Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

A few things I'm thankful for lately:

When Mozart curls up on the bed and then backs up until she's sure she's touching me.
Walking by someone on the street that smells so very good.
The always-cheerful lady who hands out AM New York by the Bryant Park BDFM/7 subway station every morning.
Dogs in rain boots.
Cereal for dinner.
When the photo I take looks exactly (or even better) than I imagined it would.

Lemon desserts.
Making plans.
Double socks.
Text messaging.

Experiencing all of the seasons in the city.
Surprising friends with gifts.
Pulling off the perfect double-feature.
Anticipating what book(s) I'm reading next.
Free samples.
Diner regulars.
Finding cash in jeans pockets.
Knowing I dressed 100% appropriately for the weather.

Of course I'm also thankful for the standard things: family, friends, health, etc. but most of the times it's the little things that make the biggest impact in my day (for better or worse). Speaking of lemon desserts, I made these to take over Trent's for Thanksgiving with Friends — that is, if I don't eat them all myself on the way there.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Grand Central Holiday Light Show

Last week I had some time to kill while waiting to get dinner with Trent, so I stopped into Grand Central Terminal to see the Holiday Light Show. It takes place on the west side of the Terminal, so for optimal views I recommend standing in the Apple Store, as close to the center staircase as possible. There were a few people taking photographs with nicer cameras, but be warned that the Apple store associates will ask you to put away your tripod if you bring one.

I read that the show runs "for 30 minutes from 5 - 10pm," but I couldn't really discern any reliable time table. The lights were on the whole time I was there, but actual scrolling details began about 5:20 and lasted for about 10 minutes. It's nothing super extravagant, but at such a large scale and in such a beautiful space, I couldn't help but be wowed a little bit.

Scrolling text wishes you a "Happy Holidays from Metro North," spells out "GCT" and the numbers "100," since this is Grand Central's 100th anniversary year. The red and blue trains were cute and obviously appropriate, and the huge flag design was nice. Mostly it was just a lot of color changing and raining colors, and it was really fun to watch how the lighting dramatically changed, not just in the windows but in the entire space.

The light show is free (obviously) and is running now through December 26th. After Thanksgiving the show will become more Christmas themed, but right now there's a lot of reds, oranges and yellows which I assume is their interpretation of "Thanksgiving themed." I'm interested to see how it changes for Christmas, and I'm hoping for at least a few seconds of giant, falling snowflakes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Get Off My Lawn and Out of My Subway Seat

If you follow me on Twitter, or know me in real life you may have the impression that I don't really like children. You would be correct: I don't like kids. I worked at McDonald's instead of babysitting, I was the youngest child (of two) and I have a very small family. I didn't have many friends growing up so I probably started hating children while I was still one myself. They're sticky and they're loud and they just generally get on my nerves. It may seem surprising that I've always wanted children of my own, however, and my mom assures me that I'll feel very differently about them when they actually originate inside of me. But until that day comes, other people's children are pretty much a daily annoyance for me, especially in a city filled with so many of them.

I've come to realize recently that it's not really even the child that I hate, but the parent(s) — I'm of the belief that most bad children can be directly traced back to bad parenting. Every once in a while there is a child and their parent that makes me totally rethink my blanket hatred, and even maybe crack a smile on my eternal bitch-face. For this reason, I give every little booger-eater the chance to win me over, but unfortunately most end up just reaffirming why they're mostly terrible creatures who should be avoided at all costs.

I've read a lot of "Subway Etiquette" articles since moving to the city, and people seem to be divided on the issue of giving up your seat for a child. I don't know one person that would argue that you shouldn't immediately give up your seat for an elderly, disabled or pregnant woman, but kids (ones not currently inside of their mothers, that is) are another story. I am of the opinion that if your kid can walk and stand then they should definitely do so on a crowded subway. I've seen plenty of kids in subway seats, and I very rarely see them actually sitting still. They're fidgety and wiggly and I've seen may of them treat their seat neighbors (aka complete strangers) as nothing more than human jungle gyms.

A few weeks ago, a family got on the train: mom, dad, two kids and grandma. A woman got up, offering her seat to the elderly grandma, like any kind person should do. The mom, instead of letting her mom sit, shoved one of her children into the empty seat. I was standing at the end of the car, and as the train pulled away from the station, the elderly woman FLEW into me, pinning me between her body and the door (one of my top subway fears: realized). The mom pulled her mother off of me, asking if she was ok (she didn't bother to ask me, but whatever I was fine). Seeing this, another good samaritan offered up their seat to the grandmother. The young mom then proceeded to shove her second child into the free seat, leaving her elderly mother still standing, even after she had clearly proven her need to be seated while the train was in motion.

Am I being a total "get-off-my-lawn" grumpy old person to think that children should stand like the rest of us? I actually feel horrible when I have my nose in a book or I'm just zoned out and don't notice a person in need of my seat before someone else does. Shouldn't parents be teaching their children to respect their elders and help those in need? It's ok if you just think I'm a total kid-hating monster, but I'm probably still not going to give up my seat to your able-bodied kid. Don't even make me tell you what I thought of the kid riding next to me recently whose parents thought it would be an awesome idea to give him a noisemaker. And yes, he definitely knew how to use it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Food: John's Pizzeria

While Brianna was in town, I realized that she had never been to John's Pizzerria. My man and I discovered John's on Bleecker Street kind of by accident on a trip to the city a few years ago. We were hungry, they had pizza, so we gave it a try. We ended up loving it so much that we went back two more times during our three-day trip, and many many times since. I like to joke that I've taken every single person I've ever met for a pizza at John's, but that's really not far from the truth. Since 2009 I've shared pizzas with: my mom, dad and uncle, as well as at least seven friends that I can think of off hand. I also once took a four-hour detour on a return trip from Cape Cod just to grab a pizza to go (pro tip: it doesn't travel well). It's just that good.

I've since had pizza at Grimaldi's, Juliana's, Rubirosa, Patsy's and many others but still nothing compares to John's. While the Rubirosa vodka sauce pie was insanely delicious, I consider that more of a specialty item. When I want PIZZA pizza, good old sauce, cheese and pepperoni on a thin crust, I haven't found that I can do any better than John's.

The Bleecker Street John's is the one I've been to, not to be confused with a few other "John's" locations. There must be something to the location, however, because the tiny strip of Bleecker east of 7th Ave. is filled with tons of amazing places to eat, including Murray's Cheese Bar (and store) and Cones (home of the incredible sweet corn ice cream, and right next-door to John's). It's also conveniently located a few minutes from Magnolia Bakery, and I've had the pizza-cupcake (or lemon bar, or banana pudding…) combo meal more times than I'd like to admit.

John's has a coal-fired oven, and they've been in business since 1929. This type of cooking leaves little black bits of charred dough on the bottom of the thin, delicious crust which is all sorts of good. I've experimented with a few different topping choices, but I can say with confidence that double pepperoni is without a doubt the best way to eat John's. Changing up the magic formula does something bad to the whole experience, and I don't recommend going rogue. I tell everyone the same thing when I take them, as I slowly close their menu and push it away from them: just trust me, let me order, and I promise it will be good. The extra pepperoni means extra grease puddles, which sounds gross but I swear it's really amazing. I never feel fatter than when I'm sopping up the extra grease drips with my slice of pizza as I eat, but if you've ever had John's then you'll understand.

They're militant about not offering slices, as indicated by the multiple mentions of the policy around the inside and outside of the restaurant. This has never been a problem, because the pizza is so delicious and I always bring someone to help me. I've never had leftovers, but trust me when I say that the medium is more than enough for two people. Everyone has opinions about the best New York pizza place, and I'm sure there are a ton of other amazing pies out there, but John's still has my vote. I am, of course, always open to suggestions for better places but it's nice to know that when I'm really craving pizza, John's is only just a short subway ride away.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tasting Tuesdays

On Tuesday afternoon I saw a tweet about Tasting Tuesday's at the Winter Village in Bryant Park. When I found out that it was basically a scavenger hunt for free food samples, that culminated in a gift certificate, I knew I needed to check it out. There's almost nothing I won't do for a free food sample, so I thought it was worth a try.

The website listed the event as running from 4:30pm - 7pm, but when I signed up I was told that it was over at 6pm. There was a sign-up table located near the Christmas Tree in the middle of the park, where you wrote down your name and email and received a wrist band and map. They were out of the maps by the time I got there, but someone who had one let me take a photo of hers. Along with the map was a list of participating vendors and what they were offering. Most offered samples, but some offered discounts or BOGO deals as well. I only had about a half hour before the end of the event, so I tried to hit up as many booths as possible.

My first stop was the Wafels & Dinges booth, because I had heard good things and always wanted to try their treats. The line was long and it took a while for the samples to be made, but it was definitely worth the wait. They gave out mini wafels, topped with speculoos spread and a generous heap of whipped cream (totally free). It was just as good as I had imagined, and I'm definitely going to be trying the full-sized version real soon. I also got a small cup of hot cider from Big Apple Cider (with a real cinnamon stick!), and samples of a chocolate-covered churro, apple streusel, two different pickles, a coconut cronut (not THE Cronut but it was still fucking amazing), chimney cake, a chocolate-covered banana slice, vegetarian chili and falafel.

The thing I love most about free samples (aside from the free part) is that I get to try things that I would never normally eat. I'm a picky eater and I have total ordering anxiety — I'm always terrified to try new things because what if I end up hating them and missing out on something I already know I like? This is, of course, a stupid way to think, but that's why sampling is one of my very favorite things. I love that most ice cream shops let you sample before you buy, and I feel like all restaurants should be that way. I know that's not possible, but a girl can dream.

When I tried the pickle samples the guy in the booth told me that if I correctly identified both samples that he would give me a free, full-sized pickle. I think he was a little surprised when I guessed both right away, but I take my pickle knowledge very seriously. I chose the horseradish as my free pickle, and it was one of the best I've ever eaten. I don't think I'll end up getting falafel again, but it was nice to finally know what it tasted like (meh). After I was done, I waited in a pretty decent-sized line, and was told that I could either pick a $10 gift certificate from one of the food vendors (while supplies last) or take my chance and draw a random $25 one to one of the non-food shops. I don't like to leave things to chance, so I took a $10 one to Chimney Cake. I would have preferred Wafels & Dinges, but there wasn't one available and the Chimney Cake was my second favorite of all the desserts I ate. I was only there about an hour and the free gift certificate on top of all the free food I had already eaten was a nice bonus. Since it was all free I didn't have anything to lose by trying it out, and I'm obviously glad I did.

Although at one point, after eating the chocolate-covered churro, I picked up my phone and realized I had gotten chocolate sauce on my power button. I very quickly licked it off, because what else was I supposed to do, and then felt incredibly fat. But if licking chocolate sauce off of your phone in the middle of a crowded park is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

RIP 5Pointz

Whether you or I agree with it or not doesn't matter now — graffiti "mecca" 5Pointz has officially been painted over as of yesterday. The painting comes before the demolishing, but to a building that was covered in beautiful works of art, whitewashing is basically the same as a wrecking ball.

A lot of people are talking about whether the demise of 5Pointz is a bad thing, good thing or somewhere in between. Even the big bad developer himself apparently has mixed feelings about it, although I'm sure the millions he will make from the eventual luxury condos will soothe any and all wounds.

I don't know how to feel about it exactly — I'm new to this city, so I don't think I've earned the right to wax poetic about the "good old days" quite yet. New York is constantly changing and evolving, for better or worse, and that's one of the constants we have to deal with every day as people who love and live in this city. Demolition is only one part to every evolution, and while luxury condos might not be beneficial to me in any real way, new development can sometimes be great. Without growth and change we wouldn't have anything that makes this city so wonderful.

I'm so glad that I got to see 5Pointz, which I actually stumbled upon by accident, twice this summer. I'm sad that it's gone, but now I can feel like a true New Yorker and say "I remember when..."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Brooklyn Flea

Last weekend my friend Brianna was in town. She had been to New York many times, so there wasn't much on the agenda which was kind of nice (for me at least, I hope you had fun, Brianna!). On Saturday we slept in a bit, had brunch in Brooklyn Heights and leisurely made our way over to the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene.

I had been to the flea once before, earlier this year in the Williamsburg Savings Bank, but I had never been to the outdoor market. The Fort Greene location is actually directly across the street from the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, where I had just seen Cat Power a few nights before. I hadn't been terribly impressed with the winter flea, but for some reason I enjoyed the outdoor version much more. It was a beautiful day, which probably didn't hurt, and there were some great things to look at. I can be kind of a price snob when it comes to flea markets since I spent 27 years getting used to Ohio prices, but I was surprised to find that most of the vintage goods were quite reasonable. It was fun to be back amongst vintage treasures again, which is something I definitely miss about my previous life running Blue Carrot Shop. I'd love to open a real-life shop one day, or maybe I'll even become a vendor at the Flea.

There were a lot of goodies that I wanted, of course, but the one thing I decided I couldn't live without was a collection of vintage, plastic holly garland. I adore vintage Christmas decorations and I couldn't pass up the holly when I found out it was only $5. I got an entire bag full, and while it needs a little repair work, there is more than enough to make a big impact in my tiny apartment.

There are quite a few food vendors at the Flea too, and even the fact that we had just eaten didn't stop us from checking out the goodies. I got a cup of hot chocolate from Whimsy & Spice, which was a mix of their Early Grey and Chili flavors. Even with the mix it was still a bit spicy for my tastes, but still delicious. We were just about to leave when we walked down an aisle we had somehow missed and stumbled on the Dough donut booth. I had heard good things about their donuts, and when I saw that they had a lemon poppy flavored one I caved. It was a little stale feeling, texture-wise, but the lemon flavor was amazing. I might have to actually go to their shop and try another to see if maybe the one I had was just not at peak freshness. I think I still prefer Doughnut Plant, however, and my mouth still waters every time I think about the last donut I ate there.

Fort Greene is such a beautiful neighborhood and I'm so glad I got to see the outdoor flea before it moves inside to a new location for the winter. There's only one more outdoor weekend left this season, so if you see that super awesome taxidermy fox, tell him I'll be back for him one day.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cat Power, Solo

On Thursday I went to see Cat Power, in a solo "acoustic" show at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. I put acoustic in quotation marks because that's how it was billed, but she played an electric guitar as well as the piano. This was my third time seeing her (first was October of last year in Washington D.C., second was in January at Terminal 5) but my first time seeing her solo. The first two times were part of her Sun tour, which is probably my least favorite of her albums, but was still good live.

This was, by far the better of the three shows, and maybe the best show I've ever seen. Now I haven't seen many (especially compared to a lot of people my age) so that might not be as important a claim as it sounds, but she was amazing. I have loved her ever since The Greatest came out, which was the first time I ever heard of her. Once I realized it wasn't a greatest hits album (it isn't, I'm just an idiot), it quickly became one of my very favorite albums of all-time. I listened to it basically non-stop that entire summer and never got tired of it. Seven years later, I'm still not tired of it, and think that every single song is perfection.

After falling in love with her voice and amazing lyrics, I of course listened to every other thing of hers I could get my hands on. It's all great, and I knew I would never pass up a chance to see her do anything live. She's had a lot of health and personal problems through the years that have interrupted her tours and made seeing her a not-so easy thing to do. The second this solo show was announced I bought my ticket, and it ended up selling out not too soon after they went on sale. In response to the huge demand, they added a second show right after the first one, which annoyed me a bit. I was afraid that she would try and reserve her voice or cut the show short. Although she started late, and only ended up playing for about an hour and a half it was still definitely worth it.

She sang so many of my favorites — Satisfaction, Good Woman, The Greatest — but everything she sang had a completely unique sound, unlike anything you would find on her albums. She sang a lot of partial songs and was generally a bit scattered, but there is no equipment malfunction in the world capable of distracting from the fact that she just has an incredible voice. Everything she sings is so heartfelt and devastating that I basically cried through the entire show. It's always a surprise which song really ends up getting to me — at Terminal 5 it was The Greatest, and on Thursday it was Good Woman.

I'd never been to the Brooklyn Masonic Temple before, but I was pleased to discover that there were actual seats. I came about a half hour early and ended up with a perfect view from the third row middle (a perk of going to a show alone). The thing I hate most about concerts are the other people, waving their cell phones, recording the whole show, spilling their beer, clapping along or singing in my face. THANKFULLY there wasn't one annoying person in the audience for this show and it definitely made a huge difference. Everyone was respectful and chill and I could actually hear and see everything she did. I would see this tour again in a heartbeat if I could.

This is neither here, nor there, but I also learned that her first name "Chan" is actually pronounced "Shawn," which kind of blew my mind a little bit. She is one of those artists that is so raw and emotional that anything they sing instantly becomes heartbreaking, like Judy Garland, Edith Piaf or Johnny Cash. I just kind of want to give her a hug, but after Thursday's show I'm thinking I could use one too.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Food: Panna II Indian Garden

On Tuesday, Katie, Jim and I continued our every-few-weeks tradition of a weeknight dinner out. The first one was in Chinatown, the second in Little Italy and for Tuesday I suggested Panna II Garden Indian Restaurant in the East Village.

I had been there once before, when I was staying in the city on Valentine's Day of this year. An old college friend and I had decided to meet (he didn't even know it was Valentine's, not that it mattered to either of us) and he suggested Indian food. The picky eater in me almost requested a change of venue multiple times, but each time I stopped myself. I kept thinking that I needed to try new things, step outside of my comfort zone and not rock the boat. As soon as we arrived at the restaurant (he hadn't told me the name of it) I was so glad that I hadn't wimped out. I loved it so much, in fact, that I couldn't wait to give others their first Panna II experience and Katie and Jim agreed when I suggested it for our next dinner.

Having been twice I can say that I still don't love Indian food, but you (or at least I) don't really go to Panna II for the food. Sure, you eat there, but it's 99% about the atmosphere and decor of the teeny tiny second floor restaurant.

There are actually three nearly identical Indian restaurants right next to each other, with each one trying to usher you into their respective spaces. I received this worthy advice from Shawn, who has been to (or knew someone who had been to) each one: Panna II is the best, just keep your head down, ignore the solicitations from the competitors and head straight upstairs (it's the one to the right). Hosts from the other restaurants will literally try to push you into their doors, but resist!

Once inside you'll understand why I'm concentrating this review on the decor and not the food — I've never seen anything like it (except for next door.. and downstairs…). Basically every square inch of ceiling is covered in lights — chili pepper lights, Christmas lights, pumpkin lights, baseball lights — but there's a whole lot more festive bits and baubles hanging in between, including hawaiin lais, stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments and holiday decorations from every season.

There is about five feet of actual headroom (from the floor to the start of the lights) and the place is tiny so you'll have to duck and squeeze but it's totally worth it. It's all just so weird and fun and makes very little sense (what the connection between India and Christmas lights is I can't be sure) so of course I love it. It's also probably a safety hazard and can't possibly be hygienic (how do they clean all of those??) but it got me to eat Indian food not once, but twice so they're doing something right.

As for the actual food, it's not nearly as scary as I thought it would be and most of it is actually quite good. The coconut poori (Shawn described it as a coconut donut, which is accurate) is delicious (and cheap!) and the chicken tandoori is a good choice if you're a terribly picky, uncultured American like me. It's basically just two freakishly large chicken breasts that have been roasted and rubbed with something that makes them bright red and a little spicy — don't let the fact that they look like human hearts scare you, and hey if you go on Valentine's it's just extra festive!

Do note that they are cash only and BYOB, although they don't charge a corkage fee, so that's nice. It always feels a little shady to me to crack open my own drink in the middle of a restaurant, but you do what you gotta do (it's totally allowed and normal, I'm just weird). I can't say that I will ever get to the point in my life where I think to myself "hmm, you know what I'd like for dinner? Indian food," but I'll probably (definitely) drag at least a few more of my friends to Panna II if only to take in the sights.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

DIY Haircut and Color

Although the style and color has changed many times through the years, I have worn my hair in basically a pixie cut (aka very short) since I was 17 years old (I'm 28 now). I had a long-time hairdresser when I lived in Ohio, but dreaded trying to find someone new when I moved to New York. Short hair requires more maintenance than longer styles, and I've also been dying my hair white-blonde for a few years, which is even more of a pain in upkeep.

I've always been appalled at how much it costs for a cut alone ($40/$50 minimum), especially because as a woman I instantly get charged more even though if you want to get technical about it, I basically have a man's cut. Color, however is even more outrageously expensive, and I knew that if I was diligent about cut/color I could easily expect to spend hundreds of dollars every 4-5 weeks. Well, New York is an expensive place to live (maybe you've heard) and I'm not exactly a Rockefeller so I knew getting my hair done professionally just really wasn't an option for me anymore. Going au naturel wasn't really an option either, at least not one that I wanted to entertain. I am pretty low maintenance when it comes to makeup and I'm not super into fashion but my hair had always been the one thing that I actually cared about. I like it short and I like it blonde and I didn't think I should have to look like a slob just because I can't (yet) afford to go to a fancy salon every month.

So a few months ago, when I had gone as long as I could stand in between cuts, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to Target, bought a $25 pair of clippers, said a tiny prayer and dove in to the scary world of a DIY haircut. I had seen hairdressers use clippers on my hair before, and I usually touched up my fringe in between cuts, so I was fairly confident that I wouldn't accidentally end up like G.I. Jane. It was surprisingly easy and kind of fun (liberating maybe?) to take clippers to my own head, and once I started I knew there was no going back. I shaved the entire back and sides of my hair, and trimmed the top and fringe with scissors (included with the clippers, even better). I started with a really low number (the higher the number, the shorter the hair) to be safe, but ended up deciding that a "4" was a good length for me.

I was feeling confident after not totally balding myself, so I decided to try my hand at color too. Again, I had paid attention and had it done the same way so many times that I felt pretty capable of replicating the results myself. I first used a powder bleach mixed with 40 volume, high-lift developer, and left it on until my hair was the desired lightness. Then I followed up with an ash-colored toner to take out any brassiness.* I have always wanted my blonde to be as white as possible, and I will be ecstatic if one day my hair decides to just turn white on its own so I no longer have to force it to.

I was extremely pleased with the results, especially since it was the first time I had ever (!) even attempted to cut or color my own hair entirely by myself. I respect everyone that is a professional and licensed hairdresser, and trust me I'll be coming back to one of you whenever my finances allow. Going to a salon is relaxing and totally fun and I'm sure I could get better results from most of them than I can on my own. But until then it's nice to know that I'm the one in control of how my hair looks, for better or worse. I don't have to wait until I can't stand it anymore to bite the bullet and go in for a cut, I can just trim it whenever it starts looking a bit off. There's a certain satisfaction that comes from doing something yourself that you had previously been completely dependent on others for, and saving hundreds of dollars every month doesn't hurt either.

As a side note (more to give you confidence to try your own DIY than to toot my own mad skillz), I have received a lot of unsolicited compliments on my haircut (and color) from total strangers. This is always flattering and almost always really awkward, especially when it happens LOUDly on a super crowded subway car. And one was from an actual hairdresser (for 30 years, no less) who told me that if I should ever want a second career that he would hire me so that was kind of nice.

*This is the part where I tell you that bleach is a very tricky and potentially dangerous thing. You could end up with a head full of open sores or burn off all of your hair and should probably not try this at home. 

Recent Reads

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

I actually finished Senses back when I first moved to New York in July. It was my first book by Diane Ackerman but it certainly won't be my last (and I've already finished my second, see below). Some people complain that her writing is a bit wordy, and I would agree but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Especially in Senses, her wordiness is never boring or repetitive and only helps to create a better sense (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) of the complex issues she's explaining. 

I find the human body endlessly fascinating and I think this is a must-read for anyone that currently inhabits one. Senses are such extraordinary systems and for months after reading this you'll be that annoying person who can't wait to chime in with an interesting tidbit (did you know that smell was the very first of our senses to develop? and it was so successful that in time the small lump of olfactory tissue atop the nerve cord grew into a brain??). I own another one of Ackerman's books, The Moon By Whalelight, that I've yet to read, and A Natural History of Love is also on my list.

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman

Speaking of Ackerman, The Zookeeper's Wife was an entirely different kind of book in style and subject matter but I loved it just as much as Senses. The premise was enough to hook me (and maybe the fact that it's a Norton book so I got it at a heavy discount) but it definitely did not disappoint. 

It covered a viewpoint of WWII and the Holocaust that I had never really read about before, and the real-life characters couldn't have been more interesting if they were invented entirely. It's a pretty long book, but I found myself plowing through it, not wanting to stop reading. I was sad when it was over, which is always the hallmark of a great book.

Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson

Confession: I picked up Dandy Gilver… from the dollar racks at the Strand based solely on the cover art and typography (by Jessica Hische, but of course). I'm no stranger to this method of book selection, and I'm not embarrassed to admit that it usually works out quite well. Dandy Gilver was a nice change of pace from the nonfiction I'd been reading, and is a fun and light mystery novel, featuring the titular woman detective. 

I enjoyed this one so much in fact, that I immediately began another in the series, but Bloodstains was definitely the better of the two. I'm fascinated by servant-life in the early 1900s (thanks Downton Abbey and Gosford Park!), so the combination of murder-mystery, time-period and cast of characters made for a great read. I've placed a hold on the newest Dandy Gilver novel at the library, but until it comes in I'm taking a break from her world for a while so I won't suffer Dandy fatigue, something I came quite close to by the end of the second book.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

If I had to pick a standout of the four books discussed here (although they really were all great) it would have to be Empty Mansions. I bought it on a whim after reading a New York Times Review that piqued my interest, and I'm so glad I did. The true story of the eccentric and absurdly rich copper heiress Huguette Clark is completely fascinating. The book is entertaining and compassionately sympathetic in how Huguette is portrayed, which I appreciated. The story of the Clarks is so odd and fantastic at times that it could have easily veered into tabloid sensationalism but I never felt as if the authors had anything but respect for the family (maybe because one of them actually is family). Empty Mansions was another hefty read, but it went very quickly and I would have been just as happy to read twice as much on the subject.

For more Recent Reads click the "books" tag.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Prospect Park

On Saturday I found myself without a single thing to do, not a common occurrence for me. I have been sick with my second cold in the last two months (ugh) so I badly needed to get out of bed and away from my apartment.

I decided to go to Prospect Park in Brooklyn through a decision making process that looked something like this: I haven't been there in a while > the long(ish) train ride will give me time to read my book > if I'm lucky I'll find warm cider and cider donuts at the farmer's market in Grand Army Plaza because they had them back in February. These are pretty much my main concerns when it comes to most anything — scenery, books and food.

I lucked out on the food front and found both the hot cider and the cider donuts (two for a dollar — a total steal). I took my $3 lunch into Prospect Park and spent the next few hours walking around, taking in the bounty of fall delights still left to see. The leaves weren't as beautiful as Central Park, but there were still a few standouts.

I have generally have a good sense of direction, but I swear every time I'm in Prospect Park I get lost. I did a bit better this time, and actually made it to the lake, something I haven't been as successful at in the past. The lake is really the best part of the park, in my opinion, and I especially love the swans. No matter how many times I see them I am still shocked and thrilled when I spot one (or four). They're so striking and large that they almost don't seem real. I'm not a huge fan of birds but catching a glimpse of the swans will always feel special to me.

I ended up walking around the southern point of the lake and back north, ending up back at Grand Army Plaza which is quite the haul. It was a really beautiful, chilly fall day and walking under the falling leaves is always kind of magical. I also figure that walking about five miles in and out of the park totally justifies the fact that all I had for lunch was two sugar-covered cider donuts. That's how that works, right?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunnyside and Kykuit

Before we visited the final resting places of both Washington Irving and William Rockefeller on our recent trip to Sleepy Hollow, we toured their respective estates, Sunnyside and Kykuit. They are geographically almost neighbors, but the properties are very different.

Sunnyside is more of a cottage, although Irving (who never married) shared the relatively small space with his brother and his five daughters. The house sits on beautiful former farmland, separated from the Hudson River by train tracks, an addition that was made back in Irving's time. Four of us actually got into Sunnyside for free because the fifth person in our group became a member of the Historic Hudson Valley. I think I may have been disappointed if I had paid the $12 admission price, but as I've said before I have a hard time complaining about something I got for free.

The tour encompasses only a few of the ground floor rooms, and we were free to explore the grounds (including the outhouses and icehouse) on our own. I wish we had been able to see more of the house and I felt as if the guides stationed in each room were a bit less enthusiastic with their stories than I expected.

Later in the day, as we were standing in front of Irving's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, we overheard the following conversation between a husband and his wife: "Who was Washington Iriving again?" "He's the one who wrote the Headless Horseman." They definitely could have benefited from the tour at Sunnyside, but since we already had a cursory knowledge of the man who wrote the inspiration for our entire trip (which is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by the way, not the Headless Horseman) it was interesting but not terribly enlightening.

Down the road a bit is the Rockefeller estate, Kykuit (pronounced Kye-cut), which is much larger and more grandiose than Sunnyside. We were wary of our tour guide at first, but aside from her creepy obsession with Nelson Rockefeller, she ended up being pretty great.

The house is beautiful, but it's the location and the grounds that really make it a spectacular place. The sloping lawns overlook the Hudson River Valley and I can't imagine a more beautiful time than fall to take the tour. Again, we didn't see as much of the house as I would have liked (why are the top floors always off-limits?) but it was still pretty long and informative.

Apparently the Rockefeller's tried not to be too showy with their wealth in keeping with their Baptist beliefs, but I'm not sure how much they succeeded in that regard. If Kykuit is their idea of what restraint looks like, I'd love to see what it would have looked like had they really tried to show off.

More Sleepy Hollow: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery  |  The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Finding Fall

I read in the New York Times that the fall foliage in the city would be a its peak last weekend, so I planned to take one last leaf-peeping adventure. By then I sort of felt as if I had already petted fall to death with all of my October activities, but I couldn't resist one last autumnal hurrah. Turns out the leaves are still pretty breathtaking, even if they're past peak, so I might as well continue to enjoy the delights as they present themselves.

I thought I'd recap some of my favorite leaf showings this year and if you haven't made it out to the parks yet this year, you still have time. Although I wouldn't recommend Forrest Hills Park in Queens — I heard they had beautiful leaves there, but when I Googled the park to plan a trip there the first two results that came up were "Sicko in the Park Still on the Loose" and "Stun Gun Rape in Forrest Hills Park." I'm sure it's a beautiful place but I'm not in the mood to get stun-gun raped by a sicko so I stuck to these less exotic locales:

Inwood Hills Park

We didn't stay to long or venture too far into the actual park, but the view across the Hudson River was sublime last weekend. I seem to be having a bit of a love affair with the Hudson this fall, and if you've ever been around it this time of year you won't blame me. While this post focuses on parks within New York City limits, some of the best foliage I've seen was near the Hudson in Sleepy Hollow and on my trip farther north into New England. I think pretty much any town within the Hudson Valley is a sure bet for spectacular leaf delights.

Central Park

I've gone leaf spotting in Central Park many times over the past few weeks, and each time the leaves have gotten prettier and prettier. I found what I thought had to have been the best tree in the park, only to happen upon an even better one further down the path.

Most recently I stuck to the northern part of the park, which I can't recommend enough. Near the pond is especially picturesque, and don't be afraid to venture into the heart of the North Woods — you'll be rewarded with spectacular views and hardly anyone around to ruin your pristine photos.

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island probably isn't the first place you'd think of when looking for beautiful foliage, but I was pleasantly surprised by my trip there last Sunday. The small trees lining the walking paths by the river are amazingly colorful right now. The landscaping near the Four Freedoms FDR monument is incredibly vibrant and the fallen leaves are just as pretty as the ones still on the trees. If you haven't been to Roosevelt Island yet, fall is a perfect time to explore. There's even a super cozy Starbucks right near the tram exit because every fall adventure is made even better with coffee — but finish your drink before you enter the FDR memorial — drinks are not allowed, something I learned the hard way.