Wednesday, September 29, 2010

7 Things I Miss About Home

Last week I visited my hometown of Defiance, Ohio, for the first time since Christmas. The nine month stretch was the longest I had ever been away from home.

As always, the time was too short and only served to remind me of all of the things I miss about home. Not everything, of course. For example, I don't miss the twin bed that Paul and I have to share in what used to be my bedroom. I refrain, however, from complaining about it because our own spare bed is also a twin. Sorry, visitors.

Of course I miss my family and friends, so I'm not including them in the list of things I miss. That's a given. But there are at least 7 other things I miss about home -- some specific to Defiance, others not at all.

7. Carpet
Almost the first thing I did when I arrived home last Tuesday night was kick off my sandals and dig my toes into the living room carpet. So soft! So comfy! I like the look of our apartment's hardwood floors -- not that I had any choice in the matter -- but I'll take carpet any day.

6. Recliners
My parents have three recliners: one on each end of the couch as well as a La-Z-Boy rocking chair that also reclines. I have a fairly comfortable couch and two fairly uncomfortable chairs, none of which recline. I like our furniture, but some days I just want to put my feet up. And not on the coffee table.

5. The Trolley Stop
This ice cream shop isn't in Defiance, but rather about 90 minutes away in Huntsville, Ohio. I always associate it with home, however, because we only visit on the trips between Columbus and Defiance. We didn't stop each trip -- it's seasonal, and I'm not sure I've ever seen it open after dark -- but if it was open, we were there. On Friday I had a black cherry cone and kicked myself for missing the Sunday special: a $2 banana split.

4. Food
Defiance food ain't fancy -- Applebee's is very nearly the classiest place in town -- but the quantity more than makes up for it. In Defiance and the surrounding small cities, you'll probably find more buffets than restaurants with cloth napkins, and I'm OK with that. Especially when the unlimited breadsticks and dessert pizza are so yummy.

3. The Farm
My parents themselves don't farm anymore, but their house is surrounded by acres upon acres of fields owned by my paternal grandparents. Last week corn lined one side of the driveway and soybeans the other. In fact, the combine made the first pass through the soybean fields -- but not before I grabbed a few to snack on.

2. The History
The house was built by one of my ancestors -- a grandfather preceded by a certain number of "greats" that I always forget -- in the late 1800s, and we have the cornerstone to prove it. My bedroom was my grandfather's when he was growing up. I'm sure the apartment building I live in now also has some history, but as far as I'm aware it's limited to the psychic who lived here before us and displayed a sign in what is now our bedroom window.

1. The View
From my bedroom. Need I explain?

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Dream Is to Once Again Own a W/D

In college, it was a point of pride that I never brought home my dirty laundry.

First of all, it seemed like a giant hassle to cart back and forth a basket of clothes for a weekend visit. Most of all, however, I though that washing my own laundry was a tiny step toward adulthood.

I'm bringing this up now because I have pre-scheduled this post to publish just as I'm flying from Columbus to New York. And I'm fairly certain I'll be coming back with a suitcase full of clean clothes.

You see, I've spent the last six days in Ohio, splitting the time between my husband's family and my own. I didn't bring home any dirty laundry, but I certainly planned on utilizing my mom and dad's washer and dryer for the clothing I wore while I was there.

Have I regressed? I prefer to think I'm just practical. I think it's also a sign of just how much I hate laundromats. My daydreams don't involve winning the lottery or becoming famous. They're about having the space for my very own w/d again.

In our three years in New York, I've become accustomed to -- and even enjoy -- a lot of the quirks that make living in Brooklyn different than living in Ohio. Most weeks now I don't even mind carrying our groceries a few blocks home. But the lack of a washer and dryer -- that I cannot get used to. It is by far my least favorite thing about living in New York.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Nut Binge at the Turkish Days Street Fest

My criteria for choosing food at the Turkish Days Street Fest was simple: If it was doused in honey and filled with nuts, I ordered one.

Paul was in Ohio when I visited the block-long festival near Times Square on Sunday, and it's not often that I can stuff myself with nut-filled pastries and not worry about killing my allergic husband with a kiss.

I know I got at least two kinds of baklava, but I'm honestly not sure exactly what all I ordered. I just started pointing. In any case, it might have been the best $4 I've ever spent.

Although I went to the festival primarily for the desserts, I couldn't resist trying gozleme. One food stall  described it as a Turkish crepe. As I ordered a spinach gozleme, I watched a couple of women rolling out thin layers of dough, which were later filled and cooked on a griddle. Very buttery, very salty and very delicious.

As I was eating, I watched a ritual religious dance that seemed to involve twirling around in circles for several minutes, stopping for maybe 30 seconds and repeating. And then repeating a few more times.

The gozleme was good. The dancing was interesting. But opening that cheap plastic container and getting the first whiff of honey-soaked pastries? That's the reason I went.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Feast of San Gennaro vs. the County Fair

I can sum up the Feast of San Gennaro in less than 10 words:

The county fair, with fewer rides but more cannoli.

The San Gennaro festival takes over the heart of Little Italy each year, running down about seven blocks of Mulberry Street and even bleeding into what looks more like Chinatown. This festival honoring the patron saint of Naples runs for 11 days, and the festival's website says more than 1 million people are expected to attend. I attended on Friday night, and it seemed that at least half that many people were crowding the streets for calamari, cannoli and ... beer pong.

OK, so not everything about the festival is authentically Italian. Did I really think it would be? However, it did have an Italian flair. I mean, at least zeppole were offered alongside the fried Oreos. And how many county fairs have pasta booths?

Monday, September 20, 2010

No Bar, No Crowds & a New Kind of Noise

Out with the old, in with the new. Only this time, I hope the new is a little quieter.

The bar/Mexican restaurant two floors below our apartment closed several months ago, and in the last couple of weeks the work has been fast and furious to turn it into a seafood restaurant. Hopefully not a bar/seafood restaurant, but I can't yet be sure.

The space sat empty the entire summer, and that made for some enjoyable, comparatively silent nights. There were no drunk couples breaking up under our bedroom window. The car that inevitably had to warm up its extremely loud engine at 4 a.m. at least a few times a month never made an appearance. We knew we wouldn't have to pay for warm and breezy summer days with loud and drunken crowds at night.

Lately we've had to deal with a new sort of noise: construction. The drilling (or welding, or something loud involving power tools) was so intense that it shook our bathroom floor when I was getting ready for work one day last week. But the work always stops before I get home in the evening, although the holes in the brick walls keep growing and growing.

I'm not sure when this new restaurant is scheduled to open, and I have yet to decide whether I'll give it a try. It might just depend on the behavior of their clients.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Very Favorite Hotel Is in New Orleans

Le Pavillon was the best hotel I've ever stayed at.

Sure, it was comfortable and the staff was friendly. But what really won me over were the free peanut butter sandwiches served in the lobby each evening.

Like all of the nice hotels I've ever stayed at, this one came courtesy of Priceline. For $65 a night, we were just a few blocks from Bourbon Street and the edge of the French Quarter. I could tell the hotel was faaaaan-cy when we walked into our room and found a ceiling fan and eight pillows on each of the double beds. Who could ever be content with just two pillows per bed? The thought!

Then I went in the bathroom and found this:

Yep, a drawn bath menu. Nope, I didn't partake. The cheapest bath, at $25, came with peanut butter sandwiches. The most expensive, at $80, came with champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries and rose petals. The most interesting bath, however, was $50:

But as I said, the peanut butter sandwiches were the highlight. Every evening, from 10 to 11 p.m., a table in the lobby was set with a platter of white, wheat and raisin breads, along with bowls of creamy and crunchy peanut butter and a variety of jams. There was even hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream.

Needless to say, I had evening snacks of peanut butter sandwiches on both Saturday and Sunday nights before heading out again for the evening.Who needs a continental breakfast? Give me some PB&J any night.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exploring the Mississippi Gulf Coast

The truth: The only reason we rented a car in New Orleans is so I could cross Mississippi and Alabama off the list of states I had yet to visit.

But so long as we were driving the 150 miles from New Orleans to Mobile, we might as well have some fun along the way.

Instead of taking the interstate to Alabama, we drove scenic Route 90, winding directly alongside the Gulf of Mexico and its sandy beaches.

We didn't pack our swimsuits, but we did wade at a beach in Biloxi. The water was shallow and surprisingly warm -- warmer, I think, than the heated pool at our hotel.

We took the drive just a few days after the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and on this beautiful, sunny day it was hard to imagine the devastation that occurred in cities like Pass Christian, which I remember once dominating the news. Paul later learned that the road we drove was indeed once lined with mansions. Now only a few are left.

Neither Paul nor I had any destination in mind in Alabama, so we simply circled Mobile and headed toward the interstate. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama: Check, check and check.

Taking advantage of our location, however, Paul researched barbecue joints in the deep south and came up with a good one near Ocean Springs, Mississippi, for our return trip. My pulled pork was good, but the real stars were the outdoor picnic tables and live blues band.

My stay in the south was brief, but I loved what I saw. And heard.

Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama marked states #37, 38 and 39 for me, and they completed my tour of every state east of the Mississippi River. Eleven states to go, and I'm really looking forward to visiting a few of them (California, Oregon, Utah). But Nebraska? Oklahoma? I might need another road trip, Alabama style.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Am I Too Old for New Orleans?

No, I'm not too old for New Orleans, but I am too old to drink there.

Paul and I headed south over Labor Day weekend for the food, the fun and the drinks. Mainly in that order, at least for me.

But for the latter, Bourbon Street is the center of action. The sheer number of people and neon lights reminded me of Times Square, only with more alcohol and fewer kids. Truth be told, however, there were a wide range of ages stumbling down the street, drink in hand -- 21-year-olds, 51-year-olds, 51-year-old acting like 21-year-olds. At one point I even got stuck behind an old man with a cane. He, however, did not have a drink in his hand.

Bourbon Street

Drinking on the street is legal in New Orleans, and many bars pedaled their goods not only to patrons inside, but also to thirst passersby on the go. Almost everyone on the sidewalk and pedestrian zones seemed to hold a plastic cup filled with their beverage of choice. I can't tell you how many yardsticks of beer or mixed drinks I saw people carrying around, and fishbowl-filled drinks seemed to be popular, too. In both cases, the container was attached to a strap the drinker wrapped around his or her neck, like a necklace with a very large, drinkable charm. At about $9, what a steal!

But no fishbowl for me. Instead, Paul and I found a bar with a second floor deck overlooking Bourbon Street, and I battered my tongue with ice shards, sipping my frozen sour apple daiquiri too fast.

Of course I wanted to give Bourbon Street a try, but I was mostly looking forward to the food and scenery. Paul eagerly anticipated visiting K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, opened by one of his favorite chefs, Paul Prudhomme. Indeed, my fried shrimp po-boy with sweet potato fries ended up as my favorite meal of the trip.

Fried Shrimp Po-Boy with Sweet Potato Fries

Paul wasn't so lucky. He loved his gumbo, which came with a mini corn muffin and Boston brown bread. A few hours later, however, he was in bed with three Benadryl and the hives.

That was the low point of the weekend.

He's still not sure where the nuts were hiding, but at that point it didn't much matter. After we were both sure he wasn't going to die, Paul basically wanted to be left alone to sleep and wait out the allergic reaction. I went exploring by myself.

By that evening he was fine, so we took a free ferry across the Mississippi River for the views alone.

 Then we stopped at the uber-popular Cafe du Monde for beignets, a kind of French deep-fried doughnut topped with a mound of powdered sugar and served hot.

A Beignet (all of the powdered sugar was heaped at the bottom of the bag!)

The other Louisiana must-try: Alligator on a stick. Nope, it didn't taste like chicken. More like a heavily seasoned sausage.

Alligator on a Stick

Besides eating and drinking, New Orleans doesn't really have much to do. That doesn't mean we were bored. It was fascinating simply walking through the French Quarter, seeing the historic buildings, pretending I was in the market for street art, and peeking into a cemetery or two.

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Lafayette Cemetery

Wednesday: Driving the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Friday: Le Pavillon: The Best Hotel I've Ever Stayed At

Friday, September 10, 2010

New York City Through My Cousin's Eyes

My cousin Emily is a high school freshman and a talented photographer. When she and her family visited us in June, I was very eager to see her photos -- and to see New York from an outsider's perspective, how I must have seen the city three years ago.

I wasn't disappointed, as you can see for yourself. Thanks, Emily!

Little Italy
Our apartment, from below
Bay Ridge
On the subway. Foreground: Paul. Reflection in window: Aunt Annette, me, Emily

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Look Back on Summer 2010 in New York

The calendar doesn't yet say that summer is over, but Labor Day has passed and autumn might as well have arrived.

On that note, I have compiled some of my favorite summertime photos that didn't make it onto this blog in the last 4 months. On Friday: summer in New York City through the eyes (or at least the camera lens) of my cousin Emily.

Rockefeller Center

Paul, Times Square
Heartland Brewery
Cherries in Chinatown
Me, American Museum of Natural History
The saddest photo of the summer: The M train, which I used to take home from work, was rerouted and discontinued at Fulton Street. My commute home is now much more annoying!


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