Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye forever, 2013.

I've become fond of referring to 2013 as the unluckiest and luckiest year of my entire life. Sure, I've only lived a little more than 28 whole years — and I hope to live many more — but I doubt (or maybe hope?) that 2013 will not have much competition for a long time.

I started the new year out much like I had the previous five: in Ohio with my man, in the home we shared with our two cats. By January 11th, I was with my dad, in his truck, headed to New York City. I subletted an apartment near Columbia University for two months, still working (remotely) for 427 Design while I test-drove a life for myself in New York. On March 11th, I was once again in my dad's truck, headed back to my home in Ohio. I was reunited with Mozart and threw myself into work, designing and planning 427's annual Open House.

I had planned to move back to New York as soon as possible, but the universe stepped in and gave me a medical issue that, by the time it had resolved itself in mid-May, put me through a level of stress and worry that I had never experienced in my healthy life thus far. On July 1st, I was headed to New York again, this time with a one-way airline ticket, without job or place to live and far more baggage than the two suitcases I was carrying. On the day I started my first New York job (August 5th), I also signed the lease papers for my first New York apartment.

So now, twelve months later, I sit in that apartment, with Mozart by my side. I've survived losing (or moving on from) my relationship, a very dear friend, my potential health, my home and my job — and in turn, moved to the city of my dreams, started a new job, found a new home, met new friends and strengthened ties with old ones. I'm not one to dwell on the bad, and I try to revel in the good, however small. I'm constantly Instagramming and blogging about my city adventures, but there's another side to life that keeps everything in balance. Breakdowns, crying fits, packing up 27 years of possessions, entire days when I don't get out of bed, long, painful conversations and equally painful personal realizations aren't particularly easy to capture in a photo, but they matter too.

I've been making a habit of reviewing my months here in New York, but I thought I'd pay equal attention the the six months of this year and all the moments big and small that led up to me finally booking that one-way ticket:

I moved to New York and set up an office in my room  |  I tried Magnolia Bakery's famous (and amazing) banana pudding for the first time  |  I bought a hat that changed my life  |  Trent and I explored Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens  |  I warmed up with City Bakery's hot chocolate  |  I paid off one (of my minor) student loans.

We got nearly a foot a of snow and I took a snowy tour of three parks  |  Trent and I braved the cold (and Chinatown) to see the Chinese New Year Firecracker Festival  |  I had my first (and second, and third...) macaron  |  I walked the Manhattan Bridge  |  I explored Roosevelt Island for the first time  |  Trent and I searched for Meryl and ate cupcakes during the Oscars.

I had my best restaurant experience ever at Tom's, which ended with a (free) egg cream (my first!)  |  My uncle came to visit and took me to the MET Opera for the first time (and we took a backstage tour)  |  We went to the gorgeous Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden  |  I said "goodbye for now" to New York and headed back to Ohio over the George Washington Bridge  |  I tried to settle back into my Ohio life with a little help from lattes and Martha  |  Reunited and it felt so good.

I had my third, and final Blue Carrot Shop sale on Fab.com  |  I designed materials for the 427 Design Open House  |  I enjoyed outside lunches with Swenson's (oh Swenson's, I do miss you) and Jessica Mitford  |  We silkscreened (and glittered!) some posters  |  I packed a lot of packages as I liquidated Blue Carrot Shop in preparation of moving  |  Hung out with this beauty.

I managed to stick to a gluten-free, (mostly) dairy-free diet for a few months and made a LOT of smoothies  |  Tried to get outside once in a while and appreciate spring  |  Took a lot of contemplative nature walks  |  Had a massive garage sale and sold most of my earthly possessions including a surprising amount of Reagan campaign buttons  |  I tried to sneak in extra snug time with the other one  |  I made intimidating lists and began the process of changing my whole life, one thing at a time.

My mom and I visited New York to scout apartments and I had my first Nathan's hot dog at Coney Island  |  Trent, Alisha and I waited nearly three hours to see the Rain Room at MOMA  |  I took my first trip to Governors Island  |  I explored George Washington Bridge park and the Little Red Lighthouse  |  I said "goodbye for now" to my best furry friend  |  I left my home, my family and job to follow my dreams.

The second half:  July  |  August  |  September  |  October  |  November  |  December

So, tonight we all say goodbye to 2013, the year I found out that I was stronger than I ever could have imagined, more fragile than I ever want to admit, that real friends have a way of revealing themselves to you when you least expect, that my family's unconditional love and support is unparalleled, that I really don't care for papaya juice and that the right hat can make all the difference. I could have done without the really terrible things, but I'm grateful for every second of it.

Happy New Year, indeed.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Sixth Month as a New Yorker

Whew. December was a busy month. By the time Christmas rolled around, I felt as though I had successfully "petted" the entire holiday season to death. I saw the holiday window displays more times than I can count, braved the crowds at Rockefeller Center more times than I ever needed to and watched all of the Christmas movies (including repeat viewings of Home Alone 2).

On Christmas morning I opened a few presents, watched the SNL Christmas special, went to the movies (American Hustle) and had dim sum for dinner in Chinatown like a good New Yorker. It was a pretty anticlimactic end to the holidays, but it felt like the perfect way to spend my first New York Christmas.

A few highlights from the rest of my December:

I discovered a new, beautiful place in Central Park on one of my many weekend walks, saw the holiday windows (Bergdorf's were my favorite, but the Saks Yeti is pretty charming), happened upon a vintage subway car and took it a few stops out of my way, enjoyed my first apartment tree in the company of the Pigeon Lady and tried my first ever "fancy" ramen (it was good!).

I ate nuggets breaded with Cheez-its, found Meryl on 14th Street, my Uncle visited for the second time since I moved and we had box seats at the opera, I introduced him to the delight that is Absolute Bagels, we took a tour of Gracie Mansion before the DeBlasio's move in, and I braved Macy's to go Christmas shopping on my lunch break.

I went to my first-ever corporate Christmas party at the Roosevelt Hotel and ate cake while everyone else danced, we went to Dyker Heights to marvel at their oh-so-tacky-but-amazing Christmas light displays, I took a magical snowy walk through Central Park and made some friends with some beautiful cardinals, I hosted a Christmas Vacation viewing party complete with moose mugs filled with spiked nog and I sent out a New York-themed package as part of the Christmas City Swap.

I walked by the beautiful Bryant Park tree every day, finally noticed the creepy glowing-eyed owls outside of Macy's, pushed my way through the crowds at Rockefeller Center to get my tree photo, had a weekend visit from a friend who wanted to see a Banksy, took her on a tour of obscure movie filming locations, including the arch in Central Park from Home Alone 2, and tried out Georgetown Cupcakes (meh).

We saw the tree at Washington Square, walked the Brooklyn Bridge and became obsessed with all of the locks, visited Carrie Bradshaw's apartment on Perry Street, went to the holiday train show at the New York Botanical Garden (I also became a member!), explored the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and I had my first hot-dog-and-papaya-juice experience at Papaya King for Christmas Eve dinner.

I enjoyed new (and old) gifts, saw an amazing sunset in Chinatown on Christmas day, visited the Bergdorf's windows one last time and was creeped out by "Groundhog Day," waited in line to see Barney's "Floating City" display and spent a rainy day with friends going back in time at the New York Transit Museum.

I'll be posting a recap of 2013 in the next few days, and it's an understatement to say that this year was eventful. I spent a full two-thirds of this year actually living in New York, and it was all better than I'd ever even imagined it would be. I look forward to starting a new, full year living and breathing and loving and dreaming in the city of my dreams. The first six months have been some of the best of my life — here's to many, many more.

More Recaps: First Month  |  Second Month  |  Third Month  |  Fourth Month  |  Fifth Month

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Food: The Nugget Spot

On Saturday I met Trent and Alisha in the East Village at The Nugget Spot for lunch. I had seen it mentioned on Gothamist a few weeks ago, and the premise of a restaurant devoted entirely to chicken nuggets seemed to good to resist. Their menu is limited, but to the point: chicken, fish or pork breaded with pretzels, Cheez-Its, Cap'n Crunch or southern fried, with a variety of dipping sauces to choose from. I chose Cheez-Its because it sounded intriguing and Trent and Alisha both got southern fried (all of us got chicken).

The Cheez-It-breaded nuggets were definitely a hit, and much preferred over the southern fried. They were salty and a little cheesy and tasted basically exactly how you would imagine Cheez-It-breaded nuggets to taste: delicious. The dipping sauces left a little to be desired, which is unfortunate since nuggets are really just a vehicle for the real star of the show: the sauce. I ordered the red pepper ranch and honey mustard (one sauce is included, 75 cents for each additional). The honey mustard wasn't as creamy as I prefer, and the red pepper ranch was a little bland.

The portions are large (I think there were 8ish nuggets, I don't remember exactly), but a few of my chicken pieces were a little funky. I'm a bit weird about eating meat sometimes, so when I get a stray tendon or a less than tender piece it really puts a damper on my whole meal. The restaurant is very tiny, has very limited seating (a few stools) and a few stand up tables. If you can grab a seat it's not a bad place to eat, but otherwise I'd treat it more as a grab-and-go place, especially if you have a large group.

Trent, Alisha and I all agreed that it was a tasty lunch, but that we probably wouldn't go out of our way to eat there again. I'm intrigued by the Cap'n Crunch breading, and to a lesser degree the pretzel, so I wouldn't mind trying them just out of curiosity. If I lived nearby I'd probably stop in occasionally, but I probably won't be making a special trip to the Nugget Spot again anytime soon.

Still Hungry? Nom Wah Tea Parlor  |  Rubirosa  |  Panna II Indian Garden  |  Umami Burger  |  John's Pizzeria  |  Momofuku Noodle Bar

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Windows

This is the first year I've really been in the city for the full holiday season, and I'm trying hard to soak it all in. I've been trying to walk as much as I can, on my lunch break, at night and on the weekends. I've walked down Fifth Avenue a few times, hitting the big department store window displays, and it's definitely not hard to pick a favorite. The best windows this year are at Bergdorf Goodman, on 58th/5th.

The theme is "Holidays on Ice," with windows depicting Valentine's Day, Halloween, Arbor Day, Thanksgiving, New Years, Groundhog Day, April Fools Day and the 4th of July, all with an icy twist. They're all a little weird and a whole lot of wonderful — everything a window display should be. I see something new in them each time I walk by, and they feel fresh without feeling too unnecessarily modern or avant-garde (but there is no mistake this is Bergdorf's and FASHUN).

My second favorite displays are at Saks Fifth Avenue on 49th/5th. They brought back their fuzzy Yeti character, and their windows tell his story (he supposedly lives on the roof of Saks and makes snow in the winter, but I'm sure you knew that). He's super cute, and anything that involves snow ranks high on my holiday must-see list.

Bloomingdale's windows are a little on the tacky side, and I hate that they rotate (taking photos is difficult), but the international theme is kind of fun. Of course I couldn't help but like the New York one with its bedazzled Chrysler Building and the Chinese dragon is definitely worth seeing in person.

Henri Bendel at 56th/5th has basically one window, but it's a good one. Their sculptural tribute to Al Hirschfeld features his famous drawings of Sarah Jessica Parker, Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters, Jerry Stiller and Liza Minelli. As a side note, I discovered this weekend that Henri Bendel's basement bathrooms are each approximately the size of my entire apartment, have exfoliating hand scrub in the soap dispensers and may or may not have solid gold paper towel holders. They also have private phone booths with pay phones, in case you ever find yourself needing one of those anymore.

Unfortunately, I am really disappointed in Macy's windows this year, so much so that I've passed them a few times without caring enough to photograph them. I'm mostly traditional when it comes to my holiday windows — anything with a screen or Twitter hashtag is pretty much the worst in my opinion. Snow, holiday scenes, minimal movement (that isn't from a TV screen) and a touch of glamour is really all I need.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Food: Momofuku Noodle Bar

Katie, Jim and I had another one of our dinners on Wednesday, at Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village. Katie had suggested ramen for our next outing, and none of us had been to Momofuku before. I fell in love with their dessert spinoff, Momofuku Milk Bar last winter when I ate a cup of the cereal milk soft serve for dinner, and I challenge you to find me a cookie as absurdly delicious as their corn cookie.

Not only had I never been to the noodle bar before, but I'd never tried fancy restaurant-grade ramen. I'm certainly no stranger to the 10-cent-oodles-of-noodles variety, but somehow ramen suddenly became "cool" and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Their menu is very limited, which I actually appreciate because I get easily overwhelmed when I have choose from a long list of options. There were four choices for the dinner noodle bowls, and I debated between the Momofuku Ramen (reasoning: you can't go wrong with a signature dish) and the Spicy Miso. I ultimately went with the Spicy Miso because it contained chicken instead of pork belly (?) or pork shoulder (??), and I like my Asian cuisine a bit on the spicy side.

When our bowls arrived they were much bigger than I had expected. The Spicy Miso was really good, and I think I definitely made the right choice. There was also cabbage, scallions, a poached egg and some sort of seaweed paper thing (???) in the bowl along with the noodles. I was worried that I would look like a complete fool trying to eat soup with chopsticks, but I don't think I embarrassed myself as much as I thought I might. It was just spicy enough to be flavorful, and surprisingly filling especially when you realize that you just basically ate a bowl of soup. I don't know if it tasted THAT much different from the 10-cent ramen, especially when you consider the drastic price difference (my bowl was $15), but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

However, I wasn't a huge fan of the actual restaurant itself — it was really crowded and incredibly loud. After half a year of of living in New York, I've gotten more or less used to the crowds, but the way the seating is designed it felt especially cramped. You sit on tiny, square wooden stools so there is essentially no where to put your coat which is a little awkward. We were in the middle of a long table, and had to get real cozy with our neighbors on the ends real quick. Definitely leave your large bags at home, or sit at the bar where there seemed to be slightly more room.

It's hard to tell how Momofuku stacks up against other ramen restaurants, since it was my first one, but I don't see myself becoming a regular there. I've heard good things about their pork buns, but those are available at the Milk Bar outposts, where I'm much more likely to be found on a (very) regular basis.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

MTA Nostalgia Rides

On Sunday I took a leisurely walk from my apartment, through Central Park and down Fifth Avenue to see the holiday window displays. I ended up near Rockefeller Center, so I decided to take the D train home. As I was waiting for the D, a vintage subway car pulled up across the platform and I was so surprised that I got on it despite the fact that it was running on the M track and in the opposite direction from where I needed to go.

I had seen these cars before when Trent and I visited the Transit Museum, but never one that was fully-operational on the real, current-day tracks. I only rode one stop, since it was going the wrong direction, but it was definitely worth the minor detour.

I did some research after I got home, and found out that the vintage car was part of the MTA's Holiday Season Nostalgia Train and Bus Rides. Basically, for the month of December, the MTA runs vintage subway cars along the M line every Sunday, and buses from several different eras along 42nd Street during the weekdays (weather depending).

Yesterday, without even intending to, I happened upon three of the vintage buses during my lunchtime walk down 42nd to Grand Central. I wasn't fast enough to catch any of them, but I'm definitely going to try to ride at least one before the month is over.

Although my subway ride was short, it was still really fun and different to be riding in a car with padded, wicker seats, open-blade ceiling fans and period-correct advertisements lining the walls. I love that the MTA does a thing like the nostalgia rides, which really serves no purpose other than to surprise and delight unsuspecting riders (the buses are equipped with new fare boxes, and cost the same as a regular ride). I've always said that I wished I was able to step back in time and experience places in the city as they were during different periods in time, and the nostalgia rides do just that, if even only for a moment.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

I have watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV every single year for as far back as I can remember. When I still lived at home, my dad and I would argue about whether the Macy's logo in Herald Square was a huge carpet or actually painted on the street (painted, I found out later). As I got older I would flip through the Black Friday ads, clipping out things I wanted and taping them to form elaborate Christmas lists, but always with the parade playing in the background.

Last year, I found a great deal on the Ace Hotel for Thanksgiving weekend — in March — and booked it without thinking. Like novices, we arrived at the parade much too late to get a good spot, but it was still a thrill to see the balloons in person. This year, however, I live fairly close to the start of the parade and I was determined to get a better spot. I knew it would be cold, but I was most worried that the windy conditions would ground the balloons. Luckily, that didn't happen, although they did fly at half their normal height, with some even struggling to stay off the ground.

We got to Central Park West and 71st at 6am, by which time all of the front row spots had already been taken. There was a lot of shuffling and activity on 71st street, however, and by the time the actual parade started we were able to squeeze our way to the front row. You can definitely still have a good time at the parade from farther back in the crowd, but I was so grateful that we were in front. Not only because the balloons were flying low this year, but because last year I missed the street-level portion of the parade entirely. While the balloons are obviously the stars of the show, the bands, performers, floats, clowns and stilt-walkers are really fun to watch up close.

A few times during the duration of the parade, parents and even one particularly pushy cop tried to get me to give up my front row spot for tiny children, which, at the risk of sounding yet again like a terrible old hag, really made me mad. Not only had I waited for three + hours in the freezing cold (thereby, earning my spot), but when did we become a society of adults expected at all times to bow down to children? It's bad enough that they want my subway seats, but I wasn't giving up my spot, one that I waited essentially 28 years to get, for a kid so small they won't even remember the parade. If you want to take your small child to the parade, please plan accordingly — get there early to save a spot (bring the kids later if you have to), put them on your shoulders (although I don't advocate this for the poor people stuck behind you), or get in with a Macy's employee for tickets to the grandstands. DON'T arrive after the parade already starts and attempt to shove your way in front of people who actually follow the rules and have been waiting patiently for their coveted spots. END RANT.

Rude parents aside (and these are everywhere, it's not a New York thing, trust me), it was a total defining life moment to see the parade in person. I actually teared up at one point, thinking of all the people watching the parade, wishing they were able to see it up close. I spent 27 years as one of those people, and now I live just a few subway stops away. If the weather had been warmer it would have been no problem to take a couple chairs and camp out a few hours earlier to ensure we had a great spot. I probably won't fight the crowds every year, but I'll definitely be back, especially now that I know how it all works. 

Next year I think I'll make the balloon inflation a priority — I skipped it this year due to crappy weather and some urgent baking deadlines — but I can't imagine any better way to start my Thanksgiving day than by seeing Richard Simmons dancing in a striped suit while riding on a turtle.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Fifth Month as a New Yorker

I didn't have a ton of exciting plans for November, but looking back it turned out to be a really fun and full month. I was worried that by Halloween I had already petted fall to death, but the fall delights just kept coming. A major highlight of course was seeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the second year in a row, although this time I was in the front row. It was freezing and I may just now be regaining feeling in my toes, but it was definitely worth it.

A few more things I did in November:

I caught a beautiful sunset when they still happened after I got out of work, the Hudson River continued to provide all of the fall delights, Trent, Alisha and I went to Roosevelt Island on the tram where we saw the Smallpox Hospital ruins, Four Freedoms Park and I was surprised by the beautiful foliage.

I got my second cold in two months but broke out of my sickbed for a beautiful walk in Central Park, cider donuts and hot cider under the gorgeous leaves in Prospect Park, got my senses assaulted again at Panna II Indian Garden Restaurant, had my share of snugs and foot chewing with Mozart and saw the ever-nutty but insanely talented Cat Power.

My friend Brianna visited and I took her to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, we ate brunch in Brooklyn Heights where I spotted a starry manhole cover, then walked to the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene where we had double dessert including a lemon poppy seed donut at Dough, and dinner at John's of Bleecker Street. I scored some great finds in the dollar bins at the Strand and started spotting holiday delights under the Time Warner Center's stars.

My obsession with free samples was indulged at two of Bryant Park's Tasting Tuesdays, I killed some time at Grand Central and got to see the Holiday Light show in action, I walked by this googly-eyed column on my way home, coveted this sign in Brooklyn, decided that I wanted to cover everything in pennies like this table I saw at the Brooklyn Flea, and discovered the beautiful Fort Greene park.

I finally saw Tom the Turkey up close and personal, along with the Macy stars, Richard Simmons and the Fireman balloon, even if they were all flying about half as high because of winds, I put up my very first New York apartment tree with a sock monkey Santa topper and attended the third annual Treeyoncé lighting at Trent's.

The next few weeks will probably fly by, but I'm trying to slow things down a bit and really enjoy Christmas in the city. I have an embarrassing amount of time off from work in the coming weeks so there'll be a lot of time to window shop, actually shop and take in all of the holiday festivities. Gift-giving is one of my very favorite things to do, so I naturally love the holiday season. The weather has been pretty mild (except for that arctic blast on Thanksgiving), but I'm always not-so-secretly hoping for a big snowstorm. I spotted a few flakes on Black Friday, but I can't be sure that they weren't manufactured by Macy's to add to the holiday spirit. I've already broken out the life-saving hat this year, so I say bring on the flurries.

More Recaps: First Month  |  Second Month  |  Third Month  |  Fourth Month