Saturday, December 31, 2011

New York New Year

What a year! TLOML engaged me for a lifetime's blissful commitment. We moved from sunny Malibu to spiky New York. TLOML and I perfected pizza, and I learned how to make gumbo. We survived a hurricane and living in a rabbit hutch. Phew! And 2012 is going to be just as milestone-y: we will move to London and get married. If he doesn't change his mind, that is.

To mark the turning of the year, I suppose we should go large. But then again, we have been going large for weeks on end. It could be time to dial the whole celebrations thing right down...

I hear the traditional way to celebrate New Year's Eve in New York City is to watch the ball drop in Times Square. I don't understand what this ball is, where it is dropped from, whether it bounces or who catches it. Given that TLOML won't go within two blocks of Times Square on a normal day, the chances of getting him there for an event are slim to none. So we'll skip that and I will remain in happy ignorance about the ball mechanics.

We are also politely ignoring some of the more sociable parties on offer, including a big fashiony hoopla in the Meatpacking District and some champagne quaffing in Central Park's Strawberry Fields. Instead we are going out for a fairly early steak dinner with a small group of good friends. We will be able to walk home and hit one of our favourite neighbourhood bars at midnight.

Bringing in 2012 with sedate cocktails a deux in a cosy bar that's close to home - it's an entirely befitting way to start the year when I think we might finally, finally settle down.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, a very happy New Year to you!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Silver bells

The time for celebrating Christmas is almost over for another year. We'll declare it officially done when the gingerbread house is all gone, I think.
The landscaping and roof are all but gone but I think it will see us through another couple of breakfasts
The end of the festive season means the end of the public playing of Christmas music. I say 'public' because no-one needs to know that I sometimes listen to Mariah's 'All I want for Christmas' on my ipod.

I love Christmas music. I used to favour carols and play them loud throughout December. But since being in the States I've grown very fond of a song you just don't hear back home:  Silver Bells.

Not only is 'Silver Bells' insanely catchy, it also has the most ludicrious lyrics of any Christmas song. Ever. This song takes the overt commercialism of 'Santa Baby', the irreligosity of 'Jingle Bell Rock', and raises them some massive irrelevance.

Some highlights from those lyrics: 
City sidewalks
Busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there's
A feeling of Christmas...
...Strings of street lights
Even stoplights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home
With their treasures
Hear the snow crunch
See the kids bunch
This is Santa's big scene
I love the idea of traffic lights being Christmassy. That and shopping in rush. Ah, truly the spirit of Christmas! I bet it was written by a New Yorker.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Time to cleanse?

I've had a gluttonous few weeks. Rum drinking in Jamaica and Thanksgiving feasting was followed by several dinners for TLOML's birthday, and then we prepared for Christmas with four days of eating steak and empanadas. Ouch (that's my waistband talking).

This morning I started on the path back to fitness. I went for my first run in ten days. And had my first breakfast which did not involve gingerbread or dulce de leche for over a week. It was not fun. And if I want to get back in shape I'm looking at several weeks of more of  the same. Surely there's an easier way?

Which is how I got to thinking about the juice cleanse option. Juice cleansing is all the rage here in NYC. I believe it's all the rage because I know one woman who's done it, and one who's considered it but decided against. Which given that I only know three women in all of New York - okay, it's a small sample, but I think it counts as a phenomenom.


A juice cleanse involves drinking only juice for at least three days, five if you're fanatical. These juices are as far away from Bloody Marys or Mimosas as you can imagine. Think kale, beet and wheatgrass - with perhaps a shot of almond milk as a special treat - and you're on the right lines. Apparently consuming nothing but liquidised vegetables rests the digestive tract and cleanses the body of toxic residue.

I guess by toxic residue they mean things like that New York strip I ate last night, and the eggnog I had for desert. Sigh. You know, if the portions weren't so big here, and the food wasn't so fatty and sugary and delicious, we'd all have a lot less toxic residue.

By the sounds of this NY Times-er's experience, the juice cleanse can be pretty unpleasant. I read somewhere that one of those unfeasibly proportioned Victoria's Secret models consumes only liquids for 9 days before the show where they parade about in their skimpies. I think the other name for that 'diet' is starvation. Since I have no plans to walk semi-naked in public in the near future, I think I will pass.

Perhaps  a daily run and a marginally healthier diet is a better option after all. The High School Reunion Diet sounds interesting (inspired name, isn't it?). Thirty days of moderation sounds a lot more manageable than five days of fasting. Frankly, I suspect I'd crack by elevenses on the first day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Snowbirds

TLOML's mother joined us for Christmas in New York. She was definitely going against traffic, on her trip up here from sunny West Palm Beach, Florida. Most people go in the other direction.

In Florida they call them 'snowbirds' - the wealthy New Yorkers who flee the snow and sleet of the chily North East for a holiday season in the sunshine. What's strange to me is that once they get to Palm Beach these snowbirds still want to feel a little Christmassy. Which requires, apparently, some snow.

City Place, an upmarket shopping and eating place in West Palm, has the perfect solution. Twice daily 'snow falls', on a little Christmas tree scene in the centre of the shopping arcade.

There's something distinctly odd about standing in summer clothes, beneath palm trees, in the snow. Personally I think those snowbirds are just wimping out. Maybe it's the Northerner in me, but I really think it's appropriate to be somewhere cold at Christmas.

We didn't have any snow this Christmas but we had a good festive, biting/ bracing wind and a frosty chill in the air. It made perfect sense to be wrapped up in puffas and woolly hats in the crush at Rockefeller Plaza and window gazing on Fifth Avenue. Or best of all, tucked up with a turkey sandwich and slowly decaying gingerbread house in Rabbit Hutch Towers.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

...from all at the Palace of Isadora Watts.
 This is what happens when the Americans buy that tumbledown rustic barn, put in underfloor heating, a sound system and a pool.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Our Christmas Miracle

Once the gingerbread pieces were - hurriedly - baked, the turkey ordered, and our online grocery shopping done, it made perfect sense to go to Argentina for 5 days. After all, what better way to prepare your body for the marathon of rich Christmas food, than a good warm up with empanadas, steak, dulce de leche, and Malbec?

We arrived home yesterday and I surveyed the gingerbread materials I had created, as I said, in rather a hurry. Memories of suggestions like 'reshape the pieces while they are still warm to make sure they have straight edges' and 'handle carefully, large pieces are fragile' floated back to the surface of my mind. I was in too much of a hurry when I made it to pay much attention to minor details. Perhaps these minor details were important though...

I don't know much about building but something about these walls and this roof just doesn't look right.
Look closer.
Is it absolutely essential that the roof is all in one piece?

This gable end is not entirely orthodox

And just how straight do the edges need to be?
Fortunately for me, TLOML has power tools and he knows how to use them.

And I know (from bitter experience) the sticking power of burnt sugar. So I bubbled up some caramel, and together we constructed our lovely gingerbread house.
 TLOML and his mother have been kind enough to use phrases like 'charmingly rustic', 'a fixer-upper' and 'like somewhere an American would pay millions for in the South of France' to describe it.

And the Christmas miracle? When I got out of bed this morning it was still standing!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cortados and mochafrappucinos

The coffee in Argentina is uniformly great. Not just the good stuff in restaurants or cafes, but even the coffee on the hotel buffet, or from the machine in TLOML's office.

Argentina coffee is served just how I like it: dark, thick, and fairly short. No ridiculous buckets of watery 'drip' filth here. TLOML likes it too - it was in Argentina that he was introduced to the cortado, which is dark, thick, fairly short and a bit milky.

In the US, cortados are hard to find, except in fancy 'artisan' coffee places. In fact, the ridiculous but good Joe serves it, which is why we go there despite it being, as I said, ridiculous.

Cortados are not hard to find in Argentina. Rather rarer are the big watery buckets I hate, and silly things like mintmochachocalattefrappucinos. Which I suppose explains the long queue outside the Starbucks in Cordoba: rarity value.
 'I hear the pumpkin ginger creamy lattes have arrived, let's go!'.


Sorry to sound like a moaning 'Occupy Starbucks' liberal in search of a fictional authenticity. After all, why shouldn't the good Argentines of Cordoba have their Starbucks too? But do they have to like it quite so much? I find it rather depressing. Personally I'll stick with the thick dark stuff, like the tourist I clearly am.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Time Travel

We began this trip with a flight from La Guardia, which is the most charmingly old school of New York's airports. A fraction of the size of Newark and JFK, it is also about 20 years behind in terms of technology.

Witness the phone book bank in the lounge, so convenient for looking up old friends on arrival:

And the cricket scoreboard-style flight details at the gate - no fancy computer screens here:
The TSA staff are relaxed an pre-9/11 way too. It's really a very nice little airport.

24 hours and three flights later we arrived in Cordoba, to the heart of TLOML's Argentine power base. Cordoba is a lovely city. It was founded in 1573 but is thoroughly modern, being home to a number of excellent universities, bright students, shiny office buildings and global businesses (TLOML's being a great example of the same).

There are also horses pulling carts. Not many of them, but like the La Guardia phone book facility, just enough to provide a charming reminder of a simpler time.

It's midsummer and powerfully hot here, which is a shock after the biting cold of NYC. And as I sit in a sun-warmed office considering what flavour of gelato to have after lunch, I am buying Christmas groceries online at D'Agostino.

All in all, a most discombobulating trip. But really rather nice.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gingerbread City

This year I have my first opportunity to host Christmas in the US. TLOML's mother is coming to town and we will have Christmas lunch in the Rabbit Hutch. I have decided to blend my favourite English Christmas traditions with the best of American holiday festivities.

Yes, there will be stuffed turkey, and sprouts, and bacon and chestnuts. Proper stilton will be served. There will also be pecan pie for pudding, since I think our American brethren are right to have skipped on Christmas pud.

The American tradition I am most excited about adopting is the gingerbread house. Gingerbread houses are cool. All the fun of baking, and decorating, and then you get to eat it? Genius. It's the festive project that just keeps on giving.

Gingerbread houses don't need to be the traditional, Hansel-and-Gretel-style cottage, you know. I toyed with trying to create a mini-Malibu, with marshmallows for rocks, and houses jutting out of a low cliff. I also considered creating a mini-23rd Street, complete with a Flat Iron building, the London Terrace, and the Met Life building. But this is my first house, I know I should be unambitious. 


Making a scale model out of biscuits....
...how hard can it be?



I could be really lazy and just buy the pieces, ready made. Or even make it out of something else, like crackers, or these strange waffle tiles we saw in Little Russia. That's a lot less hassle than baking, and the house will probably be sturdier.
Food or construction material?

On balance I decided to go the traditional route. Perhaps it's the effect of all those Martha Stewart magazines. I intend to make the gingerbread myself, and from it I will construct a little cottage that is charming in its simplicity.

Forward planning is crucial. Apparently the gingerbread is stronger if it's a few days old - no-one wants to live with a flimsy gingerbread house, do they? And TLOML and I are about to fly to Argentina, returning the day before Christmas Eve. So I need to get my act together, and start the baking now. In fact, making my gingerbread was the one thing I really wanted to accomplish this weekend.

But a wind blew in from the West Coast and dumped 6 of the best eaters and drinkers we know on our doorstep. Friday and Saturday disappeared in a brilliant whirlwind of bars, restaurants and a trip to the Brooklyn Flea. The gingerbread is still fairly conceptual. It exists in my imagination, and in separate containers of sugar, molasses and spices. It's Sunday now, and I'm looking at those containers and thinking that a Saturday night that ends in the consumption of beeritas (it's a margarita and a beer in the same glass. Obvs.) at 3am is not conducive to Sunday morning baking projects. Martha would have known better.

So, will I just post this blog and go back to bed, leaving the gingerbread house dream unfulfilled for another year? Or will I push on through and get baking? Watch this space...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A season for giving

Giving many many tips, that is.

Grown ups in the UK often tip their milkman, the dustbin men and the postman. I think a tenner used to be the norm, but as I never felt sufficiently grown up to do it, I don't know for sure.

Now we live in a building with actual staff, I suppose it's time to grow up. Tips all round, for the hard working team of Rabbit Hutch Towers.

I thought we could just give our favourites some money, and skip the rest. TLOML says that's not fair. So we sought the advice of our favourite New Yorker, on the logistics and etiquette of festive white glove tipping. She told us to expect a 'Happy Holidays' card from the building, with everyone's names it in, so we didn't miss anyone.

For a couple of weeks now we've been eagerly awaiting this note. They send it very late at Rabbit Hutch Towers - it just arrived on Thursday. There are fourteen people on the list.

I wondered aloud if we have to tip everyone, even that guy with George Michael beard who the other staff clearly don't like, and this 'Jewell' who I've never seen before in my life. I suggested to TLOML that we go down the list of fourteen people and each put a mark next to the names of the ones we recognise. Anyone without a mark gets no tip.

Again, he says this is unfair. I grudgingly accept he is right. Also, the unseen staff probably work harder than anyone. TLOML claims 'Jewell' is that really friendly lady he sees all the time in the elevator.

Okay, fine, we'll tip that mysterious woman who spends all day going up and down in the lifts. And the George Michael beard guy, maybe he's unpopular because he has to hold people to task, and he does a really great job.

So, we will tip them all. 'Tis the season, and all that. According to the interweb, a tip of $20 to $100 per person is acceptable. You do the math... Suffice to say we're sticking towards the lower end of that spectrum.

Finally, the etiquette of giving. Is it okay to just stick the money in an envelope with their name on it? I say not, which is why I started my Friday writing 14 identical Christmas cards. Is it safe to just leave cash, or is a cheque smarter? After all, if Jewell is disgruntled hardly anyone tipped her, what's to stop her lifting a few of those envelopes full of crisp Benjamins (or in our case, Andrew Jacksons)? This is is why TLOML will start his weekend writing 14 almost identical cheques.

Happy Holidays! And I hope you get all the tips you deserve, even if all you do is ride in a lift all day.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Traditions

Traditions are usually created as a happy accident. We do something brilliant, we love it, and then we do it again. Before we know it, a tradition has been created.

TLOML's annual birthday mani/pedi is a case in point. Around this time last year he told me that his favourite birthday present from the previous year had been the mani/ pedi we enjoyed at Bellacures on Robertson Boulevard. So I took the hint and off we went to Deluxe Nails in Santa Monica.

TLOML likes the nail spa experience because in addition to beautifully groomed extremities, he gets to go all Korean on the nail spa ladies. They love him, and ask him questions about his Korean heritage, and tell him how handsome he is, and talk about kim chi, whilst eying yours truly, his white bride, with visible scepticism.

By the time this December rolled around, I did not need to be asked. We pootled down to Nailesthetic and got our hands and feet taken care of. Again, they all cooed over TLOML and his special Korean genes. And, as he explained to them, this has become a birthday tradition.

My favourite little sister told me yesterday that she is playing The Present Game with the rest of my family, little nieces and nephews included. The Present Game involves the rolling of sixes to win small gifts - some naff, some excellent - and a mad scramble at the end of the game to get rid of naff gifts and secure excellent ones. The Wondertwin and I learned The Present Game on a Christmas trip to a dear Danish friend in Copenhagen, where she played it with her Danish friends. At their party the naff gifts included a cabbage, and the excellent ones a lovely bracelet, which led to a big brouhaha that we thought was inspired. We imported the concept back to London, and I introduced my family to it, and now, over a decade later, The Present Game has become such a Christmas tradition that it happens whether I am there or not (sob).

On the way home from TLOML's birthday mani/pedi today, we bought a cute little Christmas tree. TLOML decorated it with all the treasures in our tiny Christmas box, we hit up the 'Holiday' genre on our shared itunes library, and I made gumbo. (It turns out pale faced Yorkshirewomen can make gumbo, after all. Who knew?).
Shiny toes, gumbo bubblin', tree is dressed - all's well in the festive Rabbit Hutch

I suggested to TLOML that we do this gumbo and tree decoration thing every year forever. He agreed. And just like that, we created a new tradition.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Time to deck the halls

It's definitely time to deck the halls with boughs of holly, mismatched strands of tinsel, and angels made from shuttlecocks. The tree has been up in the lobby of Rabbit Hutch Towers for a couple of weeks now, and TLOML's dad was telling us about spending 3 days assembling and decorating their tree.

But our ability to really go nuts on Christmas decorations is somewhat limited.

When I moved to West Hollywood to live with TLOML 'for six to twelve months', in November 2009, I put my Christmas decorations into storage. (Along with all my wordly possessions, most of which will look really redundant when we finally get back to London and unpack).

When we moved to Malibu in January 2010, I put many of his Christmas decorations in the trash. My justification was 'we're going to be moving to London by the end of the year'. But my real reason was I don't like those fibre optic light-up trees.

So when we were still in Malibu in December 2010, I splashed out on a couple of decorations and supplemented them with candy canes and cookies.

And so it is, this December, while other households are carrying many boxes down from the attic or up from the basement, unpacking metres of fairy lights and crates of much loved baubles... this is what we have to decorate with:


The mug is for scale. This is a small box.

Is this the lamest Christmas decoration collection you've ever seen?
We're going to buy a tree this weekend. I guess I'd better run out and get some candy canes, and start baking cookies again.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wonderful gifts from the mall in the sky

Yesterday we travelled to Snowmass/ Aspen, for a weekend of throwing myself down a hill while TLOML waits at the bottom. (Ah the joy of being a late bloomer, when it comes to winter sports.)

On our flight out here I had the chance to peruse  Skymall, which I blogged about when we moved to NY (I never did get around to buying those furniture items I liked so much). During an extremely busy December and with Christmas around the corner, I took a closer look.


It’s about this time of year that this store of miracles gets thicker - it's chock full of Christmas gifts you never imagined possible. For example, I’m thinking of getting this wine ager for TLOML.

He’s been lugging some of these old bottles around for over a decade, from San Fran to West Hollywood, from Malibu to New York. Are we really going to move them now to London? Surely it would be smarter to drink that 1973 burgundy, and when we move, just buy a bunch of £10 villages wines and age them ourselves?

And since he likes gadgets so much, I’m sure he’ll appreciate this handy i-phone strap.

So convenient!

Also these ingenious $20 cereal bowls. The perfect gift for someone who is both annoyingly picky and supergreedy. 
Just a little bucket of ‘crispy’ cereal to start the day.

Ooooh I'm going to go on such a spree on the return flight!

Friday, December 9, 2011

What we wore

(It turns out some people want to know, okay?).

Me: a slightly dull electric blue dress, livened up by a silvery sort of bolero jacket with sharp lapels. I call it my magicians jacket, and I got it from the PDSA charity shop in Kentish Town in 2002. And that is why I never throw clothes away - it turns out it was totally Met appropriate.

TLOML: a very dapper suit, shirt, no tie.

Yeah, we rocked it. And you'll be relieved to hear we didn't see anyone dressed like this:
Maybe it's the holiday season, and people are treating their night at the opera more seriously. But it seemed to me that standards were kept fairly high and pretty formal. Which is quite right too, as the Met Opera building is such a gorgeous space. Here are some pictures I swiped from other people's blogs to prove it:



 Plaid and skinny jeans on these sweeping staircase? Thank goodness, no.

PS The performance was great too.



Thursday, December 8, 2011

What to wear? What not to wear?

TLOML's 40th celebrations rumble on. Tonight we go to the Met to see La Boheme. Aren't we fancy?

Well yes, actually we are. And I like an excuse to get dressed up. Now according to what I have seen in that well known guide to Manhattan etiquette, Sex and the City, one should wear couture to the Met. Preferably Oscar de la Renta. And then hang off the arm of a handsome-but-inappropriate chap in black tie.


But I know, from that time I wore my tutu and flesh coloured leotard out, that what works for Carrie does not always work for me. So I googled the Met dress code and here is what I learned...


Yelp is usually a good source. And this Yelper was adamant: 'Put on your most ridiculously fancy dress, don gloves and a freakin' stole if you feel like it, you won't feel out of place for a second. Wear a floor length black velvet gown, and glide out onto the balcony, to look at the people who, although they are not all so attractive, did come here from all over the world, and took the time to get dressed in their best duds.'

I'm not sure about a floor length velvet gown though. I'm not sure about velvet anything to be honest. Except maybe a cushion. So I was still leaning like a lazy girl towards the ubiquitous skinnies, heels and a slinky top.

For what it's worth, the Met themselves say 'There is no dress code at the Met. People dress more formally for Galas or openings of new productions, but this is optional. We recommend comfortable clothing appropriate for a professional setting.' Okay, it isn't opening night. But we aren't working either. So I'm not wearing a 'pant suit' and that's for sure.

Then I read this brilliant Yelp contribution from one Rebecca K, which removed all doubt:

'To all Hipsters - I don't wander into your coffee shop indie-jam sessions wearing a gown and satin heels. So please keep your 10:00-shadow, flannel, 1980's glasses and ball cap wearing hipster filth out of the Metropolitan Opera House. Even Basquiat knew when to don a tailored suit. Have some respect for the arts.
[At my last visit] There were random hipsters out for an elegant night of "non-conformism", one female wearing her grandmother's glasses, flannel, jeans, and sneakers, and her male in a "vintage" blazer from Urban Outfitters, a t-shirt with something pointlessly "ironic" printed on the front of it, and skinny jeans. A pair of young females also in t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers (but one wore a fedora) were sloppily eating ice cream cones whilst heading up the stairs for their seats (why they were let in with those I do not know). And there I was in a satin gown and pumps with numerous other befuddled patrons of the arts, doggy-paddling through the sea of anti-pathy that began swelling up within me as I watched the hipsters scuttle by in their desperately indifferent fashions. It was positively horrific.

A little respect would be nice. It's the Opera House not Yankee Stadium.'

'Rebecca K' made me laugh out loud. She also made me very afraid. I may not be wearing satin but fo' shizz I will dress right up.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Emperor's New Pasta

Forget everything you ever knew about pasta. The new pasta is the pasta-free pasta.

We learnt this at Del Posto last weekend, during one of a series of events to celebrate TLOML turning forty. Del Posto is our local special occasion restaurant of choice. Despite having eaten like kings at Quality Meats the night before, we decided to go for the thirty-four course tasting menu.
Okay, I'm exaggerating for effect. It was only 8 courses. Twelve if you include the bar nibbles, 2 rounds of amuse bouches and the takeaway box (more on that later). Whatever, it was the longest and largest meal of my life. We were eating at a steady pace for well over three hours.

We left the restaurant groaning and clutching our stomachs and agreeing that the veal course was overkill. And we would have settled for 50 layers of yesterday's lasagne, not all 100. (We also wondered if there was a discount for getting today's, rather than yesterday's lasagne, but fortunately were not gauche enough to ask the wait staff).

To give you an idea, here's the ostrich course. That's an ostrich carpaccio, an ostrich pate, and a date sealed in ostrich-stock-based aspic. And a barley crisp, obvs. This was actually a slightly controversial course for us, as the wine pairing was, in fact, a beer. A very nice beer but still... for what we were paying we kinda expected fine wines all the way. Anyway all those different ostriches were delicious.

Back to the pasta. Pasta nudi is not, it transpires, pasta served by the rotund waiter in the buff. In fact, it is pasta without pasta. Once you take the ravioli away, ricotta-stuffed ravioli becomes just, well, ricotta.
This is what 'nude' ricotto-stuffed ravioli looks like

I'm being sniffy because it's easy to poke fun at the pretentions of Del Posto. But me-oh-my it is incredibly good food. A most memorable dinner, fantastic service and a pianist playing Burt Baccarach. And the company was not half bad either - our favourite New Yorker and our favourite West Coast Rascal made for a perfect foursome.
And that takeaway box? Two perfect dark chocolate truffles in a jolly little gold box. Sigh. They gave our fridge a nice festive feel for a few hours but I could only resist so long... Perfect for breakfast the day after a 3000 calorie dinner.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Busy busy?

People think of New York as a place where every one is always a hurry.

Not so. A short Sunday afternoon walk through Washington Square Park reveals many many New Yorkers who clearly have way way too much time on their hands

Like these no-hopers.
Thanks, but no thanks.
The dudes who hang out just jamming with their maracas:

video


And these chumps who get together to show off their silky skills with a hackysack:
video 

To the credit of New York, these two weirdos went largely ignored:
video

Still, a lot of people there with a lot of 'New York minutes' to fill... Actually, it's kind of a nice vibe. Makes a change from the cut and thrust of Rabbit Hutch Towers anyway.

To Russia and back for five bucks

This time last Sunday TLOML and I were in deepest darkest Russia. Or so it seemed.

This was the scene on the street:
video
(Dear ipad viewers, you can't see this, but it's a man and his mother performing Russian folk music)

The liquor stores were packed with an incredible range of reasonably priced vodkas...
...some obscure Georgian wines...
And of course, brandy in a bottle shaped like a gun.
Forget buying snow clothes in the discount stores on 6th Avenue - these Russians know how to dress when the temperature drops.


There were stands selling caviar in the street. And many strange smoked fish and meats for sale in the grocery stores. We ate blintzes and knishes in a cafe with terrible decor and a filthy toilet. The disgusting, grimy loo and the general low rent vibe were actually a bit depressing - just like, as a child in Thatcher's Britain, I would imagine Soviet Russia to be.

It wasn't all bad though. That smoked sausage TLOML selected made an excellent appetizer. And the next day I used it in a cod-and-chorizo-stew inspired grouper-and-strange-Russian-sausage stew.
This is Little Russia, aka Brighton Beach. It's a quick ramble along the boardwalk from Coney Island, about an hour on the subway, and yet about a million light years away from West Chelsea.

We enjoyed our visit, but won't be hurrying back. Till the next time we are in the market for caviar, furs or vodka, that is.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bucket list updates

Progress on the Bucket List is going pretty well.

We made it to Coney Island - I think I may have mentioned it once or twice lately. And TLOML's birthday prompted a trip to the Intrepid which he loved. He said 'wooah' and 'wow' about a hundred times as we walked around the flight deck. Next week, also for his birthday, we're going to La Boheme at the Met, which takes care of the Lincoln Center.

A couple of impromptu drinks in Wilfie and Nell spat the two of us out, starving, in the West Village. So we went to the hip Spotted Pig. Not sure if it was on the official bucket list but we've wanted to try it for a while. (For what it's worth I prefer the Smith and Mills burger).

But for every thing I tick off the Bucket List, I seem to add something new. Can you believe I've never visited Washington DC? Or eaten crab in Maryland? They are both do-able in a day, or at least an overnight trip, from New York, so there's really no excuse. New Orleans is further but I really want to visit. And I haven't played sax in the subway either (thanks to my little sister for that suggestion).
Plus there are all those bars I've yet to try. Campbell's Apartment, the old school cocktail bar in a former station master's apartment in Grand Central. And Macao, a Chinese-Portugese gambling-themed bar by the same genius mixologists of classic speakeasy Employee's Only. Can I really leave Manhattan without sampling them?

I heard this week that I don't need to rush back right after New Year, and I think I might need that extra week or two. There's still a lot of ground to cover...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Competitive eating

Our first stop in Coney Island was Nathan's hot dog establishment. This is partly because it is the first building we saw as we exited the subway. But also because it is truly a mecca for hot dog lovers. They don't mess about with papaya juice either.


Every year Nathan's hosts a hot dog eating competition. Here's the wall of fame,which is half a block wide.
 The 'international' is a nice touch. Eating competitions seem to me to be a uniquely American occupation. There's a show TLOML and I love called Man Vs Food where this unsurprisingly rotund man called Adam Richman - a hero of TLOML's - travels the US taking on all those food challenges.

You know, challenges like 'Fat Andy's pizza challenge' where the person who can eat a 12 lb pizza in less than an hour wins $500 and the dubious honour of having their photo on Fat Andy's 'wall of pain'. (No-one has won this one yet). Or the San Francisco Creamery's Kitchen Sink Challenge: a 2 gallon sundae which includes 8 scoops of ice cream, 8 toppings and 8 servings of whipped cream. If you eat it in an hour, you earn a place on the Wall of Fame and free icecream for a year. Before Richman, only 4 people had ever succeeded. Richman nailed it in 45 minutes, despite the fact that, as regular viewers know, dairy is his Achilles heel.

TLOML talks proudly of his glory days eating with his buddy JG, who once took down 78 pieces of sushi in a Washington, DC restaurant (TLOML only managed 50 or so). They were apparently in training for weeks, eating 30 or 40 pieces at a time before going to lie on a grassy knoll nearby to recover. If the Senator they worked for hadn't left under a sex scandal cloud I suspect they would have been dismissed for doing nothing but eat and then digest all summer long. And I bet that innocent sushi place doesn't offer 'all you can eat' anymore.

So far, so American. For the first few decades, Americans ruled at Nathan's hot dog eating competition too.

Then along came the Japanese. Suddenly Jay Green's 13 dogs doesn't look so impressive, does it?
 
In fact, for almost a decade Japanese competitive eaters dominated at the Nathan's competition. And these were not big burly dudes either.

TLOML theorises that there's an actual competitive eating institute in Japan where people train. Certainly a fair amount of strategy seems to go into it. Kobayashi does a stretch as he eats, apparently known as the 'Kobayashi Shake', to squish the food down inside him. He also dips his hot dog buns in water before eating them, which he calls the Solomon Method. He is apparently a national legend in Japan.

But don't be downhearted, America. Joey Chestnut bounced onto the scene and won at Nathan's the last few years. He's currently ranked first in the world at eating a lot, according to the International Federation of Competitive Eating. And yes, the IFCE is headquartered in... the US.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coney Island's finest garden


I guess March 2009 was a quiet month for the Parks and Rec garden competition. Still, here it is, Coney Island's best garden. A little round patch of hope and shrubbery in the wasteland between Nathan's and the boardwalk.