Monday, April 29, 2013

Out and About for Food and Drinks

On Friday I had my first beer in 14 months.

I'm not and never was a heavy drinker. Even in my roaring (?) 20s, it was a crazy night if I had more than two pints. But I have to admit that beer Friday night tasted good.

It was a reunion of sorts with several of my former coworkers, at a bar near my old office. Making my work commute was strange, but it was even stranger to again be in a bar and able to order whatever I wanted.

Paul stayed home with Edith, something he's always willing to do. What made the outing possible without a headache, however, is that Edith is now often sleeping through the night. That means she needs only a 3- or 4- ounce bottle before going to sleep, and I'm home for the next feeding (in this case, 6 a.m. Saturday morning). My late night followed by my early wake-up call meant a late morning nap. A small price to pay.

(A side note for those who are wondering: It's perfectly fine to have a drink or two while breastfeeding. Even our pediatrician said so! Women seem to follow one of several "rules," such as waiting an hour or two per drink after the last feed to feed again. Many say that if you're fine to drive, you're fine to feed.)

The beautiful spring weather that night literally put a spring into my step. And even better, the thermometer stayed in the high 60s all weekend. Paul, Edith and I took a long walk around the neighborhood Saturday afternoon and went into Manhattan on Sunday.

During that Manhattan trip, I also marked another milestone: Eating in a restaurant with Edith in my lap. I know that doesn't sound very exciting, but if you only knew the number of restaurants that now opens up to us!

The story is this: We normally go only to restaurants that can fit a stroller at the table. But Paul and I both felt like conveyor-belt sushi, which meant a trip to East Japanese. The restaurant layout doesn't allow for strollers next to the booths or bar-type stools, or at least not easily. So Edith spent the meal on my lap, and I spent the meal keeping her fingers out of my soy sauce!

But surprisingly, sushi was a great choice since it's a meal you eat one-handed -- much easier than say, a hamburger. With one hand around Edith and one hand on my chopsticks, we had a perfectly wonderful meal.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Brooklyn's New Barclays Center

The Barclays Center-- now the home of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team -- opened last September, but it has been a hot topic of conversation far longer.

At 675,000 square feet, the Barclays Center stamps a large footprint in downtown Brooklyn, an area that was mostly known for the MetroTech Center office complex, the Atlantic Center shopping mall and Brooklyn's large subway hub, the Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street station.

Many of the nearby residents were worried about the crowds the arena would attract, and particularly the parking problems that may result.

I'm not sure how much of that has come to pass, but the Barclays Center does seem to be a boon for the borough and competes with Madison Square Garden in attracting popular performers. Jay-Z opened the Barclays Center, followed less than a week later by Barbra Streisand. Upcoming concerts include Paul McCartney, Beyonce and Justin Bieber.

I can't possibly get into the pros and cons of the arena -- dissertations could be written on it. The arena hasn't much affected me. Mostly it's just getting used to that aforementioned subway station now being called Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making Space for Baby in New York

Edith, trying out her high chair

Kids take up space. And space is the one thing most New Yorkers just don't have.

I mean, we can't fit a stand mixer into our kitchen. How can we fit all the accoutrements of a child?

Because of Edith, we've added several large pieces of furniture to our apartment: a rocker-recliner, baby swing, pack 'n' play, dresser and high chair being the biggest. We also have a folding table set up full time in the nursery, since neither our bathroom nor our kitchen is large enough to fit the baby bathtub.

Surprisingly, we haven't had to get rid of anything to make room. We have, however, made some decisions based on space -- no ExerSaucer for this kid since we don't have the floor space now or room to store it later -- but we've been able to fit more than I ever would have imagined due to efficient rearranging.

For example, it's now impossible to be a wallflower in our apartment because there are no empty walls to stand against. But I don't feel overly cramped.

I can see space becoming more of an issue as Edith gets older. Her toys take up little more than a milk crate (by design) right now. No Barbie Dreamhouse allowed while we live here! And all toys must absolutely be put away each night if I don't want to trip on my way to putting her to bed from the rocker in the living room.

Hard to believe such a small thing comes with such big accessories. Good thing she isn't clamoring for a closet yet.

Bonus: Check out one neighborhood mom's tongue-in-cheek space-saving solutions for a New York City kid's bedroom.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Driving Back and Forth ... Again

Visiting Ohio is fun. Always. Even the car trips are fun. Normally.

For the last five years, we've made the car trip once or twice a year, generally with a plane-ride visit tacked on for good measure.

Not this year. This past weekend marked the third car trip in 2013 alone.

That's partly due to family obligations. But no matter the reason, that's a lot of time in the car. What was once special has become monotonous.

Let me be clear: The visits to Ohio are not monotonous. The car trips are. It's not all bad, of course. Nothing like 8+ hours in a car to force you into some good conversations. But there are only so many pretty bridges, rivers and tunnels to look at. Interstates, let alone turnpikes, aren't exactly known for their spectacular scenery.

I've called past trips whirlwinds, but this really was so. We left Brooklyn after Paul got off work Wednesday and drove back to New York on Sunday. We were busy; I'm grateful for the time we had to spend with family, but it would have been nice to see friends, too.

One of these trips we'll bite the bullet. Isn't it time for baby's first plane ride?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Black-and-White Cake: A Kind-of NY Classic

If New York has a signature dessert, it's probably the black-and-white cookie.

I've never had one.

It's certainly not because they're hard to find. It's pretty easy, in fact. But whenever I'm at a place that offers them, another dessert is always more tempting. Cake trumps cookie almost every time.

But at my favorite neighborhood bakery I got the best of both worlds. Little Cupcake Bakeshop sells black-and-white cake, and it is delicious.

The chocolate cake has two layers of frosting that taste just like the cream of an Oreo cookie. I believe the cake is topped with a rich chocolate fondant that drips down the side, and the outside is covered in a thin layer of what tastes like meringue.

A black-and-white cookie, on the other hand, is a round shortbread dipped in vanilla fondant on one half, and chocolate fondant on the other. Wikipedia has a nice description and photo.

I still plan on trying the cookie eventually, but ordering a slice of black-and-white cake at least makes me feel like I haven't completely missed out on a classic New York dessert.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What All New Parents Should Know About Changing Diapers

Edith visiting her dad at work.

Changing diapers is literally the crappiest part about being the parent of an infant.

But a few tips when Edith was first born would've made the process cleaner, faster and cheaper.

It's nice and all when parents-to-be learn about breathing exercises or what latest gizmos are out there to soothe a fussy child, but what us newbies really need to know from day one is how to change a diaper.

Why didn't anyone tell me ...

... diaper ruffles go on the outside.

We had no idea. When Edith was a newborn, I just left the ruffles around the legs however they happened to be when I put the diaper on her: inside, outside or some combination. I'm sure we had more leaks than necessary as a result.

... if you start getting lots of leaks and blowouts, it's time to go up a size.

I thought I was putting the diapers on wrong -- either too tight or too loose, I wasn't sure. After all, she was well within the weight limits of the diapers we had. And on that note, ...

... diaper weight limits don't mean much.

Edith tends to start the next size up when she's about a pound short of the minimum recommended weight -- and she's a long and lean baby.

... expensive diapers don't always mean better.

We started out using Pampers Swaddlers -- I'd heard of them, and that's what we got in the hospital. But they're expensive. But all diapers are fairly expensive, and it's difficult to try lots of brands without spending a fortune. (On that note, a neighborhood friend started a business, Miny Moe, which will ship you samples of several types of diapers to give them all a shot -- great idea!) On the other hand, it's worth a few extra dollars if they consistently contain the poop.

We decided to take a chance and try the brand. Now we like them even more than the Swaddlers. Bonus: They're a fraction of the cost of Swaddlers and just as cheap or cheaper than other brands I've looked at (even Target-brand diapers, which often get good reviews), and shipping is free with a purchase of at least $35 -- easy to do when you're going through upwards of 50 diapers a week.

Now stop laughing, all you moms!

It's second nature now, but it sure wasn't at the beginning. Maybe I was especially green behind the ears since before Edith I had changed only one or two diapers my entire life -- and that was one or two more than Paul.

With shrinking families as well as relatives spread out across the country or around the world, however, I suspect many new parents are in the same position I found myself in. Is it rude to tuck a diaper tip sheet into a baby shower gift? I don't know, but it would've come in handy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Baby's First Subway Ride

Spring in Central Park

A baby has a lot of exciting firsts: rolling over, crawling, steps, words. In New York, add "subway ride" to that list.

Paul didn't think it was such an important milestone, so I didn't feel too bad when I packed up Edith, a full diaper bag and a blanket on Tuesday and headed to Central Park. No taking it easy for us: We dove right in with an hour-long subway ride.

Ready for the subway and a Central Park picnic.

No worries. I learned that the subway is akin to the car and stroller -- that is, so soothing that it puts Edith to sleep. She was in dreamland before the second stop.

Still, it was an adventure. One woman raved over her silver sparkly Toms-lookalike shoes. A man (with an accent, so language barrier, perhaps?) asked if she could see. ("I hope so!" I replied.) Another woman didn't realize she was sitting next to a baby until several moments after she sat down -- Edith was tucked so comfy cozy in the Ergo.

The second lady said she didn't notice Edith
because she blended in too well with me!

We made it to Central Park without a problem, although I forgot to account for one thing. It's so early in the season that none of the trees have leaves. That made it difficult to find a shady spot, but after some searching I found some space not directly in the sun across from the Central Park Carousel.

While I ate my picnic lunch (peanut butter sandwich, banana and a chocolate-banana scone picked up from Alice's Tea Cup on the way), Edith played with a couple of toys and listened to the carousel music. She might not have known the difference, but I say that when a carousel plays "Locomotion," the magic is lost.

On the way home, we caught the Q train, where courtesy is alive and well. No fewer than four people -- men and women -- offered their seat to me, even though I declined the kind offers since it's easier to calm a fussy baby standing. Still, I think more people offered than ever did when I was pregnant.

All in all, it was an extremely successful trip. And if I can take my baby on a Central Park picnic alone, I can do anything.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spring Finally Arrives in Bay Ridge

I've never been so happy to see the mercury rise. As the temperature reached the 70s and even the 80s here in New York this week, I ditched the stroller in favor of my Ergo and some newfangled baby-wearing.

Being able to leave the stroller behind opens more possibilities -- namely, stairs. I can carry Edith down stairs, I can carry a stroller down stairs, but I can't do both at the same time. I make two trips in our apartment building; that's not an option when I'm alone at a subway station.

Or the Shore Road Promenade. The best views are along the path adjacent to the harbor, but there is a long flight of stairs down to get to it. But when the weather became beautiful earlier this week, I strapped Edith in the Ergo and made the promenade our destination.

Dozens of people were on the path taking advantage of the weather: walking, jogging or, like us, finding a bench and enjoying the scenery. Edith got her first glimpse of Manhattan (and her first trip there the next day -- more about that next week!). From our perch it was easy to see that the Freedom Tower really is dominating the Lower Manhattan skyline.

When we returned to the apartment some hour or 90 minutes later, I felt like a new person. One no longer trapped by cold weather ... or stairs.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Edith's New Favorite Things to Do

After a good month or two of giving it her best shot, Edith finally rolled over for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Then she decided that was enough and took a week off. She must have saved up all of her energy, because then she became a rolling fool. And if she couldn't quite make it from back to belly 100 percent of the time, she was at least 90 percent there. That darn elbow keeps getting in the way!

Of course, now that means we have to watch her even more closely. Even at night once, when she wasn't quite asleep, I'm pretty sure I caught her trying to flip over. So far, however, she's content with sleeping on her back or side.

But rolling over isn't quite her favorite activity. After the baby trifecta of eating, sleeping and pooping, her next favorite thing to do has to be drooling. How can such a tiny little thing produce so much saliva? My mom tells me that a kid's first teeth are just to keep the drool in the mouth. I'm not sure how much she's joking.

Monday, April 8, 2013

What Makes Bay Ridge Unique

Compared with many New York neighborhoods, Bay Ridge doesn't get much attention. Even in Brooklyn, it's a low-profile neighborhood. Underappreciated, I would say.

That's why I was especially excited to see that Bay Ridge was the focus of the weekly "Local Stop" column in Sunday's New York Times. The online version also included a 7-photo slide show.

Be sure to look at slide no. 2  (the neighborhood's Gingerbread House) and no. 4 (an enclosed model of Crete), both of which Paul and I have wandered by. In fact, there isn't much that was featured that we haven't seen.

I'm glad. If most of what was included in the article really was news to me, then I would have to conclude that we haven't done a very good job of exploring Bay Ridge.

The article isn't a comprehensive overview of the neighborhood. It's not meant to be. But for someone who's never been here, it does provide a taste of what makes Bay Ridge unique.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pecan Pie if You're Allergic to Nuts

Because Paul is allergic to nuts, we're careful to look at ingredients before we buy foods and Paul is accustomed to staying away from strange desserts. Yes, he's allergic enough that a single nut could kill him if the reaction isn't caught right away, but he doesn't care if I have my own personal jar of Nutella in the cupboard.

Lately, however, I've had a hankering for pecan pie. Don't know why; I like pecan pie, but it's never been my favorite. I could've just ordered a slice at a restaurant, but why take the easy way out? And when I found a recipe for faux pecan pie I got the best of both worlds: a chance to satisfy my craving and a way for Paul to get a hint of a taste of a classic nut-based dessert.

The recipe I used substituted broken bits of pretzels for pecans. The result wasn't exact. It looked surprisingly similar, and the pretzel bits covered in butter and sugar did have a candied nut flavor. The only thing that was a bit off was the texture -- the pretzels were somewhat crunchier than I remember the pecans being after the pie was baked. Still, it was a pretty close replica.

But the pie was nearly ruined by a new pie crust recipe. I hate rolling out dough, and I had a recipe for a crust that you stir up and then press into a pie plate, much like you make graham cracker crust. Easy as, um, pie.

It tasted awful. I think that's because the recipe called for using oil instead of shortening or butter, and the oil taste was overwhelming. I'd like to substitute the oil, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try it again. Rest assured, however, the faux pecan pie tasted almost as good with the crust sliced away.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Cemita at the Brooklyn Flea

Paul and I planned to eat lunch at the Brooklyn Flea last Saturday, and we weren't changing our plans just because we didn't end up getting there until about 4 p.m.

But it did mean our options were limited. The Flea closes at 5, and a few of the vendors were already packing up. Others had only a limited selection. I was going to be happy so long as I got a doughnut from Dough -- and luckily dulce de leche was one of the three options left. Paul wouldn't be as easily satisfied.

So Paul got in line at Cemita's, which offers its namesake sandwich as well as tacos and a few other items. Since Edith was fussy, I knew I would be eating one-handed, so at the last minute I decided against getting a cemita and stuck with my giant doughnut alone.

The doughnut was delicious, but after trying a few bites of Paul's sandwich, I really, really wanted my own. Bad.

I could try to explain what a cemita is, but this chart does it better than I could ever hope to:

And out of that mountain of meat and toppings, you get this:

Paul said he ate something similar to this cemita when he lived in Mexico for a quarter in college, except there it was on a sweetish soft roll. But they were just as giant.

Paul, without a baby on his lap, had both hands free to stuff the cemita in his mouth. Excellent, he proclaimed. The beef tasted like it was stewed instead of roasted as you would expect, he said.

A $9 sandwich isn't cheap -- especially when you have to fight for a folding chair and table as you do at the Brooklyn Flea's makeshift cafeteria. But even I have to admit this sandwich was worth every penny. Next time, Paul's holding Edith: I'm getting my own cemita.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Doughnut Plant: Bigger and Better

It's food week here at Pay a Visit! Today: breakfast. Wednesday: The main course. Friday: Dessert. Now let's start eating.

Calling today's topic "breakfast" may be a misnomer. That's because the doughnuts at the Doughnut Plant are just as much a dessert as anything you'd eat with your morning coffee. But it doesn't matter when you eat them as long as you do.

Paul and I went to the original Doughnut Factory on the Lower East Side in 2010, and I had a delicious blackout chocolate cake doughnut. Since then, a second outpost opened in the Chelsea Hotel, and I was eager to try it. A visit to New York by my friend Sarah gave me the perfect opportunity.

The Chelsea location is much better than the Lower East Side one; not only is it more convenient to the subway lines I use the most, but it actually has seating. Sarah and I didn't get seats under the doughnut-shaped wall hangings, but we did snag a pair of bar stools along the wall.

For doughnuts, the offerings are expensive: around $3 apiece. Another reason to think of them as dessert: they're cheap compared to a good bake shop's slices of cake or pie. That way I can justify buying two doughnuts.

This time I tried the rich Valrhona chocolate yeast doughnut, and a tres leches cake doughnut with a ribbon of cream in the middle.

Also consider the cost of your doughnut(s) as admission to the fancy disco-style bathroom with little mirrors covering the entire space. I'm kind of glad I didn't have to actually use it, but I would have liked to see more than just the peak I sneaked when someone else had to use the restroom. Next time. And maybe a separate post.


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