Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day merriment

Happy Memorial Day, readers of Living the Astorian Dream! I hope you're all enjoying this three-day weekend business as much as I am. As of the last three days, New York seems to have suddenly woken up and realized it's summer. The weather jumped from a week of rain and 60 to a weekend of non-stop 80+ degrees. There are some obvious downsides to this, for those of us who don't want to pay for air conditioning until we absolutely have to. The dirt and grime of the city, which I can mostly quietly coexist with the rest of the year, is much harder to ignore in the summer when it all just seems to stick to you. Also, it's much harder to get myself to go running in the morning knowing that 6 am is the only time I can go to the track without melting. I managed this feat yesterday morning and felt like a champ, but was amazed to discover how many people were already at the track when I got there. Astoria has some very dedicated fitness seekers, and I have to accept that I will never wake up before the guy who does endless lunges around the quarter mile track.

This weekend I'd considered, as I always do, going out of town. And, like I always do, came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the money or the headache. Well, I guess it isn't so much "coming to that conclusion" as it is forgetting to plan anything and ending up here, but I still always maintain it's worth it. Luckily, this year it seems that everyone I know was in town also. And they all had excellent plans for how to spend three glorious work-free days. I tried to take pictures of my weekend, as I always do, and was moderately more successful than usual.

The beach at Coney Island does not have swimming temperatures until August. This does not apply to small children, of course, who feel neither heat nor cold.

I feel like I should have been jumping in a carefree, day-at-the-beach manner here. Know that I was channeling my inner tampon commercial on the inside though.

One of the reasons I don't carry my camera and take pictures more often is that I inevitably can't walk past things without deciding that they would make an artistic composition if only I zoomed in enough.

Dinner in Astoria with friends. Mojave on Ditmars recommended both for their lovely garden as well as their delicious queso fundido. Also, Mojave is home to the "Punisher Challenge." If you drink a shot of their habanero-infused tequila and then don't drink or eat anything for 5 minutes afterwards, you get the shot for free. It doesn't really make sense to me either.

Another hazard of taking my camera places. I was sitting with a beer in a wicker chair and eating far too much hummus at my friend's BBQ (her Israeli roommate works for what is clearly the best kosher hummus and baba ganoush provider on the East Coast), and I started growing overly content with life and felt the need to capture the moment with what I was convinced were artsy photos of my friend's backyard. Another of my never-fail photo composition techniques is to just photograph whatever is directly above me.

Dinah wanted to be stored away with my winter and spring clothes. Summer sun dresses make far less cushy sleeping arrangements in the laundry basket than heavy sweaters.

The view from a friend's Memorial Day BBQ. It's times like these I remember I'm supposed to be coveting roof access.

All weekends should have three days.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just dance.

The truly faithful amongst my readership will remember the parade I Bollywood danced by through back in this blog's infancy. It's okay if you don't. At any rate, this annual event came around yet again this year, as annual events so often do.But this year I wasn't in it. I had considered joining the group that I performed the dance to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" with in last year's Halloween parade, but strangely every time they had a practice, I had something better to do. Sometimes it was a tin whistle class, other times my weekly bar trivia night, and many times it was just the fact that it's rained basically every day in the last three weeks of May and dancing in precipitation is not nearly as fun as Gene Kelly would have us believe.

However, while I was not up for the participation aspect, I certainly wanted to cheer on my former MJ stylin' brethren. Also, the day of the parade just happened to be the first time the sun had been out in six days, so it seemed a shame to stay indoors. But now it's back to raining, and so I'm back indoors and ready to share some photos from the day (none of which I took)!

These dancers had some of the best costumes and energy level in the parade. They made me want to be Bolivian in a way that few dance groups can.

There were a lot of kids in the parade who were incredibly enthusiastic about the experience (including a pair of 7-year-old salsa dancers who far surpass the salsa skill level I even aspire to), and then there were those who had clearly been dragged from their preferred childhood activities. Such as this little boy--the saddest little flag carrier in New York.

Pole dancing has become an acceptable fitness routine now, so why not be featured in the parade? I give this woman props for bravery both for hanging on a pole on top of a platform ridden by a bicycle through the streets as well as for having the guts to show quite so much of herself to parade spectators.

The official "Grand Marshal of the Dance Parade." I have no idea what she did to get this gig, but it seemed like a pretty easy job. She didn't even dance.

The unofficial Grand Marshal of the Dance Parade. I remember this guy from last year. You can't see it, but he has a decorated baby stroller he carries the dog in. Also, the bird on his head is a trained parrot, not a rogue pigeon.

Okay, that's one more Bolivian dancer for the road. They just make every photograph so effortlessly composed (and I can say that having supplied none of the effort in the composition of this photo).

You might have noticed there are no photos of Michael Jackson impersonators above. Alas, I was not the only Beat It dancer who had defected, and the practices were so sparsely attended that the group pulled out at the last second. I guess there are only so many times you can expect people to volunteer time to transform themselves into pop song gang members in a single calendar year. I hope everyone is back into fighting shape by Halloween though. I know I will be.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kick some masskrugstemmen

I've referred to my boyfriend on here many a time, but usually to laud his artistic achievements as both a gourd carver and table painter. While his artistic talents lend themselves nicely to blogging, as photos really do break up huge blocks of text quite nicely, I worry that this has overshadowed some of his other fine talents. This is my personal blog, so it's natural that it should generally focus on me, my fitness, and how sculpted my biceps look if I flex and photograph them in black and white, but the following story demonstrates that he probably has me beat in terms of feats of strength.

Last night, we went with a group of friends to the Bierhaus near Grand Central to celebrate a friend's birthday the right way: with 2-liter boots full of beer and waitresses in Bavarian dirndls. For those of us who thought 2-liters was an excessive quantity of beer to drink, out of a boot or otherwise, the Bierhaus also came through with a delicious platter of fresh pretzels and biercheese. The wursts weren't too shabby either. The night we were there, and I gather they do this most nights, they were holding a masskrugstemmen. Masskrugstemmen is an actual Bavarian competition that loosely translates to "the lifting of a liter mug of beer." At least that's what the American-German Club of the Palm Beaches says, and they've never given me any reason to doubt them as a source.

Assuming the translation is correct, it's a fairly accurate explanation for what the contest entails. Contestants have to hold a full beer stein out, without bending their arm, and the winner is the last person to have to drop their arm. Also, spilling is naturally not allowed. My boyfriend and another in our group thought it would be fun to face off against the 8 other strapping competitors. After all, there was no entry fee and even the losers got to keep the brew they competed with (and at $16 a liter by Bierhaus prices, that's not a bad freebie). Also, the winner stood to win their very own beer stein. How often to opportunities like this really come around?

Free beer or not, nothing about this contest looked fun at all. I would love to give you a play-by-play of the event, but really it doesn't lend itself to visuals. Also, I couldn't see over the heads of the people in front of me. I do know that the one girl who was playing was not the first one out, which made me proud of my gender. Suffice is to say, there was a lot of arm shaking in that 4 minutes. But in the end he triumphed--and is one beer stein richer for his labors! He's also apparently entered in the masskrugstemmen finals which will take place on Summer Stage in Central Park with a chance to win a trip for two to Germany. Naturally, as the supportive girlfriend (who has never been to Germany), I've offered to lend him Tony to aid his training.

A promotional picture taken by the Bierhaus (I took it from their facebook page). Sorry it's so tiny; it was taken by a Bierhaus waitress on her cell phone. Just as they did to commemorate victors in the masskrugstemmen contests of old.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Because who would want a "used" bear?

New York is a city where you can buy virtually anything. Well, provided you have unlimited resources, that is. Otherwise, you can pretty much just buy bread and the occasional two-bite, artisanal cupcake. But nevertheless, virtually everything is for sale, sometimes without even going into a store. I can buy raw fish from an open cooler from a guy squatting in front of the post office on 23rd St (it's vacuum-packed fish, but as we near summer temperatures, that doesn't make it okay). I can buy "previously-owned" teddy bears for a mere $3.50 (for small) or $5 (for large) from an old man by Union Square. Then again, as he was sitting nearish the newly erected Andy Warhol statue/soup can shrine, it's possibly some sort of avant-garde display rather than legitimate ratty stuffed bear marketing.

He's super shiny, so his fans can find him easily.

The cream of the crop, in terms of New York outdoor shopping, however, is the outdoor markets. Weirdly I had already made plans for my inaugural trip to the Brooklyn Flea Market (I've always heard good things, but getting over to Brooklyn on the weekends just isn't always feasible), when I saw this article in the Sunday Times. While, like most things in New York, the Brooklyn Flea is filled with a lot of fantastic things. And naturally, some of them are over-priced. Unfortunately, the day I chose to go, it was raining, and only a fraction of the vendors showed up. Can't say I blame them really, but it does mean I'll have to schedule another trip out there.

The focus of the Brooklyn Flea has slowly shifted to the food. In fact, there's talk of making a separate market exclusively for food. (This was in the article linked above, but I know some of you are probably also hoarding your 20 free article clicks per month, so I figure it couldn't hurt to summarize). One of the main reasons I agreed to travel to Brooklyn on a rainy Sunday was the promise of a lobster roll on the other end. Sadly, the lobster roll people were amongst the vendors not present. You could get organically made, artisanal cupcakes for only $1 a bite though, so perhaps I found my reason for getting on the L train on a weekend. Oh, also bacon & caramel popcorn.

Then again, I probably need to stay out of Brooklyn for a few weekends if I'm going to maintain my Astoria blog cred.

Friday, May 13, 2011

True, if slightly dull, confessions

The weeks seem much longer now that summer's coming. I just find it so much more of an imposition on my time to be in an office all day when the weather is lovely-like. I spent a good hour yesterday on lunch sitting in Madison Square Park basking in the sunshine.

My friends and I sat in the shade of this. It's an excellent place to observe people appreciating the artistic exhibition. And by "appreciate" I mean the singular reaction we saw was every few minutes a person would come up and touch the neck with their palm to see what it is composed of and then knock it with their fist to see if it was hollow. Humans, be they young or old, all have the same reactions to giant sculptural heads in public parks it seems.

The gorgeous weather has zapped me of all creative energy. (Yep, that's really the excuse I'm going with.) I had no ideas of things to write about today. At least not until my daily blog stalkings uncovered a previously unknown blogger convention of having periodic confessionals where the blogger reveals inane truths about themselves as a I writing exercise. I frequently feel the need to divulge minor failings of my character, but as I was raised without Catholic guilt, I've never had an appropriate outlet. Thus, today I'm purging myself of minor truths that may or may not qualify as actual confessions.

1) I enjoy hearing people lying on cell phones. When I hear someone telling someone they have to ring off because they're "about to enter a subway" when I can plainly see they're waiting in line at Shake Shack in no danger of losing reception, it makes me oddly happy. I feel like I'm somehow an accomplice of this stranger. That I know something about them that they keep from even their beloved cell phone contacts.

2) Although I'm in no way suicidal (and not trying to channel Christopher Walken), sometimes when I'm a passenger in a moving vehicle, I feel the urge to open the door and roll out into traffic. When this happens, I lock the car door so that I don't accidentally do it.

3) It says on my resume that I speak "social Afrikaans" when in reality I speak only enough Afrikaans to hit on someone. I can ask "Are you single?" (Is jy beskikbaar?) or tell someone they have a cute butt (Jou boukikes is ongelooflike), but beyond that my overall communication skills are lacking. I blame my Afrikaans teacher for this as her teaching style was to provide us with ways to get Afrikaans boyfriends and girlfriends as she insisted that was the best incentive to learn. I'm counting on it never coming up at a job interview. Or that the place I'm interviewing has a relaxed sexual harassment policy.

4) My month-to-month calendar is nearly always half a month behind. I usually only notice when I try to determine a specific date and then wonder when they moved President's Day to April.

That seems like enough hard-hitting honesty for today. I hope you all feel you know me a little better. It's nice to feel purged on this lovely Friday. Also, feel free to leave any small confessions of your own in the comments.

Monday, May 9, 2011

British food + American excess

Sticky toffee pudding is one of my favorite desserts. You seldom see it on the menu around here because so many American restaurants fail to see the virtue of heavy, date-based cakes sopped in cream. And yet somehow we celebrate the advent of the Oreo pizza. I just don't understand. But at any rate, I make sure to indulge in a nice sticky toffee pudding whenever I'm in any British Commonwealth nation. On my recent trip to England, I managed to eat one in every city I visited. Naturally, when I came across this recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding with Candied Bacon, I was thrilled to see that it was finally being embraced in a way that Americans can get behind. I also knew that I would have to make these treasures for myself.

This presented something of a problem. After all, I couldn't logically made a whole batch just for me. Well, I could, but I knew that would undo any positive toning acquired in three months of p90x training as all of my muscle cells would have no choice but to instantly turn to bacon grease. Luckily, my boyfriend and I had decided to have people over to show off our apartment this past weekend, providing us a captive audience of pudding eaters. I won't say which came first, the idea for the housewarming or the need to have an excuse to bake pork products into puddings. But you probably already know.

The only problem with this plan was that it wasn't really a sit down party, and everything else we were serving were proper casual party finger foods. I was not to be dissuaded though. We ended up buying plates (albeit plastic ones) expressly for the purpose of having a mid-party pudding feast. It completely clashed with all other food served (everything else was appropriately seasonal, fresh, and summery), and, weirdly, dessert was the only part of the food offerings that wasn't vegetarian. But I still maintain it was the perfect cap to the party.
These photos are from the blog that I found this recipe on, Gingerbread Bagels. I'm posting them because they're far better than any photos I took. In actuality, I took no photos. But they are, no doubt, far better than any photos I would have taken had I remembered to.

I'm not going to post the recipe, because you can no doubt follow the link I posted above if you are so inclined to indulge in some bacon sweets of your own. The only change I made is that I made the candied bacon by cooking it regularly on the stove, draining off the fat, and then caramelizing it (again on the stove) with some brown sugar. I think this was easier than doing the oven method recommended in the blog. That seems likely to lead to the brown sugar running off, burning onto the poorly chosen pan, and causing ones kitchen to be filled with smoke and the smell of burned sugar and charred bacon. Not that I speak from personal experience. But the stove-top method is easier to monitor if you're not aware of the foibles of your oven. And you won't have to worry about the tragedy of accidently ruining a half pound of bacon.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I don't want to spoil the party

So apparently as of May 1, my blog has existed for one year. I think the appropriate blogging response to one's blogiversary (a term I'm confident will be added to Merriam Webster shortly in the tradition of "mouse potato" and "google" as a verb), is to acknowledge it with some sort of fanfare. Unfortunately, I just now noticed. Hopefully, my readers won't mind a little slightly late celebratory blogging.

It's not a party until there's fire.

I've never been much for anniversaries in relationships (although perhaps this comes from being an unmarried person). While peers proudly celebrated their first month together or 6-month anniversary, I would always vaguely acknowledge "Oh him? Yeah, we've been dating for a couple of years." This came partly from never knowing how people really pinpointed their first date from all the other friendly hang-outs and partly from not really focusing on the passing of time. But while boyfriends have never been concerned with my lack of drawing attention to a date where the onus is apparently on them to buy flowers and make dinner reservations, I feel Astorian Dream would be sullied without formal recognition. After all, I consider it an accomplishment that I could maintain fairly regular bi-weekly posts for a whole year. Yes, it's true, said posts may have been of varying length and quality, and I might have borrowed from previous work from time to time, but the quantity of output, if nothing else, was consistent. So many of my writing projects fizzle out when I lose interest or get busy with other things, but with Astorian Dream I've persevered despite not having a real theme, flagging readership at times, and occasional instances when I'm writing just for the sake of posting something.

So now that I've established the need to celebrate, I'm not sure what form the festivities should take. I could recap this year in blogging I suppose, but that seems like those lame "flashback" episodes in sit-coms that no one really looks forward to. Plus, I just did it a few months ago. Instead, I'm just going to give you a few thoughts and reflections--truth sprinkles, if you will--on my year of blogging.

Celebrating. First Thanksgiving-style.

1) I can't figure out why I don't get any spam. I allow unmoderated comments from unregistered users, and yet I've never had to filter anything. I'm not complaining or anything; I'm just surprised. I can't write an email or log-in to facebook without seeing ads for everything from designer handbags to information on egg donation (the advertiser's have me pegged as a hip, fertile 20-something), so it seems curious that my blog is the only spam-free corner of the Internet. I like to think of it as the last frontier. I hope it stays that way another year.

2) When I first started blogging, I was more concerned with personal anonymity. In my last blog, I almost never posted photos of myself and always referred to people I referenced as "friend." I started off that way here too, but I've relaxed my standards a lot. I've mentioned people by name (or obliquely referenced them in thinly-veiled code) and posted dozens of photos of myself (even some less than attractive ones). Since the majority of my readers know me personally, anonymity seemed a little silly, and for those who don't know me personally, I don't think I've revealed anything that would benefit a proper identity thief. The only standard I've really maintained is that I try not to post pictures of other people without their permission. Except for Al Pacino, of course. His people never got back to me, but I assume he's cool with the exposure.

This photo succinctly expresses how I feel about blogging and celebrations.

3) Throughout this year, I've noticed that I tend to write more with my specific readers (the ones I know about anyway) in mind, instead of for myself. This makes sense in that if and when I want to write purely for myself, I don't publish it online. But it also means I place probably too much emphasis on the feedback I do or do not get. If a post doesn't get any comments, I sometimes feel like it was a failure, when in reality it might just be that I didn't leave much to comment on. I notice this is particularly true when I post about Astoria. I know that most of my readers don't really care about extremely localized news about my neighborhood, but my blog name compels me to keep throwing these things out there in the hopes of local readership.

4) Sometimes I wonder if James Franco ever googles himself and finds my blog. In my heart of hearts, I know he likely lacks the time.

5) In the last year, I've written 91 posts (an average of 7.6 per month). I've had about 9,000 pageviews (although I feel like about half of those are me), thanks to the handy "stats" feature I just now noticed blogger has. It also tells me that my most frequently read post is this one that I did last month on world travel. I assume it's because I filled it with images I got off the Internet, so a lot of people were led there by google image search. Nevertheless, I'll take what I can get. To that end, I've filled this post with completely random images I found by google image searching "celebration." The one below is my favorite.

So that about wraps up this toast to Astorian Dream's one year. May we have many more years together to come!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Springtime in photos

This weekend was the first weekend of the spring that hasn't been terrible. Weather-wise, that is. As such, I'm going to post pictures from my weekend of lovely weather despite the fact that it's now Tuesday. I meant to do it yesterday, but wouldn't you know, the weather was nice then too. It's actually lovely today also, but I'm making the sacrifice and posting pictures instead of basking in glorious, glorious sunshine. I can't guarantee thoughtful commentary on said pictures though. You might have to wait for winter for that. Or until it gets so hot that I prefer staying inside with air conditioning. Spring just isn't conducive to blogging.

On Saturday I went to the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. It was the perfect day for it. And like all festivals in New York on beautiful days it was insanely packed. Brooklynites are enthusiastic about their cherry blossoms.

Straight up was the only view of cherry blossoms I could get that didn't have hoards of people in the way.

So many people. So many cherry blossoms.

The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens has a number of non-cherry blossoms. I risked my life kneeling to get these shots. Crowds of flower-viewers don't stop for anyone. Then again, I may have tripped over a couple of kneeling nature photographers myself, so I fully sympathize.

After paying the $15 entrance fee and walking amongst the crowds for an hour or so and eating a slice of cherry pie, my friends decided the sunny day would be much less crowded if we just walked around the park for free.

That's what we did. Observe Prospect Park. Try to guess which curly-haired silhouette is me.

On Sunday, it was yet again nice (sometimes New York surprises me). This time I journeyed north on the train upstate to Breakneck Ridge. My friends and I didn't complete the full hike because it's 5 miles mostly uphill and we're whiners, but we did get some lovely views of the Hudson Valley along the way.
This is the only view I seem to have gotten. All of the others have people in front of them. And speaking for myself, hiking is not when I am at my most photogenic. For one thing, putting a backpack on inevitably causes me to hike my thumbs through the loops and jut my elbows out as I like to imagine mounties do. I call it my hiking stance, but it really shouldn't appear anywhere publicly.

That about wraps up my weekend of gorgeous weather. I hope to have at least one more of these before it becomes hot and humid and walking outside makes me feel sweaty and dirty. Not that that doesn't photograph well also.