Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Revisiting the French Connection

We didn't have many leftovers

We had DVDs of "The French Connection" and "Amelie" sitting beside the TV, but we never got around to watching them at our French-themed dinner party last Saturday.

But we did have lots of food and lots of fun at a shindig that lasted nearly 10 hours.(Even I didn't realize it lasted that long until I just did the math.)

Paul began cooking Thursday night, continued all night Friday and got up early Saturday to finish it up. Our menu included:
  • homemade bread and herb butter 
  • mini quiches
  • Caesar salad 
  • french onion soup and gruyere-topped bread
  • beef bourguignon
  • cassoulet
  • spinach souffle
  • ratatouille
  • chocolate truffles
  • clafouti
Not to mention Paul's Belgian-style (but the French-speaking part of Belgium!) saison homebrew and some French wine. Although you can surmise that this year our crowd of 15 guests were mostly beer drinkers -- we nearly ran out of bottles before Paul grabbed some more drinks across the street. And yet somehow we ended up with about twice as much wine as when the party began.

Homemade bread and herb butter

The party started early -- 5 p.m. We were still putting the final touches on a few of the dishes (and the ones that were better warm, like the quiches and souffle, had yet to be made), when the buzzer first rang. The last guests were out the door at nearly 3 a.m.

Our apartment held a mixture of work friends, neighborhood friends and a few that don't fit into a category, including one of my college roommates who now lives in Maryland. As usual, it was fun to see them all mixed together in the same room.

Paul and I even dressed the part -- or tried. Paul borrowed a blue and white striped sweater he wore when he finally got out of the kitchen. I dug out a black skirt plastered with sketches of the Eiffel Tower and other French scenes.

My cooking responsibilities were even lighter than normal -- I made only the quiches, truffles and clafouti, a kind of cherry-filled cooked custard that went over well. But even though I didn't spend so much time in the kitchen, I had my hands full, generally with cleaners and a dust rag. Our apartment was probably the cleanest its been in years. Or at least since our party last year. I wonder how long it will last.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Preparing for a Dinner Party (or, a Party with Dinner)

February is generally my second least favorite month, beaten out only by the even colder and even gloomier January. But for the third year in a row Paul and I have tried to beat back the winter blues by hosting an annual themed dinner party.

It's not a dinner party in the traditional sense. There's no long table with place settings and formal courses. It's more a dinner party in the sense that we have a party and make dinner. We barely have enough seats, but there's plenty of plastic silverware, foam plates and Paul's food for all.

The first year we didn't know what to expect, so we hosted a relatively simple "brinner party" for about a dozen people, serving up sausage souffle, a frittata, miniature quiches and more.

Last year we had about twice as many guests and a menu of some of our comfort-food favorites. Dubbed "A Feast of Midwestern Delicacies," we (mostly Paul) made food like deep-dish pizza, Cincinnati-style chili, green bean casserole and buckeyes.

And so this year, we decided to take things a step further with a French dinner party, which we hosted this past Saturday. No matter that neither of us had quite mastered the art of French cooking. Unless reading "Julie and Julia" counts.

After three years of hosting these parties, I've learned that the most stressful part isn't what you would expect. It's not the cleaning -- that gets done, and soon the place is so crowded I doubt anyone notices the spots I missed anyway. Paul always makes plenty of food, and since guests tend to bring drinks, there's always lots in the fridge. No, the most stressful part is booking the oven. This year we made a list of dishes, the temperatures they cook at and for how long, before deciding the order in which they would be cooked.

But inevitably everything turns out fine, and everybody walks away happy and full. At least I hope. And after the oven gets turned off, we even get to enjoy ourselves, surrounded by some of the best New York friends we've collected over the past 4+ years. On Wednesday: photos and highlights of Saturday's festivities.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sunset Park Pool in the Winter

The outdoor pool at the Sunset Park Recreation Center is empty and dry, but it's far from dreary. The bright bleachers would cheer up even the grayest of winter days. I wonder what the pool looks like in the summer, filled with water, kids and sun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Barbecue in Bay Ridge

I'll be honest. When I'm judging a barbecue restaurant, the meat isn't the first thing on my mind. It's the side dishes. Dallas BBQ is a mostly vile barbecue restaurant with several outposts throughout New York City, but I've happily been there three times because of its onion loaf.

Now I can get something almost identical at Uncle Jimmy's Backyard BBQ, only it's better because (1) it's right here in Bay Ridge and (2) instead of being unnaturally crunched together to form a loaf, the coated-and-fried onions are in free-and-easy strings. And best yet the order was big enough to fit inside a hollow football.

On second thought, maybe that wasn't such good news. By the time my pulled pork arrived, all I wanted to do was keep eating onion strings. By the time I got to my sandwiches (yes, plural: the plate came with two), I was already happily stuffed. I gave one of the pulled pork sandwiches to Paul and got half of my sweet potato chips to go. Unsurprisingly, I was thirsty all night.

So Uncle Jimmy's was good; it's maybe even one of the best places in Bay Ridge if you care as much about quantity as quality. The pork was fine, and the chips were tasty. But give me a basket of onion strings to go and I'd be perfectly fine.

Friday, February 17, 2012

William Howard Taft, Now and Then

I don't work on Presidents Day, so that also means no blog post on Presidents Day. However, this being the weekend of all things presidential, here's an update on Paul and my project to read a biography on each commander-in-chief.

At the end of January I finished a biography on William Howard Taft, who was unsuccessfully running for a second term in office100 years ago. Taft gets the short shrift, I think. Nothing very exciting happened during his term, and any officeholder must seem like a letdown after Teddy Roosevelt. Who can compete with him? On the other hand, nearly everyone can compete with Taft. The entire Brooklyn Public Library system only seemed to have one biography on him that wasn't written for children. It was published in 1930, the year he died.

But maybe Taft will finally get the recognition he deserves. While Paul catches up, I read "Taft 2012," a recently published book brought to us by the same people who came out with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters."

"Taft 2012" begins with Taft awaking after a long hibernation, having gone missing on Woodrow Wilson's inauguration day in 1913. Hijinks (and plenty of fat jokes) commence as we learn how Taft copes in a world of Twinkies, improved race relations and video-game golf. Of course, politics doesn't stay out of the mix for the newly revived Taft and his great-granddaughter, a congresswoman from Ohio.

As an Ohio native myself, I particularly enjoyed the references and scenes in Cincinnati, however unbelievable some parts were. Does anyone abbreviate Cincinnati as Cinci? And they really rented out Great American Ball Park during a June weekend, right in the middle of baseball season? But if a book revolves around a hibernating former president, I guess everything is fair game.

I suspect I'm one of the few readers of the book who first plowed through an actual Taft biography. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. But I do recommend "Taft 2012." Happy Presidents Day, and don't forget to catch up on Paul's blog!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New York City Subway Stations: 81st St - Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History has long been one of my top suggestions for visitors to New York, especially those with kids. Even I find the wild animal dioramas, giant whale, dinosaur skeletons and space exhibits jaw-dropping.

The museum also makes an excellent stop on bad weather days, whether it's burning hot outside or freezing cold. That's because a couple of subway lines at 81st Street on the Upper West Side are connected directly to the museum, eliminating the need to step even one foot outside.

If you weren't quite in the mood to visit the Museum of Natural History before you got off the subway, you will be by the time you get to the exit turnstiles. The walls and floor are filled with "fossils" and mosaics depicting just a little of what you'll find inside. In fact, you'll almost certainly wish you could spend more time exploring the subway art rather than waiting in the long line for tickets inside.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Who Needs Chocolates or Jewels?

A local pizza joint offers this each Valentine's Day, but I've never come home to find one on the table. Maybe Paul doesn't love me after all. :)

Friday, February 10, 2012

No Excuse for Boredom in New York

"Only in New York" is way overused, but that's only because it's true.

So while I may hibernate and hide away in my (mostly) warm apartment, there's still plenty of only-in-New-York experiences going on around the city. Although I don't attend most of them -- no one can -- I often read about them in an email newsletter I subscribe to.

The Skint lists "free and cheap" things to do in New York every single day. I live vicariously through the listings and occasionally find a real gem. Paul's also indebted to the Skint, although he may not realize it. I first heard about the homebrew club he belongs to through a Skint listing for one of its beer competitions.

Many of the listings are the typical things you'll find in any large city -- author readings, bar crawls, festivals. But there's always a handful of unique events among the dozen or two listings in each issue.

I've picked through Skint listings from the past few weeks and included some of the most interesting below -- maintaining the Skint's trademark lowercase letters (which drives me a little nuts but must be super easy to edit) -- to give you an idea of the variety of things offered. Only in New York.
  • 11pm: nerds + burlesque = nerdlesque. followed by strip operation! the brick, $10.
  • 8pm (+ 2/3): buried alive! = deborah kaufman's intimate performance staged on a tabletop with sets constructed entirely of matchboxes. observatory, $12. 
  • 10pm-4am: bangon!nyc’s 'uniform party' takes over a 2-level secret location for an all-night dance party filled with folks in various takes on professional attire. time to pick up my birthday suit from the cleaners! grand street l train stop area location tba, $10.
  • 8pm (+ 2/6-11): ars nova shows you how to rickmanssage a spexy milf in the urban dictionary plays, short works based on the crowd-sourced entries in, $15
  • 7pm: a former grocery store condiment demonstrator tells all at confessions of a condiment hustler. magnet theater, $7. 
  • 8pm: morbid anatomy presents 'the search for granny-dump mountain,' an illustrated lecture by justin nobel about a japanese mountain where villagers leave their elders to die of exposure and starvation. observatory, $5. 
  • 7:30, 9:30pm: puppets act out works inspired by the music of the beach boys at tonight's puppet playlist. the kraine theater, $8 adv, $10 door.
  • 2-4pm: build your own wheeled jalopy to race at the ice box derby in central park. 105th @ 5th ave, free
  • 4pm: sample pimento cheese and watch a screening of short doc. pimento cheese, please with director nicole lang at brooklyn kitchen. $5.
  • 5:30pm: tappy hour = tap dance class in a bar! jimmy's no. 43. $20 admission ($3 off if you menton the skint) includes a drink.
  • 9pm: celebrate friday the 13th with the undead at an 80s-themed zombie formal dance at the bell house. $12 adv, $15 door (admission includes a drink ticket).
  • 3-11pm: dozens of musicians play every single beatles song... on ukulele (!) at the 4rd (stet) annual beatles complete on ukulele festival. feat. leah siegel, alyson greenfield, the jingle punks orchestra, more. brooklyn bowl, $10 (bring a uke to play at show start, get in free).          

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Working in a Ticker-Tape Parade Zone

The New York Giants' Super Bowl win on Sunday meant a ticker-tape parade on Tuesday. Since this is at least the third ticker-tape parade in the four years I've worked in Lower Manhattan, it's old hat. But that doesn't mean my coworkers and I like it.

Obviously I have many colleagues who were extremely happy at the win, and a few went out to see the parade on Broadway, just a half-block away. But Giants fan or not, a ticker-tape parade results in many hassles for workers in the area.

It wasn't that bad for me. I normally take a single train to work, without transferring. However, that train deposits me on the west side of Broadway, and my work is on the east side. Crossing Broadway is nearly impossible on parade days, so I transferred to another line that goes on the east side. So far, no problem.

But the Broadway exit that I would typically use that deposits me a half-block from work was closed by the police because of the crowds, and all commuters at the station -- where something like eight subway lines converge -- were being herded to a single exit a couple of blocks from Broadway. I finally made it outside and fought my way south, when most parade-goers were heading north. Both street blocks that have entrances to my building were closed, but a kind officer let me through when I explained that I worked there. All in all, I got to work about 10 minutes later than I normally would have.

Crowds one block from Broadway, one hour before the parade.
Freedom Tower in background.

A co-worker was not so lucky. He had no choice but to start his journey to work on the west side of Broadway. Innumerable officers pointed him this way and that, and for a time he couldn't even cross Broadway. There was a clear divide, he said: Giants fans in blue, others trying to get to work in black. An hour and 15 minutes later, he made it.

When I left work at 6:30, there were still some stray bits of confetti (shredded paper, really), but the crowds had long since dissipated. At the bars, I suspect, or at home sleeping it off.

Monday, February 6, 2012

New York Giants Win the Super Bowl

The streets were filled with screams of joy, cheers and honking horns when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in last night's Super Bowl, 21-17.

It's fun to live somewhere pro sports teams actually stand a chance of winning a championship.

Sure, Ohio State is generally a contender in men's basketball and football, this football season notwithstanding. But a BCS championship isn't the same as the Super Bowl, and I've never been under the illusion that the Bengals or Browns would ever be in one.

Luckily, I don't really care. Still, it was fun to watch the Giants take on the Patriots last night, knowing that pretty much every TV in the tri-state area was tuned to the same thing. And even though I'd rather see an Ohio or Pittsburgh team in the Super Bowl (see last year's post on my sports allegiances), this was the next best thing.

In all honesty I wasn't going to lose any sleep if the Giants had lost. But I like having someone to root for, and I would much rather have the result be something that's going to put my coworkers and fellow commuters in a good mood the next day.

Friday, February 3, 2012

An Evening Bottling Beer with Paul

Every month or so our kitchen turns into a brewery. First, when Paul actually brews a beer, and then, a few weeks later, when he bottles it.

Last week Paul bottled his latest homebrew, a saison. It's a French-style ale that gets its slightly sour flavor from the specific type of yeast used, he explained. It's his first time making this type of beer, which he chose for our French-themed dinner party later this month.

Homebrew nights take up the entire evening and the entire kitchen. First Paul washes all of the equipment -- bottles, bottlecaps, bucket, hose, bottling wand, stirring spoon, etc. -- with a special sanitizer specifically for beer bottling.

Then Paul racks the beer, transferring the beer with a hose from a fermenter into a giant stockpot. Then he connects the hose to a bottling wand and individually fills each of the sanitized bottles.

Transferring the homebrew.

Bottling the homebrew.

After all of the bottles are filled -- usually about 52 bottles from a 5-gallon batch -- he hand-caps the bottles with a special contraption, boxes them and puts them somewhere dark (often the bottom of my closet).

Capping the bottles.

The homebrew is ready to drink a week or two after it's bottled, although Paul usually takes an uncarbonated sip when he's bottling for a sneak peak. He's rarely disappointed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Opossum on the D Train

An opossum, I read, was recently found lounging underneath the seats of a subway car.

According to the New York Times (which is worth a look if only for the picture of the commuter opossum), the animal boarded a D train and caused a long early-morning delay while the train was evacuated and the opossum caught.

But it wasn't so easy. Police officers boarded the train "armed with heavy-duty gloves and a canvas bag" but reversed course when the opossum "bared its teeth and snarled."

City folk, obviously. I remember a time a few years back when my sister's husband grabbed an opossum by the tail in my parents' front yard. I think it was under a car. In any case, I have no doubt he could have gotten that opossum out of the train, and probably without the heavy-duty gloves and canvas bag.

I've seen many things on the subway and the platforms that I'd rather forget. A sewage backup. Guys taking a leak. Rats between the tracks, on the platform and, worst of all, on a step leading down to a station. Not once, however, have I seen a wild animal.

I take 10 to 15 trips on the subway every week, and mostly my commutes are filled only with people sleeping, reading and playing games on their phones. Feces, vomit and wild animals are the exception to the rule. Except rats. There are always rats.


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