Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lament for thunder

I find that the strangest things make me homesick. Right now, I really miss the storms in Atlanta. Back home, the summer months meant really explosive storms. You could feel them coming hours before they arrived. The entire atmosphere would change: it would become degrees cooler, the humidity would rise and then drop dramatically and the ground would begin to reverberate with the rumbling of distant thunder. The storms back home shook the entire city, they made daylight turn to night and made night light up with the fireworks of electric energy. The thunder would come long before the onslaught of rain; and when the rain did come, it soaked the earth wholly. As soon as it started, though, it would be over.

New York lacks the excitement of big storms. When I wake up in the morning I can feel the rain coming. It sits over Manhattan heavy and humid. It promises me that this time it will rain hard enough that I won't be able to see and the earth will become saturated. It promises flashes of lightning and soul-shattering thunder. But it lies and I am left disappointed with the distant soft growl of thunder and rain that isn't even sufficient to satiate my plants.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My weekend in food

After having procrastinated on making the trip across town to the Westside Market all week, the bf and I finally boarded the M116 on Friday and went shopping. This is the one thing I feel deprived of in my neighborhood. We have a million little produce stands which provide a steady stream of avacados, onions and tomatoes and our big grocery store is good for buying all the necessities: milk, bread, cat food. But if we ever want any type of specialty food or some really good produce we have to trek from the East River to the Hudson to go to one of the good markets near Columbia University.

Ahh, the Westside market, how I love thee. Upon exiting the bus I begin to salivate in an ever-so Pavlovian manner knowing what awaits. The produce that sits in pyramids in front of the entrance beckons to me, begging me to sample. And the strawberries and peaches are so fragrant in the sunshine that I can't resist a little taste. I weave my way through the isles, testing ripeness and munching on free samples along the way (and free samples are abundant so I never worry about coming hungry). I always leave, paying probably a bit too much, completely satisfied with my bounty of delicious goodies. This weekend's menu: Tomato and goat cheese tart (my mom's recipe), falafel, lasagna (which actually ended up being eggplant lasagna, the result of buying all the fixin's for lasagna and realizing you have no noodles) and Sunday morning pancakes.

For a moment this weekend, the humidity and heat subsided just long enough for me, the bf and the dog to emerge from our apartment, blink into the bright sunlight, and head down to Central Park for some much needed Vitamin D. I soaked up some sun and watched a pitiful game of softball between two ragtag teams of news anchors and staff while the dog and bf wore themselves out playing fetch and tag.

Sunday was filled with glorious storms that soaked the earth and left lovely wisps of clouds in their wake. When the skies finally cleared and the cool of the evening began to set in, we strolled down the river and over the foot-bridge to Ward's Island and picked some fresh lavender and thyme. Deciding something fresh and sweet was in order we made our way home. Here's what I came up with:

Fresh cherries and ricotta tart
1 1/2 cup halved and pitted fresh cherries
3/4 cup ricotta
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey
6 sheets phyllo dough (although you can also use puff pastry)
3 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350. Mix together thoroughly the ricotta, honey and vanilla. Layer the sheets of phyllo dough one on top of another, brushing each sheet first with butter. Fold the layered sheets in half and roll a small lip around the four edges and brush the lip with butter. Place the dough on an ungreased cookie sheet. Spread the ricotta mixture in an even layer over the dough, leaving the lip uncovered. Sprinkle the cherry halves evenly over the ricotta. Bake for about 25 minutes until the dough is puffy and golden.

It was delicious! And fairly healthy as far as desserts go. Now my aunt has just emailed me about icing filled cupcakes and I find myself dreaming up tonights dessert before I've even finished digesting breakfast (which happened to be leftover cherry ricotta tart, mmmm)!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Weekly realizations

Things I've learned this week:
  1. I must, must carry my water bottle with me at all times when it is 90+ degrees and 80% humidity.
  2. Two cupcakes does not equal a meal. A can of beets also does not equal a meal, no matter how delicious they are.
  3. Men will hit on me no matter how greasy and non-feminine I look, I must just accept it; getting angry just will never change the situation. (Although, I was particularly fond of this situation: "Hey baby, why don't you come home with me?" "Um. No." and kept walking... "Fine bitch! You look like a man anyway!" To which I turn around and reply: "Oh, so you're gay! In that case, bring it on asshole."
  4. I love insulting and calling into question men's sexuality. It never fails.
  5. I will never, ever find a job in this city, even after four interviews in a week. I need to be happy cleaning apartments for the meanwhile. Ugh.
  6. Never, ever take ads I find on Craigslist at face value. Bring boyfriend with me to all interviews, especially if I feel the slightest bit apprehensive.
  7. I sweat more than any other individual on the face of this planet.
  8. That's gross.
  9. I should not dumpster-dive after five hours of 50 cent PBRs. Vintage blue vinyl suitcases and leather jackets are only good finds if I am sober enough to actually carry them home.
  10. My mom also made a realization this week...I think I'll leave that out of the blogosphere, though. But I am really, really proud of her and I hope she sticks with it more than anything else in the whole wide world.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cupcakes to heal the soul

Sometimes a girl just needs a baked good. I think pastries and cakes are my one big vice...I don't consider coffee a vice though, its a necessity. So hungover from a night of tomfoolery in Williamsburg (50 cent PBRs are going to be the death of me!) it became apparent that the only thing to pull me out of my despair would be the sugary-sweet goodness of a vanilla cupcake. The bf, who used to make fun of me for my love of desserts of all forms, has become a firm supporter of my sweet tooth and is quick to encourage it.

Simplicity is sometimes best. These cupcakes remind me of a lighter and fluffier version of my mom's Christmas cookies. I honestly can't remember the recipe I started with to make these, but my usual baked-goods cookbook of choice is my moms 1975 Betty Crocker cookbook so I can assume they came from there. This recipe makes 12.

The Perfect Vanilla Cupcake
1 1/2 cup flour (I am southern and therefore swear by White Lilly Flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon + a pinch salt
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
5/8 cup milk (1/2 cup + a little extra, sorry for the weird fraction)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium mixing bowl sift flour, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt. In large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture until combined. Add in vanilla and beat till mixed through. Alternately, add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time (eyeball it) and beat till incorporated, followed by the milk. Once thoroughly mixed, divide batter into 12 cupcake tins lined with cupcake liners. Bake about 25 minutes until the cupcake springs back up after gently pressed.
Allow to cool and frost with favorite icing. I used a simple buttercream icing. MMM!

Saturday, July 19, 2008


With the heat wave in full swing, every New Yorker is trying to find any relief. The kids downstairs have popped open a fire hydrant and I am finding it hard to restrain myself from joining their frivolous dance in its spray. It seems that the heat was never this hot in Georgia, or maybe I just expected Georgia to be hot so it never seemed quite as oppressive. So in my attempt to stay cool this is how I intend to spend the rest of my afternoon and tomorrow.

When I was in college and lived in Florida, my friends and I would go to the market and get huge ripe watermelons. Always trying to find new ways to consume alcohol without being noticed, we used a recipe passed on to us from my dear friend Roxanne's mother. Coined "vodkamelon," its awfully simple and you can really tweek it to any taste, but here is my favorite:

1 large watermelon, cut in half lengthwise
1 bottle of fruit or vanilla flavored vodka, I always liked lemon vodka

-With a small paring knife cut slits in the meat of the watermelon.
-1 cup at a time, pour the vodka over the the watermelon until soaked in
-As the watermelon becomes full, the vodka will not soak in as quickly, when this happens put the watermelon in the refrigerator to let sit for at least an hour.
-Once it has sat pull it out of the refrigerator, add the remaining vodka (or as much as you like, I am something of a lush so I usually use a whole 20oz bottle).
-Wrap in plastic and put into the freeze until frozen through (about 4 hours)
-Slice and enjoy!

You don't have to freeze the watermelon, but I suggest doing so because it makes it easier to consume and also, on a day like today when it is 95 degrees out, it is lovely to have something ice cold.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Tablet of Tylenol and a Tonkinese

My parents live about two hours away, across the Pennsylvania border and well into the gently sloping hills of the Pocono mountains. Having my aging parents within a quick train ride away was a strong pull in my decision to move north. After having spent my adolescence watching my mother travel back and forth between Atlanta and Cleveland to care for her aging and oftentimes sickly parents and the endless amounts of grief it caused her, I felt much of my sanity could be maintained by just being near them. Near enough to get to them quickly in case of emergency; far enough away to maintain some autonomy.

But I can't deny the wonderful creature comforts that having my parents, especially my mom, close provides. I feel I am in college all over again. When Manhattan becomes too much I escape to their little sanctuary in the mountains and I revel in their centrally air-conditioned, cable TV, hot-water for hours home. I bring laundry home and forget about it in the dryer for hours only to find it magically folded and set on the stairs for me to carry up to my room. I once again have my mommy crutch, because she will always be there when I need her.

By Monday, as the bf and I approached two straight weeks of having house guests and as the temperature was rising, I could feel my blood pressure and temper rise with it. So before things became explosive, I ran away--over the river and through the woods, literally--to mama's house. I stretched my cramped city legs, breathed clean air into my exhaust filled lungs (and promptly coughed), gorged myself on treats that my father continues to buy much to the dismay of my mother who has chronically been dieting since 1995, and caught up on all the bad TV that I have been denied.

Thoroughly relaxed to the point of anxious boredom I deemed it necessary to return to my home in Harlem with my mother in tow. I arrived home to find my cat (my wonderful cat who has progressively made his way up the East Coast, from Florida to Georgia to New York, who has dealt with a million apartment changes, a hundred different roommates and their cats, and a handful of different boyfriends, and who, most of all, loved me unconditionally regardless of my flightiness) had blue lips and a blue tongue. He looked as though he had gotten into a blue-raspberry popsicle. As I panicked and quickly began Googling the potential causes for a blue cat, my mother immediately entered mommy-mode and started to list off non life-threatening causes for blueness to assuage my fears. After repeatedly finding blue cat=dead, I called the vet, herded Butters into the kitty carrier, hopped into my mom's car and rushed to the NYC Veterinary Specialists.

Twenty-four hours and twenty-four hundred dollars later, I brought my kitten home in his normal pink, not blue, state. According to the wonderful Dr. Davidson at NYC Vet, it is probable that Butters ingested some form of acetaminophen (Tylenol) while I was away. Thankfully, I was sufficiently bored and decided to come home and bring my mother along, otherwise my colorblind bf ("He really doesn't look blue to me. Are you sure its not just a shadow?") may have never noticed that my cat was discolored until well after he was dead. And thank god for mom who held the cat carrier on her lap in front of the car AC to try and get Butters air as I frantically navigated the streets of Manhattan trying to find the best way to get to 55th on the West Side and who never complained even as Butters lost consciousness and control of his bowels.

We aren't completely out of the woods yet. He is breathing again but the vet is worried that his liver could still fail if he was, in fact, poisoned and if it wasn't acetaminophen toxicity then it is likely to be some form of heart disease. I can only hope that it was the acetaminophen. I survived all of college without ever having debt, I didn't even own a credit card, and now, in the span of 24 hours, in order to save my kitten from imminent death, I find myself worried about how exactly I will be paying August's rent. If this is anything worse than poison then I have resolved to let Butters live the rest of his days at home and as comfortably as possible, but without further medical procedures.

Oh, and aside all the drama and anxiety, I learned something from the NYC vet specialists: Butters is a Tonkinese. After five years of having everyone tell me that he looks a little off, perhaps like he has fetal alcohol syndrome, or maybe Down's (but kitty versions), I finally learn he is not a tabby, he is a special breed mix from the Indochina region that is characterized by very long legs, a triangular shaped head and wide-set eyes. Now, when someone comments on his appearance ("Oh he looks a little like an alien", "I think he looks like a praying mantis") I will swiftly and proudly reply, "He is a Tonkinese, and the best Tonkinese in the whole world at that."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mixed blessings in misfortune

On May 9, 2008 I packed up a U-Haul truck and my former Ford Explorer (don't hate!) with all my belongings, my cat and my boyfriend and began the 900 mile drive from Atlanta to New York. A short pit-stop in Pennsylvania, a million cups of coffee and three sedatives (for the cat) later, we arrived in East Harlem and at our new apartment.

Why did we make this move? Well, it started last autumn as a fleeting thought of broader horizons, new beginnings, another adventure. By March we were scanning the apartments on Craigslist on a daily basis, ever increasing our price range as we realized Atlanta prices were just unrealistic. Come April we landed at Newark airport, crashed on a friend's futon in Williamsburg and set out hunting. As luck would have it we were unable to find a single apartment for the first three days of hunting. On the verge of admitting defeat, we packed our bags and ready to head to the airport, decided to check the postings one last time.

And then we saw it, the apartment that seemed too good to be true: 8 big windows with views of the East River and a gorgeous old church, roof access, 1 bedroom, office, dining room, kitchen with cabinets galore, and a comfy sized living room. Still skeptical, "there's gotta be something wrong with it at that price," we set off from Williamsburg and took the 6 way uptown and emerged in El Barrio. It was just that perfect and we signed the papers on the spot and headed back to Atlanta completely satisfied.

Our living arrangements now taken care of, I began furiously applying for jobs. New York is the hub for organizations in my field, so I assumed it would perhaps take me 2-3 months to find a job. Its now July 11th and I am still unemployed. And while my savings are quickly drying up (after next months rent I will officially be broke), I am thrilled to have an extended vacation, the likes of which I have not had since the summer before I started university.

After having worked near 70 hours a week on average for the past few years (between school, internships, and waiting tables) I didn't know how to not have anything to do. I am still struggling with this but am learning to revel in sitting in the sunshine on my roof and reading for pleasure. For the first few weeks though, I kept myself busy--I painted the kitchen and the bedroom, I arranged and rearranged furniture, I matted and framed photographs of the family and friends I left behind in Atlanta. Meanwhile, the bf set his heart on finding a German Shepard to adopt and after much searching, brought home a beautiful puppy.

Quickly realizing I had no idea how to care for a puppy I feverishly googled everything from teething to potty training to diet. By experience we learned we needed to take her out every hour on the hour and within 15 minutes of feeding her and that puppy teeth are super sharp and when the first heat wave of the summer happened and our apartment was consistently 85 degrees we learned that puppies can't regulate their temperature well and we invested in an air conditioner. So we learned and we ran up and down our four flights of stairs 12 times a day to take her out to "be a good dog."

Finally, after much nagging, I got the bf to schedule a vet appointment for puppy and kitty checkups. At the vet, we learned even more 1) never trust breeders who give their own shots and claim that they have dewormed the animal--Elliott had a wicked case of roundworms which accounted for her unusually small size and 2) our neighborhood is chock full of parvo and other puppy diseases that are fatal. So the pup got a new dose of deworming medicine and we were forbidden from taking her outside till her vaccination series is complete. Ugh!

So now all the training we had done teaching Ell to go outside had to be erased and we had to teach her it was okay to go inside. Fortunately this news couldn't have come at a better time: that evening, my partner in crime, while moving a bookshelf at my request, had a 30lb dumbbell roll off the shelf and land directly on his foot, virtually turning his 5th tarsal into mashed potatoes. At least with the dog peeing inside on puppy pads this meant I wouldn't have to be the only one to run up and down the stairs with her on an hourly basis.

And now we are to today. The bf is out of the permanent cast and is in a walking boot, which he elects to wear only on occasion, the puppy has her last set of shots tomorrow and we will be able to take her out again, we have adopted the bf's older, wayward brother for the time being till he returns to his leatherfooting ways, and as for me... I am still unemployed and aside from the occasional panic attacks when I realize I am about to have to settle for waiting tables again, I am loving every minute of being a new New Yorker. Another Atlanta peach in the Big Apple.