Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cupcake Wars: Buttercup Bake Shop

I took advantage of my night in Midtown by checking out and checking off yet another on the long list of New York City's cupcakeries.

Buttercup Bake Shop, on 2nd Avenue between 51st and 52nd streets, is the ninth that I've tried that I can think of off hand. I suspect I've sampled more.

My overall impression: Buttercup is a great place for a dependable, no-fuss cupcake. And at $2 apiece, it's a pretty good deal. But I won't be going out of my way to try them again.

The options were pretty standard: vanilla on vanilla, chocolate on chocolate, etc. But one cupcake caught my eye. The Devil Dog had meringue frosting on a chocolate cake. It was tooth-achingly sweet, and that's not a complaint.

My other choice: German chocolate. Nothing special, but perfectly adequate.

The final word: Butter Lane still sells my favorite cupcakes, and Bay Ridge's very own Little Cupcake still has the best cake. But if you find yourself seeking a dessert to take back to your hotel room to eat while watching an Ace of Cakes marathon, Buttercup Bake Shop's will do just fine.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rockefeller Center at Night

It's one of those iconic pictures of New York, one that comes to mind even if you've never visited the city: ice skating underneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

But you can ice skate at Rockefeller Center even when the tree is gone, without a line and with more room to actually skate, if Thursday night was any indication.

The night was mild and the ice was emptier than I expected. I was briefly tempted to return over the weekend to skate until I remembered that I can't actually ice skate. Actually, my right leg can skate while my left foot just gets dragged along. And I can't stop.

My dreams of ice skating shattered, I turned back to the camera. Much better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Overnight in Manhattan

Maybe I was looking forward to it more than I should have, but I hadn't stayed overnight in Manhattan since our honeymoon.

But Thursday, for one night only, I had the chance. Paul had a full day of work meetings and meals in the city, and his company was putting him up in midtown's Intercontinental Barclay Hotel for the night. I couldn't let that go to waste.

Paul was planning to be with his out-of-town work friends until the wee hours (a prediction that turned out to be true) so I was on my own for the night. My goal: do as many things as possible in one night that he would've hated.

First stop: Bloomingdale's. I wasn't in the market for anything, but it is a New York landmark (that I also hadn't visited since our honeymoon). Then the big H&M store on Fifth Avenue. Then a shortcut through Rockefeller Center to Times Square, where I climbed the big, red neon steps above the TKTS booth.

As I made my way back to the hotel's neighborhood, I inadvertently walked through the dark-and-dreary diamond district and finally found the cupcake shop I had picked out for dessert. A quick stop for a pumpernickel bagel with strawberry cream cheese and I was off to the hotel.

The room exceeded my expectation. New York hotel rooms have a well-deserved reputations for being expensive and tiny. This room was actually normal sized! And the bed was as big and comfortable as any I'd every slept on-- just as wide as it was long.

The best part? The next morning my commute to work was cut in half to about 25 minutes, and I walked through Grand Central for only the second time in my life. That I could get used to.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Very First Jury Summons

Paul says I must be the only person in all the world to be disappointed not to be picked to serve on a jury.

But there it is. I'm a little upset. And the worst part is, I never even came close to being chosen.

I once got called for jury duty in college, but when the court learned I lived 2 1/2 hours away I was immediately excused. I didn't even have to show up.

Unlike most people, this time I was actually excited to get a jury summons and eagerly showed up at the Kings County Supreme Court in downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday morning. I was armed with a book and expected to get a day or two of reading under my belt before listening to a case and deciding someone's fate.

I wasn't asking for anything too serious. No death penalty. No homicide. Maybe a good drug case, that's all.

How the day really went:

8:00 a.m.: Showed up at the courthouse, followed by about 200 other potential jurors. Comfy chairs-- I could get used to this.

8:45 a.m.: Watched a cheesy film filled with bad acting about the importance of jury duty.

8:45 - 10:30 a.m.: Read.

10:30 a.m.: Got called to a jury room with 19 other potential jurors to be questioned for a landlord-commercial tenant dispute.

10:30 a.m. - 12:40 p.m.: Listened to six people get questioned. Four were chosen for the jury. Two more jurors and two alternates are needed-- I still have a chance!

12:40 -2 p.m.: Lunch.

2 - 3:30 p.m.: Six more people -- none me -- are questioned, and the final four jurors are chosen. We remaining eight are dismissed.

3:30 - 4:15 p.m.: Read.

4:15 p.m.: Excused from jury duty. For eight years.

I was pretty bummed. I wanted to raise my hand with a "Pick me, pick me!" all day, and here I didn't even get questioned.

The brightest part of the day: Seeing Kings County Clerk Nancy Sunshine. Can't say she was too inspiring, but who doesn't perk up at a last name like that?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Murals of 8th Street-NYU

8th Street-NYU.

When I hear the subway conductor (or automated voice, if I'm on one of the newer trains) announce this station, I always look up. I don't care how immersed I am in my book or magazine, I can't help but glance out the windows.

The walls have the most beautiful murals of any station I've visited in New York, rivaled only by those at the Delancey Street/Essex Street station not too far away. The ones at 8th Street are smaller, but I do like them better. Pleasant. Colorful. Something I'd want on my own wall.

It's my favorite subway station in all of New York.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rice Pudding for Supper

While most of my classmates threw out the periodic servings of rice pudding offered up in my high school's cafeteria, I always went out of my way to buy a helping to supplement my packed lunch. I loved the stuff. I missed it so much after I graduated that I started making it at home. I still do.

Which, in a roundabout way, leads me to a night out in Ohio with one of my high school classmates last month. She and her sister had visited Manhattan a few years back, and her only-in-New-York story (in addition to meeting Dan Rather on the sidewalk-- a much better story than any I've been able to accumulate here!) involved eating at a restaurant that served only rice pudding.

It was easy to track down Rice to Riches, and Paul and I sampled it for ourselves Saturday night. Yes, we had rice pudding for supper.


As promised, the menu included only rice pudding-- in about two dozen flavors. They all looked delicious, from Fluent in French Toast to Sex Drugs and Rocky Road to Chocolate Chip Flirt. I finally opted for Raspberry Statement, but I liked Paul's Coconut Coma better.

The texture of the rice and consistency of the pudding showed me how far I have yet to go to perfect my own concoction. And if I want to up my rice pudding intake, I'll have to be making it at home. At $6.75 for an 8-ounce serving, Rice to Riches is a little too rich for my budget. It's like a special occasion rice pudding.

Oh well. Only in New York.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How Cold Is It?

The dog pee on the sidewalk outside my subway station was a frozen yellow puddle. That's how cold it is.

One of the most common questions I get asked, both from friends in Ohio and in New York, is how the weather in the two states compare. Everyone seems to think the other place is colder. In reality, the temperatures are almost identical. The mercury's a little lower in Ohio this week, but the wind is so frigid here that it feels much colder than it is.

In any case, cold weather means more here than it does in Ohio, where I popped into my attached garage and propelled myself to work in a nice and toasty car. In Ohio I would never think about walking even a block in the snow, sleet or freezing rain. Now I have to walk six blocks before I even get to work. That's pleasant in the spring, but not so much in driving rain or biting wind. Fashion be damned; in the worst of it I'll pull my wool hat down over my forehead until it's nearly touching my eyes.

It's actually a lot like being at Ohio State again, where I regularly had 10-minute walks to class. My scarves had been in hiatus since I graduated. Now I wear one every day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Changing Outlook on Home

The silence is deafening in Defiance.

I mean that as a compliment. A few years back, that would have been the worst of insults to lob at my hometown. Now, ten years removed and in the self-described city that never sleeps, I appreciate the peace.

Don't get me wrong. I love the bustle outside our Brooklyn apartment. But when the noise two floors beneath our bedorom reaches a decible too high in the wee hours of the morning, it's difficult not to see the advantages of rural Defiance County.

To illustrate the difference, here's the view outside of our Bay Ridge bedroom:

And here's the view (from autumn 2008) outside of my bedroom window in Defiance:

What's ho-hum to Mom and Dad almost seems like a plot from a storybook now. Case in point: Paul and I crawled up to bed after midnight on our last night in Defiance last month. The moon reflected off an even layer of snow as I looked out the window one last time. But something arrested my attention. I had taken off my glasses, but I could distinctly see two dark blobs in the field. I ran for my glasses and resumed my watch.

Deer. Not one or two. By the time they were out of sight about 10 minutes later, Paul and I counted seven. No big deal to Mom and Dad. The deer have been especially prevalent this year, they said.

Ten years ago, I probably wouldn't have found it too exciting either. But now, when the only thing I can count in multiples of seven is Chinese take-out restaurants, I find it pretty amazing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Odds and Ends from Northwest Ohio

And now for all of the photos from my week in Ohio that didn't fit anywhere else ...

One of my favorite things in all of Defiance is the first thing I see entering the county when we drive from Columbus: two large Ohio murals.

The murals were painted on at least one barn in every county for the state's bicentennial in 2003. Defiance is unique because it has two on a single barn.

I've driven by them innumerable times now, but this time Paul pulled over the car so I could get a few shots from the passenger's window. Whenever I see them, I always know I'm home.

A lot less scenic but a lot more funny is a new store at Defiance's Northtowne Mall. Most of the stores are your typically fare-- Penney's, Sears, Elder Beerman. But I don't remember seeing this one before.

Unfortunately, you can't see the line under the store's name. I'll help you out:

Jewelry - Bamboo - Purses - Swords

Exactly when will you be shopping for a new handbag and remember that you also need to pick up a deadly weapon? And when's the last time you were looking for a necklace when you suddenly remembered you also needed to restock your bamboo supply?

I'm fairly certain that doesn't happen. Least of all in Defiance, Ohio.

Something else that's funny about Defiance? It's ugly courthouse. Luckily, neighboring Williams County has a beautiful one that's all dressed up with nowhere to go (but Bryan, Ohio) at Christmastime. Even better, Bryan has a movie theater across the street with something like $3 matinees (buy-one-get-one-free on Tuesdays!). That's how I saw Avatar for $1.50 and the pretty lights in a single trip.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Drive vs. The Flight

Paul and I drove from Columbus to Brooklyn in record time last Sunday: 9 hours flat. The secret? One bathroom break and no stops for food. Our families had loaded us up with so many snacks that we ate on the road.

We've actually only made the drive from Ohio to New York four times now, that I can remember-- the day we actually moved here and the following three Christmases. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania hasn't gotten any shorter.

Luckily, I only had to make the trip one way this year. Paul had extra vacation days and drove to Ohio almost a week before I met him there. I flew to Columbus on Christmas Eve -- a vast improvement over last year's Greyhound bus trip.

When I fly from New York, I always pray that I'm on the side that gets the amazing Manhattan views. This year, I got my Christmas wish. The views are fantastic at any time, but even more so at night. And unlike my first few flights to and from the city airports, now I actually know what I'm looking at.

Traffic backed up in New Jersey off the George Washington Bridge. The Empire State Building decked out in red and green lights. A glimpse of the neon lights in Times Square. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in my own neighborhood, several miles south.

It doesn't get old. At least, not yet.

As the plane was taxiing toward the runway, it occurred to me that this was the first time I'd spent any part of Christmas in New York, even if it was only the eve. I was eager to see Paul and the rest of my family that night, but the remembrance pulled me up short. Santa must think I'm OK, because for that moment at least, I felt pretty lucky.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Grocery Store That Makes Me Weep

I almost started crying in Kroger.

I was in Columbus, making my now-annual trip to a "real" grocery store. We drive to Ohio every Christmas, and I then proceed to cram every last inch of the trunk and back seat with cheap chips, chocolate and other snacks. And I never knew 'til I moved away that Kroger really does sell the best salsa.

I nearly gasped when I walked through the doors. The space! The selection! I wasn't fighting for a place to rest my cart. In fact, two carts could actually pass each other in the same aisle.

Yes, I've written about this before, but it never fails to amaze me. I was staring at the unbelievable number of cake mixes and frosting containers and wanted to burst into tears at the sheer beauty.

Alas, now I must wait 51 more weeks. Until then, I have $65 worth of Kroger oats, graham crackers, peanut butter, cookies and a few other things to hold me over.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christmas in Ohio

Christmas is over.

My mom has long chided me for my emphasis on the negative when it comes to vacation. I start getting depressed when they're half over, already anticipating the end.

This year was even worse. I saved up 10 days of vacation to use in the last six weeks of the year, which made for a very pleasant end to 2009 at work. I used the last of my vacation days to make a 10-day visit to Ohio between Christmas and the weekend after New Year's Day.

Of course, I saw lots of family and friends. Even if that were all, I would have enjoyed the trip home. But now I appreciate the small things even more.

A couch with two recliners. First-run movies for $3 a ticket. Carpet.

And a Christmas tree. I still look for my favorite ornaments, making sure Mom didn't hide them in the back. Especially the 20-year-old family picture she hates.

Monday, January 4, 2010

O Christmas Tree at the Met

Up Close with a Marble Sarcophagus

Our first holiday season in New York, we saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Pretty, but crowded.

Our second year we took in the light show at Grand Central. Not that impressive.

This year our destination was the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche.

Sounds fancy, and it was. The 20-foot blue spruce was decorated with angels and cherubs in the branches, and a nativity scene with dozens of attendants surrounding the base. Unfortunately photos were prohibited, and the pictures on the Met's website doesn't do it justice.

We spent only about 90 minutes in the museum when we visited in mid-December, but that was enough time to make a quick run through our favorite section: Greek and Roman Art. I feel like I'm in a garden each time we're there.


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