Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spotting Spring

Although it's almost May and it currently feels as if it could very well snow again, spring has managed to force its way into the city, slowly but surely. My daily commute includes a nearly 2.5 mile walk across Central Park, where I have been able to witness the day-by-day changes to the cherry trees, tulips, daffodils and other blooming delights.

Everything has been quite delayed due to the crazy winter we had (are still having?) and I was afraid that I would miss the best blooms while I was out of town, but we're still a few weeks away from the peak. Whenever I can get moving early enough, I walk from my apartment on the west side to my job on the east side, walking along the reservoir which is lined with cherry trees (my favorite).

If I really get an early start I have time to walk through the Conservatory Garden, and I brought my camera with me the other day in hopes that the field of tulips had started blooming. Unfortunately they were still entirely green, but the daffodils, magnolia trees and even the lilac (my favorite scent) have already made an appearance.

The Conservatory Garden is one of my very favorite spots in the park and I still haven't gotten over the fact that it's a regular stop in my morning commute. I do wish they had a bloom map like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has for their cherry trees so I wouldn't be continually afraid that I was missing something, but there's always something nice to look at no matter when I stop by.

After leaving Central Park I still have a few east side avenues to cross before I arrive at work, and the Park Avenue tulips have just started blooming. In one median in particular there is one lone yellow flower amongst all of the bright pink ones and I make it a point to say hi to it each morning as I pass. I can't say that I'm not getting impatient for the warm weather to stick around for good, but I'm enjoying this prolonged blooming season, and I'm trying not to miss a single blossom or bud. I might never be rich enough to actually live on the park (or Park Avenue) but getting to walk through/past them each morning is pretty amazing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Remnants of the New York World's Fair Part 2

I've written about Flushing-Meadows Corona Park and the remnants of the World's Fairs before (I first went in January of 2013 and then again in January of this year), but the more I visit and the more I read about the fairs the more obsessed I become. Lucky for me this year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964 World's Fair so there's been even more to see and read about than usual.

Last Tuesday was the anniversary of opening day and they decided to allow people into the New York State Pavilion for the first time in years. I actually had the day off because it was the last day of Passover, but I was flying back from Texas in the morning so I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it. I dropped my luggage off at my apartment and headed right back out to Queens, but by the time I got there they had stopped handing out tickets and had closed the line. I later read that more than 2,500 people showed up to see the Pavilion and the wait ended up being hours and hours long.

I was initially bummed that I wasn't able to get in, but it looks like they were only letting people step in a few feet and I don't think there's really much left of the terrazzo New York State floor map after all of these years. You can see inside of the Pavilion just by peaking through the gates and if you look hard enough you can even see the old elevators that used to be hanging from the observation towers — they're just laying in a heap on the ground, rotting away like much of the rest of the Pavilion.

I spent the rest of the day walking around the park and discovering remnants of the fairs that I somehow managed either not to notice or hadn't known existed during my previous visits to the park. There are the art deco-style water fountains and the spacey/curvy benches, futuristic sculptures and granite markers for the pathways with awesome names like the "Avenue of Science," "Court of the President" and "Eisenhower Promenade."

I will never get tired of just walking around the park and soaking up the history and it was especially nice to be there on the anniversary of opening day. The blooming trees provided a gorgeous backdrop to the always-impressive Unisphere, although I was disappointed that the fountains weren't turned on — could there be a better reason to have them on than the 50th anniversary?

On May 18th there will be an actual World's Fair Anniversary Celebration in the park which has been on my calendar from the moment it was announced. I can't wait to eat a Belgian waffle in the same spot in which they were first introduced, and if I squint hard enough (or they finally turn on the Unisphere fountains) I might actually be able to convince myself that I'm back in 1964, if only for the day.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Texas / Ohio

I'm finally back in New York after a whirlwind two weekends. On Easter I visited my sister, brother-in-law and niece in Texas, and two days later I went to Ohio to visit family, friends and former co-workers. I had a great time in both exotic locales, but I legit teared up when I touched down at LaGuardia because there's nothing like back-to-back trips to the south and mid-west to make me appreciate the fact that I get to call New York "home" even more than I usually do.

While in Texas I hung out with my incredibly smart, hilarious, beautiful and sweet 11-year-old niece — we dyed Easter eggs and I found myself being jealous of every single brilliant egg she made and wondering how I could be so lucky to be related to such cool people.

We even made like proper Texans and ventured to a bluebonnet "field" to take photos, because I think it's against the law not to — the people taking selfies and dragging around props were completely fascinating. We saw empty frames (to stick your head through, of course), lots of matching denim and even a tiny pink Cadillac because nothing says "wildflower field" like a motorized plastic model of a classic car. The people watching definitely trumped the actual bluebonnets themselves, although they were pretty and the closest I'll probably come to an actual flower field until I can make my way over to Holland for their tulips.

On Monday my sister took me to Denton, Texas which is a super cute town with a great candy shop, vintage shops with wonderful signs and a great used book store that I would probably still be browsing if I hadn't had to catch a flight back to New York the next day.

Two days after getting back to New York, I headed back to LaGuardia, this time on my way to Ohio. On Friday I spent all day at my former place of employment, 427 Design, making cookies and helping them get ready for their annual open house party. I wasn't going to let a silly thing like "moving to New York" let me miss the best party in my hometown.

The theme for their 8th-annual open house was 8-bit and I made some very simple "pixel" cookies in New York, packed them in my carry-on bag and iced them in Ohio. It was a great way to see all of my very favorite Ohioans at once, and I hope I'm always able to return for future open houses.

It was also wonderful seeing my dad, uncle and grandparents and I even spent some time in my old bedroom, which my dad has turned into an office while preserving all of my angsty-teenagery hand-painted wall quotes and the crazy color scheme.

This was the first time I had been back to Ohio just to visit since I moved to New York — no moving or packing up all of my possessions, insanely teary goodbyes or cats on eight-hour car rides to complicate matters, and it was nice and blissfully stress-free. My hometown may always be in Ohio, but it was equally nice to return to New York, because — to cheesily quote my favorite movie of all-time — there's no place like home.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Food: Stand-alone Diners Parts 4 + 5

Last weekend I finally crossed the last stand-alone diner off my list when I ate at Star on 18 in Chelsea. The week before, I had eaten at no. 4, the Market Diner in Hell's Kitchen. Of the two, the Market Diner was definitely the more interesting (at least aesthetically), although Star on 18 had better food and exceptional service.

The Market Diner is on 11th Ave between 43rd and 44th streets and is open 24 hours. Not only does the Market have outdoor seating (like the Square Diner) but they also have dedicated parking, which is such an odd sight in Manhattan. The inside is also suspiciously spacious and they could probably fit twice as many tables if they squeezed them in like most New York restaurants are so fond of doing.

The decor is part diner, part 60s Howard Johnson and is a little space-agey and a whole lot of orange. They had real flowers on each table, which was a nice touch (no fake dew drops here), and the egg-and-cheese sandwich I had was quite good.

I was totally enamored with the huge 'diner' sign, until I started to walk away, turned around and saw that the opposite side was even better — the beautiful script 'market' and silvery blue, white and red color palette is the stuff all of my diner sign dreams are made of.

Oh, and Ice-T was waiting for a table when we left, which makes it the only diner of the five where I had a bonafide celebrity sighting — I didn't say anything because I'm a super cool and jaded New Yorker now, but I did wait outside for 20 minutes awkwardly staring at him and deciding whether or not I should approach him (because of Law and Order of course, not his rap career).

Star on 18 was the most disappointing of the five diners, architecturally speaking, and if I hadn't been looking for it I would probably have never given it a second glance. Apparently they at least used to have the word 'diner' accompanied by illustrations of traditional diner foods painted on the side of the cement building but it looked as if it had been freshly painted (it also used to be blue).

The inside is loaded with traditional charm, with a counter, stools (with backs!) and rows of booths. The painted windows were a nice spring touch, and from where I sat I had a nice view of the High Line. Our waitress was wonderful and the food was a notch above average diner fare — the eggs weren't greasy, the bacon was crisp and my waffle came with a cup of real, infinitely spreadable butter (no frozen or impossible-to-open packets).

I'm sort of sad that I've eaten at all five of the stand-alone diners on my list already, in the way that I get sad when I finish a good book. I'm also sad in a different way that there are only five stand-alone diners left in Manhattan to begin with, and that there probably won't be anymore opening anytime soon (if ever). Luckily all five are definitely worth revisiting and there are four other boroughs (and a lot more "regular" diners in Manhattan) to keep me in waffles every weekend.

Stand-alone diners: Parts 1 + 2, Part 3

Thursday, April 17, 2014

BBG: Cherry Blossoms 2014

Two years ago this week I saw the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the first time ever. In fact, it was my first time really seeing cherry blossoms en masse and I was instantly enchanted. I wasn't able to see them last year because I was back in Ohio, but I've been looking forward to cherry blossom season ever since.

Well, this year I managed to schedule two back-to-back weekend trips (to Texas, then Ohio) right during what is usually peak blossom season. Thanks to the crazy cold/long winter that we've had the blooms are definitely delayed, and I'm hoping that I can still catch them at peak bloom after I get back. I didn't want to take any chances, however, so I knew I had to find a way to see whatever had started to bloom before I left. I had yesterday (and Tuesday) off work because of Passover (the joys of working for a Jewish cultural institution) and although it was cold — it actually snowed again Tuesday night — it was brilliantly sunny so I went to check on the cherry trees at the BBG.

Not a single tree in the cherry esplanade is in bloom yet, but thankfully a handful of other trees around the garden have gotten an early start. I took so many photos that I was actually fearful of filling up my 32 gb memory card, but I just couldn't stop myself. Every time I walked two feet the view was even better than the previous one and the light was so beautiful that I couldn't put down my camera.

I'm certainly not an expert, but there are at least a few different varieties of cherry trees at the BBG — from white and pale pink to brighter, almost fuchsia blooms. They come in different sizes and configurations, some trees have weeping branches (my favorite) and some have twisty black limbs that contrast with the pale blossoms in the best way.

Especially after the winter we've had this spring feels well-deserved and very much overdo. I can't really even convey how happy it made me to be walking around and under such incredible beauty, but words aren't really necessary or could ever be adequate in situations such as these — good thing I maxed out my computer hard drive with photos documenting nearly every single blossom I came across.

I'm going to try to make a return trip at the beginning of May and hopefully catch the rest of the late bloomers, but I won't feel as if I've missed out if for some reason I can't make it. I doubt they'll be in peak bloom for the Sakura festival next weekend, although that's definitely something I'd like to check out next year.

I'd also like to plan a trip to DC for their cherry blossom festival even if I fear that I might actually die of happiness if I actually make it there during peak bloom season. If I do, just dig a hole, throw my body in and plop a cherry tree on top — I don't know if I believe in reincarnation, but there are way worse things to come back as than a crazy beautiful blossoming cherry tree.