Friday, January 29, 2010


I am no shrinking wallflower in the kitchen. I am comfortable and confident, a go-getter. I'm ready to take charge, try new things, be bold, be daring. I cook without fear. In fact, if there is one place in the world I am confident, it is in the kitchen.

Tofu enters the picture, and it's another thing entirely.

Since almost half my friends are vegetarian, I've done a lot of cooking with tofu. What else are they supposed to eat? I like the challenge of working with different ingredients, I like the versatility of tofu. I like the green movement it stands for, the nutritional benefits. I like the idea of it.

But tofu itself? I hate it.

I become a different chef when I'm cooking tofu. Instead of taking charge with reckless abandon, I turn into a hesitant, unsure cook. I want someone to tell me what to do- heck, sometimes I just want the tofu to tell me what to do. I become a sous-chef in my own kitchen.

And unfortunately, the tofu also ends up taking a hit in the process. Because I am always trying to use it as a substitute for a recipe that calls for meat.

If there's one thing I've learned about tofu it's this- what you see is not what you get. How in the world do people make this look appetizing? And why have so many healthy chefs insisted it's easy to work with?

On this attempt, I used coconut milk and red curry as a marinade for a block of medium-firm tofu. First mistake- I didn't press the water out of the tofu first. Second mistake- I should have used extra firm tofu. I don't understand what difference it makes.

Doesn't it look like the tofu is laughing at me? It must be amused that I served it on a bed of wild, not jasmine, rice.

So tofu makes me second guess. So I have to double check my recipe, fiddle with the oven temperatures, add things. So I hold my breath when I take my first bite, unsure of the results. I refuse to let it beat me to submission.

This tofu business just makes me crave real food even more. Luckily, I planned ahead and pulled camembert out of the fridge before I started the tofu abuse project of the day. Cheese and crackers never looked so good.

Run and hide, tofu. I'm going to be your master one of these days.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Overheard in Brooklyn- Snap, Crackle, Pop

Some of you may be familiar with the overheard-in-New-York quotes. I hear the best ones on the subway, but usually forget to write them down.

Here's a great one I heard in Brooklyn. I look forward to adding more as they come along. Feel free to submit one of your own!

Teenaged boy 1: My skateboard ain't got enough pop.

Teenaged boy 2: Yo, my skateboard tail got more pop than Beyonce's booty.

-Bushwick, Brooklyn

Monday, January 25, 2010

Marley and I

Have you ever known anyone in a rocky relationship who got a dog to try and fix it? Well, those frustrated souls are really on to something. It's true, a dog can fix a relationship.

Life in New York has presented some obstacles. Finding steady work, making ends meet, dealing with the massive crowds, being without a car and away from family are only a few of the countless challenges of living in the big city.

When I was ready to hang up on New York completely, I had a change of heart when a dog entered the picture. Actually, it was more like a pack. I became a dog walker.

You may think the last thing a disenchanted New Yorker in February needs is a job walking the streets and picking up poop all day. Yep, that's exactly what I needed.

I am a tunnel-visioned speed walker who marches from point A to point B with little patience. Put a leash in my hand and I'm a different woman. I lengthen my gait. I really open my eyes and look around. I notice relaxing park benches I never knew were there. I walk by literary cafes to add to my "must go to" list. I notice the ornamental hardware on buildings. I get out of the tunnel.

I owe it all to Marley. (Yes, dogwalkers, like teachers, do have favorites.) He is a handsome boxer with an unparalleled joie de vivre and enthusiasm for New York that instantly rubbed off on me and changed my outlook.

Boxers are easy to misjudge. Their good looks and over-the-top perkiness reminds me of a high school cheerleader and makes them come off as dumb. Don't be fooled, these dogs are just trying to contain a heart and soul that's too big for its body.

The uncontrollable licking, I'm convinced, must be the result of a tongue too big for its mouth. Or a sensitive palate.

Next time you go through an existential crisis and want to flee, take a deep breath and unpack your bags. Maybe you just need more dogs in your life.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Neat Knitting Nook

Any knitters out there? Here's a great idea of how to organize your stash. A converted wine cellar makes each skein instantly visible by color and texture:

Of course, that leaves the question of where to put the wine. Tough choices. I guess it's all in your priorities.

Since my storage is limited to the space under my bed, I cram all my yarn in a Rubbermaid sweater box and use Ravelry to organize my stash. I can not even begin to go into all the ways Ravelry benefits knitters through free patterns, keeping track of what yarn you've used, a forum for getting knitting help, and how to display your projects and materials. It is the social network site, or facebook, for knitters. Yes, it's totally dorky, but sign up now. Just do it. Please. It will change your life.

In the meantime, if you have an open space in your wine cellar, claim a cubby for projects. It's still too early to abandon hope on New Year's resolutions, so get organized!

Now I just need to find a way to fit a wine rack under my bed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Midtown Monday

I love New York. And when I start to forget why, something will accidentally remind me. Last night, a dead cell phone led me to Midtown. When it couldn't be fixed, frustration led me to Bryant Park.

I LOVE Bryant Park. It is such a wonderful open space on the most crowded street in Manhattan. Though sandwiched between Grand Central and Times Square on 42nd Street, it's surprisingly not obnoxious. I prefer it so much to Union Square, because it serves the public as a place of leisure and not a place of stress and shopping.

Take the pond. It is transformed into a free ice rink in the winter, and an open lawn in the summer for yoga classes, movies and more.

Throw in a fountain that turns into a huge ice cube when the holidays hit. Add some Parisian cafe tables and chairs for people watchers and chess players. Plant some twisted beech trees, and in the spring, tulips and daffodils.

Hang a sliver of a moon in a black sky and let the lights of the city be the stars. Trust me, they will help you find your way.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dumb and DUMBO

It's late Monday afternoon and I think I'm finally starting to recover from Saturday night. My friend, Max, was in town from LA, Vegas, and Humboldt County (she's a woman of the world), so I met her in DUMBO for drinks and theater.

DUMBO is ... weird. It's a super cool part of Brooklyn, literally down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass- an old industrial area turned funky. To me, it's trying to capture a neighborhood feel when no one really lives there. I was still happy to check it out, since it's a part of Brooklyn I don't know well.

We met at Rice for pho, pad thai, and sake. Nothing like a bottle of hot sake on a cold night- but it's probably better to order it for two and not just drink the whole thing yourself.
Next was a show at St. Ann's Warehouse, and the theatrics of the night began. Max, a seasoned actress and producer, has wanted to see the Kneehigh Theatre's production of Noel Coward's Brief Encounter. I don't know much about theater, but I knew if Max scheduled her trip around this performance, it was going to be a great show.

And it was! I've dabbled in a bit of drama since moving to New York, but this was the first play that didn't leave me feeling alienated and confused (oh, thank you for that, Richard Foreman).

Afterwards, we went and got drinks at the Dumbo General Store, which had a huge range of high brow brews and also the gritty stuff for a divey girl like me. One of which was:

... which is really funny when you're with a good friend who also finds the idea of pigs slapping bellies a hilarious thing to put on a beer label. Other great beers included Coney Island Lager, with popcorn and caramel notes, Double Daddy Imperial IPA (from Speakeasy Brewery in San Francisco), and the Human Blockhead Barrel Aged Lager (also from Coney Island), aged in Jack Daniels barrels. Yum! Max is contemplating the overwhelming bouquet at the bottom right.

Yep, the Porkslap label is still really funny. They know how to do it upstate in Garratsville.

A treat for your ears, actors from the Kneehigh company came out after the show to play a couple ditties with a throwback to ska. They covered Destiny's Child's "Survivor," "The Time of my Life" from Dirty Dancing, and, my favorite, "Final Countdown!" Not the greatest footage, but any of you Arrested Development fans out there will appreciate this:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Baking Up Better Test Scores

It's been almost five years since I was in a school environment, seven if you count college.  My study skills were never sharp to begin with, making me me that much rustier in the pre-apprenticship program for women that I'm in for the next month. 

Imagine the surprise to find myself at the head of the class- and in mathematics, which was one of my weakest subjects throughout my academic career, second only to anything related to science.  And now I'm feeling comfortable with math? 

I attribute it all to my baking.

Fractions have become a tangible concept I can apply to my daily life as a baker.  I use them all the time.  I may have gotten a D in high school chemistry, but it hasn't slowed me down from being a chemist in the kitchen. 

So just a little tip for those of you who also struggle with maths and sciences: put on an apron and start cooking.

And don't ask things like "when am I ever going to need to know this" because one day you just may eat your words.  Literally.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ramen Grows Up

That's right.  I still eat ramen, by choice and not just necessity.  This is one of my college vices I just can't shake because
A) noodles are the greatest food in the world and
B) they're so cheap that even the brokest Brooklyn girl can buy a week's worth for only a buck or two. 

Some people can't stomach it once reaching adulthood- like jello shots, it can take you back to memories of frat houses, poverty, all nighters and malnutrition.  College was a great time in my life, so I love the attached sentiment.

But mostly, I just love noodles.  I was stoked to find Japanese ramen called Neoguri made with udon noodles and with little bits of extra seasonings and vegetables in the package.  Do freeze dried carrots boost the nutritional value? 

Seriously, ramen is absolutely delicious when you add "stuff" to it, like soy sauce, Sriracha hot sauce, and I like throwing in some mixed frozen stir-fry veggies when I've run out of fresh ones. It makes a quick and cheap hot meal. 

Ramen is also special for me because it was the first thing I learned to cook as a kid.  So be proud when you eat it- gussy it up with post-collegiate expertise and see what crazy leftovers in your fridge you can add to it to make a faux pho.

If ramen can grow up, then so can I.

Monday, January 11, 2010


So many tools. So behind on blogging. Is it already mid-January? I'm entering my second week of school learning some trade skills and I'm overwhelmed by the amount of homework and reading ... and math. I've been out of school for almost five years, out of college for almost seven and I'm amazed how quickly you lose that sense of time managment.

So I have to give a huge apology for already, this early into January, BREAKING one of my resolutions. I have to back post a couple in the next day or two. I know, I know ... but the blogging still isn't into my regular routine yet and I've been juggling a lot this past week.

Who knew so much study would be involved with carpentry? I thought I was familiar with the different screwdrivers and my Leatherman, but I was so, so wrong. There are about eight different saws I need to learn, a zillion hammers and clamps, and I have yet to tackle the combination square. Just had my first shop class- I never took that in junior high, so I feel extra behind, since most of the ladies have already worked on sight. I can wrap my head around reading blueprints, but for each little new detail I can wedge into my memory, I feel like something else important falls out.

Okay, week two. Give me all you've got- I'm still with ya. Hope you're with me, too, and can spare an extra minute to scroll down for old posts this week!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Winter Wonderland on the Upper West Side

There is a magic in the air after a snowfall blankets Manhattan. If you're lucky, a few snowflakes will cling to your coat and the wind will hold its breath until the snow has finished taking its turn. Once it hits the ground it usually only lasts about two minutes before turning into brown sludge mixed in with the gravy from the gutters.

My timing was perfect and I got to be part of the magic this morning when I was walking dogs on the Upper West Side. It wasn't too cold and there was no wind whipping my face from the wind tunnels between buildings. There was a stillness in Central Park, even in late morning, where rolling pathways and stone walls buffered the sounds of bleating taxis and buses from the street.

By late afternoon, I followed the light farther west and found even more quiet in Riverside Park. This is one of treasures of Manhattan, but is so often overshadowed by its celebrity sibling, Central Park. Bordering the Hudson River, Riverside Park is infinitely more quiet, at least in winter. The only people I ran into were parents and kids on sleds.
Here is the Firemen's Memorial, near 100th Street and Riverside Drive.

Sledding ...

And to think, a crowded, bustling Broadway is just two blocks away.

I'm glad I had my camera, because it's doubtful the park will stay this pristine through the weekend.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Miss Demeanor

Well, my class has taken an interesting turn. After we started carpentry math tonight, my teacher volun-told those with the highest math scores to be group leaders. Guess who is included in that mix?

If you're still wondering, it's me. Great, that means I did well on the tests! Here's the bad news: we are supposed to implement the union hierarchy into our groups, so the group leader is supposed to delegate and supervise the crew. Questions for the teacher or other group leaders can only be directed through your group leader; just like in the real world, a first-year apprentice can't saunter up to the foreman when they have a question.

When you're in charge of a group of women who are each at least two or three times bigger than you, and you have no practical experience or history of doing hard labor, then it's not necessarily something you want to be assigned to. And judging from a contentious phone conversation I overheard before class, I have a sneaking suspicious that one of the girls is out on parole. Let's just hope it wasn't a felony.

On leadership: some are born leaders and have the skills to organize and motivate others. Some are better at simply following orders and getting the job done. I consider myself to fall somewhere in between- I like working independently but have learned how to be a strong team player. Until I can identify a tool other than a phillips or flathead screwdriver, my plan was to stay under the radar to foster my handy skills, or lack thereof. I guess plans change.

I'm going to have to step up to the task of being a leader, because tonight didn't show anything besides my skill to fetch all the group's materials and my sweetest how-can-I-help-you attitude. I will have to come up with a new strategy or I'll be eaten alive before I even enter the workshop.

Being sweet coincides with pastry, but it doesn't operate heavy machinery. It's time to woman up.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mighty and Meaty

The latest adventure: pursuing my passion for plumbing. I know, weird. I've been fascinated by plumbing for several years now and I don't expect anyone to fully understand; it just is.

After setting it aside as one of those things to learn some day far off in the future (along with changing a car's oil, learning to put up wallpaper, and bullfighting), I stumbled upon a fantastic program in New York aiming to bring more women into tradeswork dominated by men.

Nontraditional Employment for Women, or NEW, is a 6-week session where ladies can get familiar with tools, construction mathematics, basic carpentry, and reading blueprints. Upon graduation, students are qualified to join unions at entry level positions. Learning how to measure and notate to 1/64th of an inch makes me feel empowered already, and it's only been a day. I can't wait to share more of my adventures- though I'm afraid photos are going to be limited (serious skills are involved and tourist snapshots aren't welcome).

When I got home from class last night, tool talk, hard hats, and our continuing cold weather in Brooklyn inspired me to make meatloaf. (Actually, I was planning on making it for when Bessie got back, but fell behind.) Meatloaf is one of those wonderful things that you can modify according to what's in the fridge. Some people like adding a full miripoix of celery, onion and carrots.

Mine is less the garden variety and more double the meat- I wrap it in bacon when I have it, then add lots of condiments. Careful if you do this or the meatloaf gets really soggy and gross. I've learned the hard way not to add too much liquid because it makes the whole thing crumbly.

Here's what I like to add to my meatloaf:
-1 1/2 pounds of ground beef (it's lovely to mix pork, veal, and beef)
-1/2 can tomato paste
-1/2 onion
-2 cloves chopped garlic
-1/2 T Dijon mustard
-1 tsp. soy sauce
-2 tsp. Sriracha rooster sauce
-salt and pepper
-1 egg

Mix all ingredients together with bare hands (unless you're a vegetarian, you'll find it extremely satisfying). Form into a loaf (not too thick, or it will take forever to cook.) Wrap in foil and place in bread pan or sheet pan. Bake for approximately 55 minutes at 375 degrees, or until internal temperature is 160 degrees (ground meat needs to be more thoroughly cooked than steaks, so if you like a pink center, cook at your own risk).

Why do meat and manual labor go so well together?
Have some garlic chopped to mix into ground beef.
Add ketchup, mustard, or whatever else you want in your version.

Mix together. This is the best part of the job.

Pretend to eat it raw, to gross out your roommate or anyone else in the room.

Make her zoom in, to gross her out more.

Form in a loaf and wrap in foil before putting in the oven.

Enjoy. Best when served with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Eggnog and Broomsticks

Woohoo! Today is the day I'm reunited with my beloved roommate and longtime friend, Bessie! We have been traveling on opposite schedules for nearly five months and I am at my wit's end.

When you've had a zillion different roommates and living situations (including living with a rat in your room), there's a point where you're ready to live alone. I'm there, but I'm not quite ready to separate from Bessie, who knows, tolerates, and probably even loves all my weird idiosyncrasies. And today she's coming home!

Bessie and I have been roommates in the same apartment for over three years. She's been my only constant roommate in New York and I can't imagine living with anyone else. I also can't imagine anyone else tolerating me to the point that she does.

Our usual routine after a separation is to scrub our apartment from floor to ceiling while watching the BBC's version of Pride and Prejudice, drinking Blue Moons and eating popcorn.

I'm also looking forward surprising her with homemade eggnog. It's pushing the end of the eggnog season, but I love it and I'm itching to try out this recipe from TLC, which claims it's the perfect eggnog.

I can't finish the holiday season without an eggnog success story. I tried Alton Brown's version a few days ago. It was delicious, but it called for separating the eggs and whipping them each. I had a rough time with it because I did it all manually- at least my whisk and wrist got a workout!

The TLC version has the eggs neither separated, nor beaten furiously for 45 minutes, so my hopes are high for a lower maintenance nog.

It will be go nicely with the instant gratification of a clean house and two Brooklyn girls who are finally home together at last.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lovin' Brooklyn Hard

The past couple days in Brooklyn feel like they could compete with Siberian winters. Part of me wanted to stay in bed all day just to stay warm, but I also want to take advantage of the holiday weekend.

I made some French onion soup today. This can warm up even the coldest person in an instant. First, saute an onion with garlic in a little olive oil. Turn the heat down and add some brandy or sherry, if you have it. When the onions are cooked down, add a quart of beef stock and reduce about a third of it (I don't like to go too far, or the broth gets too salty).

I used an old hoagie bun, but it's much, much better to place a piece of crusty french bread in an oven-safe bowl, pour the soup over, grate cheese over (I used Asiago from Wisconsin, but gruyere or any other mild cheese works well), and put under the broiler for about 5-10 minutes until the cheese gets all melty and bubbly over the bread.

Here's an extreme close-up of cheesy goodness:

I could have used this yesterday for warmth when I headed out to the Brooklyn Museum in Park Slope. Here's why I love Brooklyn- when they have a free museum day, they make a whole day and night of it, complete with live music and performances.
The main draw for me was to catch the Who Shot Rock and Roll exhibit that runs through the month. This fantastic exhibit documented music photojournalism and art over the last 50 years. Seeing the original photos of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire, Debbie Harry posing in a "comic strip" series, Marilyn Manson imitating a Marilyn Monroe pin-up shot, U2's Joshua Tree cover, the famous Red Hot Chili Peppers nude shot- it was just super, super cool to see these images in person that are already so familiar.
This was a wall-sized 3-D hologram of Jimi Hendrix:
I didn't even mind the massive crowds these free museum nights draw- the packed bodies and pushing in a confined space seemed like part of the exhibit. Brooklynites, you've missed the last free night, but check this out by the end of the month before it ends!

As you exited the exhibit, there was a great corner set aside for kids and crafty adults to make a messy collage from old music magazines. I love interactive exhibits.

And by 9 o'clock, the atrium of the 3rd floor had turned into a massive rave. Is this normal? They don't do this at the Met.

In the lobby, karaoke was going on. My hat's off to the people who can get up and do this in a civilized setting, because I can only do it when lots and lots of beer is involved.

The pictures aren't great, but they're about on par with the singing. What a paradise for someone who loves attention and has no fear.

Karaoke is a nice idea, but I can't get into it unless it's at a bar or an intimate setting. I wasn't the only one who felt this way:

Still, I love Brooklyn for drawing me out into the cold and showing me something amazing every day.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Between a Wok and a Hard Place

I'm not closing the door on my break from rock climbing. I'm slamming it. Last night, I finally emerged from a climbing hiatus after four months keeping my feet on the ground. Maybe it was being out of my routine so long, maybe I just needed to switch gears ... whatever the reason, I simply can't do without it for that long, ever again.

My friend, Brandy, and I spent the afternoon recovering from New Year's Eve and got ourselves up to The Rock Club in New Rochelle (only 20 minute train from Grand Central, but THE nicest people climb there so it's worth leaving the city).

My arms have turned back into spaghetti noodles and I was pumped out after a warmup of traversing around the main wall. Out of shape? Yes. The wonderful thing about climbing is that it's always fun, even when you're really bad at it or having an off-day. (To really see an off-day, check out my videos at the bottom- anyone know how I can turn them sideways?)

Best of all, I got to see a bunch of my buddies, including the hilarious Alex, boulder extraordinaire:

He always maps out his routes, excellent planner that he is. Brandy had taken a bit of a break as well, but her climbing still looks great! I always climb better when my partner is at my level or better- it really keeps me motivated.

As always, we were starving afterwards. We headed to our friend's house for some grub. Brandy likes healthy food. I need something that's going to stick to my ribs after a big workout. We reached a happy medium with steak and vegetable stir-fry over rice. It's quick if you are in a pinch for time and grab a frozen veggie mix and meat already sliced. Thank you to whoever invented minute rice- this group of hungry climbers didn't have an extra minute to spare waiting for dinner!
Best of all, I got to cook in our friend Richie's kitchen, which had a professional 6-burner range and a huge wok, well-seasoned. I love to cook in other people's kitchens and pretend they're my own. I have a tendency to take over. (Some would even call me domineering.)

When I thought the night couldn't get any better, we grabbed some beers and headed for the hot tub outside, while it lightly snowed over us.

Climbing, cooking in someone else's kitchen, beer, friends, laughing, and a hot tub. It's like the best of all possible worlds collided into one perfect evening. I can't think of a better way to spend the first day of the year.

First boulder back! And first video uploaded to Blogger.

Will she make it?