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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Royal Wedding Breakfast

Apparently I was so inordinately excited about the Royal Wedding that I woke up at 3 a.m. to make sure I didn't miss a moment. After an unsuccessful attempt to fall back asleep (my alarm was set for 5:30), I got up and started watching the coverage when it began at 4.

I was glad I did! I loved every minute of it. The arrivals were fab. Even better were the pictures coming through from the neighborhood watch party hosted by my mom's friends in Florida. There is nothing better than trading 4 a.m. Facebook posts with your hometown buddies, including this picture of my favourite fourth-grade teacher and her nod to the queen.
My mom also gets a spirit award for her a.m. headgear. 
As much as I am loving New York, there are times when I really miss everyone in Quincy, so it was neat to be able to share in some of their pre-dawn fun.  

Back to the real hat parade. One of my faves was the large pink sombrero worn by Earl Spencer's fiancee (I think). It was so massive, it was hard to get a good look at her, but I am a sucker for pink. Unfortunately, can't seem to find a pic better than this one...
So, as I am incapable of fully declaring that my favorite look, I think I'll give this one my blue ribbon.
Elegant, and a fun color to boot. (On that note -- maybe Kate's mom thought she needed to play it safe, but I thought her blue-grey getup was just blah.) Speaking of color pops, I also loved what Joss Stone was wearing, right down to the red peep-toe shoes.
Not sure what's left to be said about Bea and Eugenie's Halloween costumes...
Really, girls? There's plenty of room to be creative without crossing the realm of bizarre. I'd love to know how much those creations cost. Until I saw Eugenie's figure-eight concoction, I thought this Dianne Lane lookalike on the left had taken the cake with the football bleu avec rose.
You can be unique without being completely off the wall. Reference Exhibit A below.  
Finally, I always adore what Prince Felipe's gorgeous wife Letizia wears. Those Spaish royals are pure class.
Speaking of Letizia, did anyone else think Kate's gown was slightly reminiscent of Letizia's from 2004? (Swoon as you will over William and Harry, ladies, I maintain that Prince Felipe truly is Prince Charming.)
And -- on the beautiful people note, how is it I've never seen these gorgeous Spencer cousins before? Stunning!
Anyway, for wedding breakfast, I scurried around the neighborhood (oops, neighbourhood) Thursday evening. Somehow no one had anticipated the run on scones. Really? I had to settled for some sad, dry Irish scones in a plastic bag. They were only one step above English muffins. But heated up and dabbed with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and/or orange marmalade, they did the trick. Snaps to Kurt for his presentation...
Kurt had come out of his room around 5:30 looking absolutely presh in his fedora. We enjoyed our scones with lots of tea while we watched the pre-ceremony buildup.
Kurt insisted I put on my hat so we were both properly attired for such an auspicious occasion... (Kurt, does this bathrobe make my butt look big?)
For our second course, Kurt toasted English muffins and cooked bacon in the toaster oven and made Welsh rarebit. For the uninitiated (like moi), that would be cheese sauce over toast. Add-ons like tomato and bacon are optional. You make a basic bechamel sauce and then add cheese, porter (dark beer), worsterchire and a dab of hot sauce.

We enjoyed it with wine glasses of sparkling orangeade. Such fun! Leigh Ann might have called this a "no carb left behind" extravaganza, but you can't beat a breakfast that combines sweet and "savoury" elements.

Maybe it's just the cheese talking, but I really loved watching the wedding -- all five hours' worth. I finally made myself turn it off at 9. I got a little teary-eyed watching both the moment William first saw Kate in the Abbey and the kisses on the balcony. There was just something so sweet and human about it. So, here's hoping happily ever after isn't just for fairy tales.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach and Peas

Well, I told myself I'd cook once a week in my new kitchen...

Not really hitting that goal, since this is only the second meal I've cooked, and I'm approaching my one-month anniversary. Oh, well. There's always next month.

Anyway, tonight I was inspired to make something that's become a springtime favorite since I discovered it a few years ago: Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach and Peas. The lemon and the veggies trick you into thinking you're eating something healthy, but the cream and the gnocchi are just pure comfort. I love the slight kick from the bit of red pepper.
This is a great weeknight staple because you can keep most of the ingredients on hand. Unfortunately, I was down to nothing but milk and Raisin Bran, so I had to make a field trip to the market. Kurt had told me about the West Side Market on 7th Avenue and 14th Street. I'm in love and cannot wait to return. It was even better than the nearby D'Agostino's. The salad bar was like a rainbow oasis! There is nothing more dangerous than going to the grocery store when you're hungry. Fortunately, I held myself in check and stuck to my list of ingredients (note to the cheese counter: I'll be back).

I added some seared salmon to make it more of a complete meal. Even better, I picked up a bottle of fizzy rose at the wine store nearby. Excellent! 

Sunset Picnic on the Hudson

Thank heavens! We finally have some spring weather in the city. I was sick on the last pleasant day two weeks ago, so when it was in the upper 70s (I think it might have hit 80) on Tuesday, I headed out for an evening stroll.
Side exercise note: I had actually already worked out that morning, thanks to the free pass Nate gave me for the fabulous gym Equinox, conveniently located on my corner -- and all over the city. I'm not going to admit how many times more expensive it is than the Charlotte Y, but I'm tempted to join. How can you beat a gym full of awesome exercise classes and souped-up amenities and right on your corner?
Anyway, the Hudson River Park was packed with joggers and walkers. At one point, I thought I saw Natalie Portman! And then, funny enough, I saw a photo on People's website that she and her hubby were in fact out there walking their little dog...but she was wearing a completely different outfit than the doppelganger I saw.

I walked down to the start of Battery Park and then turned around after I took this rather artsy shot...I don't think the photo really shows the perspective of the buildings between the buildings, but it was a neat view.
Then I met Kurt back at the apartment. We both bought sushi, threw fruit and veggies into our bags, and walked back over to the park with a blanket to enjoy the sunset -- and the shirtless joggers.
What more could you ask for on a Tuesday night?!

How about a little Glee? We watched the new episode when we got home. Smiles all around.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy Happy Happy Easter

As I went to bed on Easter night, I was overwhelmed at what a rich, joyful day it had been. Part of that was the fact I got to spend the afternoon with Nate, Neil and a new friend Courtney. But honestly, I think it was also because the entire Holy Week ended up being so full of worship and beautiful services, each one unique and special.

Easter Sunday, I decided to return to Church of the Village, as I suspected seats would be easier to find there than at Marble Church with Neil and Nate. The church was full, but I had the good luck to sit down beside a lovely gal named Katie. She's about my age and has been attending the church for 6-7 years. She was very friendly and gave me her card so we can have brunch sometime.

Nate had made us a 1 p.m. reservation at a very chic place called MPD in the Meatpacking District. It was an easy walk from the church, and I had a little time to kill, so I took advantage of the gorgeous weather and had my first stroll on the High Line. It was as cool as everyone had said; it was an elevated railway created in the 30s to reduce the accidents near the Hudson docks. The railway was abandoned for decades, but it has recently been turned into an elevated park. There were a ton of people out enjoying the day, and we returned for a post-brunch stroll.
The food at brunch was good, but not really photo-worthy. I felt a little veggie-starved, so I got a salad and some crepes with brie, arugula and honey. All of it was quite yummy, but I would have appreciated it if the waiter had told me that my crepes would come with exactly the same salad I had ordered separately. It was a very good salad, but still. Neil let me have some of his steak and frites with bearnaise sauce, and I'm still fantasizing about dipping the fries in the sauce.  

We walked around Chelsea for a while and ended up at Pinkberry. We haven't had much fro-yo weather since I've been here, so it was a perfect day for a cool treat. Right before we entered the store, the boys spotted Michael Moore huffing and panting his way down the street right past us; he'd just finished working out at New York Sports Club. I haven't yet developed my celebrity radar, so I got only the rear view.

Before we parted ways, I made the boys take this pic for my mom, who'd found us the perfect cultural outing in her perusal of the Times: a Brazilian dance show. Unfortunately, the performance times didn't sync up with brunch. You can't do it all!  

Holy Week Hopping

I kicked my church attendance into high gear for Holy Week, figuring it was a perfect way to experience a variety of services. On Palm Sunday, I visited Church of the Village, a Methodist church just a few blocks away from me on 13th Street and 7th Avenue. It bills itself as "radically inclusive," and I was drawn to the quote I saw on the website:

It is part of our mission as a Church to offer the all-loving God that we know, especially to those who assume they will not be accepted because of how they have experienced the church in the past.

I was struck by the beautiful diversity of the congregation and got tears in my eyes as I held my palm frond and watched the service begin. Memories of past Palm Sundays came up. There was the year my mother led my Sunday school class in a mini-pageant on our church steps, with my friends and me taking turns wearing the two-person donkey costume and waving palms as members of the cheering crowd. And now, here I was, in a new city, in a new church, but there were the red Methodist hymnal and the black supplemental songbook The Faith We Sing, sitting in the pew racks just like they do in my childhood church. As I was greeted and embraced during the passing of the peace, I felt right at home.

You may be surprised to know I passed on the chance to take the microphone and introduce myself with the other visitors. I figured I'd wait for a return trip. However, a cute girl named Rachel stood up and announced she had just moved to the city and hailed from Newnan, Georgia. I chatted with her, and we went to brunch, where we traded notes on our worship plans for the rest of the week.

Thursday night, I attended Maundy Thursday service at St. Bartholomew's Church, located very near my office at 51st and Park. I'd considered a few other services, but somehow, I just had a deep sense that it was where I needed to be that evening. My friend Lynn found a church home at St. Bart's; it was the site of her wedding. She had told me to be sure to look for the vicar, Buddy Stallings, who hails from Mississippi. As I approached, the clergy were greeting visitors on the front steps.

"Are you Buddy?" I said to a gray-haired man who looked like his name might be Buddy.

"I sure am," he replied with a friendly grin.

I mentioned my friend's name and said she'd encouraged me to visit. He asked if I'd grown up with her in Tallahassee. I explained I was from a small town called Quincy, outside of Tallahassee.

"Quincy?" he paused. "Is there a little private school there?"

"Well, yes, there is," I started. "But I can't imagine why you would have heard of it. I will say, though, people always joke that my small town has a large reach."

He said his ex-wife had taught at a small school in Quincy while he was doing some graduate work at FSU. I got her name and promised to ask my mom if she recognized it. I took this as a sign that I was indeed in the right place.

The service was beautiful, and it included a ritual foot washing. I am ashamed to admit, I used to have a bit of a knee-jerk, scornful "isn't that something only Holy Rollers do?" reaction to foot washings. But now I adore the intimacy and the humility of the symbolic gesture: the cleansing gift of water, the reminder we are called not to be served but to serve.

Unfortunately, the last foot washing in which I participated was when I chaperoned a middle school youth retreat. To avoid a sophomoric mess, we used Wet Ones. This version was decidedly more elegant, with glass pitchers, porcelain bowls, and a robed altar guild armed with stacks of clean towels. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten my flats at the office and was wearing my tall black boots and hiking socks. Unzipping one's hooker boots up on God's altar seemed a little dodgy, as did putting my clean feet back into my dirty socks, so I opted out.

But the service really couldn't have been any better; I've focused a lot on forgiveness this Lent, and the service lifted some of the burdens on my heart. I lingered for a while after it was over in thought and prayer and felt so grateful to have been there.

Quite a contrast to my experience the next day, when I decided to attend the Good Friday service at noon at St. Patrick's Cathedral. "What better place to be on Good Friday than the city's most famous place of worship?" I'd thought. It was packed with tourists. The usher was reluctant to hand me a program.

"The service will last three hours," she stated.

Three hours? I politely asked if there would be opportunities to exit if one could not remain for the duration. No, she said, she didn't think so. What, lady, is the priest going to tell me to sit back down?

Her job was obviously to weed out the gawkers who weren't there for serious worship, but I felt unwelcome. Nevertheless, I decided to stay and sat down in a pew, close to a large column so my eventual exit wouldn't require crawling over any neighbors. But as I sat and read the order of service -- and the flyer I'd been handed on the steps by some advocates of victims of sexual assault by priests -- I realized I felt so uneasy about the whole thing that I simply wanted to leave. Walking out was a relief.

(Side note: St. Bart's was also having a three-hour service, but they'd kindly advertised it with the following tag line: Come when you can; leave when you must.)

Later that night, I met my new friend Rachel back at Church of the Village, which had a beautiful performance featuring dancers and incredibly talented vocalists. It was gorgeous and moving. We both agreed we hadn't known what to expect, but we were so glad we'd been there. Having fully experienced the real weight of Holy Week made me feel full of anticipation for the joy of Easter.

Strangely enough, I think the experience I had at St. Patrick's on Good Friday was quite good for me. It was an uncomfortable reminder that, as the quote I referenced above points out, church isn't a place of love and acceptance for everyone. It's all too often a place of rules and exclusion. We make people feel like they have to meet some three-hour requirement, instead of meeting them where they are. We swab the surface with Wet Ones, afraid of making the mess that's required for true cleansing and healing. And that's a shame -- during Holy Week or any week.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Halal Guys

As soon as I moved to New York, my friend KC posted on Facebook that I had to eat at the Halal Guys cart at 53rd and 6th.
Here's what she wrote: Their carts serve THE BEST street food I've ever eaten (and I'm a big fan of street food the world over)! The menu is pretty limited. You get rice, "salad," pita, and sauce, plus chicken, falafel, or lamb (or maybe it's a lamb/beef gyro-style hybrid). You can also get these items wrapped up as a sandwich (but not all three of their carts do this). Their white sauce and hot sauce must contain trace amounts of crack, though, and the smell of the meat cooking will pull you down the street like a cartoon character floating along, led by the nose.

Tody was a perfect day to venture out into the neighborhood around my office. (In fact, it was such a nice day, I took a new route into work (via the 1 train along Seventh Avenue) and enjoyed a stroll down 50th Street for a change of scenery.) But before I left the office, I got a little overwhelmed when I started Googling to make sure I located the right cart.

KC had warned me (as she'd been warned) that there are Halal Guys "fakes" who troll nearby. Turns out there is an entire Wikipedia entry devoted to the topic, and the "myths of the most famous chicken and rice intersection in New York City" are the subject of intense online discussion and debate.
Off to the southeast corner of the intersection I went (the more famous original cart on the southwest corner is on a late p.m. schedule). I knew I was in the right place when I saw the queue:
It took me 20 minutes to get to the front of the line, and wouldn't you know it -- today was the one day I didn't have anything to read in my purse! Nevertheless, let's simulate the wait with some more fun facts I learned while researching my lunch...
A 2007 Times article headlined "Decline of the Dog" noted halal may have trumped the hot dog as New Yorkers' street food of choice. If you're curious like me, perhaps you're wondering: what does halal mean anyway?

The term halal may be applied to any food prepared in accordance with the laws of the Koran, although in New York the term has taken on special connotations: oily chunks of chicken or gyro meat, yellowish rice, some scraps of lettuce, hot sauce and, of course, the mysterious substance known as white sauce. 
The guy was quite chatty when I ordered my combination plate. I was curious how much it would cost since there were no prices posted. Quite a bargain for $6, including a Diet Pepsi. I went to a little courtyard across from MoMa to dig in.
As with most highly-hyped experiences, I had great expectations, so I wouldn't say I was dazzled. But it was tasty, and KC was right about the heavenly smell that wafts down the street. (Also, I definitely should have gotten more of the crack sauce.) A cheap, filling midday meal -- I honestly think it was a good three servings' worth. I'll be back!

P.S. for my Alabama readers, I can't resist mentioning I had flashbacks to the famous white BBQ sauce at Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gottino with Ellen

My sweet friend Peggy had a surprise in store when I joined her little sister in the big city. She announced she would be treating us to a night at a place the owner calls a "gastroteca," a made-up word for an Italian wine bar. Best of all, Gottino is on Greenwich Avenue, close to my new home.
Ellen got held up at work, so while I waited on her, I sipped a "Mrs. Ruth," prosecco with a splash of black currant juice (or liqueur?). It was the perfect p.m. sipper. (I snagged these pics from New York magazine, in case you're admiring my photography. Only the food pics are mine.)
On the waiter's recommendation, we had the walnut pesto, about which the New York Times said this:

Dish isn’t the right word; it’s a pair of crostini, toasted bread slathered with a pesto of walnuts, olive oil, thyme, a dab of sun-dried tomato and some Parmesan, Italy’s indispensable utility player. The topping is as addictive as crunchy peanut butter, and might well be considered the grown-up answer to it.

Now I am positively kicking myself for not taking notes, as the menu seems not to be online. Nevertheless, our spread also included crostini with ox tail and a marmalade -- a scrumptious blend of sweet and savory flavors. We had a salad of shaved Brussels sprouts tossed with Parmesan, olive oil, lemon, walnuts and freshly ground pepper. Delightful! (The picture really doesn't do it justice.)

Best of all, the portions weren't skimpy. I hate it when you go somewhere for small plates and you're still hungry.

Ellen and I could have stopped there, but we both agreed we didn't want to miss on the proscuitto and fontina crepes with sage. The waiter brought us each a glass of red for our second drink. Neither of us could make sense of the Italian wine list, but he asked what we like (zinfandel for me, pinot noir for E) and matched our tastes perfectly without making us feel silly for being so clueless.
For dessert, we split the almond-stuffed figs dipped in chocolate. Just the right bite to end a wonderful meal with perfect company! We're already plotting a return trip when Peggy comes to visit.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beatniks and Bongos in Brooklyn

This was a pretty full weekend. But in terms of pure storytelling potential, I'm not sure anything can top Saturday night, so I'll just start there.

Neil and Nate have been giving me their copies of Time Out magazine. As I flipped through last week's issue, I saw a booklet for a series of cultural events entitled "Walls and Bridges." It was sponsored by a French cultural institute, and the Saturday event sounded right up my alley:

Overboard: An Evening of Music and Storytelling
96th Street in Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Atlantic Ocean. The Berlin Wall. The winter you read Nietzsche. Your summer of love. The day you picked up a trumpet for the first time. The minute you understood you couldn't come home again. What's your rupture?

An evening all about befores and afters, heres and theres, right and wrong sides of the tracks. Novelists, non-fiction writers, actors, dancers, choreographers, will come to the stage and tell you the story of this particular place in the world or that decisive instant in their life; a physical border or a turning point.

This will be a night of music also, as Ned Rothenberg's saxophone and Guilherm Flouzat's drums lend their eloquence to the narratives.

Cool! And free! I was in. Despite the fact it was pouring rain, I set out by myself for the venue, a small gallery and creative space called The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn. I'd mapped it out and realized it was a pretty easy subway ride, with very short walks on either end.

The place was packed. Since I was alone, I found a seat on the second row. The first performer may have been my favorite. He was a Mexican-American man who told a hilarious tale about the night he turned 40 and decided to climb the Brooklyn Bridge with his best friend. It was exactly what the evening had promised: a well-told reflection about a symbolic farewell to his youth. Another writer spoke of his religious journey, the loss of his childlike Orthodox Jewish faith that came when he began to grasp the horrors of the Holocaust. As he read, he snacked on a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, representative of the dietary (and other) restrictions he left behind -- restrictions he looks back on with nostalgia. Being able to eat bacon is, after all, pretty cold comfort if it accompanies a loss of faith that there is a benign order to the universe.

One woman spoke of a project to memorialize victims of gang violence in Mexico; a man told of shortages in the Eastern Block after the Cold War ended.

Then a tattoed, tough-looking man with a mustache took the stage, joined by his shorter, nerdier friend. "Hi, guys, I'm Dan, and this is my buddy, Salty."

Salty waved to the audience.

"So, since tonight is all about boundaries and borders, I decided it would be interesting to do something that pushes the boundaries a bit of what we'd normally do at an event like this. All right, so, I'm going to stand here, and for the next five minutes, Salty is going to slap me. Pete, can you time this?"

After a few good whacks, accompanied by gasps and cheers from the audience, Dan's cheeks were blazing red. He seemed to be reaching his pain threshold. 

"OK, Pete, how we doing? How much time we got left?"

Pete checked the ticking timer on his iPhone. "Looks like you've got about three and a half minutes left." The crowd moaned in sympathy.

Am I really sitting in Brooklyn watching a man get slapped? Let me just pull out my camera in case somebody thinks I made this sh*t up.  

Other lowlights: a dance routine that involved only one hand. The right hand, in case you're wondering. A mime performance that was so esoteric it sent the French girl beside me into silly giggles. (This is the upside of going to things yourself: it's easier to keep a straight face.) A long and convoluted story about Ambien told with "trance-like" music in the background, as the writer lost and found and lost her place again on her iPad. (Maybe it was supposed to be nonsensical, like a dream?)

One guy's techno dance tale left me itching to lean over to one of my neighbors and whisper, "Is this reminding anyone else of 'Now is zee time on Sprockets when we dance!'??"

Between each of the four sets, the drummer and saxophone would treat us to a frenetic, cacophonous interlude with all the resonance of cats fighting in an alley. I'm sure it was actually quite delightful for those more accustomed to spontaneous bursts of jazz. It started to feel like Chinese water torture to me.

As the program ended and I left, walking back out into the pouring rain, I just laughed -- at myself and at the whole experience. It was exactly the sort of thing I'd hoped to take advantage of in New York. I'm not sure I'll be heading to Brooklyn to watch a man get slapped on a Saturday night again any time soon. But I'm glad I did it once.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dress Dilemma

What do you wear to a black wedding at the Pierre when your date is a five-time Jeopardy champion?

A $40 frock from a second-hand store, naturally! 
I was delighted last year when I received a "save the date" last year for the wedding of my friend Robin from freshman dorm. Little did I know I'd be a resident of NYC by April! As the big event and my move date began to coincide, I realized the wedding would provide a splashy entrance into the New York social scene. Then I spent an inordinate amount of time researching what people wear to black tie weddings "up north."

"You know you need to wear a long dress, right?" my sister insisted. She once learned the hard way at a wedding in Chicago that a short little black dress does not, in fact, suit every occasion. I wanted to fit in, but I also have several smashing short dresses (including a beaded royal blue one I am dying to wear). The only long dresses I have are from bridesmaid stints. I wasn't about to get back into one of those, but seemed silly to buy something new.

I polled everyone I knew, including Robin, who said the bridesmaids would be in short dresses by Vera Wang. "Most people will probably wear long, but for what it's worth, I think short dresses are cute," she emailed.

My college roommate in Dallas is still my favorite source for style questions, so I asked her too. Her response: "Black tie? New York? Long. The Pierre? 7 o'clock? Definitely long. Now, given that, I will say you do have some great gams, so if you want to show 'em off, go for it, Lyns!"

Mom's take: "I say go for the short blue one! Who's going to say, 'Did you see the girl in the black dress?'"

The consensus seemed to be a long dress was a safer bet, but I still didn't want to splurge on something suitably fabulous for the occasion. Flipping through the social pages of a Charlotte magazine, I saw a picture of local news anchor Maureen O'Boyle all glammed up for some charity event. The caption said she'd bought her chocolate brown gown at the Jr. League Wearhouse, a second-hand shop run by the charity.

Bingo! I was cleaning out my closet for the move and had bags of clothes I needed to donated anyway. I browsed the racks (full of old bridesmaids dresses, incidentally) and found a great Laundry dress. Basic black with a plunging neckline, it would go perfectly with a jazzy belt and the rhinestone accessories I usually wear with a similar, shorter Laundry dress. 

Five minutes after walking into the Pierre, I checked out the crowd and realized: I totally could have gone with the short dress. Oh, well. Mama really did know best!

Broadway Wednesday

I was even sicker on Wednesday, and it was a crazy day at work, but nothing was keeping me from my evening plans. Kurt has a good friend who is a Tony voter (last week, they saw Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). His friend gave him a block of tickets for Born Yesterday, a play with Jim Belushi that is still in previews. I felt very honored to be included in the group -- and let it be known Kurt invited me even before I cooked him diner last week!

I met the group outside the Cort Theatre, which is right by Rockefeller Plaza. When we sat down, I asked what "in previews" means. Kurt said it means the play cannot be reviewed by theater critics. Spider Man has been in previews for about six months.

We'd watched Jim Belushi do an interview about the play on Live with Regis and Kelly. Flipping through the program, I noticed Robert Sean Leonard was also in the cast.

"Why does that name sound familiar?" I asked myself. Then I saw his photo. "Oh! It's that hot guy from Dead Poets Society!  But wait a minute -- why does he look all middle-aged?"

Despite the fact that movie is now 20 years old, I decided to blame RSL's aging on costumes and make-up.

Anyway, the play is the story of Harry Brock, a brash businessman (Belushi) who goes to D.C. in the mid-40s with his ditzy girlfriend to try and get some sort of legislation enacted to will benefit his shady business dealings. RSL is the sharp reporter who gets enlisted to tutor the dingbat so she won't embarrass Brock in front of influential senators and the like. The ending is pretty predictable, but the play has some funny dialogue, and the actress who played the girlfriend absolutely stole the show.

I'm not sure I would have paid big bucks to see it, but I'm really glad I got to go. And now I can't wait to see when Nina Arianda (the ditzy girlfriend) pops up again. She apparently has a small part in Woody Allen's new film, Midnight in Paris.

Sick in the City

Sorry for the week of radio silence, trusty readers, but I have a good excuse: I've been feeling puny! It started with a sore throat on Monday. I comforted myself with a piece of peanut butter pie from Magnolia Bakery.
Heavenly! I know I'm going to have to be careful having such an incredible bakery just a few blocks away from me. Don't want any "cupcake tops" spilling out of my jeans this summer. Nevertheless, a girl has to indulge herself when she's not feeling well!

It was an extra bummer not to feel well on Monday because it was the warmest day we've had since I've been here and would have been perfect for an evening jog. The other downer was that I had a pretty full week ahead: lots to do at work and an active evening social calendar. On Tuesday, I worked from home and met Neil and Nate at Chelsea Piers (an easy walk for me along the East River Park). We attended something called the Duke Idea, a program that sends the president of the university to visit alumni in various cities. He gives a few remarks about what's happening on campus and then sits down for an Oprah-style interview with a special guest.

Tuesday night's guest was Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics, bestselling author and frequent guest on NPR. He is best known for his book Predictably Irrational, and his work seems to me to fall into the same category of Freakonomics or Tipping Point -- taking ordinary aspects of life and applying tools of analysis to find out what's really going on. I tried to take notes, but they're just messy jottings about things like reward substitution, loss aversion and the reality of the placebo effect. There are actually some very practical applications of his work related to questions such as how you incent patients to take their medicine.

Anyway, Chelsea Piers is a cool venue, and there was plenty of tasty food (especially the Cuban pork, black beans and rice and fried plantain patties). I got to see a number of people I know, including several from my China trip with an alumni group in 2009. It was one of those nights I realized again how lucky I was to get to attend such an awesome university. As we left, I was torn between walking home or taking a cab. It was so chilly, rainy and windy that Nate's umbrella kept turning inside out in the gusts. Exasperated, he finally threw it in the trash.

"Did you like President Brodhead's comments about all the tulips and dogwoods in bloom on campus?" Neil asked as we stood on Seventh Avenue and watched dozens of cabs pass by either full or off duty. "It was like a knife in the back. Welcome to April in New York! You're not regretting your move yet, are you?"

I just laughed. Irrational as it might sound, standing on Seventh Avenue in the rain, feeling sick, cold and tired, I was still so glad to have chosen this adventure. President Brodhead began his conversation with Dan Ariely by asking what "rational and irrational" elements there were in his decision to teach at Duke, and I couldn't help thinking I should make a similar list about my decision to move here.

Finally, a taxi stopped, and I kissed the boys goodnight. That ride was the best $6 I've spent so far, as it was pouring when I got home.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Lunch at Eataly

My goodness, I have a lot to report from this weekend! (If you want a sneak preview, you can skip to the wedding announcement from the Sunday Times. This is the big event I attended Saturday night at the Pierre. I'm in love with the paper's summary sentence: The bridegroom's work as a truffle farmer set him apart from other suitors.) However, I need to get some pics from friends to do that story justice, so I'll skip to Sunday for now.

Despite the fact I went to bed at 3 a.m., I was up early for church with Neil and Nate. After a quick call to Mom to give her the scoop on the absolutely fabulous wedding, I rode the subway to 28th street and stopped at Starbucks on Sixth Avenue. A very friendly gentleman started chatting with me as I walked out the door, and I had to walk two cross-town blocks making small talk with him. This was a good example of my well-documented tendency to be all too friendly to strangers (ask Leigh Ann about the "Marshall, you're barking up the wrong tree" incident sometime). But get this: the dude was from Lebanon!

"Where in Lebanon?" I asked.

He hesitated, trying to decide how much detail to give me. I'm sure he doesn't often encounter people who know Byblos from Tyre.

"No, really, I've been to Lebanon!" I pushed. "Where are you from?"

Turns out he's from Sidon, which I happen to know from last year is the home of a famous Crusader castle, renowned souks (markets) and a rather fascinating museum about the history of soap. And,also, might I add, the site where this truly attractive photo was taken.
Maybe I should have had this glamour shot available to defuse his interest. Instead, he very politely asked for my phone number as I hustled across Broadway with a friendly wave.

I met my dates on the steps of Marble Collegiate Church, one of their favorite places to worship in the city. It was a lovely service with a fantastic choir and a very engaging message about Simon Peter's denial of Christ and "being caught between a rock and a hard place." We even got to sing "Here I Am, Lord." I pulled out my trusty notebook to jot down some key points in the sermon, which is always a good sign.

Spiritually fed, it was time to tend to our tummies. (Warning: the lunch site was a subject of some debate, as Nate's affinity for Marble Church is increased by the church's proximity to Houston's. I managed to dodge the chain restaurant bullet this week, but we'll let Nate get his way soon.)

A few blocks south on Fifth Avenue is Eataly, the Italian market opened by Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and other power players of Italian cuisine. I'd heard about it from my Quincy friend K.C., but I was a bit frightened by some of the online reviews, which focused on crowds and confusion.

We played it like pros, putting our name on the list at the pizza and pasta station and then snagging a table in the antipasto area. (Standing-height tables only...maybe this is their way of preventing you from lingering too long? With separate areas for every sort of food and lots of lines, I think you've got to be a pretty serious foodie to love this place.)
With a plate of meats, cheeses, bread and spreads and a good bottle of wine, we easily passed the 45 minutes standing and snacking until our table was ready. I loved every unique mouthful: ricotta with honey and almonds, gorgonzola with orange marmalade, salami and parmesan.
We ordered a margherita pizza with proscuitto and a pasta special: pappardalle with chicken, arugula and a wine sauce. Scrumptious!
Despite the waiter's insistence we should order one item for each of us, this was the perfect amount of food to share. After a few bites of cannoli, we left delighted with the experience--and glad we'd missed the worst of the crowds.
I headed south and stopped at Bed Bath and Beyond to buy a few necessities before my mid-afternoon nap. Big mistake. The BB&B is fortunately (or unfortunately) located beside a Marshall's and TJ Maxx. Given that I am my mother's daughter, I am apparently incapable of walking by these establishments without taking a peek inside. I spent too much time wandering around and was feeling like quite a crankypants by the time I waited in the interminable line with my hangers, Woolite and reading lamp.

Since it was too late to nap, I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with friends and family until Kurt and I decided it was time for another NY first: delivery! He went on Seamless, which lets you order from all sorts of restaurants online. I was craving pad Thai, so I got that and a papaya salad, and Kurt had tamarind chicken and some dumplings. We shared everything while watching 60 Minutes. A perfect end to the weekend!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

One Pan Whiskey-Flavored Pork Chops

Today I worked from home so I'd be all set to cook my "thank you for picking me" dinner for Kurt tonight. Since I had already grocery shopped, I was pretty well-prepared, so I went for an early evening jog along the Hudson River Park. What fun! It's just a few blocks west of my apartment. I stopped to read a sign and learned it's the largest park to undergo construction in Manhattan since Central Park is greated.

It was great to be able to jog along looking at the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty. I didn't make it all the way down to Battery Park, but maybe I will set that as a goal for a longer weekend jog. I'd probably have to rent a bike to get to the starting point on 59th Street and back.

When I got back, the sun was starting to go down, so this was the view from our west-facing kitchen.
For my first cooking adventure in my new home, I decided to make Kurt a recipe I made ages ago but always remembered fondly: One Pan Whiskey-Flavored Pork Chops. It was from a Cooking Light recipe by a man who'd discovered how to make some lower-fat but still seemingly decadent dishes.

I'm too tired to type out the whole recipe, and you can easily find it online, but here are the highlights. You sear bone-in pork chops in a skillet (5 minutes on each side until golden brown) and then remove the chops and saute onions and mushrooms in the pan.
Add 1/2 cup of whiskey (I got Makers Mark in honor of my friend Anne) and let it bubble until the whiskey almost evaporates.
Add to the pan a cream sauce of 2/3 cup fat-free sour cream (I never use fat-free dairy products, but I thought I'd followed the directions the last time I made it and recalled it turned out okay), 1/2 tsp dried sage, 1/2 cup water, salt and pepper, and 2 tbsp flour.
Return the pork chops to the pan, cover and bake at 300 for one hour. I served it with mashed potatoes. I also made us a salad with spinach, grapefruit, apple, red onion and poppy seed dressing.

For dessert: toasted pecans sprinkled with sea salt and served over dulce de leche ice cream. We ate our dinner while watching the Australian movie Animal Kingdom. So nice to have someone to cook for and eat with! We agreed that the dirty dishes could wait until tomorrow.