Friday, April 30, 2010

A Night at the Opera

Even die hard fans of holes-in-the-wall and dive bars need a little culture now and then. So I went to the opera this week.

Actually, I'm a huge opera fan. I went to about a dozen performances last season- this year has been slow and I've only been to three. I feel guilty about it because I'm such a nerd.

Quality over quantity. For all of you out there, opera fans or not, you simply must put a visit to the Metropolitan Opera on your list of things you need to do. It is one of the most incredible opera houses in the world (renowned for its elaborate set design and effects) and every production is fantastic. Acoustically speaking, there isn't a bad seat in the house and the cheap seats are only 20 bucks. Last year, they were $15, a little more than the price of a movie ticket.

I was lucky enough to snag an affordable ticket to Bizet's Carmen about 5 months ago. Some productions sell out almost immediately, and Carmen is one of the most popular operas out there. The music is easy to recognize and the storyline has a bit more complexity than the usual couple-fall-in-love-at-first-site formula. I highly recommend it as a gateway opera for first timers. Other great operas for those new to the scene:

-I Pagliacci/Caverilla Rusticana (both are short and usually performed together)
-The Barber of Seville
-La Boheme
-Madame Butterfly
-La Traviata
-anything by Mozart

I wouldn't recommend delving into modern 20th Century, Wagner, or atonal operas until you become a fan. Wonderful as it is, opera is an acquired taste.

If you are a music or architecture lover, it is well worth a visit for the venue and Swarovski crystal light fixtures- I'm going to get a couple for a my next apartment.

Thanks to the emotionally-charged soldiers, bullfighters, and cigarette-smoking hussies for inspiring such a passionate Wednesday night.

Love, the girl in the cheap seats.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

City of Endangered Languages

I just read a fascinating article about dying languages in New York City. I'm posting it, not only because of the dire importance of cultural preservation, but as a pause to honor life in the most ethnically diverse place in the world. If you have an extra minute, read the Times article here.

It is so easy to fall into the grind of routine. I've been guilty of this- caught up in micro details of life to appreciate that I hear at least 5 languages when I step out of my apartment, without even leaving my neighborhood. I am too often so engrossed in my book on the subway that I don't notice the pot of cultural soup I'm in or the world's interconnectedness squished into a train car.

One of the remarkable things about language is that it is always changing. Old tongues die out, new ones are formed, words and phrases become archaic as soon as new colloquialisms pepper our speech. In many places, even the native language is under threat.

Thank goodness for New York. It may be a tough place to make it, have intense weather and little patience for the weak, but culture, culture it is always kind to. Language can flourish here, and even have a shot at getting off the endangered list.

Next time I rush to work with my headphones on, or feel like scowling at chatty commuters while I'm reading, I will instead put my book down, mute my ipod, and listen. And be grateful to live free in a place where every corner of the world meets.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fetch and Release

I'm trying to teach Sammy to fetch. So far it's not going that well. Maybe I'm being too hard on him. Maybe he can't handle the pressure. Maybe he's an idiot.

Personally, I think he's faking it. I suspect he's actually a smart dog and is just dumbing down out of convenience, like Jessica Simpson.

Either way, he's much more content chewing up a ball than bringing it back to me.

At least now he's showing interest in the ball instead of watching it roll away while looking at me like I have three heads. I guess that means we're half way there.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Solder Me

This weekend, I was lucky enough to go to a plumbing workshop offered to grads of the NEW program I finished in February. With a joyful heart, I made my way to UA Local 1's education facility in Long Island City to learn some plumbing basics with a group of strong women.

Happiness, thy name is soldering. I can't explain what is it about pipes I find intriguing and wonderful- to me, they just are. For those of you who know me, my interest in plumbing may seem out of left field. I became interested in it about seven years ago when I worked at a school with old pipes. The complexity of joining new pipes with an older system fascinated me, and I was ready to jump in if I wasn't limited by my ignorance. Unlike some maintenance projects, plumbing is tough to navigate on your own through trial and error. So here I am, ready to take the mystery out of drains, heavy toolbelts and stereotyped buttcracks.

For my first plumbing project, I got to measure, cut and join copper pipe with fittings. And then learn to solder! I'm very comfortable with a blow torch- I knew my days as a pastry chef would shape me to be compatible in other areas.

Here's a close up of my joint- not gorgeous, I know, but I picked an ambitious fitting for my first try.

I loved prepping the pipe by cleaning, applying flux and joining the fittings. What can I say? I'm a crafty girl.

After soldering, we learned about the inner workings of toilets. Is it weird that I found this mesmerizing? I mean, plumbing has been around since ancient times! I was always the counselor at camp who could unclog any toilet. Okay, it is kind of weird.
Then we used snap cutters to cut 3" cast iron pipes. Aligning the chain tightly around the pipe was the trickiest part.

A good trick is putting a hammer inside the pipe to prevent it from shooting across the room. Here are two cutters lined up and ready to go.

This was tough, but as much fun as soldering.

The essence of my being is finding how things in life are randomly linked, be it through people or experiences. I was surprised to realize that so much of trade work lines up with similar traits from the food world. (For example, the repetition and use of blow torches and heat lamps.) On my way to the classroom, the hallways were decorated with student projects showcasing "rigging" and demonstrating the different knots for lifting pipes. I instantly linked this affinity with all the knots I've learned through rock climbing, and also my draw to sailing (one of the next hobbies on my list). I'm convinced that everything is connected and nothing is random.
Next weekend I'm attending an electrical workshop, since wiring was a major struggle for me in class. Can't wait, but I know I'll be dreaming about pipes the whole time, wishing I was back in Long Island City with a blow torch in my hand.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Trader Joe's Fails Me

Before I even begin, I must say that I have been fiercely loyal to Trader Joe's. And I always will be. Trader Joe's is not only the most wonderful grocery store (not just in New York, but just about anywhere), it has the friendliest staff, best prices, and best selection of products. Plus, all the store clerks are cute, and will often compliment you on your glasses or t-shirt.

When I go to Trader Joe's, I must stick to my shopping list or things get out of hand. (I am a marketing agency's ideal client and have been known to cave at flavored coffee creamer, unusual ice cream treats, or birthday cakes when it's nobody's birthday.)

I also love junk food and things that are already prepared. I love to cook, but I love to be lazy.

So when I saw this, I got excited and figured it was worth the $1.99 splurge.

Ready in 2 minutes with the help of a microwave. Here's how it looked after I opened it:

The package isn't even halfway full? Why did I think the noodles would expand? I was bummed. If this is punishment for veering off my list, then the lesson is learned.
Good things come in small packages, unless the cute little noodle cart to-go package is less than halfway full. Better things are made from scratch, in larger portions.

I'll still wait in a ridiculously long line that wraps through every aisle in the store, and will continue to endure the vicious old ladies from the Upper East Side plowing through the herd with their shopping carts. I will stay loyal when I'm trapped behind a girl from NYU fighting with her boyfriend on her cell phone- even when the shelves are empty, again.
But I will think twice the next time I'm tempted by the delectable salads and tarte d'alsace and mini quiches, all ready to go with an oven nearby. And I will definitely pay more attention to the fine print at the top- Vegan. Double fail.
(Head in hand.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Un-Root Beer Float

I'm so glad the South taught us that ice cream and fizzy drinks go well together (thank you, coke floats). I thought I had another root beer in the fridge and an orange soda had crept its way into the cardboard six pack holder- someone did a switcheroo at the store and I didn't notice.

I used it anyway and hoped for a creamsicle-inspired, new, amazing, accidental dessert.

The verdict? Can not replace the root beer float, but pretty darn good. Just don't use diet soda. Ever.

I'm more upset about that than about being one root beer short.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Conversation with Sammy

Sammy doesn't have to say anything to me. I can tell exactly what he wants by the look on his face.

If I can catch him holding still for long enough.

Can I go in your room?


Can I jump on your bed?


Please, please, please? Puh-leeeeez???

Well ... okay. But don't get too comfortable.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Save that Bread!

Ever buy too much bread? Does it go stale on you before you can say Jack Robinson?

I ran into the same problem this week. Before you throw it out or feed it to the birds, here are some tips.

Croutons for salad. Toss with a little oil, salt and any other seasonings you'd like (I like a dash of garlic powder). Toast in a frying pan, or on a cookie sheet in the oven (but SET A TIMER if you do). They will last over a week when sealed properly and your dinner guests will be impressed.

Make panzanella. This is one of my favorite things. It's an Italian bread salad with lots of added "stuff." Add anything you like. I like olives, capers, roasted tomatoes and tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It's a creative alternative to pasta salad and works well for picnic season.
Hint, it tastes best when the bread is actually a bit stale, so it can really soak up the vinaigrette without turning to mush. But no one has to know the bread isn't perfectly fresh.

If you've still got too much bread, stock up on breadcrumbs (need to be toasted and dried out first so they don't get moldy). Then if there's anything left, give the birds a snack.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dry Season

I'm thinking about Scotch tonight. Just a little bit.

I thought about it a lot a couple weeks ago when a friend and I enjoyed this:

If you're not super comfortable with the smokey peat flavors, this one is very smooth. I call it a good gateway Scotch.

I would not, however, recommend drinking it all at once. It's meant to be sipped and savored.

And that's not really what my friend and I did.

When you drink an entire bottle of Scotch in one night, a couple things go through your head:

Wow, I'm awesome! This is going to give me some street cred with the heavyweights.

Uhhhh, exactly when did I become a heavyweight?

Because so much of being a twenty-something in New York involves drinking, sometimes you don't even realize how much you're doing it.

When things get a bit stuffy, you open the windows and clear the air. So since Easter, I've been taking a little break from drinking, a reverse Lent, if you will, to try to make up for the fact that I had a million glasses of Scotch with no hangover the next day (thank you, roast chicken dinner).

Honestly? I've barely even noticed. Except tonight, when my new dog, Sammy, is at home while I'm away at my computer, I thought, gee, a little glass of Scotch later sounds good.

Naaah, I'm saving money by staying dry at the moment.

It's always nice to take a little breather from indulgences. And there's that old adage that if you let go of something you love, it will come back to you if it was meant to be. Or you can replace it with a new love.

In the meantime, I'm getting drunk from doggie kisses and walks in the park.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sammy Gets Bailed

I'm back! Got a little distracted this weekend with the new critter to look after. Here's the special guy on Friday afternoon after I picked him up:

He looks a bit stunned there, but he managed to make himself right at home later that night:

You can see him on the couch trying to hide from my roommate- he knows he's not supposed to be on the couch!
I think Sammy's first weekend was an overwhelming, but great intro in what life will be like with two Brooklyn girls. One of the first things a Brooklyn dog should have is an awesome toy- this was a gift from my boss:

Sammy wasn't sure what to do with it at first- little orphan dogs aren't used to having toys!
Let me give you a list of what Sammy's been up to the past 48 hours:
-got a sweet new collar and leash
-went to 3 dog parks- played hard with a dozen dogs in one, got muddy with 2 dogs in another
-had 2 baths
-walked across the Williamsburg Bridge
-discovered the Lower East Side and had first visit to Manhattan (as far as we know)
-went to first cupcake bakery, the famed Sugar Sweet Sunshine
-met 5 puppies
-met zillions of dogs and their owners
-met the landlord
-had first piece of cheese
-survived first night home alone while mom was at a metal show
-figured out how to break into mom's room while home alone while mom was at a metal show
-devoured a bag of cheese doodles in mom's room while home alone
-napped with Auntie Bessie
-got a quick drink from the toilet (luckily, he didn't seem that into it)

Here are some more pics:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Big Week, Big News

After years of wishing, hoping and praying (and some practice being an adult with only ONE address for more than two seconds), the day has come. I'm getting a dog. In three hours.

It is a pretty simple story. I started volunteering at Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition a couple months ago. I fell in love. We all could have predicted that one, right?

The special guy is named Sammy, a handsome melange of boxer, pit, and millions of other doggies fused into a sweet, goofy, laid back dude. On our first walk together, he leaned his head against my leg every time we stopped to cross the street- and that was it for me.

This is my first dog- mine, not my brother's or my dad's or my mom's or my friend's boyfriend's. This is going to be mine. And I'm nervous.

I've been taking care of dogs for a while now. And kids (who I find to be easier). But having this guy as my first dependant is huge. Will I be a good mom? Will he adjust well? Will I be able to give him the life he deserves- and an opportunity to chase bunnies in an open pasture someday? Will he love me as much as I love him, or just find me really clingy and annoying?

And I have one other nagging question in my head- after years of patience, why are the minutes all of a sudden dragging so, so slowly?!

Pics to follow, if the next two hours and fifty minutes ever come.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Walking the Freegan Trail

100th post! I'm excited to enter into triple digits for meals, musings, and adventures.

Today I present a new adventure: one I've had in mind for ages, one that will definitely go outside the comfort zone for many of you. One that I could only find in New York.

I give you the food salvage garbage tour of Washington Square. Wait, let me go back.

Ever heard of freegans? Neither had I, unless you count that episode of Oprah. This group adopts environmental principles that go a step further- finding ways around consumerism to promote sustainability.

The freegan group in New York City organizes sewing, gardening, and bike repair workshops to cut down on their carbon footprint. For my first event, I attended an evening trash tour outside major neighborhood grocery stores.

Are they hippies? Yes. Are they making conscious, informed decisions that they believe will benefit their community and world? Absolutely. And for tht, I applaud them.

Each day, grocery stores make room for new shipments by dumping out food approaching the "sell by" date, not to be confused with expired or bad food.

We didn't have much luck at a couple stores, who almost seemed to deliberately mix in salvageable produce with regular trash. At one store, employees had gone through the trouble of emptying individual bags of chips and containers of salad and fruits. Out of our large group of over 20 people, only a couple were brave enough to grab from a mixed bag. I was not one of them.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the "past due" food was dumped into clean, doubled-up garbage bags and set apart from the rest of the trash. Lots of it was ripe but perfectly fine, even sealed up in plastic. It was an unspoken understanding in the group not to eat during the tour or take anything that had touched the ground.

It astounded me to see the enormous amount of waste at each store, just for one day. Unfortunately, the food can't be given away because of liability, and even when establishments make scheduled donations to food banks and rescue organizations, many pickups get forgotten if there is a volunteer shortage.
The freegans are happy to fill in the gap, and know the trash schedules of most of the stores. They are considerate when they pick, untying bags at the knot and often leaving the trash in better condition when finished. There was no stinginess within the group because there is simply too much to go around.
Even so, some of the stores do not appreciate the freegan philosophy, despite the hunger problem in New York and the fact that once garbage hits the curb, it is no longer private property.

The funny looks along the way would be tough for me to get used to, which is why many freegans like to go as a group: safety and anonymity in numbers, as well as being dialed into the trash schedule. My feeling is, if they're not hurting anyone or making a mess, what's the problem?

I can understand that dumpster diving is definitely not for everyone. But I scored a couple loaves of fresh, wrapped bread and some produce, which I washed thoroughly when I got home. I met some wonderful, educated people who walk their talk and are open to sharing their community with strangers (and offer their bounty with the homeless and curious lookey-loos on the way).

And you know what? I'm glad that for one night I got a chance to take a break from being a capitalist consumer. And get some free grub. Just don't forget the rubber gloves.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mini-Facelift, or just a Chemical Peel

I'm tweaking the appearance of the layout a bit so it's easier to read. What do you think?

And I'm also getting myself revved up for my 100th post! It's a very big deal for me, considering that I started the blog almost a year ago and didn't start to contribute regularly until four months in. I've also contemplated starting a new blog, or a website ... there are enough distractions in my life that hitting triple digits seemed like an impossible feat, and I'm psyched that I can reach it tomorrow.

So to celebrate, I have a very special post for the big 1-0-0. Hint, a food adventure is involved.

Check back tomorrow afternoon to find out what city shenanigans I got myself into.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Sandwich to Build a Dream On

There are food experiences that transcend you to another level of culinary understanding. First escargot. First champagne. First raw oyster. Friday brought me a new one: my first Vietnamese sandwich.

My good friend, Abe, took me to the unassuming Num Pang, near Union Square on 12th Street. We waited for our orders upstairs, while admiring the mantras on the walls:

Advice directed specifically at me:

If only I could get away with this one:

I don't know how I never knew about this place. Check out the Sriracha placed every 8 inches on the counters! Apparently, this place is jam-packed every lunch and dinner, so being there on the early side gave us a place to ourselves. Notice the paint splattered windows. I love those little touches.

I'm not really sure where I've been living without knowing about these places. Where were they when I was in Vietnam? Most likely, right in front of my face, but I was too obsessed with pho at the time to notice (guess I was too phocused). These baguette sandwiches, called banh mi, are popping up all over the place now, and with good reason. I am passionate about sandwiches, especially meaty, gooey ones. I never dreamed the American sandwich could be improved.
Abe, the vegetarian, had roasted cauliflower with chinese & thai eggplant spread and soy milk chili mayo. I had five spiced pork belly with pickled Asian pear. My God.

My pork belly baguette was almost too big for my mouth, but I managed.

I love going out to eat with Abe because I can have sauce and meat all over my face and he will still love me. As if a poetic, flawless sandwich wasn't enough, they were less than 8 bucks- in Union Square. You must, must go. Or find a Vietnamese sandwich place where you live.

Take a bite and feel your life change.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Coffee with Dorothy Parker

Oh, Dottie, I'm so happy to know you, even though I never met you.


Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.

Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

-Dorothy Parker

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How to Fix a Bad Hair Day

I don't remember the last time I got a decent haircut. There was the time a few years ago when I had a boyfriend saw off the ends ("just cut straight across, you can't mess it up" I remember saying). At Thanksgiving, a good friend gave me a trim. And I think I had a real haircut in Williamsburg sometime last spring. Or was it the year before? I know for a fact I've had at least two haircuts in the past four years, which doesn't seem too bad.

But it could be better. I decided to give my frizzy wires a break and treat them to a deep conditioned hair mask- made entirely from the contents of my fridge.

There are lots of homemade hair mask recipes you can find online using yogurt, eggs, honey, mayonnaise, oil, and just about every other ingredient under the sun. My hair is really dry, so I needed a sure thing. Mayonnaise it is!

Was it a good idea or just another "hair-brained" scheme?

Throw a half a cup in your own hair (dry, not wet), let it set for 15 minutes, wash as normal and see for yourself. Maybe wash it a second time, just to be sure.