Friday, May 27, 2011

Helicopter Above Ground Zero

At first the helicopter is difficult to see in the picture. It looks like a smudge, or a bug that landed on the camera lens.

Yes, it might be difficult to see, but it wasn't hard to hear that afternoon, even among all the Lower Manhattan hubbub after Osama bin Laden's death.

The TV cameras were on the ground capturing the reaction at Ground Zero, and I imagine this helicopter was doing the same from the air. A co-worker mentioned that it reminded him of 9/11 itself.

On this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed appropriate to remember.

The blog will be back on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NYC's Best Doughnut Search: Dough

My search for the best doughnut in New York City took an unexpected turn to the Brooklyn Flea.

When we visited the outdoor flea market a few weekends ago, amid the old typewriters and ironic t-shirts was Dough. The doughnut shop, based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, was displaying doughnuts like I've seen nowhere else -- certainly not in the cookie-cutter doughnut shops of New York.

Dough offered classic flavors like cinnamon sugar as well as more unique ones like hibiscus, and I couldn't resist the bright pink frosting of the latter. I forked over $2 and got the doughnut wrapped up in a brown paper bag to go. I couldn't wait to get home, eat lunch and take a big bite.

The doughnut was the size of a big grapefruit and had about the same heft. But the weight was pure frosting -- the doughnut itself was light and airy. The frosting tasted, well, pink. It was super sweet with a slightly sour, fruity punch. Maybe it tasted just like hibiscus. I've never tasted it before, not even in tea, so I'm not sure.

Overall, delicious. So much better than Dunkin' Donuts or Tim Horton's that it's not even a fair comparison. My mouth is watering just typing these sentences. I'll definitely be returning.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Travels of Flat Stanley, Part 2

Flat Stanley's adventures have come to an end.

As you may recall, Flat Stanley arrived in my mailbox last fall, a manila-enveloped package from my second-grade cousin, Junior. Could I take Flat Stanley to see the sites -- and take photos to prove it?

It's the end of the school year now, and so when I went home to Ohio this past weekend, I packed up Flat Stanley and the last batch of photos to hand off to Junior. Flat Stanley had quite a year -- he saw the major attractions of New York, and a few things besides. A few highlights:

Times Square

Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Washington Monument, Washington, DC

Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Colonia, Uruguay

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Polonica: Good, Cheap Polish Food in Bay Ridge

Nowadays when my parents come to visit, I try to make it a point to introduce them to some new kind of food. I haven't quite convinced them to go to my favorite Korean restaurant, but we tasted success at a Thai restaurant in my neighborhood last year. Maybe that's why they were ready to take my word for it that Polish food is pretty good, too.

Polonica is about a half mile from our apartment and I think the only Polish restaurant I've ever visited. And I've only ever ordered one dish: pierogi. So, as you can tell, I'm not really a connoisseur of Polish cuisine. But I like what I like, and these pierogi are good. Mom was persuaded to order the same, and we were both happy.

Dad got the classic Polish Platter -- kielbasa, three pierogi and stuffed cabbage. Paul opted for the massive Hungarian pancakes with some kind of hearty meat and gravy. The best part of these entrees, however, is that they come with the "house salad" -- not limp lettuce with ranch dressing, but instead small servings of pickled beets and various slaws. It could nearly be a meal in itself, and Paul always shares.

Polish Platter, with the house salad in the upper left corner

Mom and Dad called it the best meal of their weekend visit, and it was difficult to disagree. And so Bay Ridge comes through for the second year in a row when it comes to new food that's inoffensive to my parents' palates. Now for next year ...

Monday, May 16, 2011

NBC Studio Tour: The Good, Bad & Annoying

By the time the NBC Studio Tour was over, I felt like NBC should have paid me instead of me forking over $20 to them. After all, I had basically just paid for the privilege of listening to a 70-minute commercial.

But even before Mom, Dad and I went on the tour when they visited several weekends back, we knew it was going to be a crapshoot. We'd all heard from people who recommended the tour. But then we'd all read reviews warning us what a letdown it was.

We took a chance and booked our tickets. Truth be told, I was looking forward to it -- especially seeing the studio for Saturday Night Live, a notoriously difficult show to get tickets for.

The tour started with a 10-minute video on the history of NBC. It was vaguely interesting, but if the same thing would have been on TV at home, I would have flipped to a new channel. At least the stadium-style seats were comfy.

Then our two tour guides led our group of about 30 to a bank of elevators. What happened next left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the tour. One of the guides ushered Mom, Dad, me and about three other people into an elevator and then accidentally let the door shut before cramming another 10 people inside. The elevator went up, the doors opened, and, unsure of what to do, we piled out into the lobby. After waiting patiently for several minutes, an NBC staffer -- not one of our guides -- appeared and snippily asked how we got there without a page.

At nearly that precise moment, two elevator doors opened and the rest of our group and our two guides appeared. Then we got a tongue-lashing from not only the staffer, but also one of the guides, who chastised us for not holding the elevator doors open. I had plenty of things I wanted to say -- Did I just spend $20 to be sent back to afternoon preschool? -- but I bit my tongue and moved on.

The rest of the NBC Studio Tour was fine. We stood inside Brian Williams' Nightly News studio, got a peak at where Jimmy Fallon tapes Late Night and -- yes -- saw the Saturday Night Live set. It was smaller than what I imagined, but if I've learned anything from the handful of TV tapings I've seen, I shouldn't have been so surprised.

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed on the tour.

I can think of about a million better ways to spend an hour and $20 in New York City (mostly involving food), but the NBC Studio Tour was OK. When push comes to shove, I guess I'm glad I did it once. Nevertheless, when I left Rockefeller Center, I couldn't help thinking that NBC has quite a racket going.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Suite Seats, Sweet Food & a Mets Win

Last weekend we went to a Mets game and had the best seats in the house -- at least according to my stomach.

Paul called me at work last Friday and said his company offered him and several of his coworkers two tickets apiece in the company suite at Citifield. Would I like to go? Obviously.

Paul sat in the suite earlier this year when he got tickets for himself and a client, but this was my first experience. First of all, the room. It was probably bigger than half of the studio apartments in New York City, with a nicer kitchen. There was a couch, a table and chairs and stools along a kitchen counter, not to mention two flat-screen TV's playing the game.

But who wants to watch the TV on the screen? There were two rows of seats completely outdoors with counters on which you could sit copious amounts of food and drink (more about that in a second).It was a little chilly, but just comfortable enough that the floor-to-ceiling windows that normally separate the outdoors from the indoors were hidden from view,   Paul and I sat "indoors," right behind the last outdoor row, on high stools, also at a counter.

We got there as the national anthem was being sung, and already there was more food than the dozen or so of us ever could have downed in nine innings. Hot dogs. Chicken wings. Chicken tenders. Potato Salad. Cole slaw. French fries. Potato crisps. Salad. Vegetable tray. A little while later, a tray of hamburgers and a freezer full of Shake Shack shakes. At the bottom of the fourth: soft pretzels with nacho cheese and mustard. Toward the end of the game: stuffed s'mores -- think ravioli-shaped graham crackers filled with marshmallows and chocolate.

And don't forget a fridge full of beer, pop and other drinks, along with two bottles of wine on the counter.

The food was surprisingly good -- better, I think, than what you normally get at a game, but maybe the setting made everything taste delicious. You can tell I'm not used to such fine baseball dining -- I had an instinctive urge to take home the leftovers, although of course I didn't. But the urge was even stronger when I found out a platter of hamburgers was $100 and a plate of potato crisps was $30.

Baseball, free food, plenty of drink, good company: what could make an evening more pleasant. Oh, yeah. The Mets actually won.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Guactacular: 25 Avocados & a Pinch of Chuck Norris

Take 525 avocados and divide them by 21 competitors. Multiply that by 275 taste-testers.

The result? Guactacular.

Guactacular is exactly what it sounds like -- a guacamole competition on steroids. Paul was one of the aforementioned 21 foodie competitors and spent the last two weeks concocting a perfect recipe, with liquid smoke, barbecue rub and a chimichurri sauce.

The name: Guac-ker, Texas Ranger.

He spent hours on Sunday slicing avocados, dicing peppers, and sauteing onions before we had to be at the Bell House, a bar just a few miles north of here where the contest was held. The bar has a large event space in the back, where we spent 90 minutes scooping spoonfuls of the good stuff into tiny disposable condiment bowls and telling the 275 people who bought $15 tickets what made this guac so special and why they should vote for it.

It was a sold-out event.

While Paul didn't walk away with any of the prizes, he does think that by entering he can officially count himself as a hipster. I say he has to consistently use Twitter first.

Personally, I wish there also would have been a poster competition. I lost count of the number of people who took a photo of the sign I slaved over that morning. Yes, I'm proud.

And by "slaved over," I mean I spent maybe an hour or so on it, compared to the good three or four hours Paul spent in the kitchen on Sunday. Almost the same.

I didn't take as many pictures as I wished because, frankly, we were too busy. Feeding 275 people in a timely fashion is ... well, it's just as difficult as it sounds, even if you are doling out only spoonfuls at a time

Luckily, Metromix posted tons of great photos of the event, and I'm crossing my fingers that the winning recipes will appear on Nachos NY, the group that started the whole Guactacular shindig. Although, as a loyal wife, I must say that Paul's guacamole will always be No. 1 in my heart. And stomach.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Roosevelt Island in Pictures

There isn't much to do on Roosevelt Island, a tiny strip of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. But after you get there (preferably by tram!) there is a lot to see. Today, a sample.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Roosevelt Island Tram: NYC's Most Scenic 3 Minutes

Taking a spin on the Roosevelt Island Tramway was one of those things I'd always meant to do ever since moving here 3 1/2 years ago.

The views were supposedly amazing, but the Manhattan entrance to the tram is hidden in a part of 59th Street I simply never frequent, and besides -- what do you do on Roosevelt Island once you get there, anyway? (Side note: that's never stopped me from taking the Staten Island Ferry.)

But when my parents visited a few weekends back, one of the items on my dad's to-do list was a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tramway. I was happy to check it off both his list and mine.

After one ride, I'm kicking myself that I haven't been riding it all these years.

The three-minute trip resulted in some of the most spectacular views I've ever seen in the city. The gondola glides parallel to the Queensboro Bridge, crossing to and from Manhattan and a tiny sliver of land in the middle of the East River called - duh - Roosevelt Island.

Manhattan proper on the left, Roosevelt Island on the right

An F train also makes a stop in Roosevelt Island, but about 5,000 people a day take the tram, according to the New York Times.

It's true that there's not much to do in Roosevelt Island. Visitors can hop on a red shuttle bus the circles most of the island for a single quarter. Dad and I also strolled along the pathways that line much of the circumference of the two-mile long island. I'll post photos from that walk on Monday.

The Roosevelt Island Tramway accepts the same MTA MetroCards that are used on the New York subway and bus system. Since I have an unlimited-ride MetroCard, my ride is effectively free. Even if it weren't, a $2.50 ride is more than worth it when it results in so many terrific views and great photos.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ground Zero, Post Osama bin Laden

Is America safer now that Osama bin Laden is dead?

I'm not sure. But if the crowds that gathered at Ground Zero on Monday are any indication, we're at least happier.

My office is just a block away from Ground Zero, so after work I made a detour to gauge how people were reacting. The only thing more common than news trucks were American flags. A coworker said they were for sale for $2 not far away.

By the time I arrived on the scene shortly after 6 p.m., I would characterize the mood as one of restrained joy. I think most people -- cameras out -- just wanted to be a part of the day. That's good. Out-and-out jubilation would make me uncomfortable. I tend to agree with a quote I saw several friends post on Facebook: "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." (Note: I've since heard that this was erroneously attributed to Mark Twain. Anyone know?)

But really, my favorite Facebook update of the day included a photo of President Obama in a cool pair of shades with the words: "Sorry it took so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate. I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden."

Tributes stuck in a fence at Ground Zero

Monday, May 2, 2011

Analyzing My Case of Royal Wedding Fever

My husband says he feels like he hardly knows me.

Why, he wonders, would I ever awake at 5:40 a.m. to watch Prince William wed Kate Middleton live?

I've told him that it's because I have to get my share of romance from somewhere -- it's certainly not coming from his direction. Although, truth be told, I've never been one to expect or want some grand gesture ... or even flowers on my birthday. I'm certainly no romantic myself.

Although maybe, deep down inside, I am? After all, my favorite book is "Pride and Prejudice." So perhaps I'm trying to see Wills and Kate as modern-day versions of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. Rich dude with a gigantic mansion marries beautiful, spunky middle-class girl. When Elizabeth's elder sister asks when she began to love Mr. Darcy, she answers in jest:

"It has been coming on so gradually that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley."

In Kate's case, Buckingham Palace couldn't have hurt.

When I set my alarm Thursday night, Paul was sure I was joking. Nevertheless, on Friday I awoke before the sun rose, turned on the BBC and curled up on the couch. I downed some cereal in the middle of the ceremony; I caught the famous balcony kiss a few minutes before heading to work.

I never considered hosting or attending a royal wedding watch party. I'd never even heard Kate Middleton's name before the day they announced their engagement. I can't say what exactly drew me in, but I think it's at least partly because she and I are the same age. That somehow makes the whole shindig more accessible -- and it has made me compare our marriage to theirs, much to Paul's chagrin. Example:

Me: "Do you think Will and Kate play Uno and eat snacks on the couch at midnight?"

Paul: "I like it when you compare me to people I can't compete with!"

So now it's back to the real world, both for me and for them. Although probably more for me.


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