Monday, February 28, 2011

Indoor Rock Climbing at Brooklyn Boulders

Paul, left, on wall

When Brooklyn Boulders indoor climbing gym opened in 2009, Paul was excited. He'd started rock climbing in Columbus several years before we moved to New York, and he missed it.

There were one or two climbing gyms in New York City, but they were inconvenient, expensive or both. Brooklyn Boulders, on the other hand, was on the way home from work. He immediately got a yearlong pass and became one of the gym's first members. He's gone about two days a week ever since.

I watched him climb once in Columbus, and once in New York, when the gym first opened. Earlier this month, I visited again.

I was amazed. When I first visited, the gym wasn't yet completely set up. Now Brooklyn Boulders has 22,000 square feet of climbing. The Saturday we were there, the gym was crowded with both adults and kids -- pretty typical, according to Paul. Now the gym even holds regular yoga classes.

No yoga this time -- just straight bouldering for Paul.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My First NYC Chinese Food Delivery

You read that title right. I've lived in Brooklyn for three and a half years and I hadn't once ordered Chinese food delivery before last weekend.

Delivery is a staple in New York City, as I suppose it is in any city where people work late and/or have dollhouse-sized kitchens. It's not just Chinese food, although come to think of it, that probably is the standard. Pizza, of course, is also popular, but almost every place around here delivers. Greek, Japanese, Middle Eastern, my favorite Thai restaurant a few blocks away -- they could all be at my door in 30 minutes or less.

Yet we had never done it. I think there's two reasons for that:
  1. Paul cooks better food than many restaurants, and he enjoys doing it.
  2. If I want to eat restaurant food, I want to have a restaurant experience.
But last Saturday was a different story. We were both looking forward to trying a new neighborhood burger place, but it was frigid. The temperature was barely above freezing, and the wind gusts were so strong that they literally almost blew me over when I was walking along the sidewalk earlier in the day. (In fact, Paul woke up that night seriously wondering if there was going to be a tornado.) We weren't going outside again.

So Paul wasn't in the mood for cooking, and I'm never in the mood for cooking. Instead we got out the menu for our very favorite Chinese place -- and probably Paul's favorite neighborhood restaurant -- Grand Sichuan House, six blocks away. We ordered our favorite dishes: ma po tofu with minced pork for me, beef with cumin flavor for Paul. (You can see photos and descriptions of the dishes at my previous post on Grand Sichuan House.)

It came with the stereotypical Chinese take-out container of rice, and two fortune cookies. And the spicy food was the perfect antidote to the freezing cold weather.

And like any good New Yorker, Paul gave the delivery guy an extra tip for making the trip in such weather while we stayed cozy and warm.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chinatown Dumplings: Vanessa's Dumpling House

Cheap and tasty doesn't often come together in the New York foodie scene. Paul and I found one exception earlier this month: Chinatown dumplings.

Paul was in the mood for dumplings, and I was an enthusiastic supporter of his suggestion. After all, I'd never had dumplings in any Chinatown restaurant, and that certainly needed to me remedied. But I didn't want to go to just any dumpling shop. Only the best would do -- especially when the best costs about $1 per plate.

The fine people of the internet narrowed our choices to two: Prosperity Dumpling and Vanessa's Dumpling House. We opted for the latter because it seemed to have more seating (which, as we later found out, wasn't saying much).

Vanessa's Dumpling House was bustling when we got there about 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday. Our order:
  • 4 cabbage and pork fried dumplings ($1)
  • 8 cabbage and pork boiled dumplings ($2.50)
  • 3 pork fried buns ($1)
  • 1 steamed red bean bun ($1)
  • 1 steamed vegetable bun ($1.50)
  • 1 sesame pancake with vegetables ($1.50)
  • 1 sesame pancake with peking duck ($2.25)
  • 1 coconut bubble tea ($3)
  • 1 soybean milk (1.25)
Total bill: $15. And we left completely stuffed. In fact, we each threw away part of our steamed buns (me, after scooping out and devouring the yummy red bean filling).

$15 of food (plus drinks)

The dumplings were steaming hot and juicy, but they weren't my favorite part of the meal. Those honors go to the pork fried buns and the sesame pancake with vegetables. The pancake was really more of a sandwich in the shape of a pizza slice, filled with cilantro along with julienned carrots and cucumbers. So delicious, and really a meal by itself.

Sesame pancake with vegetables; pork fried bun on left

The worst part -- and really, a small price to pay -- was the seating. You seat yourself, if you can find one. When it's busy, as it was when we were there, everyone has their eyes on the 20 or so lucky patrons, waiting for them to make the slightest move indicating they're about to leave. We ate standing at a long table along the window for about 10 minutes before snagging some seats.

When (not if) we return, I'll get only the pork fried buns and sesame pancake -- more than enough for a meal. Maybe the red bean bun if I want a little something sweet. What started as a quest for dumplings turned into one of my favorite New York meals -- and the dumplings weren't even the highlight.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Presidents: By the Book and By the Day Off Work

Monday is Presidents' Day, and I have the day off of work. That means I'm taking the day off of blogging, too. It's nice being the boss sometimes.

But I couldn't let the weekend pass without a least a small update on the goal Paul and I set to read a biography on each president.

We've reached the halfway point -- we're now on Grover Cleveland, president #22 (and 24) of 44.We've certainly slowed down on the number of biographies we've been reading, and I suspect that's because they've been so boring recently. Hayes, Garfield, Arthur: blah, blah, blah. I'm looking forward to getting into the 20th century presidents; we're only about a decade away.

Paul recently completed his second year blogging about our project at Presidents by the Book. We've also taken a couple of related detours.

The first: reading "When London was Capital of America." This book by Julie Flavell gave me an interesting perspective on America's early days and particularly its relationship with London just before the Revolutionary War.

The second: reading "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," by Seth Grahame-Smith. Not exactly a biography, I admit, but it's been the most fun presidential book by far.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Park Here: The Outdoors in an Indoor Pop-Up Park

I could have been a city kid, no problem.

I grew up with a big yard, pond, swing set, sandbox and even a small hill for sledding. But my favorite activity as a child? Curling up in the corner with a book. (Some things never change.)

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was and how I didn't take advantage of the opportunities I had living in the country. What a cliche, I know. That's why I suspect that all-grown-up city kids idealize the country and think they didn't take advantage of everything the city had to offer.

The grass is always greener, I guess.

Last weekend Paul and I attended a rare instance of the city merging with the country, and plenty of kids were enjoying the outcome. Park Here was a free, temporary, indoor pop-up park in the Soho neighborhood of New York. We visited on Saturday, a day before the five-week venture was set to close (after a two week extension).

Fake grass underfoot, murals on the walls, leaves and branches in every corner -- they all created a delightfully inauthentic outdoor experience. Central Park it was not (although it was nearly as crowded), but you could be excused for thinking that the bird chirps piped in over the speakers at times made it even more relaxing and enjoyable.

The turf was packed with picnickers, families with small children, and couples. We were lucky to snag a giant bean bag chair and read for an hour, taking a break only to eat the gourmet Robicelli's cupcakes we purchased at the entrance -- pomegranate chocolate for me, sesame seed for Paul.

After a bite of the creamiest frosting I've ever tasted, it would be difficult to believe that city parks don't have at least one advantage: better food.

And really, isn't this the best of all worlds? A park where I can still curl up in the corner with a book.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day, Kind Of

I don't believe in Valentine's Day.

Correction: I believe the holiday exists. But I don't believe in any overt celebration of it.

Even that's not entirely true. I will indeed wish my husband a happy Valentine's Day today. I'm not, after all, a love-Grinch. I will not, however, be receiving a gift from Paul, nor will he be receiving one from me.

Paul and I mutually agreed to a ban on Valentine's Day gifts several years ago. I'm not even sure when. I asked him this weekend if he could remember one Valentine's Day gift he had either presented to or received from me. He could not. The only one I could remember was the first I had given him, way back in 2002: a DVD of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I'm not sure if he's watched it even three times in nine years.

I do remember several of the Valentine's Day outings we've made -- dinner at Ann & Tony's in West Jefferson, or Cap City in Gahanna. They were restaurants we normally would have gone to anyway, except on those days we dressed up. I couple of years ago we even spent Valentine's Day weekend in Vermont, but that was only because it fell on President's Day weekend, hence the extra day off of work.

Maybe we'll go out to eat tonight, I don't know. I doubt it. There will be no flowers, no piece of jewelry. There will be chocolate, but probably only from my everyday stash in the cupboard.

This time of year I feel a little like I do in December, when I want to wish people happy holidays but I'm not sure of their religion. On that note: Happy Valentine's Day, if you celebrate.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Diane vs. the Toddlers of New York

We were in a large park in Munich when I first heard it: a child speaking German.

This shouldn't have surprised me, of course. We were in Germany, after all. But somehow, even throughout my six years of studying the language, I had never heard anyone of the elementary set speaking it. The tot whose tongue effortlessly rolled off the sentences and phrases I could barely put together almost made me stop in my tracks

That same feeling returns whenever I heard a toddler rattle of the subway lines faster than I can.

To them, it's probably akin to learning the alphabet -- it practically is the alphabet. But, when you're a new New Yorker, it's discouraging to hear a 5-year-old ask his mother if they are going to transfer to the N when you can barely make it to your own destination without looking at a map five times.

I know the routes well enough now that no toddler will show me up ever again. And maybe those kids aren't as city smart as I took them for when we first moved here. A coworker and native New Yorker told me that she, as a child, knew the subway lines near her house but was at a loss in other neighborhoods. I now have at least a rough idea of the lines that go to neighborhoods I've never even been too.

Take that, two-year-olds.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Paul's New Shirt vs. My New Shirt

In his speech at our wedding, Paul's best man expressed surprise at how two people with such different movie collections could come together.
  • Me: "Sense and Sensibility"
  • Paul: "Shaft" 
  • Me: "Pride and Prejudice"
  • Paul: "Children of Dune"
Our differences were again on display in December, when we went to my absolute favorite store in Columbus, Wholly Craft. I've gotten three of my favorite shirts there and was looking for another. Paul, on the other hand, was on an even more specific mission. He wanted a shirt he saw when we went there the year before.

We both were successful. Perhaps you can determine whose shirt is whose.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sick & the City

If one could carryover excess sleep like rollover minutes, I'd be good for at least another week.

I've been sick since last Monday evening, and my coughing-sneezing-fever-chills-toothache-earache-body aches have put me under the covers for up to 12 hours a day. I even stayed home from work last Tuesday, which is pretty rare for me.

I felt slightly better Wednesday morning and wearily dragged myself to work. My cold, however, left me exhausted, and the freezing air instigated coughing fits. Each night after work I could barely change into my pajamas before I was out for the night. One evening I went to bed at 7, got up at 8:30 to eat supper and then went to sleep for good an hour later.

I got home from work Friday shortly after 7 p.m. and won't have been outside again until I leave for work this morning. I finally went an entire 24 hours on Sunday without taking any medicine, and I wasn't about to take any chances by making a foolhardy trip to the grocery store. I don't need a loaf of bread that badly.

At first glance, being sick in New York is the same as being sick anywhere else. And why wouldn't it be? Illness knows no boundaries, and the blankets that ward of the chills are just as comfy in Columbus as they are in Brooklyn.

But it doesn't take long -- just a single subway ride in the winter -- to realize what makes sickness in New York different. It's more public.The hacking coughs. The sniffling noses. The sneezes and looks of death. I've given and received them all in a single evening commute.

Luckily this bout with the cold wasn't accompanied by nausea. In Ohio, in an emergency -- if you really, really had to -- you could always pull off and be sick on the side of the road. It wasn't ideal, of course, but it was an option. No one would have to know.

In New York, though, you better be sure you can handle the jostling crowds of the subway before you even think about getting on. Not only are there no restrooms on the trains, but you'll also have a hard time finding any in the subway stations themselves.

Even if the wave of nausea passes, you still aren't off the hook. Every grimace of pain is on full display to all of your fellow commuters. No privacy here -- and maybe not even a seat. Unless you have a crutch or are visibly pregnant, you're on your own.

Honestly, I don't even like dabbing my nose with a tissue on the subway, although that's usually inevitable in the winter. I can practically feel the people around me willing some antibacterial gel onto their hands, no matter how discreet I try to be.

I've long heard that children pick up all sorts of illnesses in daycare and preschool. The New York City subway is no different.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why I Want the Steelers to Win the Super Bowl

I'm not a big pro football fan, but I'll still be rooting for the Steelers during Sunday's Super Bowl.

That's mostly because my uncles are fans of the team. If I'm going to watch the Super Bowl, I might as well root for someone. And if I'm going to root for someone, it might as well be the team that has the potential to significantly brighten the year of someone I'm related to.

My team spirit -- what little I have of it, anyway -- likely didn't go over well a couple of weeks ago when the Jets played the Giants for the Super Bowl berth. The bars were crowded with fans eager to see New York take the title. Paul, admittedly a fair-weather fan, cheered on the Jets with a friend at a neighborhood bar. I quietly rooted for the Steelers at home.

Obviously the game went my way. If the Jets had won, however, I would have been pulling for them to beat the Packers on Sunday.

I've given some thought to my loyalties when it comes to pro sports. Here's who I'll root for first:

1) Teams from Columbus. Unfortunately this applies only to hockey.
2) Teams from Cincinnati. The Reds in particular.
3) Teams from Cleveland. Ohio pride.
4) Teams from Pittsburgh.
5) Teams from New York.
     a) Mets before Yankees, don't have a preference on the rest of the teams
6) Teams from the rest of the Midwest.
7) The underdog.

So I guess I'm an Ohioan before I'm a New Yorker, but a New Yorker before I'm a Midwesterner. Got it?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Easy Cheesy: Paul Makes Cheese for the First Time

Queso Blanco

Brewing beer and drying beef jerky wasn't enough for Paul.

His newest hobby: making cheese.

In fact, at the top of Paul's Christmas wish list was a cheese recipe book -- he didn't care which one. On Christmas Day, he left his sister's house with a book called (what else?) "And That's How You Make Cheese!"

Needless to say, I was leery. Call me a self-absorbed pessimist, but I was sure there would be some  disadvantage to me, the bystander. Making beer takes up too much space. Making beef jerky stinks up the entire apartment. (Paul assures me the aroma is delightful; I disagree.) Making cheese, I was sure, would be inconvenient. The only question was how.

After round one, however, I'm beginning to think this isn't such a bad hobby at all.

Paul started with the first, and perhaps easiest, recipe in the book. Queso Blanco is a Monterey Jack-like cheese with only two ingredients: milk and cider vinegar. The entire process takes about four hours and involves two steps:
  1. Heating
  2. Draining.
Draining the Queso Blanco in a cheesecloth above the sink.

The cheese magically melded together in the cheesecloth and resembled a kneaded lump of bread dough when it was done. He used the mild cheese on top of lasagna that very same night (with a little homemade ricotta for good measure). Later in the week the flavor intensified and it was even more delicious.

So what's next? I'm not sure which cheese will be the next to top our crackers, but Paul has already mentioned trying his hand at yogurt ...


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