Loving the city

Shane and I had a fun adventure Saturday. Our only plan for the day had been to attend the opening reception of an art exhibition in which my friend and former coworker Kate Vikstrom is showing some paintings.

My favorite of Kate’s watercolors at the show:

katevikstrom1Shane’s favorite from the show:

katevikstrom2At the gallery, we realized we didn’t really know each other’s tastes in art, since we cannot afford to buy any art, so we played a game trying to guess which paintings we’d purchase if money were no object (besides Kate’s work, of course, because no question we’d buy our friends’ art before anything else).

This was my choice (by Rebeca Roman), which Shane poopoo-ed:

rebecaromanAnd this was Shane’s (Pink Meadow by Malgorzata Mizia), which I also liked:

miziaWe also liked this other one by Mizia:

mizia2So in a nutshell I like some abstract works while Shane prefers more representational, but we can meet in the impressionistic middle.

Before and after our visit to the gallery, we walked on the Highline, which was quite crowded with tourists. My favorite part of the Highline are the benches in water:

highlineOn the same Chelsea street as the gallery was this Banksy:

banksynyaccentAnd down another street nearby, this new Banksy collaboration with Os Gemeos:

banksy&osgemeosAnd some other art nearby:

hot sheepWe ate at restaurant in Chelsea called The Park, where I had a couple swanky cocktails. Then we walked in search of dessert, not realizing that two places I have been wanting to try were just a few blocks from the end of the Highline in the West Village: the Wafels & Dinges truck and the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. I had been instagramming too much, so Shane wouldn’t let me take photos of our desserts, but they were delicious. Just as we finished our Liege waffle with spekuloos (gingerbread spread), we walked a few steps to find Big Gay Ice Cream, where we simply had to try the Mermaid (vanilla soft-serve with key lime curd).

Art + cocktails + dessert = great time in downtown NYC.


Of handmade pasta and knitting

On the Friday night before my Sunday birthday, Shane’s friend Enrico had me, Shane, and their friend Evan over for dinner, and when they found out that my original plan to celebrate my birthday by doing karaoke that night had fallen through, I think they might have felt obligated to make dinner a special occasion in my honor. It was indeed special, and I deeply appreciate their efforts. These guys are incredibly good people.

The three of them are playing Bach inventions together, Shane and Enrico on guitar and Evan on cello, with plans to provide musical entertainment at the Columbia econ department’s Christmas party. They are expecting me to join them on the violin for Christmas tunes. But more on that at a later date.

Shane and I had invited them over the weekend before, to play music and drink lots, and we fed them some slow-cooked venison (courtesy of Shane’s hunting family), which they greatly appreciated, so much so that Enrico, who is from Italy, vowed to make pasta for us the next time we got together.

After getting out of Spanish class Friday evening, Enrico went home and made pasta dough, rolled it out with a rolling pin, and hand-cut the tagliatelle he later cooked and served with a creamy mushroom sauce he just threw together. It was divine. Then he brought out a caprese salad. Oh my god, some of my favorite foods….

Note to the ladies: Enrico is single and apparently a brilliant doctoral student in economics, which means he’ll probably be making the big bucks after finishing school. Plus he is a great cook. And he even bought me flowers for my birthday!

I mention the handmade pasta on this blog because Enrico made a remark that is relevant to the idea of doing work that has visible outcomes/tangible results: He said that choosing to spend an hour making noodles often makes more sense to him than sitting and doing economics on a computer for three hours, after which he doesn’t see the result of his efforts anywhere in the world; but with pasta-making, you have pasta.

Like many people, I’m guessing, I completely relate to this — especially with the cooler fall weather arriving and as I feel a push to get some knitting done. All of a sudden I want to knit a million accessories for myself, not to mention the tons of holiday projects I’ve planned for other people, many of which have been in my Ravelry queue for years.

And instead of writing more, like I’m supposed to be doing, and reading the next book on my list, I just knit. A noodle, or a scarf, is just so much more satisfyingly and physically present than, say, an economics paper (or whatever economists produce), or a short story.

Final push

Page Turner, the AAWW’s literary festival, is Saturday; in preparation, the office is in overdrive, and I’m working the internship full-time.

That means long meetings about logistics, publicity emails, postcards and posters all over the city, and the process of procuring and moving materials to the venue. For me, it meant spending last Saturday walking all over lower Manhattan and Flushing to drop off postcards and put up posters, and again yesterday morning to hit a couple more sites.

I’m complaining, but only just a little, because had I not done it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to the Museum of Chinese in America to see the Chinese American designers’ fashion exhibit, or part of the Highline, or Trinity Church on Wall Street, nor would I have had the opportunity to try the other dumpling shop in Chinatown or to buy yummy Chinese treats like longans, mochi, egg tarts, and steamed buns in Flushing. On top of all that, I got in a ton of exercise.

And while I am not enthusiastic about going out to pick up and schlep stuff back to the office, had I not walked the nine blocks or so to get the projector for Saturday, I would not have witnessed the mechanized wonderland that is B&H, a huge electronics store run largely by Orthodox Jews, like a kosher version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, except for photographic equipment. And had I not gone shopping for the workshop most of today, I would not have experienced Jack’s, a three-level dollar store in the middle of Manhattan.

New York is a fabulous place.

On the downside, my right foot, probably slightly injured over the last few weeks from wearing stupid shoes, has gotten a lot worse, to the point that I can hear bones clicking in it as I walk. Also, I think I have finally come down with the cold that was going around the office and which I have been trying to fight off for the past few days with Emergen-c and ALJ. I need increasingly large amounts of coffee and sugary snacks to keep from falling asleep. And I have had no time to work on my latest article or on the job search.

Jenn’s bringing treats back from Providence tomorrow!

There are a lot of other good things, though, and I have to focus on the positive. The major thing is being involved in this giant effort to promote Asian American writing and helping to gather over 70 writers and artists in a free event to celebrate their work. Plus, there will be vendors with good food, and wine and beer at the after party! Lord knows we at the office are going to need to relax at the end of the day Saturday.

Living and breathing the internship — and eating, too

The Asian American Writers Workshop is having their giant, annual literary festival — Page Turner — on Saturday, Oct. 5, in Brooklyn, and we are consumed by it in the office. In addition, we have had two events there this week already and are co-sponsoring another about Edward Said tonight at CUNY.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of work to be done. Since I don’t yet have another job, I am working the internship full-time for the week and a half leading up to Page Turner. This leaves little time for me to work on my next article for the religions series or for my new pastime of birding, but I am eagerly awaiting the next week’s migration news on BirdCast and hoping that Saturday is going to be a good day for birding on Van Cortlandt Park’s free bird walk. Plus, I can work on the article. And of course look for jobs…. (Oh yeah, that other thing I need to do!)

Last night was the book launch for Jen Lin-Liu’s On the Noodle Road, a travelogue about searching for the origins of noodles along the Silk Road from China to Italy. She did a cooking demonstration, and we got to sample manti, the Turkish dumplings that are very similar to Italian tortellini, in a yogurt sauce. She also cooked up some tortelloni, the bigger cheese ones, with some butter and fresh sage. (Tortelloni were by far my favorite food in Bologna when I was there, except I had them with this heavenly butter-tomato sauce called burro e oro.)

on-the-noodle-roadAnd to end things, we also had some Chinese vegetarian dumplings, which I had to schlep all the way from this tiny hole-in-the-wall place called Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown. I’m not complaining because they were delicious and cheap and I have found my new go-to place for dumplings; while I waited for the dumplings I got a free piece of this giant fried sesame bread, 芝麻大餅 — so tasty and I have never seen this thing before, where’s this thing from? — and on the menu it only costs $1.50. I love Chinatown!

I wish I had gotten a picture on my phone of them frying this thing in a wok — this is not the usual scallion pancake 蔥油餅 that we have had all our lives; it’s a thick yeast bread that’s fried, kind of like this one:

zhimadabingexcept mine might not have had scallions, and it reminded me of New York-style pizza, because it was huge. You can order it plain or with different things inside, like egg or different kinds of meat, but I got the veggie filling of carrots and cilantro and a nutty blend of spices — oh my god, so good.

It was also quite inspiring to hear about Jen Lin-Liu’s book, because I’m interested in travel writing — I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in traveling and then writing and publishing a book about it? And on top of that, food writing — eating and then writing and publishing a book about that!

End of Lent … finally!

I was marginally successful trying to give up dairy for Lent.

After writing my last post on the first week, I had fewer issues, because I learned to check ingredients before eating, and I became a little more mindful about putting things in my coffee. That and I got used to drinking my coffee black when there wasn’t any soy milk around.

On a few occasions, I had to turn down homemade cookies, knowing they were made with butter, but then I realized I could eat many store-bought cookies made with things like palm oil. Not healthy, so it was not a good substitute, but I had found a loophole.

This week, however, I have slipped a lot. There was our church’s St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, which I helped organize, and everything seemed to have meat or dairy — soda bread contains sour cream and/or buttermilk, our green drinks were made with Irish cream or milk, and I baked my salmon in butter. Saints’ feasts that we observe, of course, don’t count during Lent, so I was excused.


When a guest in others’ homes or eating out in a restaurant with few or no vegetarian/vegan options, I eat whatever is offered, so I have had cheese in pasta and other dishes a few times, especially this weekend with Shane’s family in Albany. The willpower seems to diminish exponentially in proportion to the distance of the backsliding.

A non-dairy Lent off to a rough start

Lent is fairly new to me. The first time I did it was in the small town where I lived in Mexico, when I was teaching English at a private Catholic school, and I realized that everyone was giving up something, even the elementary school students. I figured I had to try it once I found out that fifth-grader Sofia was giving up chile sauce for 40 days. A Mexican giving up chile sauce — that is a big freakin’ deal, folks.


Giving in to peer pressure, then, just as I had taken to crossing myself every time I passed a church (because even hooligans would cross themselves while passing the churches in their pimped-up cars, and I felt completely weird not doing it), I decided to give up cookies.


This was a big deal for me, because I had gotten addicted to several different types of cookies that could be bought at any corner store — especially Polvorones, which were like shortbread with an orangey twist, and Príncipe, which were buttery sandwich cookies with chocolate cream in the middle. Of course, giving up cookies only meant that I chose to eat Mantecadas, little buttery muffins, and other sweet bread products, so the exercise turned out to be easier than I expected.


In the past couple of years, I have given up other things for Lent that were not so easy to give up — Facebook games one year, when I was particularly addicted to a few of those, and last year I gave up online shopping. Some of those Facebook games were given up forever, and I definitely shop less online now (but especially after losing my full-time job). Lenten resolutions, I have found, can tend to be a bit like New Year’s Resolutions Part 2, as our priest had said on Ash Wednesday last week. But I do try to focus on being more mindful of my behavior and to take a stab at abstaining from bad habits.

This year I have been thinking and reading more about the point of Lent, and how giving up something or adding something doesn’t always get us to the place we are trying to go — being a better person and being closer to God (whatever God is for you — I have to confess that most people who call themselves Christians would find my concept of God totally wacko — more like the Force in Star Wars than the God of the Old and New Testaments).

I decided this year that being closer to God means giving up something that causes harm to animals — milk products, because I learned in the past couple of years that calves are often slaughtered as a byproduct of milk production, as cows are of course constantly impregnated to ensure that they continue producing milk. I also learned that milk is actually quite bad for humans, very fattening as well as leaching out calcium rather than providing calcium for bones, and it accelerates cancer growth as all animal proteins have been shown to do. (Just yesterday, a friend of mine said there have been studies showing that teenagers who drink a lot of milk regularly have more acne than those who don’t. And here I am in my mid-30s still wondering what to do with my skin….)

Anyway, I learned all these things a while ago, and we succeeded in substituting non-GMO soy milk (unfortified with calcium) for milk in our coffee, tea, cereal and cooking, and we have reduced our consumption of cheese and ice cream, but we have not been able to cut those things out completely.

Recently, I noticed how much butter I use. I love it on toast, love to cook with it, and of course I simply have to bake with butter — I would never use margarine or oil in a pie crust or cookies. In Chicago we would substitute half of the butter with applesauce, when we had an apple tree in our backyard and made tons of applesauce, but we still used the butter. It’s just so tasty! And it makes everything so flaky and rich!

When I realized that I had not even cut down on my use of butter, I figured I’d have to give it up now, or at least try for 40 days.

And here we are, about a week into Lent, and I have not been able to avoid dairy completely yet. The first day, Ash Wednesday, we actually had leftover pizza, and I figured I’d give up one of my Sundays during Lent so that we could finish it (since Sundays don’t actually count in the 40 days of Lent). Then, the next day was Valentine’s Day, and after dinner at a Thai restaurant we stopped in a café for dessert, and we just had to share the molten chocolate cake, which most likely had dairy in it, but in any case I had completely forgotten about going dairy-free and had automatically put milk in my coffee when it was brought out. So there went another Sunday.

On Sunday then, we finally looked at the ingredients on the Portuguese raisin rolls we had been eating for breakfast for the past three days — popular in our household because they have all-natural ingredients and no preservatives — and discovered that they were made with both milk and butter. There went the remaining three Sundays of Lent.

Monday, I went to brunch with a friend, and I focused so much about ordering my usual farm fresh eggs but with extra potatoes instead of sausage (Oh yeah, did I mention I’m trying not to eat any meat, either? Eggs are OK, though, for now….), that I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the toast would be buttered. And, once again, I automatically poured milk into my coffee.

Today, Tuesday, I was doing well most of the day with my non-dairy diet. But at dinner I ate some pretzels, and then we checked the ingredients — buttermilk solids.

It seems almost impossible to get away from dairy!

And I have other things I’ve resolved to do for Lent — try to eat for a week on a food-stamp budget and go to yoga class at least once a week — but neither of them have started yet. Now that I’ve blogged it, though, I may have no choice but to hold myself more accountable.

The flu, mardi gras pancakes, lower back pain

It was a hellish week. Finally caught the flu last weekend as my DH Shane was getting over it, but I don’t have a demanding full-time job and long commute, so I didn’t come down with complications (like Shane’s sinus infection). Being feverish sucks, though. Couldn’t do one of my stories because of that second bout of aches and soreness.

Shane recovering from the flu with Tigger

Shane recovering from the flu with Tigger

As I recovered, I had two nights of insomnia, and I have no idea why. One night I was up till 2 or 3 a.m., reading about Joan of Arc and Arminianism vs. Calvinism on Wikipedia before finally falling asleep on the futon. And then two nights later I was up all night, feeling  nervous, fluttery in my chest, for no apparent reason. I hadn’t even had any caffeine, but I was jittery like I had had a few cups of coffee before bed.

Partly it was because I had to write two articles before noon the next day. I stayed up late, till about midnight, writing one of them, and by the time I finished I felt shaky and tired. I had that feeling like an overtired child who gets all cranky and throws tantrums and can’t sleep. For a couple hours, I tried to sleep, but I figured I’d better do something constructive, so I got up and wrote the other article, which I had been planning to write in the morning. I finished at about 4 or 5 a.m. but still I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed with Shane when he had to get up, and I thought, well, finally I’ll be able to sleep, but I didn’t. I watched episodes of Stargate Universe, instead. Then I worked the rest of the day copy editing on the paper (as it was going to press that evening) and didn’t sleep till that night.

stargate (Source: gateworld.net)

While I was lying in bed trying to sleep, the only thing I could guess was making me anxious was that stupid pancake supper I was helping to organize for church. I was having all kinds of anxieties about it flopping in a huge way, with nobody coming, or me losing it and yelling at people from my church who were trying to help but being bossy. I ended up writing a long email to my friend Ruth about my worries and how I wouldn’t be able to stand working for the church much longer, and she wrote me the sweetest reply, right away, and she said she loved me and not to fret, which made me cry.

Lucky me, the pancake supper turned out wonderfully, and it was the help of all those people who were also anxious about pulling it off who made it happen, who came early and set up and cooked bacon and sausages and pancakes on griddles and made fun conversation for those few hours beforehand.

Ruth at the mardi gras pancake dinner

Ruth at the mardi gras pancake dinner

One of the strange things I did that made me nervous was I mixed two traditions together, Shrove Tuesday pancake supper plus a mardi gras theme, with feather masks and beads and New Orleans jazz music and king cake. I wasn’t sure it would work, and I have the feeling others weren’t sure about it, either. The king cake turned out very well, though — it was tasty as well as fun to have everyone look for the baby Jesus (a whole almond) inside their slices, and the winner got to wear the crown I bought. As Shane said, always good to have activities. (Though probably a good idea not to make people run with pancakes and frying pans; I was concerned the floor would be slippery from people tracking in snow.)Mardi gras Mary Ann

In the end, it was probably the mimosas that made the dinner fun. We had a pretty good turnout, even though the previous night’s snowstorm kept many of the regular supper guests indoors, and we made almost twice as much in donations as we had at the last fellowship dinner. Success!

Father Shane serving mimosas

Father Shane serving mimosas

Mardi gras beadsI think the busy day of baking (king cake and Valentine’s Day Bake Sale cookies) and setting up tables and cooking and cleaning up tired me out completely. As I was getting into bed, a sharp pain shot through my lower back. It messed up my plans to go cross-country skiing the next day, after all that glorious snow. So instead of playing in the sun and snow, I stayed home this afternoon trying (unsuccessfully) to find a comfortable position in which to sit or lie down and watching a documentary about Tribe Called Quest. But then Ruth had us over for a delicious Sunday dinner, and we had a wonderful time with her and her husband and their beautiful rescue dog, Charlie. What a blessing it is to have good friends!