It was time to make our annual trip to D.C. for the blossom festival and it did not disappoint. We took the Bolt Bus as usual and stayed in our hostel that we like. One day we might stay in a hotel, but the hostel is in a central location and the price is great.
After we unloaded our gear we headed out for a quick drink. We normally don’t go out on the first night, we’re usually too tired and want to get an early start. But this year there was only one exhibit that we really wanted to see, so we figured we had a long week, lets get out and have fun. Well fun found us. We stopped at a local bar we go to sometimes and this night they were having a Robyn themed night. After 3 drag performances and a few Absolut drink specials we made our way back to our beds that were waiting for us.
The next day we hopped on bikes and made it to the festival to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. It was a glorious day. The sun was out and it was nice and warm. We rode and walked around the basin taking in all the amazing trees and colors. We stopped to get some refreshments but the line was long and we had our exhibit to see. So we high tailed it out of there and went to the Hirshhorn Museum. They had a great exhibit on disasters throughout history. We did wonder if the Smithsonian planned such an exhibit of destruction while life was blooming outside it’s very walls.
After the exhibit we went to The Garden Cafe, in the National Gallery of Art. One of our favorite places to sit, relax and enjoy a meal. We strolled around and saw the amazing photography of Garry Winogrand and the Civic Pride: Group Portraits from Amsterdam, that are considered a rarity at that time. We made another wonderful pit stop at one of the atriums before heading out to see more works of art.
After a little more running around, it was about time to go back to the hostel and freshen up for our evening plans. As usual I didn’t know what they were. Well, they always involve a play or a concert or a musical. This time much to my delight and genuine surprise it was the final show of Neil Finn’s American tour. We were lucky and got some great seats and were treated to some rare songs that he usually doesn’t play.
We tried to eat before the show but we were running a little late. After a few failed attempts I finally secured some chili cheese fries from Ben’s Chili Bowl, but unfortunately I was too late and we were ushered into the theater and our food disposed of. But our saving grace was Oohh’s and Aahh’s Soul Food. Amazing roast chicken and mac n’ cheese. Can’t wait to go back and try more.
Our final day was mostly spent cruising around looking at blossoms. We stopped for a quick libation and headed to our new find. The peninsula across for the main blossom festival. Talk about night and day! The festival is nice and there are many more blossoms to look at, but what we found was just as beautiful. The peninsula is lined with blossoms and even has picnic area’s with tables and BBQ’s. It was a great bike ride and discovery. Next year it’s all about a picnic at the other side of the festival.
We had just a few more small exhibits to see but our hot dog and beer on the mall lawn was our next destination and it did not disappoint. It’s always nice to take a moment, sit and watch everyone enjoying there day, while we enjoy ours. The Portrait Gallery was our last destination, an exhibition on dance in American history from ballet to movies and music. Then it was off to collect our belongings, with a quick stop at Full Kee to get dinner for the long bus ride home. As we sat comfortably in our seats, or as comfortable one can get, we settled into our movie and dinner, already planing next years adventure.
Our first camping trip of the season was amazing and cold!
The day started out fine, a little cloudy but not too bad. We hit the subway, then train to Tuxedo, grabbed the last of the supplies and hit the trail. We made it to camp with plenty of time to gather wood, pitch the tent, get water and start our fire. It was a lazy afternoon. Well as lazy as that can be. We took our time and enjoyed the spring day. We did notice along the way that there was still snow in random spots and when we arrived at our usual camp site, the lake was still frozen in parts. Jason dubbed this trip, winter camping! We were still delighted, the sun had come out and we just lapping up the quiet and slow pace we were settling into.
With our fire in full swing and whiskey in our cups we started dinner. We kept it simple. Dry rubbed ribs, steak, asparagus and baked potatoes. One of the best things about camping is you can wrap everything in foil, chuck it in the fire and leg it go. Of course we love cooking a more elaborate meal, but our first outing we wanted to keep it as simple as possible. After dinner we put more wood on the fire and watched the sunset. So far so good, right? Then the sun went down and the wind and cold went up! We usually hangout by the fire for a while but not that night. We headed into the tent and watched a movie I had downloaded. All snuggled up with hot water bottles, snacks and our movie we settled in for the night.
The next morning was bright and sunny. The wind was still whipping around a little and we thought we might have to take the early train home. But thankfully it went away and a beautiful spring day took over. We made breakfast, eggs, potatoes and bacon, and just relaxed. By lunch time we were sufficiently hungry and found our leftover ribs and butter were missing. These were to be added to our egg drop ramen soup. We couldn’t find them anywhere. After a little more searching, I found the empty foil I had wrapped the butter in, and a fork! Jason had heard something in the night like an animal walking through our camp but thought nothing of it. There are deer, geese, hawks, ducks and we usually camp next to a beaver and his dam. I guess one of them got hungry in the night!
We still enjoyed our lunch, finished our movie and made our way back to civilization. It’s always a bitter sweet walk. As we get closer to the train station you realize it’s almost over. But our reward for making this trip and back in one piece is Chinese food across the street from the platform. With our delicious snack in our bellies we drink our travel beer on the train and make the long ride home. Already dreaming of our next camping adventure.
We started the remodel because Jason’s friend suggested it. Not only suggested it, but had developed a plan. Jason was all ears. I heard about it second hand. It sounded vague but promising. So we headed to this warehouse in Greenpoint to get these colorful brackets that were the basis of this mini make over. They were bright, but something about them and the ideas that were being talked about made sense. We walked out with a bunch of them. The plan was in motion. We stopped at a bar to discuss the rest of the plan as it existed at that time. As things came together, salvaged wood shelving, the color scheme of the kitchen, things changed and evolved. Next thing you know we are painting the ceiling terracotta/brick red and the inside of the pantry became canary yellow.
The apartment is in complete disarray. So cooking is not easy, to say the least. But the Lab must continue to experiment and make new food. The latest is a mixed bean, lentil and bacon soup that could sit for hours as we continued to work on the shelving. It’s a basic soup but with a few extras thrown in on purpose and also just for the fun of it. We started with a bag of beans and lentils we found at our local Indian market. You could easily replicate the of mix beans and lentils if you don’t have access to store like this. From there it was what broth to use? We chose a combo of beef and vegetable. One, because it’s what we had available and two because given the chance I will always use broth over water. For reasons that are obvious. We also had an herb bag for soup that we found during our excavation of the pantry. Also from the Indian store. From there we added onion, bacon, celery, carrot and a red bell pepper. As the soup cooked and as I tasted it, it also changed. From seasoning, to consistency, to the acidity. I added half the juice and pulp of a lime. I always have citrus around as it’s always good for such occasions. It took the bite out the soup that I couldn’t help but wonder how it got there. I thank my friend Regina for this trick. She is a brilliant cook.
Four hours and a few layers of polyurethane later we were ready to eat. The soup was amazing and though we aren’t nearly finished with the kitchen and the shelving, at least we finished another food journey that will be part of our cannon for years to come. Now if we could just get the rest of the kitchen off the living room floor!
With winter setting in, we all want to hunker down and eat. And what better way then with a big ole piece goodness called lasagna?! Do you make it at Christmas or New Years, or whenever you want that giant casserole dish of baked noodles with sauce and cheese? Do you add meat or vegetables? Maybe you’re a white sauce kind of person? For me, it all comes down to one thing, tomato sauce. It screams lasagna. All red and bubbly with veggies and Italian sausage, yum!
I usually start with one large and one medium can of whole tomatoes. Giving them a medium rough chop so you have nice chunks of tomato. Then I saute onions, garlic and whatever vegetables I want in my sauce, like celery and bell peppers, all seasoned with the herbs I’m using in the sauce. I find it helps get things going. If I am adding sausage, I cook the veggies in with the sausage, onions and garlic first then the rest. Next I combine the tomatoes, veggies, meat and simmer for a few minutes then add some paste to thicken. More herbs and simmer for as long as necessary. I even slice zucchini to put in between the layers.
When it comes to cheese, fresh is best. But we all know we can’t always get it or have the time to make it. So do your best and it will be just fine. I do stir up my ricotta if it comes store bought, makes it easier to spread or drop. But my big discovery is to grate most or all of your mozzarella, which can be evenly distributed. This will keep you from having that moment when you accidentally sliced it too thick and don’t have enough to cover the top. Oops! Been there done that! And who ever thought of cottage cheese as a substitute for ricotta should be shot. Don’t do it ever! You are not doing yourself or your guests any favors.
Then there is the debate on the noodles. Fully cook, don’t cook, cook partially. What do you do? Ive done all three. I prefer to cook them al dente so they finish with the flavors of the sauce. Also cook and extra one or two just in case one rips. If not then have fun eating it while the lasagna cooks.
Once you have done all this, simply put it in the oven at 350 till golden bubbly, about 30-45 minutes and when done, let it stand for about 15 minutes and serve. What could be more perfect and easy then that?
*if you think you need more sauce, always add another can of tomatoes, medium or large depending on how saucy you want your lasagna. Or add another dollop of paste to thicken.*
This year we decided to make hot sauces for Christmas. To say it has been an experiment is a bit of an understatement. You’d think easy, right? We’ll not so easy. It’s sort of like a martini. There may only be a couple ingredients, but if they aren’t in the right proportions you’re screwed. Or like us, running out of the kitchen, opening all your windows and gasping for air. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! We practically drank a whole gallon of milk and consumed almost a whole bag of chips. But we kept going and I think we came up with some compelling sauces. Just don’t ask us to remake them! Of course we do have a couple that can be remade and here is one that is sure to please even the most sensitive pallet.
2 Pasilla dried peppers
2 Ancho dried peppers
1 Chipotle dried pepper
1 garlic clove
1 cup of vinegar
salt and pepper
Soak peppers in warm water till they are soft. Pull off stems and discard. Some of the inside guts will come with the stem, that’s fine. Save chile water. Put chiles in blender and add garlic, vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Blend till mixed. You can also use food processor. If you want a chunky sauce then you are done. If you want a thinner sauce, then use a sieve the get all the chunks out. If it is still too thick then add some of the chile water to get the consistency you want.
Like most people I grew up with few traditions. Thanksgiving we were allowed to have Kahlua and milk with dinner, very grown up. Christmas Eve we opened one present. Easter was dyeing the eggs and the hunt on Easter Day. And and let’s not forget that all important school clothes shopping? A particular favorite of everyones! Not! But we are talking holidays, not torture. So now what do I do?
Well, for a long time the apartment I shared in LA was the house to go to. Not really for Christmas, that was a bar called The Spotlight. It started one year when we had gone to one too many Christmas parties and gatherings. We had had enough. So we stopped at our favorite dive bar and dove in. So far that a friend ran into the curtain that separates you from inside and outside and for some reason fell backwards losing her glasses. We, proceeded to fall off our bar stools laughing ourselves silly. We called this night Anti-Christmas. So for years we all got together after we had done our various Christmases and met for an evening of celebrating the end. We eventually moved this tradition to a better dive bar to be with a dear friend who would sufficiently pour us into a drunken stupor. But The Spotlight will always be where Anti-Christmas started.
My favorite tradition that we started was New Year’s Day pajama jam. Me and my roommate would get up, usually hung over from our friend Mary’s NYE party the night before. Open a bottle of champagne and start cooking. We did brunch, lunch and dinner. It was non stop food and drinks. What’s not to love?! One year we had a few stragglers who tried to get out of it but it was mandatory if you were invited. Not only did we eat and drink there were board games and video games usually with one of the worst movies or t.v. series we could find. And we found some doozies! Anybody remember Pink Lady and Jeff? I thought not. Do yourself a favor or not and check it out. It is something to see. But remember, I warned you!
Moving to NYC I wondered if I would continue or start new ones. Thankfully my friends here have taken up the pajama jam, but on Christmas, not New Years. So every year I get to lounge around in my pajamas for most of the day. And what is starting out to be another tradition is to end up at another friends for dinner and ukulele singalong. Gone are the days of Kahlua and milk and Easter egg hunting, but I still open up one present every Christmas Eve and I get to have my pajama jam. Now where did I put the pajamas?
Thanksgiving has always been a time for reflection. I guess it has something to do with the fact that my birthday circles it or it circles my birthday, or both. Either way, it’s that time a gain.
I moved here on October 1, 2008, which means this is my fifth anniversary of Halloweens, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I wrote a piece on my first year here and feels like its time to check in and see what I’ve accomplished and what I haven’t, along with what there is still to do.
The first year was spent getting my footing. I had no job and was living on a friends couch. Not what you would call ideal at 40. I left a good job, an apartment I loved and a brand new car. The number one question one gets asked is, why did you move here? Best opening line/conversation starter and the most New York thing you can do. Me? Like most people they want to change and or reinvent themselves. I wanted adventure, change, attend culinary school, to grow as a person and live somewhere else, other then where I grew up. A.K.A., get out of dodge.
Over the years there have been many ups and downs. These are to be expected. But what is not expected is which ones they are. I have really grown to like living in Brooklyn. There’s so much here, that honestly no one needs to ever go to Manhattan. Would I live in Manhattan again. Yes. My small stint in Hells Kitchen was just a taste. And it still lingers in my mind. How resilient I am, surprised me and made me stronger and more secure in myself. Do I still have insecurities? Yes. Too many to count. But I am tough and can get through what I need to. NY teaches you that or you leave. I call this place the most conveniently inconvenient place to live.
I have come to travel more then ever in my life. From up and down the eastern seaboard to New Zealand and back. I can’t wait for the next adventure. I’m in a relationship that has also tested my strength, tolerance, patience, challenged my creative side, opened me up to be silly and expanded my ability to love. Not bad considering I was no where near wanting or needing a relationship when I came here.
My friendships and family are stronger then ever and I wouldn’t change them for the world. From landing with no job and couch surfing to my first Halloween in the emergency room and getting stitches from bashing back gay bashers, to having more jobs in five years then in the last twenty and knowing I can walk into almost any job and get it done, I can truly say, I am a New Yorker. In as many ways as I have grown I feel I have a lot more learning, sacrificing and good times to come. Life is a series of challenges and not all are fun and clear as to their objectives, but I am ready to march on and see where it takes me. Like the song says. “I will survive.” Or, as we say here, welcome to New York.
I wasn’t going to do another chicken soup post, but after requests for this recipe and some thought, I realized that this is different then the last chicken soup I wrote about. While I was writing, I wondered how many versions of chicken soup must be out there? I have at least 3 to 4 myself. I will post more as they get remade or made for the first time. Until then, here is another addition to the cannon of probably the most American soup out there. I give you, my other chicken soup, which I will officially call; Chicken, barley and vegetable soup.
Oktoberfest begins our wilderness camping season. It’s a short season but hopefully we can get in a few more before the snow falls. It’s a three day hike across Harriman State Park and ends at Bear Mountain where a polka band, steins of beer, pierogi’s, bratwurst with sauerkraut and stuffed cabbage await us. Did I mention people dancing in traditional lederhosen outfits??? Yes that too!!!
We start by taking the train from Hoboken New Jersey and head north to Tuxedo Park, where we get our final supplies or anything we forgot. Each day is a full day of hiking, so there is no time for dilly dallying. Our daily goal is to get to a shelter before someone else. Unfortunately you can’t reserve them. The first day is the most grueling but the shelter has an amazing view of the sunset just up the rock hill, and a fireplace where we cook. This night we will have caveman ribs and potatoes. Dry rubbed ribs in foil and thrown straight into the fire along with the rest. I have also brought along pudding cups for desert as they need no refrigeration. Of course everything is frozen and thaws as each day progresses - including the cucumbers I juiced for our after-dinner cocktails. Jason also had a surprise that made the whole trip and future trips glamorous (well to us it was!). Hot water bottles! No more cold tent for us!!!
The Second day is one of the longest and takes us through the famed lemon squeezer(you can see why). It is a very long day with a short stop for lunch. The shelter that is mid way to our next destination is empty and even has lovely art work. We chose to go a little further and stop near a creek to get some water and eat there. We walk along the Long Path and pass through a small portion of the West Point Military School property. We call this passing through enemy lines! After that comes Hippo Rock, which means we are just moments away from our last resting spot. A shelter with two fireplaces! Very deluxe especially when it gets to be night and its cold! I have had to defend this place so others can’t/wont join us. I will always fight to have this space to ourselves, it is the best spot and the view is breathtaking. We will be having chili for dinner, a box of Merlot to drink and more pudding for desert. Yum!
On the last day we make our final breakfast of eggs and bacon, then it’s time to head off to Oktoberfest! We walk along some famous paths that were used during he revolutionary wars (1777 and 1779) and another part of West Point. Stop for lunch at Turkey Hill Lake and follow the Popolopen Creek till we make it to Bear Mountain Lodge next to Hessian Lake and Oktoberfest!!! Once there will will eat, drink, listen to music and enjoy our fellow revelers. The older couple are there every year and are total hams! We love them and enjoy their wonderful party spirits. It is a short visit as we need to catch the last bus back to the city. But with full bellies and a little light headed from the steins of beer we slowly drift back to our home in Brooklyn Heights satisfied and dreaming of next years adventure.