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. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Much Ado

On Friday, I was excited to win tickets in the virtual line for Shakespeare in the Park. I was less excited when I realized it was 100% chance of rain around show time. Still, since it's rare to win tickets, I figured I would persevere. Along with flash flood warnings being texted to me by the weather service, the walk to the theater through Central Park seemed more and more ominous.
This is what it looks like shortly before the sky opens up.
 After some power walking, I made it to the theater just in time to grab my tickets. I turned around and the pouring rain had started. Since it was the type of downpour that an umbrella wouldn't really stand up against, and since I was in the middle of the park, I chose to stay under the relative comfort of the overhang of the Public Theater. There were beers and food for sale, so it was a reasonably comfortable place to hole up for a few hours. I figured Sam would join once the rain stopped, but he ended up forging his way into the park as well.

The poor people in the stand-by line. They were eventually told to come under the overhang as well. And the good news is, they all got in. In fact, the theater was half empty.
 The show ended up starting about an hour late, but I was impressed the theater never called it off. We were seated while it was still raining, and since we weren't allowed to have umbrellas open during the show (for obvious reasons), and we weren't willing to shell out $15 for garbage sack ponchos, at first we planned to leave at intermission. However, luckily it stopped a few minutes later. And true to Shakespeare in the Park form it was a wonderful performance of Much Ado About Nothing.

You can't take pictures in the theater, so I'm punctuating this post with images from sculpture art in parks. You'll note it was lovely every other day this weekend. This was Saturday in Socrates Sculpture Park. This one's cooler in person. 
The play starred Shakespeare in the Park regulars Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater as Beatrice and Benedick. They were both exceptional, per the usual. There was also a guy from Game of Thrones, although I suspect none of my readership watches that show.  The staging was a bit more straightforward in setting than some of the more experimental productions The Public Theater has done in the past. The stage was transformed into the town of Messina with a lovely Italian villa and little garden and orchard. This was actually my first time to see this play performed, although I remember reading it in college. It doesn't quite top Twelfth Night in terms of my favorites, but I will say it grew in my esteem. It was also fun to hear the quote we'd chosen for one of The Bard's Cards read in its appropriate context.

Socrates Sculpture Park. Can you spy Sam?
 Shakespeare in the Park is one of the New York traditions that I appreciate the most. Combining good theater with being outside and making it free? It doesn't get much better. I feel like some of my favorite theater experiences have been in the Delacorte. Admittedly, some are better than others (I thought last year's musical version of Love's Labour's Lost was a swing and a miss), but I always walk out of the theater with such a wonderful feeling. The leisurely walk across the park at night to get back to the train, along with the throng of other theater goers is all part of the experience. So I guess what I'm saying is: there's a reason I'm willing to walk through a huge park in an approaching thunderstorm or pay $8 for a hot dog while crouching up against a building for two hours. And while I sometimes complain about how much things cost here and other drawbacks that come from living in this city, I do appreciate all the experiences I have here.

Madison Square Park on Sunday. Not my favorite of their sculpture series, but still kind of interesting looking.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A little Italy

Sorry for the short interlude, readers! As most of you know, Sam and I are just back from a trip to Italy. A first time visit for both of us. We went for a wedding of a couple of wonderful friends, but enjoyed a week of touristing beforehand. If you don't want to hear my whole trip breakdown, you can skip to the pictures: here. If you don't want to look at 300 pictures, then you can see the shortcut highlights below. So many options! Well, really just the two.

Our first stop was in Rome. After a long plane ride and a stop in the Lisbon airport, during which my eye developed some sort of condition that made it both hypersensitive to light and impossible to wear contacts, we arrived in Rome and made it to our studio apartment. It was extremely tiny and over a loud bar, but also very well located. Our first day in Rome was something of a blur, in part from jetlag and in part because I legitimately couldn't see that well. I also looked like a tool wearing glasses with sunglasses over them. Nevertheless we made a pretty good dent in the city. Rome, as it turns out, is very walkable. We wandered the Colosseum, the Forum, and then made a long loop through winding streets and random ruins to the Pantheon. After a quick walk-by of the Trevi Fountain, we headed home to sleep.

Me and the Colosseum. You can't tell but I'm probably wearing two sets of glasses here. 
The second day, after a quick trip to a pharmacy (turns out Roman pharmacists all speak English and are perfectly willing to diagnose eye problems even if they still can't give you over the counter antibiotics), we did the Vatican museums. We met up with our friend Sara and after confusedly walking  about the entire length of Vatican City, we eventually found the correct entrance for our tickets. All in all, I have to say, the Sistine Chapel is very nice, but there are some equally lovely ceilings elsewhere in that place that aren't nearly as crowded.  After, the museums, we went to what was perhaps my favorite meal of the trip. Sara had a friend who was living in Rome and recommended the place. I honestly think it photographs better than any of the treasures of the Vatican. 

I had a faro fettuccine with pesto and zucchini blossoms. Sara (food on right) had a sort of eggplant cheese stack, and Sam (not really visible) had a delicious orichette with broccoli.  
After Rome, we headed to Florence. I think this might have been my favorite of the cities on our trip. It was even more walkable than Rome, and all the twisting streets were so beautiful. Plus there was just so much art. Not just the museums and plazas with statues, but random paintings on alleyways and wonderful galleries. I took a shine to a painting in a gallery by our apartment, but alas it was 1500 Euros. Slightly above my current art acquisition budget. There were also lovely gardens. I would recommend the Bobli Gardens to anyone looking to spend a lovely afternoon in Florence, walking the maze of shrubs and enjoying wonderful views of the city. If I had one negative thing to say about Florence, it would be the number of mosquitos. Although interestingly most of them seemed to be concentrated just in our apartment. Never open your window at dusk in Florence! This is the sage wisdom I offer to other travelers.
A cool piece of public art by the Ponte Vecchio
A Florentine street.
In Florence, we went to the Uffizi Gallery, best known for containing masterpieces like Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi. There were also scads of other wonderful paintings and sculptures. We spent a couple of hours there and saw a good chunk of the offerings. Many beautiful works, but after a while your mind starts to glaze over and all the Virgin Mary's and depictions of the massacre of the innocents (question: why was mass baby murder such a favored painting subject?) all start to look the same. One thing I will say for the Uffizi Gallery is that it's the first art museum that I've noticed was equipped to help the visually impaired. Do blind people go to art museums? I never really thought about it, but I guess I could be wrong in assuming they don't.  In addition to having braille descriptions of the paintings, for the Birth of Venus, they actually had a full tactile representation of the painting, so you could feel what it looked like. I guess if I were blind, I would appreciate the effort, but since they only did that for the one painting, I'm not sure what I would do in the of the giant gallery. If they truly want to be progressive, they should let people feel the sculptures too.
A Florentine sunset
After Florence, we were off to Venice. We had just one afternoon in Venice, so we spent it mostly wandering around and getting lost in the labyrinthine streets. Which I guess is fair to see what we did in Rome and Florence as well, but in Venice it was a little different. Getting lost didn't really feel like being lost because we weren't really trying to get anywhere. We just wandered until we got tired, at which point we would sit and have a gelato or a coffee or a wine, depending on the time of day.

Selfie from the top of St. Mark's Basilica 
A bit of Basilica
Something about Venice sort of felt like a theme park to me at times. Perhaps it was the lack of cars or the signs directing you to attractions on every corner. That said, it is a beautiful city. We didn't feel the need to do much museum going because the streets and canals themselves are like art.
A Venetian sunset
Our final stop on the trip was in fact the original reason for the trip: two friends were getting married in a small resort town on the Adriatic, Sirolo. We had been looking forward to this for the whole trip, and it did not disappoint. The location of the wedding was beautiful, and it was fun to see some friends and to meet new ones. The reception was at the hotel where we stayed, a former monastery in the middle of a nature preserve on a mountain overlooking the ocean. Not too shabby.

View from the hotel on Monte Conner
The night before the wedding was my new favorite Italian tradition (now that I know about it): the wedding serenade. The night before the wedding, the groom has to go to the bride's window (in this case it was her cousin's hotel room, that looked out over a cute courtyard, but we were all willing to pretend). He yells at her window to come down and when she doesn't, he has to sing until she opens the window. The groom, who is not Italian and is in fact from Michigan, learned the song or at least read the lyrics off an iphone and was accompanied by a guitarist. The gyst of the song as far as I could tell was "come to the window, my love." After a couple of verses, when the bride was satisfied by the display of affection, she opened the window and threw down a rose. That was the signal that he could come up to the room and they make a show of kissing in the window. It was all very cute. My friend Sara got a video of it which I will have to share (if the groom will allow...). No image really since it was so dark, but the audio is still cute.
Snazzy for the wedding.
The wedding itself was wonderful. It was so nice to see two of the most kind-hearted people I know, so happy. There was also nigh unlimited food and beverage, which didn't hurt. We were at the wedding or reception for a total of about 12 hours. It started with a cocktail hour with a huge spread, followed up a four course lunch, then cake and fruit, and ended late into the night with limoncello.  In Italy, they don't half-ass weddings.
My favorite picture from the wedding. 

All in all it was a wonderful trip. It's hard adjusting to the indignity of drip coffee and no afternoon gelato breaks, but admittedly it is nice to see Dinah again and generally to be home.  Now I just have to get started planning my next vacation.

Not a bad place to visit.