Monday, August 18, 2014

On leaving Astoria

I've been alternately both putting off this post and also mentally composing it for a couple of weeks now. It's sad to think that next weekend, after over six years in New York and most of it in this neighborhood, that I will no longer be an Astorian. Instead, Sam, Dinah, and I will be the newest in a flood of residents in Austin, Texas. I've had some wonderful times here. When people have asked me lately what I'll miss about New York and what I'd like to do in my last weeks here, I realized I don't have much of a New York bucket list to complete. This is, I suppose, because 1) I've done a lot here, and while there are still museums I've never gone to and New York icons I've avoided (here's looking at you, Times Square New Year's Eve), I don't feel like there's anything I've missed out on, 2) there isn't really time to do much other than pack, which I can safely say is on no one's list of must-do New York experiences, and 3) I will most definitely be back.

I figured I would pepper this post with photos of my first few months in New York. This was Thanksgiving, 2008. The same month Dinah joined me. 
I remember when I first moved to Astoria, with just a suitcase and a big box with tape handles. I moved into a basement sublet without a kitchen and worked temp jobs for a month in the World Financial Center (the last and only time I've ever worn a suit to work). I came here knowing only a handful of people, all friends of my sister. I tried a number of things to make friends from Meetups for glassblowing to adult casual league kickball, from which I mostly got a lopsided paperweight and a reminder of why I'm ill-suited for team sports. Over the years, I did eventually meet some amazing friends though. And thanks to the addition of one husband/business partner, I also have a pretty great family up here. I've additionally gained one slightly overweight cat and a fair amount of furniture. All of which is to say, it is both physically and emotionally a lot more difficult to leave this place than it was to arrive six years ago. Apparently, roots have been sneakily growing all this time, without my really noticing.

Luckily my athleticism didn't peak at 22. 
Another one from the fall of 2008, from the top of the Empire State Building. Luckily, this lady lives in Austin now, so we can hopefully find some tall things to take pictures on around there. 
Anyway, I'm not really sure what will become of this blog. I will definitely keep the same domain, even though it won't really make much sense. I might change the header at least to reflect our new Austin locale. I guess this is what I get for making a location specific blog, but I just can't imagine starting a new site at this point, since I've rather proud of this one's longevity. Plus, I like having all of my memories of my time here, nicely organized and chronologically catalogued. I'm not sure how much I'll be updating once I get to Austin because I'm aware that most of my readership is Texas-based, so my adventures there might be a bit less interesting. Nevertheless, for my own sake, I'd like to keep this thing going. So the point of this paragraph (in case you thought there wasn't one) is just to say, if you'd like to continue to see updates even though they will no longer be tinged with the glow of Astoria, let me know, and it will probably spur me to do it more. Otherwise, hope to see you in Austin!

Summer of 2008 on the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

I can still blog sometimes

It's been an unconscionable amount of time since my last update. Luckily, the good thing about having a small pool of readers that all know me is that you also know why I've been a bit too busy for the blogosphere lately.

I'm actually a little concerned about what will become of this blog once I no longer live in Astoria. I would like to keep updating it, if nothing else, than for my own record of events. I do find myself referencing it occasionally to try to pinpoint certain items on the timeline of my life in Astoria, and it's terribly helpful for that. That said, I suspect my adventures might not be quite as interesting (strictly from a blogging point of view, of course), so fair warning to readers for the future. Anyway, I will cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I just wanted to post some photos from my phone from the last month, since I haven't had the time to post about anything properly. Let the lazy blogging begin!

Pretty sunset from Socrates Sculpture Park. That sculpture you can sort of see with the reflective lines is really cool in person. 

Also at the sculpture park. Friends gather for Costco sized picnicking and a Senegalese movie. All of the the movies they show at this particular summer film festival are foreign, really good, and by-and-large depressing. This one was no exception. 

Some friends and I thought it would be a good idea to go on an East Village ice cream crawl. We went to three places and got ice cream (or gelato) at all of them. This was the last place, which is why we look sugar crazed and sort of wary of what should be an exciting summer treat. 

Maine wildflowers!

Obligatory Dinah shot. She was sitting on the edge of her chair because I'd thoughtlessly left a purse in the middle of it. 

The Shakespeare in the Park line for King Lear. You can't really tell how long it is, but it was pretty long. My friend and I were the last pair to get in. Excellent show! 

I took a shine to this little guy at the biennial for the Museum of Design. This was actually not my favorite thing there, but for some reason this is the only thing I took a picture of. 

I promise to update more substantively later as I do have some real news and whatnot.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

We escaped!

Last Friday, some friends and I did one of the "Escape the Room" games that have been cropping up in New York lately. For anyone who has ever played the Escape the Room computer games the premise should sound familiar: basically you're locked in a room and have to solve puzzles and clues to figure out how to get out. In the live action version, you have an hour on a big clock, and if you don't get out in the hour, then they just let you out to face your shame. There are also a bunch of different options in a Midtown and Downtown location. I found a number of friends willing to try it, but we ended up in a room with a maximum of 12 people, so there were a few strangers as well.

There are several different games from an office to an apartment to a Victorian mansion. Our room of choice (or rather necessity in terms of scheduling) was the Theater. I won't provide any spoilers lest anyone reading this wants to attempt the game sans cheating, but the gist is the twelve us were shut in a small theater with talking puppets. There were various locks that needed keys or combinations and once opened would provide tools or keys for the next obstacle. As you might imagine from the title of this post, we were successful in escaping. My contribution was pretty much nonexistent, however. Were I leading the team, we would probably still be in there.

I had a lot of fun, but my one quibble with the game was that there were a few too many people. With twelve, there was a lot of chaos. People were finding clues and riddles left and right, and most of the time I had no idea what was going on. Then again, that was possibly my own fault as I pretty much spent the whole time walking in circles and following one red herring doggedly for about 20 minutes. At the end, after we were successful, one of the games organizers walked us through the whole narrative that we had just done. I was amazed at all the things the team had accomplished while I was confusedly following along three steps behind. I was definitely glad for the post-game walk through, and if not for that, they probably could have locked me in there again and I would have no idea how to escape.

My poor escaping skills aside, I would do this again (were I but around for it). It was nice to do something a little different with a few of my favorite people.

Some proud escapees!
Totally unrelated to all of the above, but I must record for my own posterity: On Sunday night, my obsessive signing up for John Oliver tickets finally got me to a live taping of Last Week Tonight. Funny stuff. Also of note, former New York Times movie critic Elvis Mitchell was sitting in front of us. These are just a few of the things I'll miss about living in New York.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Harbor livin'

This past weekend and the first part of this week, I was in Maine enjoying some time with family and some cool coastal breezes far from the city. Our adorable harbor town of choice was Boothbay Harbor where my uncle and aunt have frequently gone in the summer (I don't think we're bourgeois enough to use "summer" as a verb). In fact, I was there as a kid once, although my only abiding memory is of petting a lobster to calm it before it was boiled for dinner. I guess I didn't get too attached. I do also remember seeing a photo of a little kid's train my grandparents apparently took me on. Twenty years later, the train is still there, although my sister and I had perhaps outgrown it. 

I know that many of my readers were on this very trip with me, but hopefully they will still appreciate the photos:

A family photo in front of the wildflowers at Stonewall Kitchen
On our drive up, we stopped in York, Maine as my uncle had recommended Stonewall Kitchen as a nice lunch spot. Stonewall Kitchen is the maker of a ton of jams and sauces, and most exciting they had their entire product line to sample. I made it a mission to try most things (excepting the chutneys), so I ended up not actually being able to eat much of my lunch. Nevertheless, if you're driving up through Maine, I highly recommend this stopover.  
The beauty of the Costal Maine Botanical Gardens
My aunt and uncle spoke highly of the Costal Maine Botanical Gardens (in fact, my aunt even appears in a photo from their official coffee table book!), and after going there, we could see why. Maine has an exceptional climate for flowers, but the gardens were also just really inventive. There was a wonderful children's garden and also a Five Senses Garden with elements to touch, smell, hear, see, and taste (well the taste was more theoretical, as they didn't really encourage eating anything).

Fairy house construction.
At the botanical gardens, there was also a 'Fairy House Village' with sticks and bark for building fairy houses. Some of our group partook. Others just watched and photographed the progress.

Some hardened sailors.
We chose our one very sunny day to go sailing. I had never been sailing before, and I'm not totally sure if what we did qualifies as we were not required to actually do anything other than not stand when the boom was occasionally coming across. There also wasn't a ton of wind so weren't going at too fast a clip. Still, it was a lot of fun to be out on the water and see a few of the islands in the area. And now I can cross sailing off the list of things I've never done. I still need to ride a motorcycle and try water skiing at some point though.

Our sailing captain. 
The town of Boothbay Harbor is quite cute and small enough that we quickly gained our bearings. There were plenty of fudge shops, galleries, and bookshops and one well placed popcorn shop with flavors like Coconut Curry and Bacon Chocolate. The per capita number of ice cream shops in Boothbay Harbor is also very high. Alas, we weren't there enough to try them all, but suffice is say, we didn't go hungry and were especially not wanting for sugar.

This adorable used book store seems to appropriately illustrate Boothbay.
 Naturally, in between fudge and ice cream gorging, we also managed to eat a few lobsters (or lobster rolls in my case, as I don't like the fuss involved).

Sam in his element. For the record, only one of those lobsters was his. 
 Now for some reason during the trip it became an important task to take photos of Sam with all of the bears we saw. It turns out there was a number of bears in Maine. The following is thus a selection of Sam and bear photos. Enjoy!
Sam and Smokey!
Sam at the botanical gardens
Sam at this great microbrewery in Boothbay. The bear is slightly less evident here, but he's back there.
That about wraps up our trip. It was a short one, but a truly lovely weekend with some wonderful hosts. I think I have some much clearer memories this time around. And if not, I'll at least have this blog post full of photos. 
'Til next time, Boothbay Harbor!

Monday, July 14, 2014


A weekend away can be so restorative, even if the "away" is actually still within the borough where we live. A friend organized a trip to the beach at Rockaway this past weekend, in part to celebrate the recent homecoming of another friend from Honduras. I always enjoy going to Rockaway as a day trip (it's a couple of hours on the subway though), but had never considered spending the night. Through the power of AirBnB, we got a lovely little surfer's paradise a block from the beach and with a charming backyard. It's amazing how much farther away Rockaway felt by the sheer act of spending a couple of nights there. But it also still lovely knowing on Sunday, we just had to hop a MTA bus back and enjoy a scenic drive through Queens to get home.

Beach friends!
There wasn't too much on our beach weekend agenda. Mostly making mojitos, cooking dinner (during the process of which, we may have set off the smoke alarm...but in our defense, who puts a smoke alarm right over the stove?), playing games, obsessively reapplying sunblock, listening to a 90s pop cover band that sounded suspiciously like Hootie and the Blowfish, and general merriment. We also eat a few tacos and arepas and watched the soccer game. It was exactly the sort of low key weekend that managed to feel longer than it was and yet still leave me refreshed and ready for Monday.

We tried to take pictures of the "super moon" but Sam's artsy picture of a streetlight came out better.

This is what breakfast at Rockaway Taco looks like. 

Me, taking all necessary sun precautions. 

A morning walk on the beach. 
Anyway now I'm back in town (or back in my proper part of Queens anyway), and it's cloudy and a bit rainy, but luckily it won't be so very long until my next summer getaway. Looking forward to it!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Things photographed

First off, I would be remiss in this post if I didn't first wish Sam a happy birthday! Secondly, sorry it's been a couple of weeks hiatus. In an effort to catch up without the actual effort of stringing events into a narrative (it may not look it, but I do put some effort into that sometimes), I'm going to do one of those ever-popular "photos from my phone" posts. Does this still count as blogging? More importantly: is it at all interesting? These are the hard questions I leave to you, my readers. As for me, I've got photo dumping to do: 

I like the miss en scene here, and it was the healthiest looking picture of food on my phone. 
To begin: Sam and I hosted a game night at our apartment last week, and it was far too hot to cook anything for people to nibble on, so instead I served guacamole (the avocados are unreal right now!) and summer rolls. I suppose I took the above picture of the ingredients for the summer rolls because I planned to share the recipe later. Obviously, that did not happen. But then again, who needs a recipe to make summer rolls?

Crossfit pride. Or rather gay pride + Crossfit.
 Last weekend was Pride, which I didn't remember until getting out of the subway in the West Village to go see a movie. At first I was confused by all the shirtless men walking around (although it was pretty hot), but once I saw a few rainbows and cowboy outfits, I got with the program. My final clue was when I actually ran into the parade itself. As luck would have it, Hells Kitchen Crossfit had a float, and it was going by right as I walked up. Our gym should clearly do this next year.

Rainbow Empire State!
This picture is kind of a wash because you can't tell what I was going for. The Empire State Building was lit up like a rainbow for Pride. It looked cool in person, anyway.

PS 1
This was taken from PS 1 the school turned modern art museum (off-shoot of the MOMA) in my neighborhood. Residents of Astoria get in for free, so I went with a friend on my day off. Every time I go I am reminded that it's not really my style of art, but that I do love the building. They always do a cool outside exhibition in the summer though. So, you know, I took a picture of it on my phone.

She finally won the window sill battle and made me get rid of that plant. 
No phone photo dump is complete without a picture of Dinah! She is the most photographed thing on my phone by far.
Grand piano in Washington Square Park
 After brunch yesterday, we went for a quick walk through Washington Square Park. The guy playing this piano was pretty good. So there's that.

Sam's patriotic birthday!
Although Sam's real birthday is today, we did some pre-celebrating over the weekend at his parent's house. That did mean there was some 4th of July crossover though, as this cake (really a tart/cheesecake) will attest. I have too many strawberries on hand to not decorate things like the American flag when the situation presents itself. Luckily, Sam's mom had a "happy birthday" cake decoration laying around, so there wasn't any confusion as to the cake's true purpose.

This little bench puppet was also in Washington Square Park
These are out of order, but this little guy seemed like a fitting way to end this post. Next time, I promise: more words, fewer pictures. Well unless you actually prefer more pictures and fewer words, in which case I really need to figure out how that Instagram thing really works #finallyunderstandtwitter.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good times with chickpeas

This weekend I enjoyed three long days of sunshine and not terribly humid weather. It was one of our summer Fridays at work, so I had off for a nice long solstice weekend. That said, while I enjoyed the lovely weather and exciting soccer matches at various locations--park, beer garden, friend's rooftop--I don't really have that much to say about it. Instead I wanted to post about something that's been sorely missing from my blog of late: food. I wanted to share something I've been making a lot because 1) it's easy, 2) My Cost-co membership means I now have tons of canned chickpeas, and 3) I'm trying to throw a few vegetarian meals in every week. 

I've often tried to replicate Indian food, but I'm usually not satisfied with the result. My attempts at chana masala have come the closest. Now fair warning: this is probably not at all authentic chana masala. I started out by reading recipes online (which themselves may or may not be authentic), but after a while, I realized I was just using them as a guide. The main thing I realized is you just need to put a ton of spices in there. I'm not sure which of them make it work, but even just estimating the measurements, I've yet to screw it up too badly. 

Stuff you will need. Feel free to soak your own dried chickpeas overnight if you are not a Costco shopper. 
1 onion
garlic (I put about six cloves in, but I put garlic in everything--scale down as needed)
1 jalepeno (this is where it probably starts to get inauthentic)
3 T oil (I've used coconut or regular vegetable, and both were fine)
2 cans chickpeas
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp minced ginger
1.5 T chana masala
1 T coriander
1 T cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric
salt to taste

Other than the rice you serve with it, this can be a one pot meal. Just dice up the onions, pepper, and garlic. Then heat the oil on medium high and cook them until soft. Add in the ginger, spices, chickpeas (drained and rinsed if using canned), and tomatoes. Add in 1/2 cup to 1 cup of water to help make a gravy. Turn down the heat to medium and cook stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. It should start to get a bit thicker. You can then use a fork to mash some of the chickpeas a little to thicken it.

Friends and family who follow my usual cooking projects will know how rare it is for me to make something in one pan. My loyal dish washer can also appreciate this one. 
Once you've mashed your chick peas to get the desired sauce thickness, you're ready to serve it over rice. So by the way, you should have been cooking rice throughout this process. I forgot to mention that. Naan would be delicious too, but that's another seemingly simple bit of Indian cuisine I have yet to master.

Not the most beautiful dinner, but it's tasty and reheats well. 
Do any of my readers have any good vegetarian meals to share? I find I can get in kind of a food rut and just making the same things over and over again. Costco has not helped to curb that tendency.