Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rockin' bobbin'

Long ago, in a high school English class (I fully promise to quit with the high school memories after this one), we read the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair and watched the Shelly Duvall short film to complete the educational experience. The main thing I remember getting out of it was that most Jazz Age women were apparently bitches, and that Shelly Duvall's Bernice really did look better in a bob no matter how much she was ostracized for it. I'm happy to live in a time (and particularly in this city) where short of shaving my head and dying my scalp orange, my choice of haircut would never warrant a second look.

Get this woman a bob! Or the very least a more flattering dye job and less harsh bangs.

At any rate, the point of this is that last night I got my hair cut shorter than it's been since I was a kid (and had the awkward "But what if I'm mistaken for a boy!!" cut). I'm trying a new experiment where I cut costs by trying to go six months between haircuts, so I left off the usual directive I give at the salon to not cut it so short that I can't pull it back when I go running. I mean really, how often do I actually go running? The only downside with waiting 6 months for a cut, is how bad your hair looks. It's a little shorter than I'd like right now, but I'm hopeful this will get me through until March without getting too bushy and/or gross. Curly hair is pretty forgiving though, so I see no reason why this shouldn't work.

Day 1 of...180. That's also the gestation period of a baboon.

Lest you think this blog is growing into a self-involved forum for me to talk endlessly about my hair growth, I want to assure you that the primary purpose of this post is actually to laud a fine local business right here in Astoria: Gigi Salon. It's an Aveda salon that costs slightly more than I would usually pay for a haircut (hence the 6-month hair plan), but it's definitely worth it. I started going to them a couple of years ago based solely on the fact that they were five doors down from my apartment at the time. That I've continued to be a loyal customer even after I moved an additional 6 blocks away clearly says something about their skill and customer service. I'm really bad with names and get haircuts so seldom that I never actually remember who cuts my hair, so I always get a new person. But everyone there seems pretty competent because I always come out with a pretty decent cut. Well done, Gigi Salon, you get an Astorian Dream salute! It's a new thing, so it doesn't really mean anything yet, but treasure this accolade nevertheless.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What stupid thing did I do this weekend

When I was in high school, I took a tech theater class to fulfill an art requirement that was taught by a very funny first-year teacher named Mr. Ballew. One of Mr. Ballew's greatest sources of humor was his clumsiness, and every Monday morning's class was begun with a segment called "What Stupid Thing Did Mr. Ballew Do This Weekend." These ranged from burning his mouth with a fork that was resting on a hot plate of fajitas at a Mexican restaurant to cutting his finger open on a shaving razor laying face up on a bathroom counter. One of my favorites was one I was witness to when Mr. Ballew was one of the chaperones on a school sponsored trip to an academic competition in Austin. Not a half hour after we arrived at our hotel, I ran into Mr. Ballew wandering around looking for a hotel employee because in those 30 minutes he had managed to not only run a bath, but somehow lock himself out while the water was running.

At any rate, I thought of this high school vignette because this weekend I did something kind of stupid. I will blame this particular idiocy on dehydration (which is in and of itself a stupid thing to do). A few weeks ago, I signed up for a monthly pass to a bikram yoga studio in Astoria. Ever since I've been trying to fit in as many yoga classes as possible because once this expires yoga studio membership is yet again out of my budget. Anyway, bikram yoga is a form of hot yoga meaning you sweat profusely during the hour and a half class. They recommend very conscious hydration before and after. I'm excellent at pre-class hydration and generally spend the day before a class assiduously drinking liters of water. However, the class was from 10-11:30 and I'd promised to meet friends in Brooklyn for the Dumbo Arts Festival at 2:00, so I had just enough time to run home and shower before heading out and post-class rehydration was completely neglected.

Thanks to the joys of weekend subway transit, I arrived in Dumbo at exactly 2:00 at a train stop that should have been about a five minute walk to my ultimate destination. My sense of direction is pretty bad at the best of times, but add to it a slight loopiness from lack of water, and I took off in the complete wrong direction. This wouldn't in itself be that bad except that my final destination was a park directly below the Brooklyn Bridge which is a pretty hard to miss landmark. Every so often I would figure out my path of choice was not getting me closer to my destination, so I would turn and go in a different direction that felt correct. Eventually, after I was about a half hour late meeting my friends, they started trying to guide me by phone. That inevitably failed when I couldn't really distinguish between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges (for those not familiar with New York: these bridges look very different, and are unlikely to be confused with each other under normal circumstances). At this point, I got some water from a hot dog cart and sat and consumed all of it before continuing on my quest. All told, I walked about a mile out of my way.

I made it to the arts festival an hour late and sadly missed the friend of friend's dance troop I'd originally been going to see. That said, the festival was fun with a number of performances, exhibitions, and open galleries. More importantly, a kind-hearted friend with a car gave me a ride home, so I didn't even have to attempt to find my way back to the subway station. The moral of this post then is to never underrate the importance of hydration, write down directions if you fail at this basic human skill, and to always remember if you're warned that a sizzling plate of fajitas is hot, the fork resting on it probably is too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Further gluttony

I'm still coming down from the aforementioned gluttony of last weekend, but no Astorian blogger (albeit a fair weather one) could overlook mentioning that it is presently Queens Restaurant Week. In fact, "Queens Restaurant Week" is kind of a misnomer because the event runs all of this week and all of next week--excluding the weekend in between. You can check out all the participating restaurants here. You will note, those of you who live in Queens and actually clicked on the link, that there are quite a number of them right here in Astoria.

Last week I had made a solemn vow to eat nothing but vegetables for seven days and seven nights in homage to those farm share veggies I let rot while gallivanting around New York's eateries with my parents. Rest in peace, gentle heirloom tomatoes. At any rate, I gave that up when a friend invited me to an art event that happened to be at a Croatian restaurant on the Queen's Restaurant Week list. The event was pretty crowded though, so we decided to down our free cocktail and duck out to eat somewhere where we didn't have to shout at each other. Unfortunately, all the other Restaurant Week restaurants were far from where we were. We were quickly deterred from walking farther for the joys of paying $35 for a three course tasting menu and ended up at a non-Restaurant-Week-restaurant actually right around my apartment called Sugar Freak.

I've been meaning to try this place since it opened up a few months back. It advertises traditional Cajun and Southern food from Louisiana, and I generally find it's hard to go wrong there. I tried the Prohibition lemonade (vodka + hibiscus tea + elderflower + (I assume) lemonade) and the fried chicken which was very tasty. My friend had a muffuletta or rather half a muffuletta that still looked like it could squash many lesser sandwiches. She was less impressed with hers citing a previous muffuletta made for her by hand by a friend from Louisana made with bread she had personally shipped in for the project. It's hard to compete with that, Sugar Freak. We both enjoyed the decor of the place, which looked very much like the below picture:

An actual promotional photo of Sugar Freak!

So basically what you've learned from the preceding post is that I will gladly forgo eating vegetables in favor of fried things even if it is not in the interest of saving money through Queen's Restaurant Week. However, I recommend all of you living in Queens County to support your local restaurants in the next couple of weeks. I would join you, but I'll be at home dicing sunchokes. Or, what the hell, I will join you!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gluttony in September

This past weekend (plus a couple of days) my parents were in town which means that instead of updating this blog I was engaging in the equally important tasks of strolling through museums, attending Broadway musical productions (Anything Goes very much recommended!), and digesting rich, French foods. Taxing times, naturally, but as their only daughter on the East Coast these are the crosses I have to bare. I just turned in the first of two books today and am feeling a little light on language, so this post will mostly be photos of our trip, which were mostly taken by my dad (which should come as no great surprise to readers, who may wonder if I still even own a camera).

Our first stop of the trip was naturally the Met. And no matter how many photos you take of yourself on the steps of the Met, there is always room for one more. I think this is a more flattering photo than some of my previous Met steps poses, but I'm not so vain as to subject my readers to the entire series (as least not yet), so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Second only to Met steps photos are Met roof photos. I swapped parents in this one so that my father could make one of his rare appearances in family photos. Every so often, we like proof that he comes places with us.

Continuing the theme of photos of us on top of things, here we are at Top of the Rock, one of the few New York tourist attractions that I had never done.

For some reason, I always thought Top of the Rock would be lame and not worth the money, but it was gorgeous up there. Of course, going on a perfect, blue-sky day didn't hurt matters.

Those of you regular readers may remember my post on the exhibit of miniatures at the Museum of Design (a post that I am currently too lazy to look up the link for). I had sold it so highly that my parents wanted to go too, and I was happy to go back with a camera that is not predominantly a cell phone.
One of our weekend days was spent in Brooklyn and so we spent the morning at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. We took this picture with this cool brush sculpture thing. I realized I'd actually taken a similar picture when I was at the BBG a few months ago and was evening wearing the same shoes. Those of you who are friends with me on Google+ might even know the photo I mean! Unrelated, is anyone actually on Google+?

To counteract the Brooklyn day, we also spent one day in Queens (they were sadly not in town long enough for us to complete the five borough tour with days spent in the Bronx and Staten Island respectively). We drove out to the Unisphere, built for the World's Fair in 1964. Men in Black fans will note another familiar landmark from the fair to the right of the Unisphere.

You can't really see what this photo is of, but I think that's what I like about it. This photo is of the Panorama at the Queen's Museum of Art. It's a scale model of all five boroughs of New York City. Photos don't really do it justice anyway though, so I prefer this one that brings me to mind of an impressionist painting.

The best parts of the trip I didn't really get photos of (or rather my dad didn't). Those were the quiet times working the morning crossword or strolling around talking. Also, the food. We ate very well and at such nice places that it seemed gauche to try to photograph the dishes. Just as a quick recap, we enjoyed: Brooklyn bagels (weirdly, it's the name of an Astoria-exclusive chain), Belgium comfort food, a fabulous three-course meal at Le Bernadin, dinner at an Italian restaurant where the list of specials is a 20 minute recitation (Astorians: you really should try Trattoria L'incontro if you haven't already), brunch at Bareburger, and dinner at a New Zealand restaurant in Park Slope. You don't often get to enjoy traditional New Zealand fair, but it's quite tasty.

Thanks for coming to visit me, parents! And for continuing to read this blog post even though you experienced all of it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Checking into the McKitterick

Last night, I went to see Sleep No More at the McKitterick Hotel in far west Chelsea. The McKitterick is actually a warehouse transformed into a six-story labyrinth designed to look like 1920s hotel. It is the setting of the play, which is a loose retelling of Macbeth. Rather than sitting in the audience, you experience the play by wandering throughout the seemingly endless rooms each brimming with details--things to examine and drawers to rummage through. Periodically you may encounter some of the actors. You can choose to follow certain characters or just wander on your own.

When you first arrive at the theater/hotel/warehouse you are welcomed through to the front desk to check in, where they hand you a playing card. Afterwards you head immediately into a dark maze that involves feeling along the walls to find your way. This experience is handsomely rewarded when you enter the hotel bar--a 1920s lounge populated by unique characters. It very much reminded me of the bar and party scenes in The Shining. Actually, a lot of this experience reminded me of The Shining. Aside from being much darker and having more prudent carpeting choices, there were definitely elements of the Overlook in the McKitterick.

At the bar, my boyfriend and I realized we had different playing cards and also that the number on the cards was what dictated when you were allowed entrance into the rest of the hotel. We assumed it was an oversight, and I went ahead and snuck in with his group. They gave us masks that all audience members had to wear to keep themselves apart from the actors. Naturally they made them as creepy and reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut as possible:

That's right--we were allowed to keep the masks! Doesn't it instantly up the creepy factor of my otherwise non-descript apartment?

It soon became apparent that trying to split people off from the groups they came with was not an oversight but an intention. I think they wanted to encourage people to explore the hotel alone. The 20 of us in our card group were piled into an elevator and the elevator operator went up a floor and told everyone to get out. The guy closest to the door followed the instruction and right after he got out, the elevator operator closed the door and kept going. He dropped groups of people off at all different floors.

As I exited the elevator and I and the other masked people dispersed, it was very dark and took me a minute to get my bearings. At first it seemed like a haunted house, full of masked silent ghouls (like any theater audience, silence was enforced). There were graveyards and hallways and rooms each with their own macabre details. One floor was a sanatarium with padded rooms and, for some reason, lots of taxadermied birds everywhere. My first encounter with actors was when Lady Macbeth (one of the few characters I was really able to identify) came in, took all her clothes off and took a bath. There was certainly a very voyeuristic quality to Sleep No More as the audience can get very close to the characters and scenes. At some points the actors even touch you to push you out of their way. The scene where Lady Macbeth seduces Lord Macbeth into the murder plot took on a totally different feel when several score of masked figures stood over the pair silently in judgement. Another element of the play was that the audience could look for clues to solve the mystery by reading letters or appointment books we found or by opening chests or looking in drawers.

The actors rarely spoke and when they did it was usually not intelligble. Instead the play was presented more as a Lynchian dumb show with the action communicated through dance. The actors were clearly very talented modern dancers. There was also a fascinating soundtrack that filled the halls of the hotel and grew to crescendos when an important event was about to happen. I'll be honest and say that I didn't really follow the play that much. I'm pretty familiar with Macbeth (having both read it and seen it preformed) and still had no idea what was happening in most of the scenes I came across. The only people I recognized were Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and (I think) the three witches, who were in this case two women and a man. I also gave up on looking for clues at some point and just enjoyed poking around for its own sake.

In the end, I feel like Sleep No More is less of a play and more of a theater experience. It is also a very fascinating and enjoyable one--different from any other play I have seen. The McKitterick closes its doors in November, so go see it while you can.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Summer of the squash

Since joining an Astorian farm share, I've delighted in exploring the great biodiversity that I didn't know occurs in upstate New York from garlic scapes to fava beans and husk cherries (which, as I just learned, as not cherries at all, but rather tiny tomatillos). However, in addition to the diverse, new things I get each week, there are some things that just keep coming in abundance. For the last month or so, I've received several pounds of zucchini in my allotment. I was going back over the emails from the farm share, and I think since the season started I've probably received around 20 pounds of zucchini or other summer squash.

A bounty of squash should be taken as a gift, and naturally, that's how I looked at it for the first few weeks. It's great roasted in the oven or sauteed on the stove, and even better grilled at such times as I find myself near a bbq. Soon I had to get more creative though because the quantity of squash coming my way was too much to enjoy. I started hiding it in things like corn bread and brownies. When that still didn't quell the tsunami of squash, I started frying mass quantities of it. I'm actually kind of disgusted at the quantity of olive oil I've gone through after frying so much zucchini over the last month.

This veritable zucchini banquet includes a garlic zucchini soup, zucchini fritters, and a nice slice of zucchini bread for dessert.

One of my favorite things to do with zucchini is to thinly slice it and then saute it in garlic and olive oil, and then serve it with tomato sauce like pasta. I realize this is not a particularly nice photo, but I wanted to post it so that I can say I made the tomato sauce using farm share tomatoes. Yep. I did that.

Anyway, I thought if some of my readers are also trying to eat seasonal and finding the winding down of summer squash (as it transitions into the inevitable march of autumn squash) abundant, you might appreciate some of the following recipes:

Best zucchini fritters I have ever made. These are the appetizer in the zucchini banquet pictured above.

For those of you who prefer your olive oil saturated zucchini the traditional Italian restaurant way, this is a good one for fried zucchini.

Of the two separate zucchini brownie recipes I have tried, this was definitely the superior one. They're just so moist! And not at all tasting of zucchini!

Of the two separate zucchini bread recipes I tried, this one is far better. Also, the more nuts you add, the better off you will be.

I can't say enough positive things about this zucchini garlic soup. Then again, I put a minimum of 4 cloves of garlic in almost everything I make, so this is not surprising.

I think the summer squash season is finally winding down as we only got 3 pounds (!) this week, but that still leaves me plenty to work with. If any readers have some great squash recipes, feel free to send them my way!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day weekend, as seen entirely through promotional photos

Another year, another Labor Day, am I right, readers? I enjoy the four-day-weekend (at my company I had Friday off as well), but I find it a little bittersweet as it signifies the end of summer Fridays. Thanks to having today off and some shrewd personal day taking I won't have to face the dreaded five-day-week until late September, but I already don't like where this is headed. On the plus side, Labor Day also heralds the coming of autumn which is my favorite season in New York. (I'd say it was my favorite season anywhere, but I grew up in a place without seasons, so I don't have that much of a frame of reference.) Autumn means the joys of baking, pumpkin everywhere, apple picking, cardigans, and not having to pay to run the AC all the time.

But enough about fall. I spent the last weekend of summer relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. I feel like this weekend was a repayment for last weekend's rain and being forced indoors. Per the usual, I didn't bring a camera along for any of my relaxing, but instead of I'm going to google the places I went and see what images best replicate my experiences. My new photo blogging philosophy is best summed up as: why bother to take photos if someone with a better camera and a degree in design probably already did?

Cool Haus is an awesome ice cream sandwich place that apparently has locations in New York, Austin, and LA. The New York location is right by the temporary roller rink under the Highline, but I think this place is the real draw. You can pick both your cookie and ice cream. The sandwich at the top of the second column probably best approximates my choices which were (for those playing along at home), cookie: oatmeal raisin, ice cream: balsamic date and mascapone. I also tried my friend's sandwich (which was most like the bottom entry of the center column seen above). She had strawberry ice cream with the cookie of the day which, on this particular day, was potato chip.

It's weird choosing a promotional photo for this one, since the new section of the Highline park has now been open a month or two. But this really it has it ended up looking, other than the people and grass being a little less animated. It was such a lovely day that for the first time ever I walked from one end of the Highline all the way to the other.

This photo diverges from my experience sitting on the grass in Hudson River Park in the following ways: 1) When I was there, it was closer to sunset, 2) He doesn't appear in this picture, but when my friend and I were there, there was some sort of kite whisperer--this old man who gave kites to all the children in the park. He made a pretty impressive display with kites and streamers. It's a very zen-like activity, kite flying. Even more zen-like is just laying on the grass and watching other people fly them and not having to worry about accidently getting entangled with some novice's tacky cow kite.

I sincerely doubt this is the actual make and model of my boyfriend's parent's grill, but I am quite certain the food we (er, I contributed by chopping vegetables) made was just as tasty as this appears. Also, we didn't waste our time with chicken wings.

Okay, so this one isn't really a promotional photo. But the only photo I could find advertising the annual 30th Ave Street Fair in Astoria (!) was a thumbnail. It's like they don't even want to promote it. At any rate, I didn't really intend to go to this so much as it was in my direct path to the grocery store. I consider it a personal triumph that I passed 3 mozzarepas stands and 2 funnel cake booths and still came out unscathed. (By "unscathed," I mean I only purchased kettle corn which is about the only fair food one can eat without hours later being reduced to a quivering pile of powdered sugar and regret.)

The rest of the weekend was either spent working on my books (for which no promotional photos yet exist, although I was sorely tempted to make a cover mock up for the Jimmy Wales bio using this image) or enjoying an excellent dinner in Brooklyn with friends (promotional photos really should exist for my friend's fantastic lasagna). I suppose not all experiences can be so easily marketed. At any rate, I hope you all had very happy Labor Day weekends and are looking forward to fall as I am!