New York – no place like it.

You can’t do everything you want to in New York in three days. I tried. Twice. I came back overwhelmed and exhausted. So, I’m still trying to figure out how to experience that crazy, beautiful, noisy, smelly, exciting city without knocking myself out.

The first time I went in 2011, I was part of a bus tour of women escaping families for a shopping/Broadway/sightseeing trip. I didn’t fit in, nor did I have money to spend on most of those activities. I broke free one day and experienced some moments that stayed with me and kept me hankering to go back. I was blown away by the architecture, the skyscrapers, the sheer number of people on the street at all times and fascinated that, in a city so engulfed by noise, it was still possible to experience quiet.

That solitary day, I started out at the 9/11 museum, where the only sound was muffled crying, me and every single other person. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral I stumbled into a all-black high school graduation ceremony and cried again at the sentiment the young valedictorian expressed while thanking the women in his life for keeping him in school. I lit a candle for my mother because I’d been walking around New York for two days thinking of how much she adored the city when she visited as a still single woman before my dad and five children complicated her life.

I then moved on to the Algonquin Hotel, a must-experience for a writer since it’s the birth-place of the New Yorker and the second home to most of its writers. (also figures prominently in Mad Men) I sat enjoying a beer (cheapest thing on the drinks menu) when the couple beside me, in town from Philadelphia celebrating their anniversary, invited me to join them and generously bought me a couple of drinks. It was magical and, I thought, could only happen in New York – or at least, it was the kind of thing you can experience when travelling alone and feeling free of the everyday stress of home and the shackles of at-home identity.

This trip was a bit different and for some reason I felt myself even more overwhelmed by the city. Perhaps, having been there once, I felt I was more prepared for its offer. Wrong. I doubt it’s a city you can judge in one or two experiences… or a million.

Here, a list of my impressions this time around:

  • I haven’t flown in 3 years and it’s not my fave thing to do. I’m edgy about it, but my excitement to be in NYC trumps the nerves. Plus, my pal is distracting me with chatter, at my request. I barely remember taking off or landing. It’s a short flight – less than an hour in the air. I’m curious about the islands we’re passing over just before landing. Must look them up.
  • We’re in NYC! Though my trip this time is more street level than bus level and less tourist, more traveller, every once in awhile you just have to say, “I’m in New York!”
  • The city is so mythical to me in so many ways – all those films, TV shows and books set in New York that live in the imagination – walking around feels out of this world, at first.
  • Chelsea is a cute area, the best part of which is Cafe Grumpy on 20th, in between 7th and 8th. A good independent shop, great coffee and just about the best almond croissant I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of them! Our hotel, not so much. Note to self for next time: stay out of the noise, you’ll need it as a nightly refuge.
  • Chelsea art galleries are delightful. We happened upon an art
    Hippies, 2013

    Hippies, 2013

    class while looking at the fascinating Lisa Yuskavage exhibit in the David Zwirner gallery. What luck! The instructor was a wealth of knowledge putting the pieces we were looking at in feminist and artistic context and good thing because I’m not hugely art articulate.

  • The Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of Moving Image is
    1960s secretary's desk

    1960s secretary’s desk

    fabulous – I appreciated the program before, but so much more after seeing the painstaking, intricate detail Matthew Weiner & Co. took to make sure it was as authentic to the time as possible. If you’re a fan of the show, go see it! (it’s on until June 14) I never saw this series as a period piece since all the props, costumes, etc were part of my childhood experience. Walking into Don and Betty’s Ossining, NY kitchen was like stepping into my mother’s kitchen. (No photos allowed, heavily guarded, but I snuck a pic of the secretary’s desk.)

  • Is there anything more NYC than the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, founded by Tony Bennett? It’s across from the Museum of Moving Image in Queens. A prof chatted to us about how students don’t know how to spell or write, but they can sing and play, I guess. Just when I was thinking this, a young man belted out a song on the sidewalk.
  • Getting around on the subway is a challenge for a person from a city with two defined routes and a poor sense of direction. I figure it would take me at least 3-5 years of living in New York before I understood how to get around by transit. Thankfully, New Yorkers are friendly and obliging to two lost souls.
  • The Rockwood Music Hall is a wonderful venue to see music. Small, comfortable and with great sound. A fellow called Andrew Ripp is a talented up and comer, originally from outside Chicago but lives in Nashville.
  • Greenpoint, Brooklyn – the Polish district – feels a lot like home in Roncesvalles. A young stylist named Stephanie gave me a great haircut and told me about  Ovenly – a cute bakery
    ovenly

    Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery

    where I bought their recipe book because, unlike so many I have in my collection, this one has some unique baking tips, plus rare but welcome process photos. This only has to do with New York in the sense that the bakery is situated there and the baked goods were delicious – quality ingredients, expertly executed. And the joint was hoppin’.

  • Who knew you could take a NY Ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan. We did and it was great! (brought Vancouver to mind, a cross between Seabus and Granville Island Ferry). Why can’t Toronto transport some of its commuters by ferry? For that matter, why do we only have two (and a half) subway lines?
  • Central Park is always an oasis, even on a crowded Saturday.
    me and Zach Rance, from BB16

    me and Zach Rance, from BB16

    Down time in New York from our whirlwind New York mini-vacation. The perk for one Big Brother fan like myself is that my fave contestant from last year, Zach Rance, was in town from Florida and hanging out at Strawberry Fields talking to fans. In Toronto, I would never show up at such an event. In New York, why not?

  • My travel companion took me for an authentic Lower East Side experience at Katz’s Deli (which employs security people to make sure you don’t slip out without paying!) – then on to a comedy/music show at Fontana’s (a huge bar with a tiny performance space in the basement). My tiredness got the better of me on Night Two so I went home to the 8th St. hotel and attempted to drown out the relentless noise. (During a restless night before, I noted that people don’t stop partying at 8th and 30th – and probably everywhere else – until at least 4:30 am. Then, the city quiets down for at least a couple of hours, on the weekend at least.)
  • The outdoor 9/11 memorial  was not yet built on my last visit. My pal and I reminisce about the horrific event on the way there, but we know our impressions are nothing compared to what New Yorkers went through that day. The waterfall and pool, with names of those who lost their lives is a fitting and remarkable tribute. After my visit to the museum last time I knew I couldn’t do it again. Too unbearably sad.
  • The only reason to walk into Macy’s is to experience the wooden escalator, a relic from, if not the original store, one of the early incarnations. I put off going to New York for years because I mistakenly thought I had to have a boatload of money to even step one foot on a NYC sidewalk. I’m not much of a shopper anyway, but on both my trips I never felt the need to spend money in stores. There’s seriously too much else to do! Having said that, I did splurge on a pair of coral Birkenstocks – which saved my feet and legs on this trip.
  • Stopped into Grand Central to meet up with my friend and
    Grand Central Terminal, Information Booth and Clock

    Grand Central Terminal, Information Booth and Clock

    didn’t realize until I got home that I can never spend enough time in that great hall of antiquity, a feat of architecture and design (and didn’t that day). If ever there was a time to shout out, “I’m in New York!” it’s surely when standing at the information desk in the middle of the atrium, the scene of so many, many films.

  • Bryant Park is delightful, from it’s food kiosks to its Reading Room, and ping pong tables. Another (needed) respite from busy NYC – truly, I could’ve sat there all day long. But.. place to go, things to see…
  • The Highline – what a great idea that is! Take an unused elevated train track and turn it into a green space with
    The Highline, NYC

    The Highline, NYC

    spectacular city views and an excuse for a simply lovely stroll. Chelsea Market, a spot I wish I’d discovered on day one. A relaxing dinner with two good friends in New York, then off to see Lucy Wainwright Roche, one of myriad number of musical Wainwrights and Roches. First, the Highline Ballroom is a special venue with, again, great sound. Then, talent galore and even more when Loudon Wainwright III got up to sing. Only in New York, where the family hails from and lives.

  • How’s this for a crazy NY moment: walking home from the Highline Ballroom, I ran into an old colleague/friend from Vancouver (who now lives in Toronto) whom I haven’t seen since before I left that city in 2006. Crazy.

Now that I’ve been to New York twice, I’ll probably keep visiting, if only in an attempt to get it right – which for me means balancing all it has to offer with my need to take all things slow and savoury in life and in travel. Still, I think I can sum up the experiences I’ve had there like this:

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years…  Tom Wolfe

Apple of my eye

Making apple pie can be a daunting task when you had a mother who was famous for hers. Nevertheless, having finally learned the trick to making a successful crust (it’s all about cold butter), I ventured into my first apple pie try.

apple pie

fresh out of the oven

Leaving aside that it doesn’t look as pretty as it could because I haven’t finessed the art of the crimple to make the edges pretty – it tastes pretty good.

As a kid, I never ate my mom’s pie. I didn’t like the texture of the cooked apples, or the taste. Maybe I thought it was too sweet – apples don’t really need sugar. I much preferred her lemon meringue or, even  better, chocolate pie.

And, as with many of her recipes, I never took the time to learn from her, other than the basics you need as a kid.  Now that I’m using her 1970s Kitchen Aid, and since I’ve been working part-time as a professional baker, it seems important to channel mom’s baking expertise and revisit the family favorites.

By the way, I have a proper baking blog for my catering business on tumblr. Check it out.

Cupcake therapy

Among the many different ways I make one living, I also bake. I have a burgeoning cupcake business on the side and work part time making cookies in a local bakery.

Red Velvet Chocolate Ganache with cream cheese icing

Baking is cathartic, therapeutic and a good way to erase the brain of all negative and worrisome thoughts. Not only that, it helps me write. The way it works is, if I’m stuck on a lead to a story, or how to organize and structure my info in it, or just can’t quite get past the research phase into the writing one, I bake. I think it just gives my brain something organized yet still creative to work on so that when I approach the page again it’s clear and fresh.

It helps just now that I’ve begun using my mom’s old mixer, the one I learned to bake with as a child. But that’s a whole other post, coming soon.

The Vault: best of Herkind.com / Two Sisters Baking

(Originally published Dec 16, 2010)

I bake up a storm every Christmas – well, not just this time of the year, but now more than ever. In order to meet the demands of holiday parties – which is largely my own desire to share my treats – I’ve been baking in between working on journalism articles. It’s the perfect compliment to writing; when my brain tires of looking for the ideal way to shape a story, out comes the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla.

But there’s something else going on when I’m wielding the hand-mixer. It’s a comfort thing.

Baking conjures memories of  how my sister and I, out of sheer boredom on a Saturday night (and also because my parents didn’t allow many store-bought sweets) would bake up some cookies, or a cake – often inventing recipes. Sometimes to disastrous results, but other times surprisingly yummy!

Recently we got together to do some power baking; cookies and cupcakes for my birthday party, and for a family brunch; one savoury (Gatto Napolitano) – a brand new recipe for us, and one sweet (my mom’s famous chocolate cake that has become my sister’s specialty). She commented that we work well in the kitchen and it occurred to me later that whenever we bake we’re unwittingly reliving those Saturday nights when we were craving sugar and trying to kick the ennui.

(Cleaning up the mess was another story altogether – some of our best fights were while doing dishes. For starters, we disputed who was washing, who was drying. You get the picture!)

 

These days we have the internet to help us along, and it was Google we consulted when, after decorating our cupcakes with pretty little silver balls, we wondered if they were even edible. The so-called dragees (pronounced dra-jeys) are indeed edible since, apparently a human somehow consumes silver regularly and nowhere near the amount that would be considered toxic. I’d tell you that in exact milligrams but I’m not sure I finished the article: a) we were laughing too hard at the thought that it didn’t occur to us that we might be poisoning people with our food art, and b) being the alarmist that I am, I shut the computer down – no surprise to my sister, mind you! She well knows my quirky food worries. I seem to remember that the tiny decorative candies used to contain traces of mercury and so are still banned from some parts of the US. Not here in Canada though. Good thing!

Both our baking escapades were successful which bodes well for a future business we’re dreaming up that has to do with spongy little cakes with creamy frosting and loads of dragees!

Though I’ve been baking since childhood, I still consider myself an amateur and that’s where You Tube comes in handy. I watched a good two hours of decorating techniques the other night. It seems everyone and their sister has a video on how to create the perfect cupcake swirl. Which led to yet another purchase at The Mercantile today for cake decorating supplies, this time a piping kit with oversized nozzles. Without the videos I would never have known that’s what I need to make the quintessential ice cream cone cupcake swirl!

Gotta go now though, I have Christmas baking to do. Oh ya… and that story I need to finish in between frosting my cookies and sprinkling them with – yet another handy video tip – coloured sugar!