Friday, October 29, 2010

Where Chinatown Meets Tourists

Chinatown information kiosk, the intersection of Canal, Baxter and Walker streets

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sri Lankan Food via Staten Island

I've been through Staten Island about a dozen times, but I've been there -- feet on the ground -- only twice.

We live only three or four miles away, but it's not the distance that keeps us away. It's the bridge toll. Crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Bay Ridge into Staten Island is $11. It's free in the opposite direction, which lends itself to many jokes about how it would be much easier to charge people to get the hell out of Staten Island. But really, Staten Island doesn't seem so bad. It's just suburban New York City.

Anyway, visit #1 of 2 to Staten Island was more than two years ago -- we were dropping off some guests at the Newark airport at the beginning of summer. We still needed an air conditioner. Staten Island has a Home Depot and we had a car. Voila.

Visit #2 was just this past Sunday, and it was much more enjoyable. We went to lunch at San Rasa, a Sri Lankan restaurant just a few blocks away from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal -- and thus no bridge toll.

Several weeks ago I read about San Rasa in the New York Times. It stuck out for two reasons:
  1. I had never had Sri Lankan food.
  2. It had a buffet!
Non-Chinese all-you-can-eat buffets are rare in New York, especially for only $11 a person.

In the last few months I've discovered how much I like Indian food, and the Sri Lankan food we ate was very similar. Many of the 15 or so dishes on San Rasa's buffet were curried -- the fish, lentil and green beans dishes being my favorites; Paul liked the mutton. We also loaded up on saffron rice and some kind of eggplant dish. (Luckily everything was labeled, but I have no idea now what they were called.) Dessert was tastier than I expected: homemade yogurt topped with palm honey.

Paul said the atmosphere reminded him of a now-closed Polynesian restaurant in Columbus. I can't verify that, but the music certainly didn't fit an island theme -- a lot of oldies, Elvis and Johnny Cash spirituals.

Overall, it was one of the most enjoyable restaurant experiences I've had in New York. San Rasa's food was delicious, the price was reasonable and we had authentic foreign cuisine in an ethnic neighborhood off the beaten path. How can you beat that?

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Underappreciated Manhattan Bridge

The Manhattan Bridge is often the ugly stepsister to the Brooklyn Bridge's Cinderella. The two span the East River right next to each other, so they're difficult not to compare.

I'll admit it -- I mostly like the Manhattan Bridge for the excellent views it offers of the Brooklyn Bridge. Several subway lines use the Manhattan Bridge to dart between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the views at sunset are some of the prettiest I've seen anywhere in the city.

But the Manhattan Bridge is impressive in its own right, especially as you're walking under it and hear the roar of traffic and trains above.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Joining a CSA Made Me a Better Eater

Typical CSA pick-up, from earlier this year.

It feels like Paul is a contestant on Iron Chef every other Thursday.

Of course, there are a few differences: (a) he's not competing against anyone, and (b) instead of one secret ingredient, he has a whole box full.

This year Paul and I joined a newly formed Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program in our neighborhood. Every Thursday, a farm from just outside of New York City delivers to a central location box after box of organically grown vegetables, and CSA members pick up their allotted share. Paul and I purchased an every-other-week share for about $270, which entitled us to pick-ups from mid-June through mid-November.

It's more than I would normally spend on vegetables, but I now (duh) eat more vegetables. And different vegetables! Last week's pick-up included 13 different kinds of veggies, from tomatoes and eggplants to tat soi and bok choi. Often, I've never even heard of half of the things we pick up, let alone eaten them. If Obama got busted during the election for eating arugula, I wonder what those same people would think of my oak leaf lettuce and broccoli rabe.

The cornucopia of vegetables has made me not only eat better, but also try new dishes.

We could have three salads a day and still not get rid of all of the greens before they spoil, so Paul has found creative ways to use them up. Curry (although I still think it has the color and consistency of baby poop) has become one of my favorite meals, and it's a great way to get rid of the bitter greens that we otherwise can't stomach. A couple of weeks ago we had so many greens that Paul finally came up with what I now refer to as "green soup" -- all of the leftover greens blended into tiny pieces with chicken broth, butter, chopped onions and a lonely potato that we kept forgetting to eat. Just looking at the soup made me feel healthier.

Part of the reason we had hesitated to join a CSA before was because the pick-up location was so far away. The new CSA we joined, however, had a pick-up location of exactly one block away. If that doesn't change, there's no doubt we'll be CSA members next year, too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How I Celebrated International Pickle Day!

I ate so many pickles on Sunday that by the end of the day, I myself felt preserved.

Pickles with peanut butter. Pickles in chili. Pickled beets. And lots of plain ol' pickled cucumbers.

The occasion? A Lower East Side festival celebrating the 10th Annual International Pickle Day. Pickle purveyors could hardly push their products into our hands fast enough, and best yet, most of it was free. We spent a grand total of $4 and basically walked away with lunch for two. For two of those dollars, Paul bought what basically amounted to a Korean taco. The other $2 was spent on my most interesting sample of the day: Russ & Daughter's Beet and Lemon Shrub.

The drink was made of pickled beets, lemons and a splash of vinegar. I never thought I would ever try -- let alone like --  anything resembling pickled beet lemonade.

All in all it was an afternoon well spent, even if I did eat more pickle in two hours than I did in the last two years.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Last Days of Summer in Bryant Park

Bryant Park is no secret to the millions of people who live here or the millions of people who visit, but I still feel like it was my find of the summer.

I'd been to Bryant Park -- only a block away from Times Square, next to the New York Public Library -- before, but I never felt like I knew it until the night Paul and I had a (nearly) midnight picnic in the middle of the park in August. Then I returned in September, in the waning days of summer, to see what it felt like in the middle of the afternoon.


There was a buzz of activity about the park, although it certainly wasn't crowded. In fact, there were plenty of empty chairs, almost like a work of art in itself. I already can't wait until next spring. You'll find me in one of those chairs again, cheesecake in hand.

Friday, October 15, 2010

You Are What You Read in New York City

Nineteenth-century British author Anthony Trollope is one of my favorite writers. Since reading his most famous works (like "The Eustace Diamonds") several years ago, I've been going through the lesser known of his 47 novels. Since I know almost nothing about the plot of each individual book, I've pretty much been reserving his novels from the library in alphabetical order.

Then I came to "Rachel Ray."

The book was published in 1863, but the title obviously bears a resemblance to a certain Food Network star. I worried: Despite the alternate spelling, would people seeing me read this novel on the subway think I was reading a biography of Rachael Ray? And does it matter?

It does, but I know it shouldn't.

We subway-goers have very little on which to base an impression on one another. Shoes, coats and mode of commuting entertainment are basically all we have to go on. It's difficult not to judge, not to make up whole life stories. That guy with the volume of his iPod up way too high? A jerk. The woman asleep against the window? I'll bet she has two jobs and at least as many kids.

I try not to, but I must admit that I put some thought into what I read -- or at least how I read -- on the subway. When I decided to read the juvenile "Lemony Snicket" series, I kept them low in my lap so no one would think I was a lightweight. Same with "Rachel Ray."

But more than topic or title, one thing will always disqualify a book from being brought on the subway: weight. If it doesn't fit in my purse, it stays at home.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shoe Shopping & Sewing Machines in Soho

Shoe shopping in Soho.

Say that three times fast.

It's a lot easier to do than to say. For about two miles, from the Financial District to Union Square, Broadway is dotted with shoe stores. Last Thursday I spent two hours after work popping into most of them.

The most interesting store I saw, however, wasn't a shoe shop at all. It was the clothing store All Saints, which had an eye-catching display of dozens of sewing machines lining the window and inside wall. The view almost made up for me coming home empty-handed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Taste of Living Alone

Never having lived by myself is one of my mild regrets.

Don't get me wrong -- I love living with Paul, I couldn't have chosen better college roommates, and I don't especially think I would even like a long-term solo living arrangement anyway. It would be nice to have definitive proof, however, that I could live on my own without starving to death or boring myself to death. When I was a child and complained that I was bored, Mom would tell me to make my own fun. I'm still learning how.

While I'm always sad on the rare occasions that Paul goes out of town without me, I know it's good for me. I got a longer taste of the single life than usual last week. Paul had to be in Columbus for work from Tuesday through Thursday and then used a vacation day to extend his trip and visit with family and friends. He came home last night.

Of course, living alone for six days isn't exactly the same as truly living on your own. I didn't have to set up any ant traps or deal with any broken appliances. I barely had to cook since Paul left the refrigerator stocked with enough leftovers for at least seven meals. (Reason #1,001 I love my husband: He enables my laziness.)

But I did, as my mom would say, have to make my own fun. Mostly that was the same fun I have when Paul is around -- reading. But when he's gone I always make a special effort to do things that I know he hates. I few weeks ago, when he was also in Columbus, that meant watching three musicals in about as many days. This past week, that meant shoe shopping.

I'm glad Paul's back. The apartment won't be so silent anymore. And I'm almost out of leftovers.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Three Years in New York

We told ourselves we'd be in New York a year or two.

Today, it's been three.

Paul has said that he expected this to happen. I didn't expect it, but I had hoped. I'm certainly not ready to commit a lifetime to New York (see last week's posts about Ohio), but I did want to actually live in New York and not be just another tourist-as-resident.

That first week we moved here in 2007 was obviously very busy, but a few things stand out in my mind. Lying awake at night, wondering if I would ever be able to sleep through the horribly loud traffic. Having an oven that didn't work and a refrigerator that hummed incessantly (the former was fixed and the latter replaced within a few weeks). Wondering if we made a huge mistake.

But my best memory of that first week was on our first Sunday here. Paul had to return to work the next day after having the week off, and even though I didn't yet have a job, it still felt like the end of my vacation, too.

The week had been gray and rainy, but that Sunday was sunny and just cool enough for a light jacket. The perfect fall day. We took the train to Central Park and wandered. The park was crowded enough that it probably would annoy me now, but I liked it then. It didn't matter. I was living in New York.

I still get that feeling sometimes. Not every day, not even every week. But every few months I'll see or do something that makes me so happy to live here. When that goes away, I'll know it's time for me to leave.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rooting for the Reds and Buckeyes from Afar

I never thought I'd say this, but here it goes:

I miss watching sports on TV.

It's not that I don't have options. The Mets and the Yankees, the Jets and the Giants -- they're all on TV. But who I really want to see are the Cincinnati Reds and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

In Ohio you could barely escape from them. Sure, not every Cincinnati game was on TV, but it was rare if you couldn't catch at least one game in a series. And sure, not every OSU game was on a channel we could get at home, but we could at least catch part of it on the radio. Even the grocery store I went to in Columbus played the game over the loudspeaker.

This year I consider myself lucky. Already the Ohio State-Miami football game was broadcast on a channel we get. And, of course, tonight I'll be able to watch the Reds on the road to the World Series -- even if the game will be more than half over by the time I get home from work.

I'm certainly not a sports junkie. Just an Ohio fair-weather fan.

Monday, October 4, 2010

7 Things That Make New York City So Livable

I spent last week waxing rhapsodic about Ohio, but let's face it -- New York isn't so bad either. Sure, there's the museums and the parks and the general hustle and bustle. But underneath that top layer of what makes New York City so great are seven things that make New York City so livable:

7. Ethnic Food
It's not like ethnic food doesn't exist in Ohio. I've been to French, Spanish, Mexican and German restaurants in Columbus that are just as good as any I've been to in New York, and at much more reasonable prices. There's even a well-regarded Ethiopian restaurant near Ohio State. But you can't beat New York for both the diversity and breadth of its ethnic food. Not only does New York have a Scandinavian restaurant, for example, but it has several.

6. Bodegas
I eat about six or seven bananas a week. It was almost impossible to do that in Ohio without making two stops at the grocery store. Now I can just pop into a bodega on my walk home from the subway station and bam, I've replenished my stash in about 30 seconds.

5. Later working hours
Despite what Dolly Parton says, 9 to 5 doesn't really exist here. For me, the day starts at 9:30 a.m., a full hour after I clocked in at my last job in Ohio. That -- and the fact that New York is on the eastern edge of the time zone -- means I never wake up in the dark.

4. "Normal" eating hours
This one's debatable, of course. I've always been a late eater, however, and on weekdays I take my lunch break at 3:30 p.m. Luckily, almost everyone in New York shares my late hours. Restaurants don't seem to fill up at night until about 8 p.m. I like that.

3. No closing hours
New York really is the city that never sleeps, not that I take advantage of it all too often. But it's nice to know that it's all there -- bars open 'til 4 a.m., 24-hour restaurants serving hamburgers and pie or pierogis and blintzes.

2. Walkability
It is perfectly doable to live in almost any neighborhood in New York relying only on your own two feet. You don't need a car, and you don't need public transportation. Grocery stores, doctors, dentists, restaurants, hair salons -- they're all a short walk away. Few places in Columbus -- and none in Defiance -- have this going for them.

1. Public transportation
Even if you can live on what's within walking distance, it's much more pleasant if you don't have to. Sure, I complain about the unreliability of the subway system at night and on the weekends, and recent cutbacks haven't much helped. But what can I say? It runs 24 hours and it gets me anywhere I could possibly want to go -- without also having to find a parking space.

Friday, October 1, 2010

7 Things I Miss About Columbus

View of Ohio State with the Columbus skyline in the distance,from the top floor of Ohio State's main library

Each time we revisit Columbus, I wonder why we don't live there anymore.

It's not "home" like Defiance is, but I did spend eight years there. It's where I became an adult. It's where most of my friends -- as well as all of Paul's immediate family -- live.

Of course, I love living in New York. I always tell Paul, however, that when he wants to move back to Columbus, just be sure to ask me right after a trip to Ohio. I'm always ready to move back then. Here's why:

7. Donuts
You've heard me say it before: New York's donuts are crap. But Buckeye Donuts is always sure to have a sickeningly sweet vanilla long john with my name on it.

6. Fried Zucchini Sticks
My favorite appetizer of all time comes from The Blue Danube, a restaurant and bar north of Ohio State in the Clintonville neighborhood. But it's not just the zucchini sticks I crave from Columbus -- it's Graeter's ice cream, Skyline Chili and the Northstar Cafe breakfast burrito. And I don't care what anyone says, Hounddog's Pizza is better than anything you'll find in New York.

5. Ohio State Campus
My memories of campus are many and varied and good. The long days in the journalism building, working at the Lantern. Paul and I meandering around campus when the sun went down almost every night the weather cooperated. Not to mention that Paul proposed to me on the Oval. When we returned for a look around last week, I was shocked at how young the students looked. I wanted to call them "kids."

4. Libraries
Columbus' library system is so much better than New York's. Mostly I just miss the book drops, which seem to be an endangered species in Brooklyn. Visiting Ohio State's beautiful new library made me realize just how much there is to miss.

3. Un-overwhelming Availability
I don't mean underwhelming availability. I mean that Columbus has just the right amount of choices. Sometimes I think of New York as one big restaurant with a 15-page menu. I know that menu includes a lot of choices, but sometimes more isn't better. It's just more. New York can be unnavigable. I know what I like in Columbus, and I know what I want.

2. $3 Beers
And it's not even happy hour! Of course, it's not only the beers that are cheaper. It's nearly everything -- food, haircuts, mortgage/rent. The sticker shock of living in New York has mostly worn off, but it's still a nice surprise to see prices at half that of what I'm now used to.

1. Proximity
In Columbus, it doesn't take two hours to go 10 miles unless there is a rush hour accident that has shut down the interstate. When Paul and I drove to the airport at 5 a.m. Monday morning, accidents shut down two interstates -- both the fastest and second fastest ways to get to Port Columbus from his mom's house. We resorted to the third fastest route and still got there only 5 or 10 minutes after we had planned. Here? In the same amount of time it takes to drive from Columbus to Cincinnati, I may not even be able to leave New York City.


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