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A Window of Time

merchanthousewindows

On warm spring afternoons, my ideal spot isn’t a park or a brownstone stoop in the sun. It’s walking through musty old houses with a motley crew of tourists, bored children, and random history buffs. Historical house tours are a chance to travel back in time and see how people lived decades or centuries ago, guided by charming elderly volunteers or park rangers.

All of my previous house tours have been of estates in the countryside, like Theodore Roosevelt’s House in Oyster Bay and Thomas Edison’s house and factory in New Jersey, but this past Saturday, Ramsey and I went to the Merchant House Museum on East 4th Street in Manhattan. I must have walked by it dozens of times while I was working in SoHo, but never realized the building was a perfectly preserved example of 1850s life. It stands in stark contrast to the neighborhood around it, now dominated by huge billboards, street art, shopping tourists, and perfectly coiffed models in tall heels.

screamOh, and graffiti. Someone tagged the side of a historical site.

merchanthouseoutsideEvery room was well preserved, but every window looked out onto a world that was completely changed. Gertrude Tredwell, the inhabitant of the house, was born and died there. She must have watched the neighborhood change completely around her during her 93 years there. Continue Reading →

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Quiet and Explosions

guggenheimhangingI love exploring New York with friends, but every few weeks, I take a solo trip. Without anyone to talk to, the city becomes my focus for the day. Museums are one of my favorite solo stops, and on Saturday, I went to the Guggenheim to see two new exhibitions. The first was Gutai: Splendid Playground, a retrospective of the avant-guarde Gutai art collective in Japan. The rotunda was spanned by giant polyethylene tubes filled with colored water, with each tube climbing higher than the next until they reached the skylight at the center of the ceiling. The rest of the works had a similar playful feel; some were interactive and others were created during artist performances when they would paint with their feet or use small motorized cars to draw chaotic, Pollack-like sketches. Television screens showed recordings of the process by many of the works. The second exhibition was Zarina: Paper Like Skin, a retrospective of the artist’s minimalist prints and other works, including intricate woven paper strips and a huge piece of paper covered in gold leaf. It was the first exhibition I’ve been to where I thought, “I want to hang all of this in my house.” You can see a few examples here.

After the museum, I went to Cha-An Teahouse on the Lower East Side. If you’ve never treated yourself to a full afternoon tea, or just lingered over a meal in a peaceful restaurant on a Saturday afternoon, I highly recommend it. Their afternoon tea set started with two warm rolls made with dough that reminded me of a soft pretzel. One was filled with smoked salmon, cilantro, and mustard, and the other had a sweet strawberry butter spread.

cha-ansavoryOnce I finished the rolls, the sweets arrived. This was the moment I wished for a companion because there was no way I could finish five desserts between sips of my lemon verbena tea. There were two chocolate scones, a chocolate and walnut brownie, a muffin with apple puree and pecans (?), and a banana and/or earl gray sponge cake.

cha-answeetWhen I go back, I think I’ll skip the full tea set and just get tea and Cha-An’s fabled black sesame creme brulee. I completely missed it on the menu, but post-tea internet research suggests it’s amazing.

After a meditative Saturday, I woke up on Sunday with plans to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Things got a little crazy. Continue Reading →

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A New Year

I know it’s late for New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve been trying to write this post for two weeks. The first attempt was New Year’s Eve Eve. I brought two cups of green lentils to a simmer on the stove and sat down in the living room with my computer. It was time to reflect on my resolutions from the previous year and look to the year ahead, an annual tradition that started eight years ago.

I didn’t know what to say.

Many people move from year to year like walking through a doorway. They take a breath and pass through, their path unbroken and never slowed. As I passed from 2011 to 2012, I think my foot got caught on the threshold and sent me tumbling down an endless flight of stairs, my body never coming to a full stop. It was a year of sickness and unimaginable loss, of superstorms, and of grand and minor personal upheavals. 2012 was the year that showed me how delicate and temporary our existence can be.

Now, two weeks in, I don’t want to look back. Let’s all assume I didn’t bring my lunch to work or do enough writing to meet my goals. I also don’t have any formal resolutions for 2013, save for one:

Make it count.

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Food and Flowers: A Thanksgiving Arrangement

I took a one-day floral arranging class at Brooklyn Brainery this spring, and since then, I’ve dreamed of running off and opening a flower shop. Arranging flowers is satisfying in the same way cooking or baking can be (without the calories). You take a number of disparate components and combine them in a way that’s appealing to the eye or the palate. For most arrangements, those disparate components are flowers, but I decided to add a few edible items to a Friendsgiving centerpiece this weekend.

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this week or want to bring a gift for your host, you don’t need to drop $100 bucks at the florist. You can create your own arrangement that mixes food and flowers with items from your local supermarket or convenience store.

Start with a few bouquets of bodega or supermarket flowers with fall hues and varying textures.

While you’re out buying flowers, stop by the produce section of your supermarket or your local famer’s market for edible items for your arrangement. Pears, apples, pomegranates, grapes, and all types of greens are fair game. I picked up a few pears and brussels sprout stems. Continue Reading →

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Weathering the Storm

The rain has passed, but the surge is still flooding lower Manhattan. We’ve been lucky here in Park Slope to still have power, and we’re five long blocks from the overflowing Gowanus Canal. We’re also lucky to know that our friends are safe, albeit most are without power.

I worked from home all day and then distracted myself from the winds by making dinner: roasted and smashed sweet potatoes, sauteed kale, and baked chicken breasts with garlic paste and thyme. As many perishable goods as I could put into one meal in case the power went down. It may still go, but we’re stocked with canned goods and a very large container of dry roasted peanuts.

I hope you’re safe and dry. As everyone said in line at our local bodega yesterday, I’ll see you on the other side of this.

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An Evening with Vegetables

There’s a certain feeling you get when your mind is drained. It’s the same feeling you get after you swim in the ocean for too long under a hot August sun, when you need to squint your eyes at the light reflecting off of waves that catch you off guard. You’re thrown to the sand and pummeled, unsure which way to turn for air. You’re lost to panic until you can find steadier footing to stand.

I feel that way now. I’m curled in an armchair with a mug of hot rooibos tea—a model of relaxation—but I’m exhausted. Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s being a few months into my 28th year. Maybe I made a poor life choice putting a Death Cab for Cutie album on before writing this and I’m awash with melodrama. Whatever it is, one of the few respites I’ve found is in the kitchen. I can shut down and focus on one small task at a time.

The soup pictured above was my Friday project: roasted chicken, butternut squash, mushrooms, carrots, and spinach, all in a homemade chicken stock (adapted from this recipe). Continue Reading →

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France, Day 2: Art and Pastry

Our second day in Paris brought art, pastries, and some quality time with fellow tourists. After a breakfast bummer of burnt crepes near our hotel in the Latin Quarter, we walked northwest towards the Louvre, a massive museum (pictured above) with over 36,000 pieces in its collection.

Our first day had been quiet, with even the streets near the Eiffel Tower seeming less crowded than Brooklyn on a Saturday in August, but as we drew closer to the Louvre, we were surrounded by more and more tour groups. When we finally arrived, the line snaked around the glass pyramids and fountains. Two hours and three short rain showers later, we were in.

The thing that struck me most about the Louvre was how ornate so many of the rooms were. I’m used to stark white walls, but as the Louvre was also a palace, the ceilings and walls were covered in paintings and flourishes. Continue Reading →

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France, Day One: Paris

When Ramsey and I got married last July, we went on a short honeymoon in New England. We stayed at a bed and breakfast staffed by British interns in Chatham, MA and consumed most of the seafood within a ten mile radius. We then moved on to Boston where we walked the Freedom Trail and ate more seafood on a breezy patio on the waterfront. It was a relaxing getaway, but we had a plan for the following summer: using wedding gifts from family and friends, we’d embark on our first European vacation.

We considered a multi-country trip—perhaps England, France, and Spain—but as it was our first trip across the Atlantic, we didn’t want to stress ourselves too much. We decided to limit the trip to France, drawn by classic tourist sites and elegant pastries, and planned two days in Paris, two days in Lyon, and then two more days in Paris. We booked a red-eye flight for the evening of our first wedding anniversary, six nights at French hotels, two high-speed train tickets, and packed our bags.

Our flight took off from JFK around 9 PM on Monday, July 9th and we landed in Paris on Tuesday at 10 AM. Running on a few stolen hours of sleep, the highway and Paris streets zoomed by in a blur outside our taxi car windows. The driver dropped us at our first hotel by the Pantheon, and instead of taking a much-needed nap, we walked the two and a half miles to the Eiffel Tower, with detours along the way.

Fighting sleep at the hotel.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Fountain at the Jardin du Luxembourg

Go karts by the Eiffel Tower

Le Tower

Continue Reading →