Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nickelodeon's Golden Age

If you ever wonder how I became the person I am today, look no further than every single show that was on Nickelodeon when I was a kid. I wasn't particularly athletic and I didn't have many neighborhood friends, so I spent nearly all my free time watching TV. That might sound sad or unhealthy, and maybe it was both, but it was also really, really awesome. I was a Nick kid, through and through, and my TV never strayed too far from good old channel 28 (why do I remember this?).

I'm certainly not alone in this experience, and I'm always delighted to meet someone around my age with whom I can reminisce for hours about the "golden age" of Nick. So it should be no surprise that I bought tickets immediately upon discovering that the 92nd Street Y was hosting a "Historical Celebration of Nickelodeon." Based on the new book, Slimed: An Oral History of the Golden Age of Nickelodeon, the event promised to bring together cast and crew from an impressive list of shows such as Double Dare, Clarissa Explains it All, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Nicktoons, etc. The tickets were only $15 (with a discount via TimeOut NY), which is only 50 cents more than it costs to see a movie here in the city. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect (the description was a bit vague) but I knew that no matter what, it would be worth it.

If I'm really being honest, few things in my life have had more of an impact on me than '90s Nickelodeon. I can still remember Stick Stickley's address (PO Box 963, New York City, New York State, 10108) and every word to the Log jingle, even on days when I can barely remember my own cell phone number.

I had never been to the 92nd Street Y before, but the theater was pretty small so there wasn't really a bad seat. Marc Summers was the host of the event, and he was wonderful — a little older, a little fatter, but surprisingly funny and his booming voice brought me right back to being a Double-Dare/What Would You Do/Unwrapped-watching fan again.

The night consisted of a series of panels, each one centering on a specific show or topic — top Nick executives from the era, You Can't Do That On Television, Double Dare, Clarissa Explains it All, Nicktoons (specifically Doug and Ren and Stimpy) and a catch-all at the end for various cast and crew members. I was a little young for You Can't Do That on Television ('79-'90), but the panel included two main cast members, Alasdair Gillis and Christine McGlade, and it was interesting learning about the show that basically started it all (including the famous slime).

The Double Dare panel was probably the most fun, with Marc Summers reuniting with cohost Robin Marella and the announcer, Harvey. It was mentioned that Melissa Joan Hart was supposed to make an appearance on the Clarissa panel, but couldn't make it, which was unfortunate. However, Jason Zimbler (Ferguson) and Sean O'Neal (Sam) were there, and it's worth noting that of all the former Nick kids, time has been the most kind to Sean (i.e., he is a total babe).

Before the Nicktoons panel, voice actor Fred Newman (Doug) performed the Doug theme song and it was absurdly awesome. I'm not above admitting that it actually gave me chills, not because I particularly even liked Doug, but he was so spot-on with the sound effects that it was just a really cool thing to see and hear live. They also did the Beets hit "Killer Tofu," which was great until the audience started clapping along (my number one concert pet peeve). I was surprised to see the super-talented voice actor, Billy West (Ren, Stimpy, Doug, Roger Klotz, Futurama, Looney Tunes, etc.) on the Nicktoons panel. It was a total treat to hear him switch effortlessly between Ren and Stimpy or Doug and Roger. Constance Shulman (aka Patti Mayonnaise, aka Yoga Jones from Orange is the New Black) also did a little Patti, but that's basically just her normal speaking voice.

The last panel included Phil Moore from Nick Arcade, the dad and big Pete from The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Ross Hull (Gary) from Are You Afraid of the Dark, Kelly Brown (Brad) from Hey Dude, and Trevor Eyster (Sponge) from Salute Your Shorts. It was a super fun and interesting night and I'm so glad I went. The whole program was a little more than three hours, but I wasn't bored for a second. I even got my book signed by Marc Summers, even if I did feel super nerdy doing it.

I'm about a third of the way through the book and I only started it a few days ago. It's a little bit hard to follow since there are so many people giving their recollections, but it's almost not even necessary to keep them all straight. I am totally jealous of the author, Mathew Klickstein, for having the idea to write about something I know most people my age still can't stop talking about. But without him the night at the Y would have never happened, so I guess I owe him my thanks (in addition to the $17.95 I paid for the book).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Nom Wah Tea Parlor + Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

Last week my friends Jim and Katie and I decided to meet for dinner in Chinatown. Katie works downtown, and wanted to shy away from the crowds in Little Italy, and I jumped at the chance to suggest the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. I had been wanting to go for a while, both for the food and the décor. The Nom Wah has been on Doyers Street since 1920, and was the first dim sum parlor in New York City. I had never had dim sum before, and I figured if it had been around for nearly a hundred years that it had to be good.

In 2010 they completely remodeled their kitchen, but you wouldn't know it from the stuck-in-the-past dining room. The place has the feel of an old diner, and is definitely worth visiting just for the atmosphere. I love any place where you order by checking off boxes, which limits both human interaction and potential errors in communication. We ended up ordering way more food than any of us could eat, but it was mostly delicious. They tell you what each dish is as they bring it to you (everything is made-as-ordered), but I'm still not entirely sure what each thing was that we ate.

Two of the dishes were much too slimy for my tastes and the tofu skin roll was a bit bland (not to mention the off-putting nature of eating anything with the word "skin" in it). But the original egg roll was delicious and it's on my list of things to definitely order next time. The star of the meal, however, was indisputably the pork bun. They're number one on the menu for a reason, and my only regret is that they came out last — I was pretty much full by the time they arrived. It was the first pork bun I'd ever had, and it was fluffy, flavorful and incredibly filling. I would be satisfied just ordering two and calling it a meal, and at only $1.95 they're a total steal.

I will definitely be returning to Nom Wah, a little more seasoned in the ways of dim sum, but probably still no better at effectively using chopsticks. I eventually resorted to just spearing my food, like an embarrassing American, which I'm not proud of, but it got the job done.

Even though we were all super full after dinner, we couldn't resist checking out the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which had also been on my to-do list for a while. It's right around the corner from Nom Wah and open late even on weekdays. They have all sorts of interesting flavors, all of which you can sample. I sampled the almond cookie and cherry pistachio, with the almond cookie being the clear winner. Almond is one of my very favorite tastes. The ice cream version was so, so good — seriously one of the best scoops I may have ever had.

I sampled Katie's pumpkin pie (amazing) and Jim's red velvet so I mean it when I say that I don't think they even sell a mediocre scoop. They have so many flavors (red bean, black sesame, ginger, lychee, etc.) that I obviously need to return quite frequently, although it might be hard not to become married to the almond cookie.

The sweetness of the ice cream was a perfect complement to the saltiness of the dim sum (aka the gallons of soy sauce I poured on everything), so it was a pretty perfect night. I also noticed that most of the open-air fish markets (aka what I hate most about Chinatown) were closed at night, which made our evening that much more pleasant and redeemed the entire neighborhood from my last less-than-thrilling experience. Any place that produces a pork bun that delicious deserves a second chance, for sure.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Feast of San Gennaro

Last week after work, I was on my way to meet friends for dinner in Chinatown when I found myself right in the middle of the Feast of San Gennaro festival in Little Italy. I had some time to kill before we were due to meet, so I walked down Mulberry Street taking in the sights (and smells!).

The Feast, going on annually for 87 years, is basically a street festival with an (obviously) Italian theme. There were some decidedly non-Italian vendors — hot dogs, cheeseburgers, fried oreos — but also more pizza, italian sausage, cannoli, gelato and pasta than I've ever really seen in one place. There were carnival games, souvenir vendors, and even a few rides, mostly for kids. It's definitely a place you go to eat, eat and eat some more, which was driving me a little crazy right before dinner.

The food all looked (and smelled) incredibly amazing, and I eventually broke down and bought a tiny pistachio-cream-filled cannoli (it was definitely worth it). Little Italy is a charming part of town, even if all that remains of it fits on basically one street. That street — Mulberry — was really crowded, but the people-watching opportunities more than made up for any inconvenience, and compared to the 2/3 train I take every morning the streets felt downright deserted. All of the restaurants had seating outside, and most had at least a few empty tables.

I love the painted buildings, vintage signage and old-world feel of the whole area, and I've never met a pasta or pizza that I didn't like. Sunday was the last day for the festival, but I definitely want to go back and explore (and eat my way through) Little Italy soon.

Taco Tuesday

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime fairly recently I've become obsessed with Mexican food. To be fair, it's probably more like American-ized Mexican, but at least I'm not talking about Taco Bell (although I'll un-embarrassingly admit to loving a Doritos taco). I think it probably started with Chipotle (is that any better?), when I discovered that it was a great place to eat for people with dietary restrictions — gluten-free especially. Now, just about any time I go out to eat I want to get Mexican.

Arriba, Arriba and Blockheads are two favorites here in New York, and when I was back in Ohio we went to Barrio in Tremont and had life-changing make-your-own tacos. A few weeks ago I was eating a sad, packed lunch in Bryant Park when I glanced over and saw a lady eating the most amazing-looking tacos from Chipotle. I had an epiphany. Why hadn't I been getting tacos from Chipotle?? I ate a burrito bowl from there on average of once every week, but I had never tried the tacos.

The next day I remedied that, and so began my love affair with the culinary masterpiece that is the Chipotle taco. I get basically the same ingredients from my bowl days — black and pinto beans, tomatoes, extra corn salsa, cheese, hot salsa on the side — but there's something about piling it all into three tacos that just makes it out-of-this-world good. I think it might be the exclusion of the rice, which has always been my least favorite part of the bowl (cilantro is from Hell).

I now have an extreme battle of wills with myself every single day at lunchtime because I always want the tacos. There's a Chipotle literally in the ground floor of my office building, and although the line is always long, it goes incredibly fast.

Not wishing to spend my entire paycheck on what is essentially fast-food Mexican, I decided to try to make my own version of the Chipotle taco at home. It was pretty simple, and although they don't taste exactly the same they're definitely a worthy substitute. I used: taco shells, corn salsa, hot sauce, sliced heirloom tomatoes, fontina cheese (grated), black and pinto beans — all from Trader Joe's. I chopped up the tomatoes and warmed up the beans in the microwave, draining any extra liquid. Then, just pile it all in the taco shells.

I like to stick with the Chipotle order of layering, for consistency-sake but I'm sure it really doesn't matter. The shells tend to get a little soggy by the end, so keep a spoon handy to grab any escaped toppings. I like to be extra fancy and eat my tacos out of a plastic Ziploc tub, which I've found to be the perfect size and shape for containing the mess and mostly keeping the tacos upright.

I'll probably pet the taco to death, like I do with most things I love, but for now I can see it remaining in my meal rotation for quite a while. If I started making my own frozen margaritas I might never even have to leave my apartment again.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Woolworth Building

A few weeks ago I had the privilege (well, I paid for the privilege, actually) of touring the famed lobby of the Woolworth Building. Completed in 1913 — it's one of the oldest skyscrapers in the US — the amazingly decadent lobby has only been accessible to those who actually worked within the building since World War II. But 100 years after its completion, the lobby is once again open to the public via small group tours.

We took what was supposed to be a 15-minute tour, and paid $10 per person, but it ended up being more than 30 minutes, total. It doesn't look like there's a 15-minute option anymore, but it was definitely worth the price of admission (I can't speak for the longer, more expensive options). The tour was suggested to me by my two friends who just happen to be classically trained architects. The three of us met for the tour after work, and while I may not have the degree to back up my commentary, I can say that the lobby is spectacular.

The mosaic ceilings are breathtaking, and almost too much to comprehend at once. No detail or expense was spared — everything from the elevator doors to the mailboxes is dripping in ornamentation.

I loved the personal details too, like the carvings of Mr. Woolworth counting his nickels and dimes, or the one of architect Cass Gilbert holding a miniature replica of the building. The level of detail is really unbelievable, with a hidden carving or embellishment every where you look. I loved all of the carved faces and the fact that each one was designed to be unique from one another just sort of boggles my mind. You just don't find that level of attention or appreciation of superfluous decoration in buildings (or cars, products, etc.) today.

At one point our tour guide said that even if you wanted to build an extravagant lobby alá the Woolworth Building today, you couldn't. There aren't enough materials (such as marble) left in existence for project of similar size and scope.

I love building tours, and they always make me wish even more for the ability to turn back time, if only for a moment. I would love to be able to see the Woolworth lobby as it was in its heyday, as a commercial hub and tourist destination. There's even an abandoned pool in the basement that has just the right amount of history and mystery to it to make me wish it was part of the tour.

The tours were recently extended for who knows how long, so sign up soon if you're interested. Or, if you happen to be absurdly wealthy, in the market for a new home in 2015 and are willing to pay 3,000 per square foot, then you can just tour the lobby every day on your way home.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mozart in Manhattan

As you might know if you follow me on Instagram, or know me in real life, I recently brought my cat, Mozart, back to the city with me. She had spent her entire life in Ohio (and all of that time minus four months, as my cat), but I missed her too much to ever leave her for good.

The longest car ride she had ever had was about ten minutes to the vet as a kitten, and in that short amount of time she managed to throw up all over herself. This was really the only indicator I had as to how she would do on the 8-hr car ride from OH > NY, so you can imagine that I was a bit nervous.

My dad packed up his truck with all of my belongings, leaving Mozart for last. We had her in a carrier right behind the seats, but that lasted about thirty seconds. She immediately began screaming, so I let her roam freely. She didn't have very far to go, and for the most part (thank god) the screaming stopped. I could tell she was stressed, but I was very vigilant about trying to make her feel safe and calm. I estimate that I probably petted her more in that car ride than I have this entire year. She's far from aloof, but she's also not what you'd call a lap cat. She generally does her own thing and will demand attention as needed, but I mostly held her the entire ride.

She spent a good deal of time draped over my feet, which was kind of adorable. She even sat on my lap as I shared in some of the driving, which I'm sure is not exactly safe but she seemed to enjoy it. Thankfully, she never once tried to pull a Toonces and drive us over a cliff, and we were able to exit and enter the car without her trying to make a break for it. She never went back into the carrier until it was time to bring her up into her new home, and she hasn't given it a second thought since. She also didn't use the bathroom at all during the trip, which was sort of amazing. I wasn't really sure how to handle that so I guess I just hoped it would work itself out, and thankfully it did.

Once we got to our new home, there was another adjustment period but she came through that like a champ as well. She was generally terrified for the first few days, mostly of the noises (and the pigeons), but eventually she was brave enough to explore. She got really low to the ground and slinked (slunk?) around, investigating everything.

I know that she really started to get back to her old self when, after a few days, she started her nightly ritual of screaming in my face and dropping toy after toy by my bed. I had almost forgotten about that charming aspect of Mozart ownership, but she made sure I remembered. Our hallway is long enough for her to play fetch, and the litter box is residing in the walk-in closet (yes, the walk-in closet — it even has a window!) so that worked out pretty well.

She looooves being held.

I felt really bad taking her away from the only home she ever knew, but every time she cuddles with me, or we say our morning greetings, I know I've made the right decision. I think Mozart and Manhattan are going to be very happy together — just as long as I don't try to hold her too often.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn has been on my list of places to visit for a long time, and the weather on Sunday was perfect for a cemetery stroll. I know some people are creeped out by the idea of cemeteries, but I've always loved them. They're sad,  yes, but also peaceful, beautiful and in a way, hopeful. I think it's nice that in reading the names of people long gone I'm helping in some small way to preserve their memories.

Woodlawn is one of the largest cemeteries in New York City, and a designated landmark. I only ended up walking around about half of the cemetery — the office is closed on Sunday and I didn't have a map — but what I saw was absolutely beautiful.

The grounds are filled with huge mausoleums, intricate tombstones and beautiful signage. I love the variety of markers — obelisks, poems, angels, portraits, etc. I would love to go back to Woodlawn and explore further. There are quite a few famous gravesites that I'd like to see, and will definitely be picking up a map next time I go. I think I'll try to go again when the leaves really start changing since there's nothing that says fall to me quite like a good cemetery stroll.

There were already quite a few hints of fall if you looked hard enough, and I can only imagine how amazing the whole place will look in a few weeks. Maybe I'll even be brave enough one day to do one of the nighttime tours of the cemetery?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Murray's Cheese Bar

The last couple of weeks have been crazy busy for me: finally moving all of my possessions to New York, helping Mozart adjust to big city life, working full time while trying to unpack and scheduling for an entire apartment of furniture to be delivered (praise the furniture gods for IKEA). Somewhere in all that, I managed to turn 28 and fit in no less than six birthday celebrations (!). The first of which took place in my beloved new home, at Murray's Cheese Bar in the West Village.

I hadn't intended on even having a New York birthday gathering, since I was going to be in Ohio for the actual day. My friend Trent, however, suggested we do something and I'm never one to turn down a chance to eat food of any kind. He e-mailed me potential spots, all great suggestions, but the clear front-runner was Murray's. I had wanted to go there for a while — do you blame me, when they're tagline is "An Homage to Fromage?" They take reservations too, which is nice, since this is New York and at anytime there are millions of people trying to do the exact same thing that you want to do.

I had been to Murray's Cheese shop, on Bleecker street for more than seven decades, and knew that we were in good hands. I had actually tried to cut dairy from my diet recently but failed miserably — cheese is basically my favorite food to eat alone or add to most anything. The cheese bar does have a bar, but it's also a full restaurant, with appetizers, entrées, a long wine list and, of course, cheese.

We decided on the Cheesemonger's Choice plate of eight for the table. You can "art direct" your plate as much or as little as you want — for example, we said that we wanted two meats, six cheeses and nothing from the bleu cheese category, but left the rest up to the "Cheesemonger" to decide. We were not disappointed, and everything we ended up with was incredible. Aside from being delicious, the presentation was beautiful. Every cheese came paired with a sweet or savory side (honey, raisins, kimchee, cherries) and I can't possibly remember every one. I do remember that the two meats were prosciutto and boar (!) which were both great.

We also ordered queso fundido to share, and I'm not even sure what was in it (cheese for sure, jalepenos, some sort of meat, beans maybe?) but it was a fancy, amazing version of nachos that was devoured in no time.

The entire place is small, but incredibly cute. I loved the typography, menu design and farmhouse-industrial feel, and I can't wait to go back. Their entrées all looked great — probably because most everything they have prominently features cheese — and I'd love to try more (all?) of the cheese combinations. I was surprised at how little the bill was ($20/person for the platter, fundido and a bottle of wine), which is always a good way to end a great meal.

Murray's is also right next to Cones, home of my favorite sweet corn ice cream, and John's, my favorite New York pizza place. There are a few more restaurants that I'd love to try on that stretch of Bleecker Street, and considering the company they keep I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Second Month as a New Yorker

The longest continual time I've lived in New York before now is two months, in January/February of this year, after which I moved back to Ohio. Well, I've hit the two month mark again, and this time I find myself back in Ohio BUT IT'S TOTALLY TEMPORARY, don't freak out (I say, mostly to myself). I'm in Ohio right now celebrating my birthday with family, gathering the rest of my belongings, packing Mozart into some sort of carrying apparatus and hitting the return road to NY today with the generous help of my dad. It will always be sad (sort of) to leave Ohio, but by now it should be obvious to anyone that even vaguely knows me that I am having the time of my life as a New Yorker.

As predicted, my second month slowed down a bit, due in the most part to starting my full-time job, but I still managed to cram in more than seems possible. In addition to marking the beginning of my life as a New York working girl (not that kind), August will always be known as the month I signed the lease on my first-ever apartment. I spent last weekend cleaning it from top to bottom, so it's all sparkling and ready for us to move into when we get back to the city tonight. But in the meantime, I'd like to recap my second month as a New Yorker:

I became obsessed with everything sweet corn-flavored (ice cream, custard, cookies), watched a lot of breathtaking sunsets, attended my first-ever rooftop party, said goodbye to the unemployed life with a trip to Coney Island, re-joined the 9-5 working life and got approved for my very own apartment!

I settled into my commute to this amazing, landmarked building on Fifth Avenue everyday, took the worst photo in the history of corporate ID photos, frolicked in the car-free Summer Streets, had sensory overload in the Voice Tunnel, toured some of my favorite Upper West Side landmarks and bought two teeny-tiny tarts at the farmers market.

Had a Red Hook adventure day with my friend Alisha, including a visit to Fairway Market, silly posing and a Key Lime Swingle that changed our lives. I ate lunch most every day in beautiful Bryant Park, except when it rained and I had to move into that dump, Grand Central Terminal.

I became obsessed with yoga, saw Pitch Pefect on the pier and E.T. in Bryant Park, had a boozy picnic in Central Park, found the most delicious wine bar, snapped photos at the always-enchanting Conservatory Garden and fell into a relaxing Sunday routine.

I got the keys to my new place and celebrated with Gilmore Girls and pizza, found the most delicious margaritas living across the street, creeped out HR by ordering books about bodies and the funeral industry, enjoyed the last of Summer Fridays, caught up with an old friend over tea and scones and walked the Queensboro Bridge.

Once again, it's exhausting to review everything that I've managed to cram into just one month. Hopefully when I get old and cranky about city life I can look back on these recaps and realize just how much fun there is to be had if you just know where to look. I'll probably also wonder how I ate so many pies, scones and scoops of ice cream without gaining a thousand pounds. Maybe there are just some things in this world that won't ever be explained.

More: My First Month as a New Yorker