Thursday, October 30, 2014

tbt: 5 years in NYC

This fall marks 5 years that I've lived in New York City. Mine was the classic moving story - I was working in a small theater in an even smaller town in Connecticut, when a friend called me up sometime in late July and said, "so, are we doing this or not?" I said sure, what the hell, let's see what New York has to offer - and seemingly justlikethat we had ourselves the tiniest little apartment in Astoria that $1450/month (plus first month, plus broker's fee...) could rent. Granted, the justlikethat part was really one torturously long weekend where we saw (I kid you not) 22 different apartments in three different boroughs and at the last minute decided on the 34th St. apartment, and then had one hour to get cashier's checks from our respective banks and make it back to the real estate agent's office before they closed and my future roommate's plane departed back to Louisville and I left to go back to Connecticut to make the next day's matinee performance of Camelot. Oh, and did I mention that somewhere in the middle of all of this my phone gave up on itself and I was forced to sign another 2-year contract because I had just spent all my money on rent and needed the free phone but that I was with T-Mobile at the time and they hadn't gotten the iPhone yet so I had to accept a flip phone and this proved to be a very stressful situation for me so I had a meltdown in the T-Mobile store in which I screamed and cried and threw my credit card at the poor guy behind the counter?

It's funny how those memories become funny and fuzzy over time. That must be what childbirth is like.

Anyway, so some time after getting kicked out of a T-Mobile store on Ditmars, I closed my show in Connecticut and got a ride down to New York from one of the theater's patrons (the perks are few and far between, but sometimes being an artist is nice). Just under two hours later, I arrived in my new apartment with little more than two suitcases and a couple of shopping bags. The bed I'd purchased off of Craigslist was propped up in the corner of the living room, drying out from the seven coats of anti-bed bug spray I'd applied the weekend before. Dani, my roommate, wasn't scheduled to arrive for another two days. We'd made plans for an Ikea run, but that wasn't until later in the week.

So I did what any normal person would do in this situation - I ordered Chinese food, laid on my air mattress, put on some Pushing Daisies via the DVD player on my laptop, and made some lists. We needed everything. Not just big things like a couch and a bookshelf, but those little things that you first assume just come with an apartment. Toilet paper. Paper towels. A shower curtain. Salt and pepper.

And slowly but surely (emphasis on the slowly), I formed the basis of what became my first New York family. We bought the toilet paper, stocked up on paper towels, found a shower curtain that worked perfectly (it even had pockets for extra storage!), bought a couch on Craigslist, and survived it's delivery by the most clichéd creepy-man-in-an-unmarked-white-van I'd ever seen. I booked a show, made some new friends, found a favorite bagel place, landed and eventually quit a crappy waitressing job, went for long walks through new neighborhoods, saw a bunch of plays, found a yoga studio, worked a million different random freelance gigs, and even learned the intricacies of the subway system sans internet (remember that flip phone?).

I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point over the past five years I stopped being Someone Who Lived in New York and started Becoming a New Yorker. Maybe it was the first time I gave correct directions to a lost tourist, maybe it was the first time I saw a Broadway show for free, because I knew a few people on the production team, maybe it was that time I walked 7 miles to work because Hurricane Sandy shut down the subway system, or maybe it was the first time I threw on leggings and cute boots just to walk around the corner to the grocery store, but I eventually began to regard this crazy city as Home. And it felt really good to do so.

The pictures throughout this post are all some of my favorite memories from the past five years of living in New York, but because this is my blog and I can do what I want (and because it wouldn't be a true TBT without photo proof!) here are my top moments of the past five years - enjoy ;)

2009 - A walk through Central Park and a trip to FAO Schwarz on a perfect fall day with two of my newest NYC friends was exactly the intro to the city I needed.

2010 - Even though I secretly knew most of them were just using me for my free couch in a shockingly expensive city, one of the best things about living in New York is that all your loved ones from back home suddenly really want to visit you. I got to play tour guide to two of my besties from Chicago one summer, and we had a fantastic few days taking a carriage ride through the park, shopping in SoHo, and training it all the way down to Coney Island just so we could dip our toes into the Atlantic.

2011 - We called it BridgeWalk 2011 - three bridges (Queensboro, Brooklyn, and Manhattan Bridges, respectively), two tickets to the Transit Authority Museum, a few slices of lunchtime pizza, and an immensely fun day.

2012 - Three words: Hurricane Survival Kit.

2013 - A lost phone number, a missing voicemail, a confusing text message, and finally, a blind date at a local wine bar led to my favorite kiss on my favorite New Year's with my favorite guy.

2014 - It's all about the little moments: a pleasant walk to work, a quick bagel date with an old friend, a particularly moving yoga class, a quiet night of Netflix on the couch, brunch at the diner around the corner. Though I have no immediate plans to move, I can't say for sure how long I'll stay in this city (maybe just another year or two, maybe forever - will you let me know if you find my crystal ball?) but I know that years from now when I look back on this period of my life, the brightest memories will be those of the seemingly ordinary and mundane. Moving here was the craziest and best decision I've ever made, and I cannot wait to see what the future will hold.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

balcony garden/update 03 (final!)

It was a few days after the average date (we had a blissful week of Indian Summer), but the first frost finally hit the NYC area a few days ago. Luckily, my attentive boyfriend paid more attention to the week's weather forecast than I did and alerted me to the fact that I had about four hours to remove all signs of life from the balcony, lest I lose five months of moderately time-consuming work.

Reaping the harvest
At this point in the season, I had one small planter each of oregano, basil, and chives, and four tomatoes total - one that was ready for picking, and three that showed up late to the party but so eagerly wearing party dresses that I couldn't turn them away. I tackled the tomatoes first - the red guy joined his previously picked bother on a most wonderful turkey and cheese sandwich, and the three unripe tomatoes got cut and placed in a jar of water. Disclaimer: I have no idea if that's what I was supposed to do with the unripe tomatoes, but it's been two days now and they are slowly turning from green to red, so I guess it's working(?).

Now, for the herbs: All three varieties were still doing pretty well, so I knew I wanted to save as much as possible. I had read a handful of articles suggesting that I freeze some of them in olive oil, so I did just that - I picked and washed the oregano and basil, and placed a small palmful of each (roughly the amount I'd use in any one dish) in the cups of an ice cube tray; three "cubes" got both herbs, in case I feel like using a oregano/basil blend (pasta sauce, anyone?). Then I filled each well 3/4 of the way with olive oil and placed the entire tray in the freezer. If I want fresh oregano or basil any time this winter, in theory all I have to do it throw the entire oil cube into a sauté pan along with any other vegetables I'm choosing to add to the dish.

I decided to try something else with the chives since I usually add them fresh to a meal instead of sautéing first. So I simply cut the chives at their base (I felt like I was giving the entire plant a hair cut) and placed them in an empty jar. I'm kind of shooting in the dark with this one, but my plan is to let them completely dry out and then either finely chop or grind them into a powder, and sprinkle that over my food whenever I feel it needs a chive-y kick (baked potatoes? popcorn?? the possibilities are endless).

The takeaway
This was my first time ever attempting to grow something other than a few (unsuccessful) bamboo plants in my college dorm room and one (equally unsuccessful) succulent in my first New York apartment. And honestly, I was pretty nervous. I was worried that nothing would grow and that all my effort would be for naught - but after a couple of pep talks from various green thumbs, I turned my visions of a thriving balcony garden into a pretty decent reality. After all was said and done I netted a small planter each of oregano, basil, and chives, and 6 (and counting!) cherry tomatoes. The eggplant though, I regret to inform you, was not as successful. I kept waiting for it to turn from a bright to a dark purple like I'd read on various gardening websites, but instead it went from bright purple to a sallow green. I don't know if I did something wrong other than not pick it at the correct time, but it ultimately was inedible. The succulents, I'm happy to report, are thriving. Maybe it's their placement on a well-lit window sill, or maybe it's the fact that for the first time in a decade I can control the temperature in my dwelling and therefore aren't living in an igloo five months out of the year, but my five little succulents grew into six after a successful propagation, and at least four of them are due for a serious repotting sometime soon.

So was it worth it? YES. I grew to love saying "good morning" as I watered them each day, and what became a ritual of going outside a few times a day provided an unexpected comfort and joy within me. Also, watching something grow from nothing into something is simply pretty cool. I'm almost certain I'll be in this same apartment next summer (not always a given in my freelance lifestyle) and I'll definitely be instituting Balcony Garden 2.0, but focusing more on herbs than vegetables. Growing tomatoes was fun, but one handful of cherry tomatoes in September doesn't actually help me out in any true culinary sense. The herbs, on the other hand, were so quick to grow (and grow, and grow) that I was able to begin incorporating them into my cooking by early June, and being able to walk the fifteen feet from my kitchen to my balcony to grab fresh herbs whenever I wanted was one of the highlights of my summer.

What's this I see? Is it - could it be - yes, I think it is. I believe my little black thumb is turning green ;)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Iceland pt. 1/The Golden Circle

Even though TLC specifically told us not to, J and I spent a large portion of our Iceland vacation driving around in search of waterfalls. And I'm sorry, T-Boz, but we had a TON of fun doing so. We had a total of five full days in the country (arriving very late on a Monday and leaving early the following Sunday), and opted to rent a car for the last three days. We originally went back and forth about renting a car (would it be worth it, a good use of our time and money, etc.), but in the end decided to go for it. Renting a car was a fantastic decision. It gave us the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted without the stress of having to keep up with a tour group, it allowed us to see all the top sights of western and southern Iceland on our own time and schedule, and it was really just a ton of fun to drive around a foreign country. Overnight parking was not a problem (there were metered spots right in front of our flat, and because we were gone for most of the daytimes we ended up spending about $2 USD - total - in parking), and navigating our way through the country was a cinch (note: we did opt for the GPS, which might have not been an absolute necessity as the signs on Icelandic roads are large and clear, but it did give us a sense of security that was most welcome). While there are a handful of different car rental companies in Iceland, we went with Route 1 Car Rental - and I cannot recommend them enough. The car was clean and well-kept, they drove the car directly to our door and spent about a half an hour instructing us on road rules and laws (be sure to factor that into your itinerary if you do chose to rent a car), and when we decided that we wanted to switch vehicles after the first day (we started with a Jeep that was really fun to drive but had an uncomfortably shaky steering wheel) they arrived at our door with a new car the next morning, for no extra charge.

Stop #1 - Geysir
The three stops on what is commonly called the Golden Circle are admittedly touristy - but since we had come to Iceland to see the sights, there was no chance we were going to miss anything on this popular route. We had herd that most tour companies start out by driving north on the circle (to Thingvellir first), so in an attempt to miss the crowds, we headed south on Route 1, straight for Geysir. About an hour and a half from downtown Reykjavik and well-marked with signage almost the entire way, the area of Geysir is exactly what it's name promises - a good, old-fashioned, sulfur-smelling, hot-water-spouting, hole in the ground geyser. Honestly, it was ultimately a bit underwhelming. Maybe the geyser was having an off-day, but when it did blow it's top about 10 minutes after we'd arrived, it was a little anti-climactic. But it was cool to wander around the grounds while steam billowed out from random points, and hey, all the attractions on the Golden Circle are free. Parking is free. Admittance is free. There are no road tolls. There are no "maintenance" fees. So stopping at Geysir was kind of a no-brainer.

Stop #2 - Gullfoss Waterfall
Just down the road from Geysir is the Gullfoss Waterfall. You guys - this one's awesome. Granted, I don't have a lot of waterfall experience to compare it to - I've never seen another major waterfall other than Niagara Falls, so maybe a more seasoned "falls" viewer wouldn't be so in awe, but I practically had to be dragged away from this site. Photographers, take note: it is misty out there. I luckily had the foresight to put my DSLR in a plastic baggie (with a hole cut out for the lens), but what I should have done was get a hood in addition to the baggie. I had to trash a lot of photos due to water droplets on the lens, and then eventually just started leaving the big camera in the car and using my iPhone to take waterfall pictures. You can get a cheap hood for under $10, and I'm kicking myself that I didn't get one for the trip. It was a rookie mistake - don't make the same one!

It was in the early afternoon when we arrived at Gullfoss, and by this point in our journey the bread, cheese, and granola bars we'd packed in the car just weren't cutting it anymore, so we stopped for a quick bite at the cafeteria attached to the Gullfoss Visitor's Center. Cold and wet from wandering around the waterfall, we each ordered a bowl of the lamb soup. It. Was. Wonderful. And there were free refills. I repeat: free refills on the warm and nourishing lamb soup at the Gullfoss Visitor's Center cafeteria. Get thee there.

Stop #3 - Thingvellir National Park
After the wow-factor of Gullfoss, the quiet beauty of Thinvellir was the perfect final stop of our Golden Circle tour. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and an area of historical Icelandic significance, this park has beautiful sweeping vistas that for the first time, gave me a true sense of the diverse (and frankly, almost bi-polar) landscape that Iceland has to offer. I have this personal joke that no matter where I go, the landscape remind me of Wisconsin. But the midwest was the farthest thing from my mind on this trip - the geography of Iceland was unlike any other place I've ever visited, and I had to pull myself away from every lookout and hilltop we set foot on.

If you go:
The Golden Circle is an easy one day's drive to/from downtown Reykjavik. We got on the road around 10:30am and headed south on Route 1, first hitting Geysir, then Gullfoss, and finally Thingvellir National Park before arriving back in Reykjavik around 6:00pm. There aren't many rest stops on the road other than the gift shops and cafeterias at each of the tourist destinations, so we made sure to pack the car with some snacks and plenty of water purchased at a Reykjavik grocery store the day before. Since gas stations are equally as sparse we made extra sure to leave Reykjavik with a full tank of gas; the whole trip used up less than the full tank.

Thinking of trying an Airbnb rental on your next vacation? Use this link to get $25 off your first stay!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

weekend link love 08

*The last thing I need in life is more office supplies OR another subscription service, but that doesn't prevent me from wanting every single thing from this beautiful paper goods store.

*Trying to find your life's purpose? Ask yourself these questions.

*Sometimes small things make a huge difference. I bought this pinky ring and this iPhone case just to change things up a bit, and they look awesome!!

*So there's this website that live-streams the traffic camera that's focused on Abbey Road (yeah, that one). It's bizarre. It's utterly captivating. I can't stop watching it.

*As you prepare for a fall season of cooking and baking, it's vital you know the difference between a yam and a sweet potato. I sure didn't.

*For no reason other than I felt like it, I recently reread A Wrinkle in Time. Loved it as a child, loved it as an adult.

*And because we can't have enough retail therapy in our lives, I'm crushing on these blue spectacles.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Butternut pear soup

So there was this one time when I worked really, really, really hard on a very big project for a good long while and when it was over, I jumped in a car and headed upstate with friends in search of All Things Fall. The resulting day was one of near-perfection. We drove through a countryside blazing with color. We took a hayride through an apple orchard. We ate corn on the cob straight from the grill and apple cider donuts that were fresh out of the deep fryer. We went horseback riding, picked fresh flowers from a field, heard not one but two different live bands, and drank mulled wine in a treehouse as I suffered what might be the biggest loss in the history of the (card) game of Hearts. And knowing that no iconic autumn day would be complete without a souvenir, we purchased fresh fruit and veggies from a farm stand.

The next day, I took those same fruits and veggies, chopped them up, roasted them, and turned the whole thing into a hearty fall soup. Admittedly, there's not a whole lot that's special about this soup. I'm not the first person to add pears to butternut squash, or to use a whole bunch of cinnamon, curry powder, and fresh ginger, or to omit any sort of dairy so that the bowl of goodness is actually good for you. But when I eat a spoonful of this soup, I don't taste just any old squash or any old pears - I taste the hours of hard work that it takes to successfully run a small farm. I taste the local soil, knowing that my food came from just a few hours away. I taste the same sun and rain that fell on my own balcony garden. I may be waxing a little too locavore poetic, but I just can't help it - something about making an actual farm-to-table meal stirs something within me. I may be over-exaggerating just a little, but this soup is really, really good.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 3 ripe pears, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- approx. 1/4" fresh ginger, diced
- Olive oil - 1 tbsp + 2 tbsp
- Spices to taste: salt and pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, curry powder

- Large knife
- Cookie sheet
- Oven, stove
8-quart dutch oven*
Immersion blender*

How to
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. On a cookie sheet, evenly lay out the cubed butternut squash and (whole) cloves of garlic, and coat with salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Roast the squash and garlic in the oven for 30 minutes.

Heat the remaining oil in the dutch oven. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until the onions are golden brown. Add the pears, roasted squash, vegetable stock, and spices, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer on low for 15-20 minutes (the longer you simmer, the more robust the flavors will be). Using your immersion blender, carefully blend all the ingredients until creamy. Do take caution though! Hot liquid may splash out of the pot, which is never fun. If you find your soup is too thick, add more vegetable stock (1/2 cup at a time) until you've reached your desired constancy. Stirring occasionally, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, then remove from heat and ladle into a bowl.

*Affiliate link

Monday, October 6, 2014

52 photos/weeks 37-40

37.) A long and stressful week that ended with a 5k run with my girlfriends - it was a push to the finish line (both literally and figuratively), but the feeling of accomplishment was unparalleled.
38.) We went to Iceland for an entire week. Many (many) posts will be dedicated to this subject when my life returns to a more normal level of activity (remember when I didn't have anything to do but garden and knit?!), but for now, the view I had from the back of an Icelandic horse. Pure magic.
39.) Reflecting on a Sunday afternoon outing to the Whitney to see the Jeff Koons exhibit before it closed (didja catch the pun?! sorrynotsorry).
40.) A trip to an upstate apple orchard/pumpkin patch on a beautiful crisp fall afternoon was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered.

52 photos is my personal challenge to take one awesome picture per week in 2014. All photos were taken by me on either my iPhone 5s or Cannon EOS Rebel T3i (my "big girl" camera). If edited, I use Snapseed, Instagram, or Adobe Lightroom. Follow me - @maspad - to see these and many more pics!