Saturday, September 24, 2011

New York, Day 4

What a New York day!  We finished with a bang, that's for sure.  Uptown Day did not disappoint in any of its particulars.

A block down from our hotel is a restaurant called the Sunflower Cafe.  The menu outside looked good, so in we went.  It was a sunny morning, we sat on their enclosed porch with lots of windows and a view of the morning life of our neighborhood.  Eric saw a guy suited up, carrying his surfboard.  Yep, surfboard.  My husband, who wants to be a surfer, has read all about the surf clubs out on Long Island.  I saw a guy loading golf clubs into his car, and I could get my brain around that.  Saturday!

We shared a bowl of fresh fruit

And the Eggs a la Sunflower (benedict with english muffin, lox, poached eggs and hollandaise):

Yes, that's 3 poached eggs.  And did I mention hashbrowns?  Who on earth could eat that by themselves?  It was really delicious.

Fueled and ready for some action, we hopped on the subway and went alllllllll the way uptown to 77th and Lexington.  Again, we found ourselves in a completely different world, this neighborhood of brownstones, Lenox Hill Hospital, terraces, luxury automobiles, and fancy dogs.  It was quieter than any other place we'd been in the city.  When we got to 5th Avenue, the police were blocking off the street for the - the Steuben Parade, a German American thing.  We didn't linger.

Central Park is immense.  And that statement is an understatement!  Thinking back, I am still amazed that such a place exists in a city like New York, or anywhere for that matter.  Did you know the park is entirely man-made?  Read the history of it here - it's truly fascinating that 843 acres of park came about in that way.

Me, in front of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture.

Charming snippets of poem encircle the perimeter of the sculpture.

Being the active sorts of people we are, we needed to see Central Park on bicycle.  We found this place on line: - and were excited about the idea of renting a couple of cruisers for an hour or two.

We headed north, up the east side of Central Park, along with what seemed like thousands of bikers, walkers, runners, strollers, skaters, and every manner of people moving their bodies and enjoying the day.  Loved that the streets through the park are closed to automobile traffic on Saturdays - I would not have wanted to encounter a NY taxi with my cruiser.

Ready to ride!

I could post dozens of photos of our ride through the park, but here's a sampling:

In front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

View of the Upper West side, across the huge lake.

In Columbus Circle, at the far southwest corner of the park.  My Atlas.

After returning our bikes, we headed west on foot, out of the park, in search of Zabar's.  Remember in "You've Got Mail," when Meg Ryan is shopping for Thanksgiving and she's trying to avoid Tom Hanks in the store, and she gets in the wrong "cash only" line, and he has to rescue her, charming the grumpy cashier named Rose?  Yes, that place.

Zabar's is a place to be experienced, at least once in a person's life.  It was busy enough on a Saturday at lunch time, but I'd love to be there on a Friday, when all the Jewish folks in the neighborhood shop for their Sabbath meal, or right before any of the major Jewish holidays. 

It was like stepping into deli food heaven.  Hundreds of cheeses, meats, produce, breads, treats, salads, and everything you can imagine, plus a thousand things you've never heard of but discover you simply must have.

The meat counter.  Impossible to decide.

So here's what we chose, and arranged, and savored.

That, my friends, is:
Proscuitto di Parma
Pheasant and Rosemary Pate
Calvados Camembert
Greek Salad
Onion-Challah Roll
Rosemary Roll
Chocolate Rugulah
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

Closeup of the chocolate rugulah (yummy pastry),
with a view of the castle across the pond next to the grassy knoll,
upon which we partook of our lovely picnic.

We took our time, enjoying the food and the sights and sounds of Saturday in the Park.  There were families, birthday parties, young lovers, dogs, tourists, goofy kids, artists, and people like us, enjoying picnics and conversation.

After our picnic, and stretching our stiff cycling legs, we headed back east and picked up Fifth Avenue.  We walked all the way down, ending up in front of the world famous Plaza Hotel.  This is where all the carriages line up to take romantic (or tourist-y) rides through Central Park.

Again, I was amazed at the number of people walking down Fifth.  It was a typical Saturday afternoon, no doubt, but it's more bustling than any city street I've ever walked on.  We popped in and out of some shops, finally requiring some refreshment in the form of espresso.  Rockefeller Center, in the winter, has an outdoor skating rink, but in warmer months, it's open as The Rink Bar.  Two double espressos, please, served to us by a senior at NYU, majoring in opera voice. 

Eric simply had to stop at the Orvis store, which was on 44th street.  Then, two more blocks to the subway station and a quick ride to Grand Central again.  We had a glass of wine at one of the restaurant bars there and watched the flotsam and jetsam, coming and going at the end of the day.

Not a great picture, but here we are, dressed for fun!

Subway to Grand Central, shuttle to Times Square, subway to Columbus Circle, walk a few blocks to Patsy's at 56th and Broadway.

You know how when you have high expectations, and then you walk into a place and think, "hmmm, this might not be the happening place after all?"  I had that feeling.  Like our last night in New York might be a good dinner, and an early cab ride home.


With no reservations, we ended up lucky, getting permission from Joe (the owner) to snag the tiny table in the front window.  This afforded Eric a view of the street activity, me a view of the bar and restaurant, and both of us had the pleasure of watching the restaurant patrons come and go.

The walls are covered with autographed photos of all sorts of famous people.  Rose (the other owner, wife to Joe), told us that each of them has a story of degree-of-separation-from-Frank.  As in Frank brought Rosemary Clooney, she brought her nephew George Clooney, he brought his friend Julia Roberts, and so on.

Opened in 1944, Patsy's has been a family-owned restaurant all these years, standing the test of time during all the opening and closings of a thousand New York restaurants.  I think the charming owners, delicious food, great wine list, and waiters in white captains' jackets might have a bit to do with it.  Frank helped, no doubt.  There's a bronze statue of him on the bar!

We ordered a glass of wine and a bowl of mussels to share.  They were delightful, in a light white wine broth, with slivers of toasted garlic and plenty of freshly chopped parsley.  Then we shared a plate of the ravioli trio - one spinach-ricotta with the house marinara, one mushroom with a light tomato mushroom sauce, and one lobster with a creamy tomato sauce.  Eric and I agreed the mushroom was the best.  When the chef, Sal (son of the owners, third generation chef there), came out of the kitchen to go home for the night, we had a chat and I extracted some information from him as to why that ravioli was so delicious - a blend of white and portabella mushrooms, with ricotta, mozzarella and garlic.  It was meaty and smoky and perfect.

During our dinner, Rose (mentioned above) came to the table next to ours to "cook the books."  Love that she used a tablet of notebook paper and guest checks, aided by a pencil and simple calculator!  After enjoying conversation with her, her husband Joe, and finally their son Sal, we felt like family.  They gave us a gift bag of pasta, a lovely trivet, lots of hugs and kisses and good wishes.

Sal was the guy to meet!  We said "what should we do now, after this wonderful dinner?"  Oh, well, of course we wanted to head down the street to the Carnegie Club.  Ok, what's that?  One of the only cigar-friendly clubs around, thankfully with a good ventilation system, and a Saturday night singer backed by an 18 piece orchestra doing nothing but Frank Sinatra music.  Yes, please!

So Sal says, "I'm friends with the singer, tell him I sent you.  Tell the girl at the door you had dinner at Patsy's, you'll be able to get in without a reservation."  Yes, please!

Right before we left, we had the privilege of meeting Tony Bennett's daughter, who came to say thank you to Joe and Rose for the nice dinner she and her companions had.  That was fun!

Really cool.  It was just as Sal said, we gave his name at the door and the charming hostess led us right to a table.  The orchestra was getting set up, people came in and ordered their food and drink and cigars, and we were transported to the Copa, circa 1950.  We felt rather fabulous, really.

Here's the singer:

When we met him after the show, I told him he was Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin, and he enjoyed the compliment.  I got a kiss and his CD, which we've enjoyed a few times through since we got home.  There was a famous, retired boxer there (name escapes me just now) and a very old, yet still connected, music producer.

It was a blissful evening.  I grew up on Sinatra, Bennett, Armstrong, Fitzgerald, and the like.  It stands to reason that only in New York can you be in one place, doing one thing, and never expecting the next thing that might happen, and when it does, you feel like you're in a different place and time in history.

A perfect way to end our stay in the greatest city in the world!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New York, Day 3

Whew!  The battery is in the camera, and the camera is in the bag.  Let's go MIDTOWN!

I've been watching the Today Show since Katie and Bryant were doing their thing.  I had a secret little crush on the cute guy at the news desk, who had a full head of hair and a lovely personality.  Little did I know . . .

The goal of this morning was to get ourselves to Rockefeller Center and get some screen time on the Today Show.  We actually set an alarm, which is against the vacation rules, but we wanted to get there in plenty of time.

Apparently, plenty of time to the hoards around the outdoor fencing is way earlier than the honeymooners knew about.  On this chilly morning, we arrived at 7:30 a.m.and all the good spots were gone, and to add insult to injury, Matt, Ann and Al were all "away" or "had the day off."  Whatever.  We should have called ahead to let them know we were coming.

This proves we were there.  And little else.

Two good things happened:  We had our photo taken by a Today Show staffer and then could purchase said photo at the gift shop, which turned out to be one of the best pictures we've taken together in a while.  Yay!  And secondly, because it was cold and our hopes were dashed, we popped into the little bakery right there -

Delightful little Frenchy place, with delicious coffee, fresh orange juice, and pastries that could make you cry.  We shared the bacon, leek and Gruyere quiche and a chocolate almond croissant.  We chose wisely.  The quiche had that perfect and elusive flaky tender crust, and the filling was moist and terribly flavorful.  I've made quiche and that combination is no easy task.  The croissant was delicious, as well, but I am usually way more about the savory.  It's a tiny little place that does a bustling business of NBC tourists.  The coffee was heavenly.  I loved coffee in New York.

And I NEVER went to Starbucks.  Sorry.

Thankfully, it warmed up nicely and by the time we arrived by subway to the New York Public Library (main branch, near Bryant Park), it was a perfect fall morning.  We had to take pictures of the lions outside the building, so our kids would have a frame of reference.  Ghostbusters! 

See?  Lion.

I was in a state of complete and utter rapture upon entering.  You put me in a place with architecture, history, art and BOOKS, and you can collect me sometime next month.  It really is a beautiful building, seeming more like a museum than a library.  Hallowed ground indeed.

We found no ectoplasmic residue, yet we did not visit the old librarian and the card catalogs in the basement.

My sentiments exactly, though modern English works well for most of us:
"A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."


We made quick trip around the block to the beautiful Bryant Park area.  The park covers a full city block, with a large green space, fountains, trees and a few food and drink areas.  It happens to be the location of the famous fashion show held every early spring, showcasing the upcoming fall collections.  I felt important knowing I tread on the same ground as supermodels, celebrities, designers and fashionistas.

We were famished and wanted street food.  Nearly every single corner in New York City has a cart selling something or other - pretzels, hot dogs, nuts, falafel, sausage, and a million other things.  We popped over to the nearest vendor and Eric got an Italian sausage with peppers, onions and grainy brown mustard.  I had a falafel sandwich in a pita with "white sauce" and "hot sauce" plus tomato, lettuce and onions.  Add in a diet Pepsi for me and the bill came to $12.

A few chairs in Bryant Park became our picnic spot, and we ate and slobbered and basked in the sun.  The people watching was great - jugglers, sunbathers, suits, moms with toddlers, painters, and every other type of person you could imagine.  The food was delicious.

Drip-down-to-the-elbow goodness.

Every girl needs at least one item of animal print in her wardrobe.

We rounded out our afternoon with a visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.  It's an incredibly ornate and overwhelming church, rich in history and art.  Staying on Fifth Avenue, we wandered in and out of several shops, buying a few treats at the affordable places (H&M, Sephora) and simply gazing and admiring at the not so affordable places (Saks Fifth Avenue).

Grand Central Station is not to be missed in Midtown Manhattan.  The site of many famous movie scenes, plus the hub of much activity and transportation throughout New York and beyond, it's a place everyone should see one time.  I love the ceiling painted with the Zodiac, the old clock in the center, the huge American flag, and the constant flux of people heading here and there and everywhere in between.

There's Eric, in the middle of it all, with the clock behind him.  Isn't that a great sweater?

Next stop, the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  It was just about 5 o'clock, which meant we needed a bit of rest and refreshment. 

I think we should go in.

In we went, and we toured the lobby, enjoying the decor and general splendor.  Peacock Alley is the name of the lobby bar, and we arrived just in time to get a table near the piano where we had an excellent view of the fabulous people coming and going.

I will not even tell you what we paid for two cocktails (one each, thank you), but we decided in the end the experience made it worth our while.

That's a scotch for Eric, and a fancy champagne cocktail for me,
infused with strawberry and peppercorn.
It sounds pretentious, but it was spicy and yummy.
Those are wasabi peas, mixed nuts, and tart, briny olives.

After a short subway ride back to the hotel, we collapsed into bed for a nap.  Such a delicious feeling to know we could eat, sleep, and do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, at any time of day, without the needs and demands of children.  Sure, we missed them in theory, but we lived in the moment and enjoyed the blissful adult time together.

It was time for a slice.  Of New York pizza.  Now, you could talk to 100 New Yorkers, and they would have 100 different places to recommend to visit for the perfect slice of pizza.  The big, triangular pieces with thin crust and minimal toppings, that you fold in half and eat with reckless abandon.

Our hotel sat above a place called Mike Due Pizza.  We're pretty sure that "Due" means "two" in Italian and Mike had another pizza place in town somewhere, but probalby not named Uno.  We didn't really care, because for 10 bucks we got two slices of pizza (one sausage and ricotta, one spinach, mushroom, olive and ricotta), and two sodas.  It does NOT have to expensive to eat in New York!

We declared it to be a "neighborhood" night, so after pizza at Mikes, we visited Fitzgerald's Pub, also directly under our hotel.  This was a Yankees place, and it was game night, so that's what that was all about.  At least the owners were really Irish!  Fun guys, father and son it seemed.  Then we headed across the street to The Hairy Monk.  Uh huh.  This was a Red Sox place, meaning every article of decor in the joint screamed either Boston or the Sox, and that was the game on the television.  I'd hate to be on the street when the two teams played each other.  Who knows, maybe they don't, baseball is funny like that.

Time for bed, and the close of another great day in the greatest city in the world.

Tomorrow is our last day, and Uptown Day, and what turned out to be the tastiest, busiest, most active, and at the end, most surprising day of all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New York, Day 2

To my great sadness, we have no photos available (yet) for this day.  Camera trouble again, so we used Eric's phone, but alas, are unable to download them.  Hopefully, after he gets a new phone and transfers the photos, I'll be able to add them later.

Nevertheless, NOTHING can change what a great day we had on Day 2, otherwise known as Downtown Day.  Despite being up pretty late the night before, we were up at 7:30 and out the door by 8:30.

Across the street from our hotel was, of course, a place called Bagel Express.  Of course we had to have a bagel in New York, right?  I had an "everything bagel" because I that's how I roll - garlic, salt, seeds, and whatever else makes a salty, savory, chewy round of glory.  Lox spread for me, which was the lovely, raw-ish, smoked salmon mixed into cream cheese.  Yum every day of the week, and twice on Shabbat!  Eric had eggs and bacon on a roll.  Coffee for me, fresh squeezed orange juice for him, but as usual he drank part of my coffee, too.

We hopped on the subway, being professionals by now, and got off at Wall Street.  Hey!  Look!  There's Trinity Church!  Heere at the Wall!  So many of our sights, sounds and savors came from movies, I cannot begin to count.  This one was from "National Treasure."  It's a beautiful church.

The financial district is amazingly laid out.  Large, old buildings, cobbled streets blocked to traffic, suits and cops and pedestrians and tourists like us.  We saw the federal building where George Washington was inaugurated, and the Stock Exchange.  We simply had to pay a visit to the Bull, and took both the appropriate and inappropriate photos.  It's a huge, bronze (?) sculpture of what is now known as the Merrill Lynch bull.  Sponge Bob was there.  Have I mentioned that many parts of NY are both fascinating and surreal, all at the same time?

We then walked down to Battery Park.  Another unexpected surprise!  It's immense!  It was so fun to be at the very bottom of New York City, on a warm, sunny September morning.  We went all the way down to the water's edge and waved to the Statue of Liberty.  She looked especially pretty that morning.  People were boarding boats to go on Statue tours, or harbor tours.  We wondered if the water was fresh or brackish.

Can I just say that squirrels and pigeons in New York are fat and tame, obviously well-fed and very used to human contact?

It was a bad shoe day.  The only real answer for that problem when one is in lower Manhattan is a trip to Century 21.  It's an immense, crowded and busy designer wholesale store, sort of like TJMaxx and Marshall's, times 10, all in one place.  Woah.  I bought a pair of Tommy Hilfiger flip flops that just exactly matched my outfit for the day (floral and black) and ditched my "comfortable and sensible" loafers into Eric's messenger bag.  I could have spent more hours and dollars there, but we had an agenda!

Yes, we did pause at the World Trade Center site.  We didn't have tickets for the memorial area, but we looked and the buildings and immensity of it all.  My heart continues to break.

Another subway ride took us up to Canal Street.  If you've ever breathed the words "designer knockoff" this is the place you have in mind.  The instant a woman emerges from the subway steps, she is accosted by quick and shifty Asian women, with well-worn glossy fliers depicting photos of every designer handbag she's ever fantasized about.  Mutters of "handbag, handbag, you want Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Coach?" are repeated over and over again, on every street and corner in the entire Canal Street area and into Chinatown.  What they want is to escort you to a back room somewhere, away from the eyes of the police, to show you their illegal copies of designer handbags.  In years past, the hawkers openly displayed their goods on street corners, but the police shut that practice down.  Now, they continue to conduct their business on the sly, supposedly.

I declined.

We were hungry and wanted lunch.  Joe's Ginger was our goal, as I had eaten there once before and fell in love with the soup dumplings, noodles, and incredible prices.  After stumbling a bit and over-consulting our map, we found our way to Mott Street and entered the tiny restaurant.

When you walk into a restaurant in Chinatown and there is a table of older Chinese people sharing numerous dishes, you know you've come to the right place.  Other than those folks, we were the only ones in the place.  Mid-week, right time of day, apparently.  Last time I was there, it was Chinese New Year, I had to wait 45 minutes for a table, and had to share with another man and his horridly obnoxious 4 year old son who only ate pizza in his small life, and thus went hungry.

What are soup dumplings?  The only way to know for sure is to eat them, but here it is:  a Chinese dumpling, shaped "pouch style" filled with meat and/or vegetables and SOUP BROTH.  Yes, in the dumpling.  They come hot and moist in a steamer basket, ready to be moved to your large ceramic soup spoon that you've filled with the sauce of soy, rice vinegar and slivered ginger they bring to the table.  My method is to poke the side of my dumpling to allow a bit of the broth to escape, then take the spoon to my mouth, support the dumpling with my chopsticks, and slurp-chew-chomp my way to heaven.

So we shared that, plus a plate of fat, pan-fried noodles with chicken and bok choy.  Many tiny cups of fragrant green tea accompanied our meal.  I'm convinced Asian people are healthy both because of the food they eat and the tea they drink.  Talk about smooth digestion!  We walked away satisfied and rich, to the tune of about $18 for both of us for lunch, including tip.  Eating in NY does NOT have to be expensive.

I wanted to shop, Eric wanted to nap.  That man could take (and has taken) naps in just about any place or situation.  Once, at camp, he konked out on a bed of pine needles with a tree root for a pillow.  This is not made up.  I sent him to Columbus Park, where Chinese men meet to play Mahjong and checkers and card games, at a rather sedate yet cutthroat level.  I advised him to look like a tourist on a park bench, rather than a homeless person.  He'd be on his own if he got arrested, I assured him.

Pashminas, the lovely silky, cashmere-seeming scarves are plentiful in this area.  I bough several, for me, friends, and Eric's co-workers.  I bought cute little Chinese fans for my girls, and popped in and out of several shops, hoping to find a pretty, yet legal, "designer inspired" handbag.  I ended up with one, disappointed there weren't more.  But as the men and boys in my life say often, "Just how many purses do you need, Mom?"  Chumps.

It started to rain, I bought an umbrella for $5 and advised the cute man who sold it to me to raise his prices when the rain starts.  He laughed.  So charming.  Eric texted me that his nap was dampened, and to meet him in the pavilion where the neighborhood had gone to continue their games and their music.  I found him, and again was transported in a way that only NY can produce - was I really there, or in a small village in China somewhere?  I cared little - the experience was heady.

Time for a new culture and experience.  Little Italy!  They do, indeed, sit right there side by side.  Guess what?  There was a festival!

He's the patron saint of Naples, Italy, and we just happened to enter their world on the first of a 10 day festival.  Lucky us.  Mulberry Street was lined with food vendors, restaurants, games, drinks, souvenirs, artisans, and anyone else you can imagine.  There are numerous restaurants on this street, and for the festival they had all built an outdoor seating area in front of their establishments, open on the sides but covered on the top.  The rain had stopped, and we were in for a real treat.

It was time for espresso and cannoli.  Hi there, - can you serve us?

The two most beautiful, charming, and friendly waiters gave us a primo table and took our order.  Why not have a Prosecco?  We were still celebrating our anniversary, right?  Eric had a double espresso and a chocolate-dipped, chocolate-filled cannoli.  I had two bites, and it did not disappoint with a crispy pastry, creamy rich filling, and lovely drizzling of more chocolate on top.  Our charming waiter thought Signora needed her own dessert, so when Eric was done, he brought to me, on the house, a Tiramisu that he says "I made myself, just for you."  Ha.  While I had my first taste, he shared the secret recipe.  I promised I'd write about him on my blog.  And friends, this was not your everyday tiramisu.  I could taste every single element of the dessert - the espresso, the amaretto, the lady fingers, the creamy mascarpone, the bitter cocoa.  We demolished the whole piece.  And of course, they found out it was our anniversary, so before we left, I got a kiss and two more cannolis, on the house (again) to help us celebrate later.  Did I mention these boys were charming?

We walked all the way up Mulberry Street, many many blocks,  It was a nice day, cooling and cloudy, but the rain stayed away, and there was a party, right?  We bought t-shirts for the kids and generally enjoyed holding hands and being part of something special outside of ourselves.

My friend Darbi, from high school, lives in the East Village.  We had a date to meet her and her boyfriend at 6:00 p.m., so we walked the whole way up, taking our time.  Along the way, on Houston street (pronounced Hoh-ston, not Hew-sten) we stepped into - which is one of the many places Harry and Sally met in the movie "When Harry Met Sally."  The famous scene where she did that thing, that embarrassing and funny thing, and the lady at the other table said "I'll have what she's having" - took place at Katz's Deli.  There's even a sign marking the table. 

A bit of time to kill led us into a tiny cafe near Darbi's apartment, where we rested and read magazines and watched it start to rain and blow again.  It was a peaceful hour.

Darbi and her darling Kiwi named Kelvin took us to what might be my favorite new pub.  It's a LITERATURE pub!  Really!  Can you imagine?

The walls are covered with photos and paintings of every author you can imagine.  The women's restroom is wallpapered with pages from Milton's "Paradise Lost."  And when they bring you the check?  It's tucked into a book!  A real book.  Ours was a collection of Hemingway's short stories.  Figures, as I wrote my senior thesis about "A Way You'll Never Be."  Page 402 in our check-book.

It was then around the corner to , a newer place that Darbi and Kelvin hadn't tried yet.  Fun for them and us! 

We started with the caramelized and grilled figs with (get this) gorgonzola mousse.  It was really beyond delicious and simple and perfect.  Eric and I then shared the Tortara di Manzo, which was cured beef tenderloin, shiitake and chantarelle mushrooms, poached egg yolk and mint pesto with sliced radishes.  All piled in a perfect cylinder and beautifully presented.  Succulent, really.  Our shared entree was Tagliatelle Integrali al Ragu di Coniglio, which, translated, meant whole wheat pasta ribbons and a rabbit ragu.  It was great, but the beef tartare was the best thing we ate there.  Chianti was the wine of choice for the meal.

Did I mention that sharing food in New York is the way to go?

A fond goodbye to Darbi and Kelvin, and a cab ride to our hotel was the lovely end to a full and beautiful day.

Tomorrow - we do Midtown.  Today Show, library, shopping, French bakery, street food, Waldorf, neighborhood pizza and pubs.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New York, Day 1

Eric and I have been married 20 years.  TWENTY!  That's cause for celebration, right?

Exactly.  We saved our pennies, made lots of plans, and took a long-awaited trip to New York City.  Just the two of us for five blissful days, while my wonderful friend Michelle stayed with my brood.  They ought to erect a statue in her honor in Central Park . . .

We ate, walked, shopped, ate, talked, looked, laughed, met, gaped, ate, and slept a little bit.  Very few stones went unturned on our trek through the greatest city in the world.

Thus starts a four part blog series covering the highlights of the trip.  Of course, food will feature a good bit in the entries, but I want a permanent journal-type record of all the wonderful things we saw and did together.  I hope you enjoy the photos and editorial.  Please take time to click on the links provided to learn more about some of the places we visited.  And if you get a chance, visit them yourself in person!  New York is amazing.

Here I am, in the "town car" on the way from the airport to our hotel:

I've had a (fixation, obsession) love of Manhattan since I was a very young girl.  Every time I read a book or saw a movie that took place in NY, I felt more and more that I ought to be there.  To visit would be great, sure, but I really hoped to live there one day.  By the time I was in high school, I enjoyed tossing around the phrase "I'm going to be a lawyer and live in New York."

Life happened, and here I am in Minnesota, surrounded by a family I love and involved in a life that keeps me busy and happily fulfilled.  "Some Day" Eric and I might live there for a year, when the kids are out of high school and we can do something crazy like that.

We got to our hotel at about 2:30 p.m.  It was a really interesting place, one I found in a travel book from the library.  I looked under "cheap" and found The Carlton Arms Hotel, on 3rd Avenue and East 25th Street.  Gramercy Park neighborhood, only 8 blocks from the Empire State Building.  Great, central location.  The hotel is artsy.  Nah, that's an understatement.  Each room is painted by a different, local artist.  From the door of the room to every square inch of wall, bathroom, and even ceiling, the rooms all have different themes or subjects.  The first night we did not love our room, so the nice guys at the desk happily switched it for our other three nights.  It's a very no-frills place, no room service or concierge, no elevator, fresh towels upon request, etc.  But for $130 per night with a private bath in a nice, safe neighborhood - SOLD.  It was clean and fun and perfect for us.

View from our fire escape.

After a quick check-in, it was off to the Empire State Building.  I was there once, but 22 years ago, and Eric was eager to see that to get his first look at such a huge city.  On the way, we stopped at a "deli" which we learned in NY means convenience/grocery/liquor/hot-and-cold-food type of store.  Some are bigger than others, some have more to offer in the way of food, or a table to sit at, but they are everywhere!  This one was larger, with plenty of choices.  We wanted something quick and spicy and cheap.

Bowl of ramen soup, with ham, mushrooms and egg.  VERY spicy, delicious.  $6 for the two of us to share.  Just enough fuel to keep us going for the afternoon.

Here's Eric, enjoying:

A few more blocks, and we were there.  What a production they've got going at the ESB.  Lots of weaving through pipe-and-drape, funneling past gift shops and photo booths.  Two different elevator rides (and $22 each for tickets) took us to the 86th floor observation deck.

A few blocks down . . .

                             . . . in the lobby . . .                                               . . . and just one amazing vista!

At the top, we met the first of many people who would leave us with the feeling that New Yorkers are among the friendliest and most delightful people we've ever encountered.  The much talked about "Rude New Yorker" was never found in our treks around the city; just the opposite, really.  Funny, helpful, outgoing, educated, and very willing to share the love of their city with the tourists they encounter.

For the record, while we were at the top, my very sweet husband asked me if I'd marry him again.  I told him I'd give it at least another twenty years, and we shared a kiss which must bring the total of such actions in this very place into the millions.  It's NOT just in the movies!

It was time to head back to our hotel and get ready for a big night out.  It was the actual day of our 20th anniversary, and we had reservations at Bar Americain (  It's owned by Bobby Flay, and judging by the menu and reviews, we had high hopes.  Secretly, I had a tiny apprehension about a restaurant owned by a celebrity chef being rather cliche' and I'm very thankful to say I had no need for such concern.

It's located a few blocks north of Times Square, which means it's in a busy and hopping area.  Even on a Wednesday night, there are people everywhere, on every city street in NY.  It's one of the things I love best about this city - the energy.  The constant flux and flow of people and taxis and conversation and lights and music and life. 

Again, we enjoyed talking to people at the bar, and got some recommendations of things to do and see during our trip.

But let's talk food, shall we?  Alas, in the grand tradition of technology and our lives, it was at this point the camera stopped taking clear pictures.  You'll have to just imagine, then.  But go to the website, they have cool pics!

We shared each course, and started with the Shellfish Cocktail "tasting of all three" - which meant Shrimp-Tomatillo, Crab-Coconut, and Lobster-Avocado.  They came presented on a long plate, and each cocktail was in a large shot glass.  It was lovely!  Our favorite was the shrimp - two huge, perfect shrimp, with a pool of the tomatillo sauce at the bottom of the glass.  It was tart and herby and incredibly good.  Both the crab and lobster ones were delicious too, very fresh and generous pieces of the shellfish, fresh herbs, perfectly seasoned and delightful.  Rose' wine and Prosecco went beautifully with this appetizer (one each, and we shared).

Next was the Lamb Tenderloin Salad.  This was by far our favorite dish of the evening.  Succulent, medium-rare slices of warm lamb, atop a bed of arugula and what tasted like a simple balsamic dressing.  Tiny cherry tomatoes, slivers of fresh mint, a dollop of thick, Greek yogurt and diced and roasted fava beans finished the plate.  So many flavors, but they all melded perfectly, yet could be enjoyed for their own distinct character.  I have never tasted such lamb before, it was just the right amount of tender and rich.  Eric kept asking if I could make that salad at home.  I'd like to try!

Our entree was Duck with Dirty Wild Rice, Pecans and Bourbon Sauce.  Yes, it was as good as it sounds.  There were a few slices of medium rare duck breast, along with a leg and thigh quarter.  The breast meat was so very tender and flavorful, perfect for swirling in the bourbon reduction on the plate.  But the dark meat!  Oh, divine.  I do not know how the skin could be so incredibly crispy and crackly good, while the meat underneath was moist and falling from the bones.  The dirty wild rice had too many things going on for me to even guess, but it was both sweet and savory.  The entire dish had a very Southern feel and flavor to it.  Cabernet and Pinot Noir went very well with both the lamb and the duck.

We rarely order dessert at restaurants, but hey!  it was a celebration!  The Bourbon Praline Profiterole was a good choice.  Tiny cream puffs, split and piled high with vanilla bean ice cream, topped with a crispy-glazed praline pastry crust, drizzled with a bourbon caramel sauce.  Yes, it was as good as it sounds and we wished we could have licked the plate.  Espresso was necessary with dessert.

Sigh.  What a meal to remember.  What a great event to celebrate, and what a wonderful husband I have.

To finish the night, and because the lights were calling, we walked down to Times Square.  We were there once in the winter, but nothing compares to a warm summer evening!  It's as bright as day, even at midnight when we arrived.  A million people might be an exaggeration, but not by much.  SO many people, from all over the world, smiling, taking pictures, holding hands, looking in every direction at once.  It's a magical place, to be sure.

Stay tuned, Day 2 will be coming soon - downtown including Wall Street, World Trade Center site, shopping, Chinatown, Little Italy, lots of walking, and more great food and fun.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Late Summer Garden Soup

The really great thing about my garden this year is the utter lack of attention I've given to my tomatoes.

In years past, we've staked, vined, pinched, coddled and fretted.  This year, I made a declaration:  "We're putting them in the ground, and then ignoring them."  Yes, we weeded and watered, but I chose to let them do what they want to do - sprawl and wander and flop. 

HELLO tomatoes.  I even forgot what type I planted!  There's a good mix in there, but honestly, when they started to produce, one could hear statements such as "I don't remember that I got yellow cherry tomatoes."  Or "what are these lovely big red-yellow-striped things?"

Mostly we eat them fresh.  I give a good number to my mom and dad who adore garden tomatoes but never plant their own.  I've made a couple pots of soup, and the tiny ones get eaten either in the garden or in the kitchen.  Several plates of sliced maters with basil and sometimes cheese show up on lots of dinner menus.

Today, I had a variety of odds and ends that needed to be eaten.  Plus, there were several yellow squash and zucchini that got big all at once.  I only plant jalapeno and banana peppers, and they are still producing.  Herbs?  Lots and lots of them, too.

Here's what ended up in the pot today.  You can use whatever is in abundance.  I wish I'd had an eggplant to add to the glory, but alas, I've harvested ONE lovely purple beauty off two plants.  No more flowers.  Gardening is such a crap-shoot.

This recipe made about 2 quarts of soup.

Late Summer Garden Soup

several tomatoes of whatever variety, cored and seeded  (about 8 large tomatoes)
a few peppers, hot or mild, seeded and chopped
2 medium yellow squash, sliced
2 medium zucchini, sliced
1 shallot, chopped (onion works, too)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
butter, a tablespoon or two
1/2 cup dry white wine (or water)
handful of each parsley, basil and oregano
salt and pepper
heavy cream, sour cream or full-fat yogurt (optional, but recommended)

In a pot, melt the butter.  Add the shallots, peppers and garlic.  Saute until just starting to soften.  Pour in the wine and let it bubble for a minute.  Drop in the tomatoes, squash and zucchini and bring to a simmer.  Season with salt and pepper. Add the herbs, turn down the heat, and let it all cook and meld and be happy.

After about 15-20 minutes of simmering, turn off the heat.  Blend it all up with an immersion blender, or in a regular blender.  Taste for seasoning, adding more of this or that to your taste.  Stir in the creamy-dairy option of your choice.

If you make a big enough batch, you ought to freeze a quart.  In November or December, you will be very glad you did.  Serve it with another dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of red chile flakes.