Howling Winds

I love my weekend routine. On Saturday mornings, I wake up early and head to my favorite Upper West Side diner. After devouring the lumberjack breakfast (pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs), I walk off my calorie intake along the quintessentially Manhattan sidewalks.

After a quick commercial break (bathroom break at Columbus Circle), I take the B/D (subway) to West 4th. I love listening to the live piano player at Washington Square Park and then heading to the East Village for some cozy coffee house madness. In the grand tradition, of all things New York, the unpredictable blew in my direction.

As New York dropped to unseasonably low temperatures, it brought about a surprise. While preparing for a night out, I heard intense and romantically eerie winds. I ran to my window, as my concern grew to joy. “ Snow, it’s snowing,” I proclaimed happily. An unexpected snowstorm hit the city. Rather than hiding for cover, I ran down five flights of steps to enjoy the icy goodness.

I roamed around, as snow filled my pea coat to the brim. Like my coat, snow soon piled upon trash cans, cars and trees. It was more romantic than a Shakespearean sonnet. About thirty minutes later, the snow magically disappeared. Talk about cameo appearances. Later that night, New York froze to temperatures only polar bears and penguins would enjoy.

 

After attending a birthday party in Hell’s Kitchen, I maneuvered around the people traffic of Times Square and was determined to enjoy the city regardless of freezing temperatures. While the crowds slowly disappeared in the west 50’s, the sidewalks became increasingly empty.

At that moment, the city felt like my own private playground. The glittery lights of Midtown reflected against the store fronts of the Upper West Side. Something about New York in wintertime makes my sweet tooth go bananas. Therefore, I stopped by the diner for a carrot cake and decaf coffee. It was a very simple evening, but quite delightful.

The next day, howling icy winds dominated the sidewalks more intensely. My pea coat served as a shield, similar to a warrior in battle. However, I found the beauty in the incoming winter months. The parks were livened up with dead trees and colorful leaves. Ducks merrily swam and wandered Harlem’s hilly St. Nicholas Park.

On Fredrick Douglass Boulevard, the leaves were swept from the pavement. They circled around and danced to the beat of Mother Nature’s urban drum. It was an unexpectedly gorgeous sight. The icy temperatures persisted and even in the most intense winds, I found the charm in a wintry New York. After all, there’s nothing cozier than bundling up in winter fashion, admiring holiday lights and enjoying a hot coffee by a quiet park lake.

Ketchup In The Eyes

Frustration lies in a thin bottle of ketchup.

The agony to drench French-fries in a tomato-y heaven.

Only drops of watery ketchup fall from the fogged in bottle.

In a perfect land, ketchup would fall like water from a fountain.

It would replace the mighty rivers and ocean.

Tomatoes must then grow in abundance to keep the land lush.

Bringing the potato to its knees.

Vampire Teeth

When the Tooth fairy visited my humble home, she a left a most shocking surprise. The charming baby teeth were replaced with fangs. In school, everyone called me Eddie Munster, since my smile revealed a Dracula like quality.

I was finally given braces. As a teenager, braces were the cool thing to have. The brackets were adorned with a virtual rainbow of colors. However, life with the suburban teenager’s most fashionable item came with a price.

Cashews, Snickers & Butterfinger bars were forbidden by my orthodontist. As a junk food aficionado, they fell into my favorite food groups. However, being stubborn & slightly rebellious, I would partake in such an indulgence. Every time, I ate an apple or peanut induced candy bar & didn’t break a bracket, there was a feeling of accomplishment.

However, one day, I bit into a carrot and broke my first bracket. My mom took me to the orthodontist. They replaced my bracket. However, the biting into carrot incident would produce of a domino effect. Soon, I broke bracket after bracket. My mom vented her frustration “If you break another bracket, your orthodontist is gonna charge me extra money. Knock it off. Eat yogurt or something!” She warned me while giving me the mom stare down. I yawned a bit and thought to myself “yogurt? Boring!”

A few weeks went by and I maneuvered around breaking any brackets. Eventually my will power was tested. While having dinner at my grandma’s, fresh corn on the cob was served. It looked magnificent glistening in a river of butter. While my mom was examining her cutlery checking for unspecified food particles and/or smudges, I took a corn on the cob. That first bite was simply dazzling.

Then I saw my mom shooting me daggers with her eyes. I felt something odd on my cheek. “Whoops,” a most enthusiastic bite into the corn literally bent my wire outwards toward my cheek. My relatives laughed. Mom was cringing with anger. I smartly replied, “at least I didn’t break a bracket right?”

She took me to the bathroom as we tried to get the wire back to its normal position. It worked, but the price I paid for eating corn on the cob persisted that night as the wire kept poking my cheek. Eventually, I went back to the orthodontist feeling terrified. However, we were never charged for my little mishap.

After an initial rough run with braces, something miraculous happened. I woke up one morning, smiled & didn’t look like a spawn of vampires. The fangs were gone. Three years later, the braces were a distant memory & I ate too many Butterfinger candy bars to celebrate.

 

 

Barista Confidential

On frosty winter mornings, I would awake at 5:30 am for my temp job in fashion. Routinely, I put on layers, an overcoat and then walked out my stoop to catch the subway. In the darkness of New York at dawn was glimmer of hope & light, “Dunkin Donuts.” It was located en route to the subway

I would grab a coffee, breakfast sandwich and then prepared for my journey into the east 30’s. The coffee woke me up, as did the cute guy sitting across the train from me daily. As I emerged from the 6 train with Grand Central Station (from a distance) welcoming me every day, I was ready to get my fashion on.

My temp job in fashion lasted a couple months and still remains one of my favorite positions. I learned the art of multi-tasking there. For a few months, I was the receptionist, office manager, mail deliverer, kitchen cleaner and travel booker extraordinaire.

There were also trips to the Chelsea flower market where I picked beautiful blooms for the office. Half of the day was spent cutting fabric for future lines. By the end of the day, the fabric clung to my cashmere sweaters making it appear as though a map of the solar system was growing my couture.

At my desk was a big black bag of Peet’s coffee. Our boss had it shipped over from California. Usually, my co-worker Krystyn made the infamous brew. However, when Krystyn was away, the duty fell on me. ” Peet’s time?” my boss asked. ” Oh yes,” I replied. Making Peet’s coffee at the office was an art form. Firstly, I had to grind the beans and then put it in the coffee machine.

My first time making Peet’s coffee felt like a victory. I spent too much of my disposable income at Dunkin donuts and Starbucks, yet brewing coffee remain a foreign concept. The machine buzzed, one of my co-workers heard it and gleefully ran into the pantry. “Oh boy, Peet’s coffee,” she proclaimed.

When the coffee poured from the pot to her cup, a river of grinds followed. ” Oh no, Mr. boss is going to be pissed,” she said. My face turned tomato red, but I kept calm. ” Here, let’s re-make this coffee,” she said. Working as a team, we saved my barista reputation. After the second buzzer went off. I poured the coffee into a cup sans the river of grinds.

I brought my boss a cup of Peet’s coffee. The boss man looked thrilled. From then on, I learned how to make coffee. Nowadays, I have a new respect for baristas. Making delicious coffee is like painting by the sea, it’s all an art form.

Winter Awakening

“It’s the business everyone is dying to get into,” says my eccentric uncle in reference to his casket selling business. Growing up, funerals were an unfortunate staple. However, my family had a more laid-back approach to death.

Outings to the cemetery were a less than dreary event. My relatives would lounge in lawn chairs and spend time with our dearly departed relatives. There were never tears, but plenty of good fashioned arguments and laughter always ensued.

The actual funerals were filled with all the pomp & pageantry a Catholic could dream of. My mom and I would always walk into the funeral home. When we spotted the sea of natural redheads by bottle, mom would proclaim, “I see our family is here.” After hours of sitting and looking at our dead but beloved relatives, we had to brace ourselves for the actual funeral, which followed the next morning.

In our family, the staple funeral food was fried chicken and Stouffer’s lasagna. At the day of the funeral/burial everyone looked exhausted. I would look around at all the eyes, which were anguished with boredom. At that moment, I knew what they were thinking ” I hope they have fried chicken after the burial.” Personally, I was hoping for our favorite funeral food too.

After the burial ceremony, nobody wanted to stick around to see the casket go underground. My family was starved, raced out of the cemetery and headed to a relative’s house. We chowed down on that bucket of fried chicken like wild lions in the jungle.

As years passed our funeral staple faded. Catered Mexican and sandwiches were served for wakes. For a long time,  I kept associating fried chicken with our funerals.

It all faded one day. I spent considerable amount of time in Harlem. For me the charming neighborhood is the bright lights of the Apollo theatre, perfectly appointed brownstones, tall NYCHA (the projects) with majestic views of the city and summertime Italian ices.

Sylvia’s soul food is Harlem’s signature restaurant. Judy & I took a foodie field trip there. I ordered the fried chicken and waffles. Soon fried chicken went from funeral food to comfort food delight. Sylvia’s became my favorite place for deep fried poultry. It was also a nice refuge from the icy cold Manhattan sidewalks.

Nowadays, our family serves fried chicken at Christmas parties. Therefore, it’s a celebratory food for both our soul and senses. I haven’t made it up to Sylvia’s in a while, but still crave their fried chicken and waffles with a side of grits.

 

 

Etiquette School Reject

When times were going tough, the tough wear their ties in a Windsor knot. Even when I’ve been eating soup out of a Campbell’s soup can, I always remembered all the etiquette lessons my mother taught me.

Appearance was always important. Beard perfectly trimmed, earwax removed and nails clipped. On a muggy September afternoon, I was preparing for a magical day of meeting up with friends. I put together an outfit, fastened my tie and walked toward the subway.

Standing at the platform, I felt an air of confidence, until I looked down at my fingernails. Oh no, I forgot to trim my fingernails and have a whole day of meeting up with people. Instead of panicking, I strategized a plan for my friends not to notice my fingernails.

When the downtown train arrived, I walked toward the end of the platform. This guaranteed I would have a seat as opposed to hanging on to a pole with my untrimmed nails being exposed to the Upper West Side.

Mission accomplished, I made it to Tribeca without anyone noticing how terrible my nails looked. I had a lovely meet up with Krista. Luckily, I hid my most improper fashion accessory the whole time.

I then took a cab to Hell’s Kitchen for lunch with my friend Joe. He ordered a bacon cheeseburger; I was inspired to do the same. However, eating the burger would expose the untrimmed nails. So I bended my fingers in a position where no one would notice how terrible my nails looked.

In the early evening, I went to meet up with Gino. He suggested we go to a sit down restaurant in Chelsea. However, I was just craving a slice. ” I know just the place,” he replied. So, I didn’t have any time to fix up my nails. Therefore, I had to rough it.

We met at Union Square and walked toward Artichoke, which is one of my favorite pizzerias in the city. I ordered a delicious crabmeat pizza. Artichoke doesn’t have indoor seating, so we sat out on one of their conveniently placed benches. I looked up into the skies over 14th street, which were pitch black. The darkness covered my hands and I ate my slice without feeling a bit self-conscious.

When I finally clipped my nails it was a relief. I could go and show off my hands. I got my freedom back and any self-consciousness diminished. I was free to talk with my hands too.

Not to sound immodest, but my hands are one of my best features. When I first started off in New York, I washed dishes in a Fifth Avenue high-rise. It’s what my dad lovingly calls a “masters in the school of life.” Even with hours in soap water, my hands stayed soft like cotton candy.

Therefore, I appreciate the hands, which gave me the ability to make a living. Forgetting to clip my fingernails one day was a fail. However, life is sometimes more interesting when one makes mistakes.

Memories Of A Delicatessen

Matzo ball soup, a pastrami sandwich complimented by superb rye bread, a black and white cookie washed down with a coffee inspire my taste buds to do a happy dance. For years, the Jewish deli has been an integral part of my dinning experience. I love Reuben sandwiches; have acquired a taste for pickles, but still frightened to try gefilte fish.

The original heart of Jewish New York is the Lower East Side home to Katz’s delicatessen. I walked past it a trillion times. Most of my Lower East Side adventures commenced on Ludlow and Houston. I finally ended up going with Judy on one of our many food expeditions.

” You’re not a real New Yorker unless you have an egg cream” she said. I ordered an egg cream before my journey into pastrami sandwich land. The quintessential New York drink does not have any egg in it. Egg cream comes in vanilla and chocolate with seltzer water added. It’s very similar to an Italian soda.

Half way through my egg cream indulgence, the hot pastrami sandwich arrived. While other places have hot pastrami sandwiches, they have the tendency to taste like warmed up cold cuts.

Katz’s taste like real pastrami, freshly cook with a thicker cut of meat than the normal delicatessen. It was simply delicious and I was happy to add Katz’s to my favorite New York dinning experiences.

After my Katz’s experience I tried the fancy delis. I have fond memories of dinning at an upscale deli on the Upper East Side. Primarily, I went for the people watching. However, the prices were high and it lacked that mom n’ pops feel. Therefore, if I want matzo ball and pastrami sandwich fill, Katz’s or more traditional delis are my favorite choice.

East Sixth Street

I love Indian food. Growing up, my mother was obsessed with curries, Naan bread and mango lassies. At a very young age, I didn’t quite appreciate the joys of delving into exotic cuisine. I’d have two bites of my mom’s chicken tikka masala and beg for McDonald’s.

However, on a trip to London, I gave Indian food a shot. At an unassuming restaurant in Covent Garden, I fell in love. The flavors exploded like fireworks for my taste buds. I adored the taste of curry and soon went from ordering mild to medium curries.

In New York, I frequented East Sixth Street in the East Village. It’s also known as curry road. There I would sample a smorgasbord of regional Indian cuisines.

I recently had dinner in curry lane with friends. Adriana ordered her chicken tikka masala extra spicy. I thought to myself, “Oh I love spicy food, I’ll also order it extra spicy.” When my dish arrived, the smells left me breathless in joy. I broke a piece of Naan bread and began to feast.

The first bites of the dish had a wonderful creamy texture and then the kicker. As I chewed further, the spice from the curry intensified. I wore a most proper outfit that evening. Soon, I was drenched. I had to constantly dry my forehead.

Adriana was more comfortable with the intense spiciness. My mouth was on fire, but I couldn’t stop eating. It tasted magnificently. I took the last bite, which further intensified the internal heat wave feeling. However, it was well worth it. Regardless of spice, Indian remains one of my favorite cuisines.

Living in a big city like New York exposes one to a United Nations of cuisines. One doesn’t have to travel far distances to have an authentic taste of any country, when it’s in one of the five boroughs.

Bagel Daydreams

You literally can’t find a proper bagel outside New York City. The world is infested with bagel imitators, but alas none can compare to the real deal. Brooklyn Bagels in Queens and Chelsea is home to my favorite bagel. I would wake up every morning have a whole-wheat bagel smeared with scallion cream cheese and a coffee. Somehow I kept my boyish figure.

Recently, I woke up to torrential New York rain. It was more intense than the sounds of the ocean waves crashing on the shore. That particular morning, I had an intense bagel craving and became a man on a mission. I was going to have a Brooklyn bagel.

Stepping into the rain soaked Upper West Side sidewalks didn’t hinder my goal. I propped open my umbrella and walked toward the subway. Wearing a buttoned up shirt, I left my sweater and blazer behind. The1 train station had the heat intensity of diving into a big bowl of pea soup. I was schvitizing intensely, but kept my spirits up.

As I rode the 1 train down to 23rd street, images of a big doughy bagel played in my head. I kept fantasizing about the taste and the warm smooth coffee that went along with it. Excitedly, I exited the subway station feeling quite excited. Suddenly, I started running for my life.

Torrential rain hit 23rd street. I had one big block to go. The rain intensified. My shirt was drenched and pants were wet in the wrong spots. A bunch of New Yorkers also tried to find refuge from the rain underneath scaffolding.

I was wet and the pea soup effect permeated the air. However, I thought to myself ” I came all this way for a bagel, just to get rained on?” After a few minutes, the people left the safety nest of the scaffolding and weathered the tough as nails New York sidewalk.

Fuck staying dry, it was time to play in the rain and have a delicious bagel. Even with terrible weather, I successfully achieved my bagel goal. The bagel tasted delicious, warm, and chewy. The coffee perfectly complimented it.  My bagel escapade is a very New York experience.

Life in the city can be rough. However, New York always has something exciting in store, if we’re willing to travel through harsh rain to get there.

Soup Season

When I was struggling in New York City. Judy would invite me over to her apartment in Brooklyn. She would cook me her famous linguini with clam sauce. Even after enjoying a hearty meal, she would pack me a bowl of the dish to go with a box of Entiments’ coffee cake. The F train smelled like a fancy Italian bistro on the way home, but I feasted well.

A few years later, Judy and I were both living in California, since her family had migrated west. One afternoon, she invited me over to her daughter Jackie’s apartment, where she wanted to introduce me to the art of making the family’s legendary Italian chicken soup.

I drove to Winchester, which is close to Temecula and about an hour from San Diego. We went to the local Stater Bros, where we gathered the recipes. Of course, it was more of a scavenger hunt trying to find the ingredients in Winchester, than Brooklyn, but we managed. I was excited to learn how to cook, especially Italian. When I stood in line my neurosis came out.

I kept looking at the chicken’s packaging making sure nothing had been punctured. Judy laughed. I had never touched a raw chicken, but not all good things come easy. We went back to Jackie’s apartment. She was several months pregnant and had a craving for the homey soup.

We drank a ton of coffee, then began cooking the Italian feast. Judy kept trying to show me how to skin the carrots, using the knife in an upward motion. Unfortunately, I grew frightened of the knife. Instead I was put to work in the chopping department. I did great chopping. All the celery and carrots came out perfectly sliced.

The chicken cooked. Soon the veggies were placed in the pot with the broth steaming and then small bits of pasta added. The apartment smelled of garlic and tomato, a most romantic scent. We waited for the soup to cook. After it was finished, we served ourselves. The taste was truly remarkable. To make an excellent soup even better, we added Parmesan. It gave it a delicious cheesiness, which complimented the Italian flavoring

After cake and more coffee, I was officially stuffed. I drove through the rural fields and dark canyons of Winchester, well fed. I didn’t necessarily graduate to the ranks of an Italian chef, but had a great time cooking with Judy and Jackie. I am looking forward to the winter cold for another dose of Italian chicken soup.

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