Friday, July 30, 2010

New York's County Fair Food

It's hot and sticky and miserable outside, so obviously it must be time for the county fair.

In Ohio, that is.

If I were still a reporter in Springfield, I would have spent each day this week at the Clark County Fair. It was one of my favorite weeks of the year. I not only got to write fun features, but also eat all the fried food I wanted for lunch.

My love of the fair started long before then. I was in 4-H from the third grade until I graduated high school, and my family would bring the pop-up camper to stay overnight at the fair and make my (and later, my sister's) 4-H and Junior Fair Board responsibilities easier to manage. The Defiance County Fair was the last big hurrah before school started the following week.

Our family also often went to the Ohio State Fair, and Paul and I returned a couple of times in college and after we graduated. But I haven't been to a fair of any shape or size for three years now. It might be a record.

When July and August rolls around, however, I always crave some good fair food. And by "good" I mean fried, fattening and ginormous. Luckily, I can get a lot of the same stuff around here -- although admittedly not all in one place, and never next to a cattle barn.

Clark County Fair food-alikes: There's a hole-in-the-wall near Union Square that sells fried Oreos, and an English restaurant here in Brooklyn with fried candy bars on the menu. Alas, it would be hard to beat the fair's cinnamon rolls, so I guess Cinnabon will have to do.

Defiance County Fair: We would get a big bag of freshly made donuts every year. Now Paul and I make our own and they're just as good. But I do miss the apple dumplings, and of course the strawberry shakes from the Shake Shack, where I toiled many hours at the fair, trying to eat just as many as I sold.

Ohio State Fair: The food wasn't as memorable here, although we always did have to get some ice cream in the pavilion with the butter statues -- always a life-size cow and a couple of other objects that varied. Sometimes we'd also get a bloomin' onion. Here in New York, Paul introduced me to Dallas BBQ's onion loaf, which is possibly even greasier and therefore even tastier.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hot Dogs + Juice = Gray's Papaya (or Papaya King)

Gray's Papaya. It and competitor Papaya King are as ubiquitous in Manhattan as rats, roaches and Duane Reade.

Both are known for their juices (much more to choose from than papaya!) and hot dogs. I ate at one a year or two ago, but I can't remember which. They pretty much look the same to me, but this discussion on Chowhound tells me that not everyone agrees.

The drinks are pretty tasty. Paul and I made an impulse purchase of coconut juice at a Gray's Papaya a few weeks ago. It even had pulp in it.

As you can see from the photo above, Gray's Papaya is known for its "Recession Special" -- two hot dogs and a drink for $4.45. These ain't no gourmet dogs, but it is a meal under $5. Both are equally hard to find in New York.

Oh, and there's no such thing as lingering. Gray's Papaya has atmosphere -- but no seats.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Renewing Our Lease on New York

We haven't yet renewed the lease on our apartment, but we've effectively renewed our lease on New York.

Paul accepted a new job at the bank last week and expects to start in September. That means we'll be in New York for at least another year. Probably two.

Before Paul took the job we had some long discussions about how long we plan to stay in New York. We still haven't come to a decision. After all, when we first moved here, we planned to remain for two years, maybe three. This October is our third anniversary here.

Of course, we miss our family and friends in Ohio. The feeling is even more acute now, since we haven't been home since Christmas -- the longest either of us has ever been away. But neither of us feels that we are through with New York. There's so much to discover that three years isn't nearly enough. But then again, a lifetime probably isn't either.

I still feel a twinge of regret (and more than a twinge of guilt) when I think about the long gaps between visits home. But I'm happy. And even better, I'm content.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An Unbirthday Dinner at Alice's Tea Cup

A long-standing tradition in my family is that the birthday girl (or boy, if it's my dad) gets to choose a restaurant to celebrate the passing of another year. No one is allowed to complain about the choice. Suck it up, then order up.

Paul and I have continued this tradition. He generally picks a steakhouse (yuck) and I choose some kind of bakery. This year was no exception. We went to Alice's Tea Cup.

As you might expect from an "Alice in Wonderland"-themed restaurant, the place was uber-girly. That's not why we went. We went purely for the scones.

Last year when Paul was out-of-town, I stopped by Alice's for a scone-to-go and thought it was one of the most delicious things I'd ever tasted. The employee even packed me a small plastic container with preserves and cream. Yummy.

This time I went for a tea service for two: three scones, two sandwiches, a dessert, assorted cookies and two pots of tea.

My sandwich -- lapsang souchong smoked chicken breast -- looked simple but tasted amazing, with sliced apples and herbed goat cheese. The lemon tart was OK, although I'm sure the shell was straight from the freezer. The real star of the show, as I suspected, were the scones. Paul was boring and chose a buttermilk scone, and even that was good. I could scarf down the ham and goat cheese scone each day for lunch. And we were so full from everything else that I got to take home the mixed berry scone and eat it for dessert the next day.

So the food was good, but better than that, the place was quaint. Our table was an old sewing machine. We were served on mismatched dinnerware. "Alice" quotes and artwork abounded -- even in the bathroom.

Inside the bathroom

Paul said it was safe to say that it wasn't a place he would have chosen to eat. Mission accomplished.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Birthday (Observed) at South Pacific

I turned 29 last Thursday, but my iPhone turned one.

They grow up so fast.

The phone was my birthday present from Paul last year, and we both knew he was going to have a tough time beating that. But I have to say he did pretty well this year. He got us tickets to see South Pacific on Broadway on Saturday.

When we moved to New York, I swore I was going to see a Broadway show every month -- or at least somewhat regularly. Regrettably, I've fallen into a lull. Why see it this Saturday when I can just go next weekend? As it turns out, South Pacific was only the fifth show we've seen in the last three years.

As the orchestra began playing the score, however, I wondered what had taken me so long to get there. It really was a beautiful production, with several of the original cast members (including Paulo Szot, who won a Tony for his role as Emile de Becque).

After the three-hour show, we lingered outside the theater. The night was hot but ever so much cooler than when the sun was out, and dozens of people were sitting on an elevated lawn outside the theater, or gathered around the fountain outside Lincoln Center.

The lawn, with Juilliard in the background, before the show

The fountain, after the show

I wanted to move to New York for experiences like these, and I left the theater realizing I must do a better job making sure they happen. Maybe that was the best birthday present after all.


Friday, July 16, 2010

My Midsummer Birthday

My third birthday, 1984

I got my last diploma seven years ago, but my internal calendar still revolves around the school year.

It doesn't make any sense, I know. After all, I no longer get three months of carefree vacation when the calendar flips to June. In fact, this year I'm waiting to take the first of my vacation days in mid-September.

Even so, July 15 still marks not only my birthday, but also the halfway point of summer. The middle day of the middle month of the summer: I've always enjoyed the symmetry of that.

Of course, summer isn't the same for me now. The 9-year-old me looked forward to swimming in the pond with our neighbors, biking "around the block" (which in rural Defiance, meant a four-mile ride) and going on vacation. My newly-minted 29-year-old self doesn't like the beach and doesn't have a bike because I have nowhere to store it. Oh, and I take vacations in the fall and the winter to avoid the crowds of kids.

I'm not complaining. I wouldn't go back if I could.

Except for those three months of vacation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On the Search for an Ice Cream Truck

With New York temperatures well into the 80s, 90s and even the 100s this month, it's not surprising I've been so obsessed with ice cream recently. Normally I'll go months without a scoop. Last week alone, however, I bought two cones and ate at least half a pint of the Ben & Jerry's stash I've been hiding in the freezer.

But back to those two cones. One was in Mystic, Conn., the subject of Monday's post. The other? My very first purchase from a neighborhood ice cream truck.

It was surprisingly difficult.

Normally the ice cream trucks are annoyingly omnipresent. The jingles just won't stop. Even worse, is the occasional smell. Paul and I both thought something was on fire one day last week, but it was just the exhaust from an ice cream truck parked below our open window.

I decided I wanted soft serve, however, at 10 p.m., just when the trucks start to disappear. After supper at a neighborhood Polish restaurant, we detoured to 86th Street, where the trucks inevitably park outside the popular stores. But the shops were closed and the trucks had moved on.

Two blocks from home, I stopped.

"Did you hear that?" I asked Paul, feeling a bit like I was listening for the Pied Piper.

He strained his ears while I looked down the street. Yup, it was Bay Ridge's only remaining ice cream truck on a hot Saturday night.

We hurried to the other side of the street and Paul flagged down the truck like we were hailing a taxi. Good man.

I chose a chocolate dip, and Paul got a cherry dip. Of course I ate too slow, and the ice cream seeped through the cracks of the chocolate shell. I had sticky fingers but a happy stomach.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Weekend in Rhode Island ... and Mystic, Conn.

Ice cream and a view ... is there any better way to end a weekend getaway?

We had seen everything we wanted to see in Providence and done everything we wanted to do, but we certainly couldn't waste our holiday by going straight home. Instead, we decided on an impromptu stop in Mystic, Conn.

Everything I knew about the village comes from the movie "Mystic Pizza," which was actually filmed in the area. Truth be told, I still don't know too much more. It was so hot that we mostly saw Mystic from the comfort of our air conditioned car.

We did make two stops, however. The first was for some so-so seafood -- clam fritters and clam chowder, neither of which seemed to have much of the namesake ingredient. We had counted on exploring the town by foot, but neither of us felt up to it. Instead, we decided to drive down the main street and make our way back to the interstate.

But then Paul spotted Drawbridge Ice Cream.

All weekend I had been saying I wanted to stop at a "real" ice cream parlor. Then, just as we were crossing a drawbridge over the Mystic River, this one appeared.

And just as we saw it, the car parked closest to the parlor pulled away. Obviously, a higher power was telling Paul to pull over and get me ice cream. And by a "higher power," I mean me.

We took our single-scoop waffle cones (blueberry ice cream for me, mint chocolate chip for Paul) to the shaded deck on the river and watched the afternoon pass us by.

We never did see the drawbridge go up.

But our sojourn to Mystic wasn't quite over. Can you really say you've been there without seeing the Mystic Pizza? Who knows if it really is "a slice of heaven," but it probably would have been better than those clam fritters.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Weekend in Rhode Island: Newport

I walked away from Newport, Rhode Island, with a horrible sunburn and a nasty bruise, but also with memories of some of the best, most beautiful views I've ever seen in my life.

We spend July 4th in Newport, about an hour away from Providence, knowing very little of what to expect. Paul knew there were mansions. I knew there were lighthouses. We figured we'd split the day exploring them and then maybe go to the beach.

Not quite.

At the visitor's center, Paul saw a sign about the Cliff Walk, a 3 1/2 mile hike along the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean. So we took a trolley that dropped us off about a 1/2 mile away and started walking.

It was gorgeous.

The first part of the walk was easy, over smooth sidewalks with bunches of trees here and there offering much-needed shade. Luckily, the sun was hidden behind the clouds for the last part of the walk, when the path involved mostly skipping from one gigantic rock to the next, hoping you wouldn't sprain your ankle or stumble your way into the sea.

Part of the Cliff Walk

Despite my inappropriate choice of footwear -- Paul's old running shoes were much better than my sandals -- the walk was well worth the time and effort. Mansions with innumerable windows and decks lined one side of the path ...

... and on the other side was just the blue, blue ocean, occasionally dotted with a sailboat or some real-life watering holes. Paul and I stopped at a couple: once, to see a few guys much braver than me jump about two stories into the water below.

At another, the rocks were much closer to the water. I ventured toward a tidal pool and promptly fell straight in, giving me a nasty bruise on my left thigh (which didn't hurt until Paul pointed it out to me that night).

Me, climbing out of a tidal pool

Newport proper reminded me a lot of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, except with fewer mountains and more sailboats. They all cater to tourists and day-trippers, however, with lots of shops and restaurants and a vacation-like atmosphere.

We didn't eat at the touristy spots, but the places we did eat brunch and supper ended up being my favorite meals of the weekend getaway.

I chose the Corner Cafe for brunch because I read about the Portuguese influence (somewhat common in Rhode Island and the nearby parts of Massachusetts) in some of their dishes. I had french toast made with Portuguese sweet bread, covered in a raspberry compote, melon chunks and more whipped cream than rightly belongs on a dessert, let alone a brunch dish. Delicious.

For supper we went a few miles outside of Newport to Anthony's Seafood. We split a giant platter of fried clams, and I also tried a local specialty: a stuffed quahog. A quahog (pronounced COE-hog) is a clam, and the meat is mixed with items like onions, sausage and breadcrumbs and then stuffed on top of the shell. It reminded me of a crab cake.

I was afraid Newport would be a little high-falutin' -- an impression that didn't immediately go away when I noticed the TV in the corner of the cafe at brunch wasn't showing ESPN highlights (like any normal Ohio or New York establishment) but a tennis match instead. I was quickly won over, however, by the views and the food. I would gladly return.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Weekend in Rhode Island: Providence

Rarely have I received such bank for my buck as I did this past weekend in Rhode Island.

I'm not talking money, although everything was pretty cheap. From our $60/night hotel room (thanks, Priceline!) to our $4.75 22-ounce beers, I could never complain. But really I'm talking about how little effort I put into the getaway compared to how much I got in return.

We decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend only last Tuesday, hurriedly booked a room and spent two nights "planning" the vacation. And by planning, I mean that I chose a couple of brunch spots, and Paul picked out where to have a few evening drinks.

That's it.

Our base was Providence, the capitol. The city has fewer than 200,000 residents, and I was happily surprised that the downtown area was so lively and active. The Providence River cuts the city in two, with downtown proper on one side and Brown University on the other. Riverside restaurants were full after the sun went down, and we certainly weren't the only ones taking an evening stroll along the water.

Providence wasn't impressive so much for its tall buildings, but for the way it mingled modern architecture with historic structures. The city had an excellent designer: It seemed that down every street you could see an old-timey steeple, monument or building. There was a surprise at every turn, like:

The Statehouse




We spent all day Saturday and then Sunday evening exploring Providence by foot, even catching the fireworks from afar, on one of the city's several bridges.

We spent Saturday and Sunday evening at two microbreweries within walking distance of our hotel. We were quite amused at the chalkboard at Union Station Brewery. If the beer would've been holding another beer instead of a drink with an umbrella, would it have been cannibalism?

The location of our hotel couldn't have been more convenient, but the view certainly could have been better-- we couldn't see much more than another wall of the same building. All was forgiven, however, when I saw that we had been assigned to a handicapped room. I think the bathroom was bigger than our entire apartment.

Providence was pleasant, but I feel like I saw all that I wanted to in about 10 hours. Next stop: Newport. But first, more of Providence ...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Chinatown's Charming Fire Escapes

Courtesy of my cousin, Emily K.

Most New York City tourists keep their eye on the sky. Whether it's midtown's skyscrapers or Times Square's neon lights, all heads are tilted up, up, up.

Not so in Chinatown. Everything to see is much closer to the ground. Live fish flopping for their lives in bodegas. Hawkers setting out their fake purses on crowded sidewalks. Food carts whipping up some unknown concoction that smells terrific.

There's so much to see so low, that maybe I just never realized that Chinatown's buildings have more than one story. At least, that's my excuse for never having noticed some of the neighborhood's elaborate fire escapes.

Yes, fire escapes.

I was shocked when I first saw them. Some of them even look charming enough to be balconies.

Made me think: If you have to escape a four-alarm fire anyway, you might as well do it in style.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wall Street on the Weekend

Showing my family Wall Street was a little like giving them a tour of our apartment, only more exciting. After all, I spend the majority of my waking weekday hours in the Financial District, and I think I know it pretty well. I must look like I know it pretty well, too -- a few weeks ago I was standing outside of the stairs to my subway tapping out a message on my phone, and three different people approached me with questions.

In any case, no visit to Lower Manhattan is complete without a look at the New York Stock Exchange. Sorry, no tours since 9/11, but it's still a sight to see.

We were there on a Sunday afternoon. Dozens of people milled around Wall Street's pedestrian-only zone, but it was a far cry from the weekday crowds of tour groups and school trips. You can probably find Paul in the photo below; on, say, a Monday afternoon it would have been much more difficult.

Paul is regularly in the area for work meetings, but both he and I discovered something new on this trip: the four-story J.P. Morgan Building, once the home of J.P. Morgan & Co. It doesn't look so grand now. It's actually empty and rather drab. It didn't even occur to me to take a picture of it. In any case, the photo on Wikipedia makes the building look nicer than I remember it in person.

Reason #523 that I love New York: You can learn something new, even a hundred visits later.


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