That reservation was for last Sunday, and we had a delicious Christmas meal. Yep, for the second year in a row Paul and I didn't exchange Christmas gifts. Instead we treat ourselves to a special, more-expensive-than-usual meal. Last year: Aquavit. This year: Russian Tea Room.

First, the tour. It started on the fourth floor, a private room where the likes of Susan Sarandon, Hillary Clinton and Richard Gere have hosted friends. The highlights: a replica of the Kremlin, amazing wooden inlays and a gold-leaf rotunda. And this was the least-impressive floor.

The third floor took my breath away, but only because it was so completely over the top. The walls were gigantic mirrors, each featuring a bear in some sort of circus pose, like juggling or playing a flute (not sure how that one's a circus pose, but anyway ...). Even more gold leaf, and a red mother-of-pearl ceiling. Wow.

The second floor was my favorite. Our guide told us that he's heard that the life-size bear aquarium is one of the top 10 photographed things in New York. I'm not sure if that's true, but I helped the aquarium move up the list anyway.

The floor also featured a giant "tree" with huge Faberge-inspired eggs hanging from the branches. The mother-of-pearl ceiling on this floor was rainbow colored. The whole floor felt very aquatic.

Now, for the food. Between the two of us, we had borscht, a blinchik (kind of like a tiny crepe), beef stroganoff, vareniki (Russian-style ravioli, although I'm not exactly sure what made them Russian) and two pyramids of chocolate mousse. And what would the tea room be without tea service? It came complete with a pot, sugar cubes and cherries to drop in the glass (although I ate them plain).

New York has a lot of restaurants but only a limited number of tried-and-true institutions, and with Tavern on the Green recently closing there's one less. At least we can now check the Russian Tea Room off our list!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Maybe Bodegas Aren't So Bad After All

I was at a bodega last week picking up exactly $4.26-worth of bananas and milk. I opened my pocketbook, and there it was. Nothing.

Not exactly nothing, but sure not enough. I had a dollar bill and a handful of coins. I could feel my face flush as I asked if the bodega took credit cards. I already knew the answer: Nope.

"I'll be right back," I told the man behind the counter. I've become friendly with him after two years of weekly banana purchases.

I turned, leaving my food on the counter. He motioned me back, telling me to take my groceries and just drop off the money the next day.

As much as I rave about the wonders of Kroger and Meijer, would a cashier there do that for me? Yeah, right. Even still, I rushed the block-and-a-half home, grabbed a crisp $5 bill from Paul and ran back. When I insisted that he keep the change, he was just as adamant that I take the coins.

I was embarrassed by the entire episode, but it did leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. You see, last fall I didn't see this man at the bodega for about two months. When he returned, I asked him where he'd been all that time. Visiting family in Yemen, he said. A few weeks later was the attempted Christmas Day bombing and a renewed focus on his country.

When Paul took on the banana responsibilities for a week or two in January, I was vaguely afraid that my Yemeni acquaintance would think I had shunned his bodega because of this. I doubt he lost much business; most of his customers seem to be from the Middle East.

I hope I would never judge a whole country's citizens based on a few errant individuals. God knows America has plenty of its own, and I would hate to be typecast based on some of the loons in our prison system. Still, the episode made me think about how it's so easy to fit people into a box-- especially when we don't know them. How would I feel about people from Yemen if I didn't know this man?

It also made me think about how I maybe should check my purse before I try to buy something. Just a thought.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

But We Still Have a Shovel Anyway

"I don't have a shovel; I have a landlord," I overheard a co-worker say on Friday. The Eastern seaboard was to be hit with a big snowstorm, and conversations inevitably turned to the weather.

The comment made me smile, and it also made me think. I haven't shoveled snow in almost three years. (And yes, I did shovel snow in Columbus. My wonderful husband would always be the one to shovel early in the morning before we left for work, but I would dig out his cozy Carhartt, two sizes too big for me, and shovel when I got home from work.)

The snow hadn't started when I went to bed Friday night, but there was an inch or two and counting when I awoke on Saturday. Even still, when I looked out our living room window, it appeared that our building's superintendent had already cleared the sidewalks. Sometimes apartment living isn't so bad at all.

And yet, we still do own a shovel. We store it in the car trunk, just in case we need to dig ourselves out. We haven't used it in -- you guessed it -- almost three years.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cabs and Car Services in New York City

I've never hailed a taxi.

I feel that this is a failing on my part, and one that must be corrected before I can even pretend I'm a New Yorker.

In fact, I think I've only been in a "real" taxi once or twice-- coming home from the airport late at night. No hailing required-- just get in the line for cabs and pop into the next one that pulls up.

Except for the airports, Brooklyn and Queens don't generally rely on yellow cabs. We have car services. Same pay-by-mile/time system, but they aren't hailed. You just give 'em a call and they pick you up. Car services are prevalent; there's one less than a block away from our apartment that we used to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Ohio.

Paul has hailed a cab or two for work, but I've never seen him do it. Except for going to or from the airport, we had rarely even been in a New York cab or car service vehicle together until Saturday night. We were with some friends in Queens, it was 4 a.m., and a subway ride would have been 90 minutes on a good night. Probably closer to two hours. Or more.

So we splurged on a car service, the first time we've ever done so after a night out. Warm! Comfortable! Quick! I just tried not to pay attention as Paul handed over two $20 bills for the convenience.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Shuffleboard in Queens

Call it beginner's luck, but I'm pretty good at shuffleboard.

Not the kind you're thinking of. The kind that fits in a bar.

The idea's the same. Slide the puck, knock your opponents' pucks off the board, stay within the boundaries. I had a knack, winning my first three games before being crushed by another newbie.

I beat Paul, but he obliterated me in darts, like usual.

Unfortunately I won't be getting much shuffleboard practice, since I played at a bar in Queens that's a good 20- or 30-minute drive away (more about that on Friday). Ironically, the only other bar at which I've ever seen a shuffleboard table is the lone drinking establishment in a small village near my parents' house. Just another reason to visit home!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ohio vs. New York: The Way We Speak

Say these two words out loud:

1) Grocery

2) Coupon

I've recently begun to pronounce them differently, and I wonder if there's an Ohio-New York difference.

In Ohio:

In New York:

When I was in Defiance at Christmastime, I caught myself saying them the "New York" way and something immediately felt off. The words just didn't belong.

I certainly haven't picked up all New Yorkisms. No "fuggedaboutit." No "not for nuthin'." And certainly no "Jersey Shore" accent.

And I just as certainly haven't lost my Ohio-isms. I got called out in the lunchroom at work for referring to a carbonated beverage as "pop." And I still use "bag" and "sack" interchangeably.

GROW-shree bag, GROW-sir-ee sack, it's all the same to me.


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