Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day Trip: Hudson River Loop

For the amount of time I've lived in NYC, I know surprisingly little about the surrounding region. Avid explorers should know all the best spots, locally and regionally. So, we took advantage of the long weekend by embarking on a day trip up Bergen County, through Harriman State Park, down the Hudson River, past Westchester and over a the island borough. Although it was more time in the car than outside, it was a great formula for the perfect winter day trip. Taking on the challenge of taking in sights that are best in the light of day we kicked our trip off early and didn't make it back home till 11 pm. Here's some of the places we explored:

Sugarloaf, NY (1.2 hours from Harlem) - In our research for a small town, high on charm with a thriving arts community, we came across Sugarloaf. The drive from NYC takes you through beautiful Harriman State Park, which is a bit barren this time of year but still offers great natural views. The town itself is a sweet little mountain village full of craftsmen and women. We started our stroll at the intersection of Pine Hill Rd. and King's Hwy and took in some of the shops, including: Luft Gardens, which was our personal favorite and sold vintage and homemade items such as delicious jams, antique movie marquee letters, and old design books; Mountain Herbs; My Sister's Closet which had some warm, wonderful soft hand-knitted clothing; The Candle Shop where we discovered the owner ran track in high school; and The Barnsider Restaurant with awesome spiked apple cider.

West Point, NY (40 minutes east from Sugarloaf) - In my mind West Point has pristine, manicured lawns, stunning, historic buildings overlooking the Hudson River, soldiers training for physical challenges and lovely little plaques placed strategically around the grounds explaining the significance of the sights.  And why not?  All the photos I've seen of the military academy appear to be taken in some sort of magical place with castles looming in the backround and organized chaos in the manner of a football game or training exercise taking place in the foreground.  But alas, we were not allowed to take a self guided tour and could only view the regulated sights including the museum and visitor's center.  A bit of a disappointment but it was en route to our next stop, so we only lost a few minutes of sunlight.

Finding our next stop at Stone Barns

Stone Barns Farm Center for Food and Agriculture (35 minutes from West Point, NY along a scenic curvy road above the Hudson River) - Stone Barns Farm is a non-profit farm and education center which operates an 80-acres of lush, beautiful land. It's open year-round and functions as a working farm, promoting the creation of a healthy and sustainable food system.

Holding our noses in front of the Sheep
Livestock Shelter

The Farm is laid out with both farmers and explorers in mind.  They offer guided tours or suggested self guided "walkabouts," complete with a map and information about how each of the barns, houses, gardens and pastures tie into the overall goal of the sustainable farm.  Their primary education mission, to build connections between the food we eat and farm land, certainly was not lost on me. 
From gorgeously manicured rows of veggies in the Greenhouse, to the open chicken coops the life and vibrancy of the farm took the city out of the girl.  I loved the livestock shelters, full of sheep, turkeys and pigs and wish we had more time to check out the larger pastures and wetlands.   

We only spared a few minutes to sip some coffee at their Blue Hill Cafe and take in the sunset from Chicken Hill before heading off.   

*If the farm sounds too cold or full of animals for your taste, there's also the Rockafeller State Park close by that you can explore by car or foot.  Its said to be some of the best hiking trails in the Hudson Valley and still holds a place on our must see list for our next trip

Mt. Kisco, NY (20 minutes from Stone Barns Farm) - Once our feet thawed and the sun set, we decided to check out another small town on our way home.  After reading about Mt. Kisco's quaint Main Street and relaxed wine bars, we figured it was the perfect place to start our evening.  This north Westchester town is an interesting mix of modern, cookie cutter shops and classic Victorian homes.  I'd read that most of the housing was build during the turn of the century, and included colonials and Tudors as well.  But, the downtown area primarily featured a modern mix of glassy storefronts and A-line rooftops.  There's a sweet charm to the modern village and we decided to settle in for a drink.

Jerome did some reading and found  a popular wine bar, Pour Cafe, which occupies the bottom floor of a two story Victorian downtown.  The interiors were spacious yet cozy and included a lot of dark wood deep red velvet.  It felt like being in a good friends very refined living room.  The huge glasses of wine and well priced munches kept us happy for a while but the heat never quite kicked in and we got tired of shivering at a bar.  So, we decided to make one more stop before landing home.

Denino's Pizzeria Tavern, Staten Island, NY (1.5 hours with several wrong turns, from Mt. Kisco) - Since we don't own a car and usually head out of town when we decide to rent one, we rarely go off the beaten path in NYC.  Off the beaten path means over a 40 minute walk from a subway station.  If there's a bus, I'll take it, if there's a goal at the end of my journey, I'll work for it.  But, I don't usually go out just to wander (which I used to do my first couple of years sad).  So, the borough we've explored the least is Staten Island due to it's lack of transportation. 

I've read about Denino's world famous pizzeria on SI, but never thought I'd get the chance to go there....till now.  We had a little bit of trouble finding the place, or more accurately, finding the bridge that would take us to the island but it was all worth it.  $10 pitchers of beer and thin crust pizza with the perfect sauce and fresh cheese was a great way to end the night.  

The Thanksgiving Spread

As I mentioned in my post Thanksgiving Tips, we spent our Thanksgiving with good friends here in NYC instead of flying out of town or out of the country (as we've done for the past couple of years).  They treated us to some amazing food, games and even a little art project (a.k.a. Turkey hand drawings).   Great Thanksgiving overall, as much as we missed our families on the west coast.  Here's some photos of our night and beautiful dinner.



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Tips

This year Jerome and I will be spending Thanksgiving with part of our NYC family.  We'll get the best of both worlds, cooking a bit and traveling a bit.  Small quantities of both these elements make up a perfect American holiday.  Although our cooking will only be cheddar and black pepper biscuits, cranberry citrus relish and sage and shallot mashed potatoes and our travel will only be from Manhattan to Brooklyn we'll sure to get the full effect of both.  That gets me thinking about what Thanksgiving is all about.

Thanksgiving for me is about turkey cut-outs made of brown construction paper, beautiful home cooked meals with family and friends, sharing snip-its and insights about what we're grateful for around the dinner table, and of course, just a little bit of NFL football.  My aunt Kathleen is one of the best cooks in the Northern Hemisphere (ok, maybe we'll limit it to California), and prepares a flawless Turkey and amazing Apple Pie that melts in your mouth every year.  Kathleen's cooking isn't the only thing I'll miss this Thanksgiving.  I'll be sad to be away from my family this holiday, as I always am on Easter, Mothers/Fathers Days, etc. but I'm very grateful that I have such amazing friends to share it with.

This blog post, which is drafted by Kevin Ngo and appeared on his blog on last Friday offered some great tips.  Although I've seen several articles offering "Thanksgiving Tips," for how to make it through a full day with your extended family, or faking a deep and passionate love for bad food, these tips actually focused on how to be grateful.  I loved it, and decided to re-post it here.  Hopefully he doesn't mind.


With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought I’d write about the meaning of Thanksgiving and what this joyous occasion is really about. I won’t be talking about Pilgrims and turkey dinners however, gobble gobble. What I’ll be talking about is the true meaning of Thanksgiving: Gratitude. We all know this of course but hopefully this post will serve as a reminder as well as give you some new insights.

How many people do you know go through life frustrated because they feel like they never seem to be or have what they want? It strikes me as odd to see people who seem to have so much going for them, yet never seem to be happy. How about you? Do you ever find yourself stressed and unfulfilled? What do you think it takes to be happy?

You see, we all have these rules of what has to happen in order for us to be happy. For some people they need a million dollars, for others, as long as they have their health, they’re happy. What are your rules? What has to happen in your mind in order for you to be happy? Many things may be running through your mind right now, but if I could just suggest one thing… And that is, be happy for what you already have.

Think about what you have in your life right now. Think of the friends you have, your spouse, the house you’re living in, the car you’re driving, or maybe the sports trophy from your school days or your college diploma or even the laptop or computer you’re using… do you remember back when one or more of these things were mere goals or desires that you had? How did you feel the moment when you finally obtained it?

Often times we get so caught up in our next dream or goal and we completely forget how much we use to want what we now have but take for granted. We’ve all heard the saying about not knowing how much something means to us until it’s gone, but I say, “If that’s the case, why wait?” Appreciate what you have while you’ve still got it. How? I’m glad you asked.

Tips For Being Grateful

1. Visualize not having what you have.

Imagine not having the car you currently drive or the house you live in or the people you have in your life. You may be hating your job but imagine losing it tomorrow. Imagine losing your legs or arms or your eyesight. If you really play along and go full out on this, you will be more appreciative of what you have.

2. Give things away that you wanted in the past, got it, but no longer appreciate.

What if you gave away things you don’t even take notice anymore, the things you’ve taken for granted. Donate your kidney, your hair, your car, your parents, or maybe your siblings. Yes I’m joking but think about how you’d feel if you were actually in the process of giving these away. How does the thought of losing these things or people make you feel?

3. Be thankful every morning.

Those first two tips can be powerful if you really do it full out, but the problem is they might not last too long. A week might go by you can could be back to taking things you have for granted again. So like exercising, to be grateful everyday, you need to do it everyday. Each morning when you wake up, think about all the things you are grateful for. What do you have that you would never want to lose? Don’t just think about it, really feel it. Feel the joy and happiness in your body. Starting your day like this will do wonders for the rest of the day. Do this every day and it’ll do wonders for the rest of your life.

So for this Thanksgiving holiday, remember, the meaning of Thanksgiving is to be thankful for what you have and it’s a day that’s set as a reminder for us to be grateful. Whatever you end up doing or end up spending time with this Thanksgiving, be happy that you have those people in your life. If you don’t have anyone or anything, at least be grateful for your eyesight and ability to read. Again, happiness really comes down to what rules you set for yourself in order to be happy. And it’s always a good place to start with what you already have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mapping the Harlem Drinking and Dining Renaissance

I love my neighborhood and simply adore when others find the same draw to it that I do.  So, I was pretty excited when posted a great, albeit not entirely complete, drinking and dining guide for the area a few weeks ago.  Although there was only one surprise in the article for me, I love their take on the hot new spots, and appreciate the authors usage of the term "renaissance" over "gentrification."  So, without further ado, here's a few picks from their list of the top new spots in the neighborhood and my take on each one (in italics):

Bier International, 2099 Frederick Douglass Blvd - "Opened earlier this year, Bier International is a giant restaurant and beer garden popular with both the big drinkers and the stroller set." Their beer selection is pretty impressive, their food is surprisingly stellar and their unique vision is pretty intriguing.  It isn't big enough to be a true beer garden so they minimised the design to make you feel like you're in a bigger, more jovial space.  It's unique to the hood and earns a solid thumbs up from me.

67 Orange Street, 2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd - "One of the oldest entries on this map, 67 Orange is approaching its second birthday. The cocktail den became a fast favorite in the area for offering a speakeasy vibe … and high end cocktails."  This is one of the only mixology bars in the neighborhood and is perfect for a nice cocktail on weeknights.  The space gets a bit too cramped on the weekends but the high-energy, friendly bartenders make up for it.
My favorite statue in the neighborhood,
Harriet Tubman on 122 and Fredrick Douglas Ave.

The Red Rooster, 310 Lenox Ave- "Chef Marcus Samuelsson's anxiously anticipated and ceaselessly promoted new Harlem venture. It will be a restaurant/jazz club/speakeasy/market/community center we … think? He has been working very hard doing collaborations with Target and Kraft to prepare."  This restaurant hasn't opened yet, and somehow I wasn't on the invite list for the guest night :).  So, I can't offer a review yet but I'm certainly excited that Samuelsson choose the location he did for his new digs.

Levain Bakery, 2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd - "The famed UWS bakery is making its move to Harlem because "it's a community they believe in."  This tiny, loving, decadent smelling cookie shop used to be my favorite when we lived in the UWS.  I couldn't be more excited about its move to my hood.  Although, I'm not sure I need more cookies in my life I'llbe sure to write a review when it opens.

Too soon to tell....

Two of the on Eater's list may be taking things a bit too far, too fast for the neighborhood.  Both the ALoft Hotel, which is a Starwood property and part of the W Hotel brand and the Harlem Tavern look like they should be set in midtown or the UWS.  I understand why these spots are buying the property and launching into construction now from a business perspective, but I don't think they will get the crowd they are expecting once they open.  The hotel is particularly terrifying to me, as it was originally rendered to be built around a historic carriage house that exemplified the area and ended up taking it out (aka knocking it down by accident) during construction.   If a business has no interest in preserving any of the history and character of the neighborhood then it's sure to fail (hence my appreciation for the word renaissance vs. gentrification).

Check out the map and full article here.  Eater hasn't quite figured out that adding a blogger share button to their website would increase their distribution but I'm sure they'll get it one day.
You can't take the Harlem out of Harlem Globe Trotters!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Facebook's New Battle With Google

Facebook's New Battle With Google covers the Social Media giant's newest messaging platform which incorporates email, SMS, and IM chat. It stands to streamline the multiple lines of communication that we all rely so heavily on, IF it works. Since email is a flawed system, most of us have learned that IM chats or text messages are faster and easier for one-off conversations. What if they could all live in one happy place?

And, in theory, I'd love to have all my conversations in one spot instead of scrambling to find a long lost text message about a new restaurant my friend found, or a random email with my dental insurance information in it from my boyfriend. But, I still have a slight mistrust of Facebook and don't see the site as my friend, even though I happily correspond with all my friends on their platform. Their extensive point of sale style marketing and sudden changes in their privacy policies make me a wary user.

And, if we're going to narrow this down to a fight between Google and Facebook, my brand loyalty is still with Google. I will openly say that it's because I have had fewer problems on their platforms (including Gmail), and their innovations make my work and personal life easier. But, I'm a marketer and know that their marketing, PR and advertising are aimed at making me feel warm and fuzzy about their smart services and offerings.

The video on Facebook's new messaging service is a great, and won me over for now. But, as always I'll wait to place all my eggs in one basket until all the bugs are worked out and the privacy policies are clearly posted.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Itinerary: 10 Days in NYC

Every year my parents come into town for about a week and I get the pleasure of touring them around the city.   Each time I consider it somewhat of a challenge, utilizing a short window of time to showcase my favorite discoveries in the city over the past year.  The most difficult aspect of this challenge is completing the week without utterly exhausting myself and my family.  I'm not sure I've ever really been able to pull a NYC tour off without tiring everyone out, but we always have a great time and this year was no exception. 

In the format of a running calendar, here's the details of their latest trip and my personal guide to showing some fun-loving, up-for-anything parents around NYC.

Saturday, October 30 - Halloween night, including a dress up party at our house, a transformation into the entire Scobby Doo gang and the surrounding cast of characters.  Off to American Retro bar for a Halloween Party where we met Sookie, Betty Francis, a Mummy and a recently slayed matador. 

Sunday, October 31 - Sie and Kate, the awesome Washington DCers via Texas depart, and we sob.  Recovery comes in the way of Calle Ocho sangria and one of their tasty new entrees (including a breakfast burrito and delicious quesadilla de Salvador), a walk through Central Park and a movie at home.

Monday, November 1 - Work day and party night.  Meet for of the most upscale and relaxed happy hours in town at B Flat which turns into a live jazz bar when happy hour ends, at 8 pm.  Great music but to loud to chat so off to Cafe Nior where we dine on tapas (such as Moroccan Pizza, Brie frito con miel, and Ceviche).  The final game of the World Series is viewed on my iPhone and the Giants win....celebration!
Tuesday, November 2 - Onward and upward, to the Highline Park in Chelsea; the best new sight in town in the past 5 years.  Then, take in a complete Chelsea gallery tour before hitting up a nice lunch at Spice on 9th Ave.  With food on the mind it's off to Mario Batali's Eataly for a glance at some of the best Italian imports in town before stopping in Sagaponack for a martini happy hour. Uptown to Broadway for a new musical, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, to satisfy the NYC itch.  Awesome seats, fun show, beautiful voices and awesome set.

Wednesday, November 3 - Spa Castle day with mom, dad is off to lunch with a friend at Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem.  Spa Castle is a whirlwind of relaxation and Korean artistry in Queens.  Home again for dinner and a movie.

Thursday, November 4 - Decadence at it's finest.  A day at the MOMA to check out the Abstract Expressionist New York exhibit.  A new restaurant discovery on west 55 Street, Menchanko-Tei, which works out better than I dreamed and offered big bowls of tasty noodles and broth with chucks of fresh tofu, seaweed, shrimp and mushrooms to cold and hungry customers.  The evening took another turn towards high society when we we left Midtown West and headed back to Chelsea.  We checked out the Beatrice, and reveled in views from the Cloud Lounge on floor 53.  We sipped on espresso and coffee martinis at Food Parc and finally dined on the finest Basque food NYC has to offer at Bar Basque.  The space is phenomenal, the interiors are jaw-dropping and the food is pretty damn good too.  It's been way too long since I took 3 hours to sip, slice and munch my way through dinner - which included a blood sausage stuffed calamari, wild mushroom croquettes, slow baked piquillo peppers, acorn-fed ham, monk fish and the best damn ice cream in town.

Friday, November 5- A long work day, and an evening of realized fun.  Happy hour at the Dove Palour before moving on to a couple of the upscale cocktail joints in NYC for a beautifully mixed drink or two.  The well-known unmarked doorway on 7 Ave and Carmine Street which leads to the downstairs speakeasy tavern known as Little Branch was already out of seating by 7:30, so we carried on to Employees Only, hidden behind a fortune teller and dark curtain on Hudson Street.   Employees Only offers a Billionaire cocktail that makes my mouth water thinking about it with bourbon, lemon, homemade grenadine and bitters.  Then we headed over to the Red-Eyed Grill for a quite table and some dinner (which came in the format of overpriced, less-than par food but the quiet table and upbeat waiter made up for it).

Saturday, November 6 - Tourist extravaganza!  Kick off the day on a tour bus called The Ride that is part theater, part spectacle, part experimental and part ridiculous fun.  View midtown Manhattan sideways.  Jump on the train to Atlantic Ave. and tour Fort Greene including the Brooklyn Flea, a market like no other, and fancy drinks at No. 7 including a cherry infused bourbon Old Fashion.  Williamsburg was the next neighborhood on our list and we headed to a friend's house to get the full effect (from a locals perspective, of course).  A couple rounds of Fette Sau BBQ, Cafe Dumont mac n' cheese, and Rock Band later we headed home.

Sunday, November 7 - What better time to kick back and relax than the first cold Sunday of the year?  We started off our morning with home made breakfast sandwiches and mimosas while bundling up for the outdoors.  We watched the NYC marathon on TV before heading down the street to see it live at Marcus Garvey Park.  Viewing exhilarated runners dash, stumble, trudge and sprint across the 22 mile mark made for some great photos.  We toured 125 Street and picked up some goodies at Best Yet for a chili feast.  Chili feast was accompanied by football watching, game playing and cupcake eating.

Monday, November 8 - Sadly, the plane took off and I'm waiting for my phone call saying mom and dad made it home safely....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Snapshots of Halloween Day in NYC

Through Central Park and the Upper West Side, we found some wonderful NYC characters to celebrate the day of the dead with.  After our night of solving mysteries and caring around our brightly colored van as the Scooby Doo Gang, we were ready for some relaxed entertainment.  We found it in the most unusual way....

Friendly Monster #2 of the day, who found us
watching the roller skaters in Central Park

The first skeleton of the day to approach us...flapping his wings
and shifting his Rollerblades

Halloween Block Party in the UWS

Jerome, Dad, Mom and me leaving the park


Block party fun!

The block residents and association
went all-out to make sure this
was the best Halloween Party in the neighborhood

Guess who?