love story: lindy & david

Wonderful things happen when I’m in a queue.  Last week, it was the standby line for a performance of The Comedy of Errors at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  That’s where I met David, 38, and his fiancé Lindy, 33, visiting from Johannesburg.  First we started talking about food, and then we quickly went on to the next logical matter:  their love story.

David and Lindy were beyond fantastic.  The interview is completely uncut (though I really need a normal camera with a mic!), and I dare you not to smile while you’re watching.  I’m really happy with it, especially because they talk about “bashert”–one of my favorite words.  Find out why as the sounds of a sax and the backdrop of an oak set the perfect stage for this narrative.  Also watch for Lindy’s ethereal expressions and listen for David’s wise words.

Thank you both for sharing your love–I hope you enjoy this souvenir for many joyful years to come.


to tv or not to tv: that is the question

…Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of paying a fortune,
Or to take arms against a web of troubles,
And by unplugging end them: to Wi-Fi, to stream
No more; and by a stream, to say we end
The buffering, and the 320+ premium channels
That Dish is heir to?

Clearly I have a bit too much fun with this stuff.

My point is – I haven’t owned a TV in eight years.  But I’m moving very soon, and Time Warner is dangling the cable carrot at a very palatable price if I bundle it with Internet.

Ach!  What to do?  I’ve developed an identity around being TV-free.  I’m kind of attached to it, even though I try to practice non-attachment (“practice” being the key word).

There is a certain cachet about not having a TV.  It’s like being an ex-pat, which I’ve been.  Or not drinking coffee (which I gave up in January, with very good results.)

Yet my choice not to have a TV has been about other factors – it all started while I was living in London and decided there were other things I wanted to do with my time.  And I really like seeing movies in a theatre.  Since then, there’s another reason I’ve been happy to go sans TV:  information overload.

I must admit, there are times I’ve missed TV – during the Olympics, oncoming hurricanes, and the Oscars.

Now the question is, do I go there?  And, if so, in what form?  I definitely don’t need a bunch of channels.  I just want to be able to stream Netflix and finally watch Downton Abbey when the next Snowpocalypse hits – on something larger than my laptop.  And have an Oscars party.

But there are so many options, my head is spinning.  Internet + basic cable?  Internet + Smart TV?  Regular TV + Apple TV?  Or some weird thing called Roku?  Then there’s the issue of suppliers.  RCN is out since it’s not supported by my new building.  And Verizon would mean I’d need to get a landline, another thing I’m happy going without.

Bottom line:  I like to streamline.  And stream.

Of course, all this means that I’d also need to, er, buy a TV.  But not necessarily cable.

So I’m opening up the floor – I’d love to hear your solutions and recommendations.  Do you hook-up your computer to your TV or use an external device?  If so, which one?  Am I hopelessly disconnected for asking this in the first place?  What’s the minimum Internet speed I need to be able to watch streaming content seamlessly?

love story: nell & adam

“Online dating sucks…until the one time it doesn’t.”

It’s a great line, and if anyone out there uses it, they should give credit to my friend Nell Reid.  Nell’s one of my favorite examples of how your life can turn around in an instant:  she met her husband Adam the very same day she jumped back on JDate after a hiatus.

Nell had what you’d call a “shift”: she had just returned from a trip to Iceland – and there, on a rooftop, she looked up at the sky and rattled off a list of qualities she wanted in a man.  She came back from the trip in such a great frame of mind and feeling so good about herself, that she re-wrote her profile.

“I secreted him,” she says, referring to, of course, The Secret, which she had read a few months before.

“Adam was living in Washington Heights, and I was in the East Village,” so we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.  But then we figured out we’d been at the same midnight screening of Lord of the Rings a few years before.”

Their second date came shortly after.  “He took me to see Darjeeling Limited and then out for Indian Food.  I thought that was clever,” she recalls.

The connection was instant and deep, and they quickly became very comfortable with each other… so much, that Nell invited him home for Thanksgiving – even though they’d only known each other for two months.

Then she “had a bug out,” as she calls it.

“The Thanksgiving before, my ex had been home with me; and it all just felt weird.  I freaked. It was moving too fast for me, and I told him we needed to slow down.”

Adam gave her the space she needed, and they went their separate ways.  But he never stopped letting her know how he felt about her.  He even invited her to vacation in St. John in December, but she already had plans to go to Mexico.

“We kind of took that time off from each other.  When we returned, we started hanging out and things quickly got serious again.”

In January 2009, he proposed to her on his birthday – at the same restaurant they had their first date.  They were married at a barn in the Berkshires on October 3, 2009.

During the rehearsal dinner, Adam, who’s a filmmaker (check out his award-winning feature Hello Lonesome) surprised her with a short video he made.  The voiceover is Adam reading his JDate profile:

Beautiful, right?

Their secret (besides The Secret)?  Well, from over here, it’s clear that they both support each other’s passions: Nell believed in Adam’s movie from the start and was a pivotal factor in its production, and Adam encouraged Nell to leave her job in advertising sales to discover her bliss.  You can read all about that on her blog, Nell’s Dish du Jour.

Lately, her bliss is their baby boy Theo, who just turned 7 months and who is so yummy I almost ate him when we met for lunch.

Photo courtesy Nell Reid

Nell’s a gifted photographer, and it’s no surprise that Adam has also been turning his camera on their favorite subject:

Did this story warm your heart?  Please pass it on and share the love!

6 life lessons from acting class

The debates have me thinking a lot about acting – or, rather, not acting.

So it’s as good a time as any to post something I’ve been meaning to share for a while:  back in May, I took a one-week intensive acting workshop at the New York Film Academy – yes, the place with the big sign. I had a few things in mind:

  • I wanted to try something completely different and fun
  • As a cinephile, I wanted to step into the actor’s experience
  • I wanted to chisel away at my terror of public speaking
  • I really, really wanted to get out of my head, stop over-thinking things, and live more in the moment.

The week delivered abundantly on all these fronts.  Most of the time, I was busy scribbling away the pearls of wisdom from our main teachers, Lea Brandenburg and Dan Winerman.  Here’s the gist of it:

1. It’s all about the other person

In acting, you’re not supposed to be thinking about you or your lines.  If you do, you’ll look like you’re overacting.  You won’t give a convincing performance.  You’ll come across as weird and self-conscious.  You’ll make the other person uncomfortable – and everybody else who’s watching. What’s more, you’ll have a terrible time while you’re at it.

The audience wants real people, not people in their own heads playing their own lines.

At all times, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. When you focus on whomever you’re with – without expectations – suddenly there’s connection.  Believability.  And what’s really neat is that that’s when you end up reaping the most rewards.

2.  Know that you WILL mess up

It’s not a question of if but when.  Everybody misses a line.  At the very least.  It’s what humans do.  Most of the time, the audience won’t notice.  You need to keep calm and carry on.  Cover it with grace.  Water under the bridge.

This was the big takeaway for me.  We all spent days rehearsing our lines, and we all messed up.  But I took it especially hard.  I always knew I was hard on myself, but I hadn’t realized just how much.  Not only that, but I volunteered to do an extra scene, which means that I actually set myself up for difficulty by creating impossible circumstances.   I need to work on giving myself the same compassion as I do others, and easing up on myself for not getting everything right.  Let myself be human. Which brings me to…

3. Accept everything that happens

In film, you can do as many takes as you need to.  On stage, there are no rewinds.  You can’t stop in the middle of a play and say, “I can’t believe I blew it.  I’m such a fool!” and then proceed to beat yourself up about it while the audience sits there.  Although that might make for interesting entertainment.

We don’t always have the perfect words in every moment. You have to accept that these are all the words you have in this moment. Say it (or don’t), and let it go.  It’s completely useless to self-flagellate.  It keeps you and everybody else stuck.  And while we’re on the topic of acceptance…

4. Don’t force the feelings

To quote Dan, “Have you ever had someone try to demand a feeling from you?  It’s exhausting.  So don’t demand it of yourself.”

Whatever you’re feeling or not feeling is okay. In acting, you’re not supposed to try to act out an emotion.  It just ends up looking like you’re acting.  As in life, emotions are believable when they happen without prompting.

5.  Acting well is acting in the moment

You can rehearse a scene a million times, and it will always come out differently.  You can have an idea of a certain intonation you want to use on a particular word; but if you stubbornly hold on to that, you entirely miss the point.

Even if you’re doing a monologue, you are never operating in a vacuum.  Everything is changeable moment to moment.  The only thing you can do is release expectations and pre-conceived ideas and just be in that moment.  And be guided by one principle…

6.  As an actor, your higher calling is to tell the truth

And so it is off the set.  You can never go wrong being you, whoever that you is in that moment.  It can be scary, but it’s the only way to get someone else to see that you’re also a human being – to believe you, and to believe in you.

Essentially, acting is simply about being human and creating a safe space for someone else to do the same – complete with all the foibles that come along with it.

love story: david & julie

This is how it happens:  I go to an Oktoberfest party in Princeton, New Jersey, and the nice couple who pick me up from the train station tell me they’ve been married for 37 years.  I’m 37 years old.  I need to get their story.

David and Julie Schmidt met at church when they were both in college – she was 20, he 22.  I remember what I was like at 20 and 22, and I marvel at how two people were able to get together at that age and know how to have a relationship.  How did they learn to do it, I ask?  “It took 37 years,” laughs Julie.

David and Julie have two daughters and have moved all over the country for his job – he’s an executive compensation consultant; she’s a schoolteacher.  Last year, they were humbled and overjoyed when their youngest daughter’s boyfriend came over and asked for her hand.

Does this still happen?  Why yes, it does – apparently, at least, in the Schmidt family.  “They lived in different cities, and he wanted to make sure she didn’t get away,” recounts David. “And because she would have to move 220 miles away and she was ‘our little girl’ as he put it, he wanted us to know he’d take good care of her.”

So what’s the secret to their marriage?  (I always wonder if someone’s going to give me a dirty look or call me out for being nosey when I ask this, but they never do.)

“Selflessness,” says David, without missing a beat.

“Yeah, he really likes to golf, and now I’ve been taking lessons since it makes him happy if I go with him,” says Julie.  “But it wasn’t always this way – I used to be resentful about all the time he spent on the course, and then when he’d come home he’d zone out.  But now I look at it differently, and I actually enjoy going.  And now Dave is more willing to do things I like to do, and usually he enjoys those experiences with me as well.”

Suddenly it hits me: one of the reasons why so many of us have trouble finding a lasting relationship in New York is that this can be a selfish city.  It’s all too easy to be alone here.

The trick – as David and Julie discovered together – is finding someone who is willing to play the selflessness game with you, because then you both end up winning.  Then you both end up putting green.

Before we say goodbye, David and Julie give me their email address – which is made up of their initials, and which they both share.  “We’ve always had a joint  bank account, and of course now we have joint email.  That’s when you know it’s real love.”

love story: doris & barry

One of my absolute favorite things to do is ask couples about their love story.  I want to know how they met, why they fell in love, and what keeps them together.  I do it because I think love is what we live for and because, well, I want what they’re having.

I meet a lot of couples.  And all of them are only too eager to share their stories.  They light up when I start asking my questions.  They teach me so much.  Mostly, they give me hope.  So I started thinking I needed to do something about this rather than keep it all to myself.  Maybe it’s a documentary, maybe an online series, maybe something else (I’m open to suggestions).

I know I wouldn’t be the first to come up with an idea like this, but we all do things our own way; and, in this day and age, I think we need as many reminders and as much inspiration as we can get – I know I do – about love. So I figured I’d start cataloging the stories here.  And I’m so pleased to introduce you to couple number one: Doris and Barry Schwartz.

I met Doris and Barry at the New York Philharmonic, where I volunteer.  I was immediately captivated by their sense of playfulness around each other.  So I got them to tell me their story separately and then together:

It all started at a party in Brooklyn…

I pressed for the specific location, but neither of them could remember.  What they did recall, with utmost clarity, was this: Doris was 19 and had emigrated from Germany only a few months earlier. Barry overheard her telling a story at the party:  “It was so cold, my legs froze off.”  Barry (drink in hand) quickly quipped, “Well then, here’s a toast to those beautiful replacements.”

A bit later into the evening, Barry starts playing the piano.  Doris boldly sits next to him and asks him if he knows how to play the blues, which she loves.  Barry immediately concedes, and Doris is so moved by the music that she spills her beer onto Barry’s lap.  Then – as Barry fondly recalls – she starts to mop the beer off his thigh.

Six months later, they were married.  That was 55 years ago.  Their secret?  “I don’t think there is one,” says Barry, but it has to do with respect.  “And trust,” adds Doris.  “I would often go to Germany to visit family, and he never told me I couldn’t do that.  And he knew I had male friends over there that I’d have dinner with alone, but it was never an issue.  We trusted each other.”

They also know how to have fun.  A few years ago, they were sitting on a bench in Central Park when a woman walked over and told them she was doing a survey.  They gamely answered her questions, not really knowing what they were getting themselves into.  A week later, they got a call asking them to show up on a corner in Greenwich Village and follow the specific instructions they were to be given. Once there, they were ordered to “Get in that taxi with this 20 dollar bill.”  They did, when suddenly pulsing lights came on and the driver turned around to beam, “Welcome to Cash Cab!”

It’s no surprise Doris and Barry were chosen to be on a TV game show.  They play so well together, it’s only fitting that their enduring love story began with a joke and a song.  And they look amazing – I think I might want to do another piece just on their beauty secrets.

passion beat: chef david z. @ boqueria, flatiron

Boqueria's David Z. piles on the charm (photo courtesy Lyana Fernández)

When chef David Z. fell in love with cooking at the age of 10 in his native Veracruz, Mexico, he had to do it in secret – in those days, hanging out in the kitchen wasn’t considered manly.

He went on to open his own restaurant before coming to the US 12 years ago and landing a job at Midtown’s splashy Brasserie 8½. Today, David’s unabashed flare for food is evident at Boqueria, the popular tapas destination in the Flatiron District.  Looking much younger than his 50 years, you can spot him right by the window doing his craft; and if you’re smart, you’ll sit right in front of him at the bar.  That’s where I decided to chat him up in Spanish while I was waiting for my friend Lyana (whom you can hear perusing the menu during the video).

It was Labor Day weekend, and while nearby sidekick Sala One-Nine (a good choice for mid-week lunch specials) looked hungry for customers, Boqueria was buzzing as usual.  And there was David, turning out plate after plate of tortilla Española, manchego, and pan con tomate (his secret touch: a pinch of sugar).  He’s a natural comedian and could easily have his own cooking show – as he told me joke after joke, I noticed these weren’t ordinary tapas.  David is a master plater:  he smears aioli into fluttering fans reminiscent of Seville (“for the summer,” he says) and piles rounds of bread onto cheese boards as if they were miniature monuments.  I was mesmerized.

Above all, David is a passionate man.   He talks about his love for gastronomy as if he were serenading his beloved, and when I ask him about his effortless artistry, he tells me it’s all in the feeling: “Even though you’re doing it for others, you have to do it for yourself first.”

And he’s definitely muy manly.  Check out those Michelangelo-esque hands…

worth posting for: love stories from storycorps

I haven’t posted in so long, I was worried I’d forgotten how to use WordPress.  Thankfully, I’m here.   As for the blog slump – I’ve been feeling that I only want to post something that’s truly worth it.  And this is.

Tonight I went to a magical event presented by WNYC – the public radio station I worked at while I was new and wide-eyed in the city and doing my Master’s degree at NYU.  At the time, it was my dream to be a part of WNYC.  So I went down to the old location at One Centre Street by the Brooklyn Bridge, stood awestruck looking up at the majestic Municipal Building, then went back to my student-housing studio and drafted a passionate letter to the head of human resources.  It worked.

14 years and two transatlantic moves later, I’m at Bonhams – the auction house on Madison Avenue – for the launch of All There Is: Love Stories From StoryCorps.

In case you haven’t heard of StoryCorps, the independent nonprofit has gathered over 40,000 interviews since 2003 from over 60,000 people who’ve stepped into “StoryBooths” all over the country.  The intimate, moving conversations are recorded and preserved at the Library of Congress.  You can listen to them every Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition.

While the stories are varied, there’s a common theme:  we’re not all that different – no matter where we come from, we all share similar hopes, fears, and the desire to be loved.

Tonight, it was all about love.  As StoryCorps founder Dave Isay put it, these stories are about hope and serendipity – about finding love in unexpected places, and finding love when it was thought it wasn’t to be found.  The book is also a testament to the value of relationships and commitment.  My favorite quote of the night: “Being married is like having a color television set.  You never want to go back to black and white.”

No, wait. I think my favorite quote is this one:  “And then we had a honeymoon that lasted 63 years.”

Buy the book, cry like I did, and support this important initiative – StoryCorps is now the largest oral history project of its kind.  And this incredibly inspiring collection reminds us that love really is…all there is.

london loves from an old local

The bathroom at Jones' Wood Foundry on Manhattan's Upper East Side

One year ago today I came full circle: LHR to JFK.

It was the best decision I made since I undertook the opposite move nearly seven years before.

Now I get the best of both worlds – I feel equally at home in both cities. And while I might miss some of my old haunts, I take great pleasure in directing you to them. Here’s the list I keep sending to friends making the trip across the pond…

Top spot: Borough Market by London Bridge. It’s normally only open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. Go there around 11am, graze, and just marvel at everything.  The Comte from Borough Cheese Company is well worth a nibble.  And if you need a perk, you can’t do better than a cup from Monmouth Coffee.

After Borough Market, wander down to the Thames River Path, then keep going west to Southbank. It’s a nice stretch along the river with restaurants, concert venues, and usually something colorful happening outdoors. You’ll also get a very romantic view of London as it gets dark.

If you’re in the mood for fish & chips, you’ll find it at most pubs; but for a special treat go to Geale’s in Notting Hill.

For a great British breakfast, check out my favorite cafe/free wifi place/concert space The Tabernacle, also in Notting Hill.

Two words: Indian food. Kahn’s in Bayswater is an institution.  I also love Rasa.

After Kahn’s, walk down to Artisan Du Chocolat for killer hot chocolate – thick and rich enough to spoil you for life. They also have a stall at Borough Market.

Get some museum action in South Kensington (V&A, Science Museum, Natural History). The Kensington Creperie is next door. Drool-worthy sweet and savory crepes.  Or head to The Abingdon for the most memorable sticky toffee pudding ever.

For a spot of history and solitude, stop in at St. Etheldreda in Farringdon, the tiny church where Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.  If you’re lucky, the crypt will be open.  When you’re done appreciating the architecture and stained glass, head to Piada on St. John street for relatively inexpensive and delicious Italian filled flatbread.

After that, go right across the street to Vinoteca for a glass.  Speaking of vino, a must-see is Gordon’s, the oldest wine bar in London. But not if you’re claustrophobic – you’ll have to descend stairs into a cavernous space. This is near Embankment which also happens to be near…Covent Garden. You’ll want to take a peek around there and pause at Scoop for the best gelato outside Italy.

And if theatre’s your thing, the TKTS discount ticket booth is about a 10-minute walk away in Leicester Square.  Or find out why cinema is so much cooler than the movies at Curzon – the Soho branch has a perfectly-placed Konditor and Cook cafe for a sneaky slice of something sweet.

As for logistics, buy Oyster cards for the tube and bus when you arrive. For me, the best way to enjoy London is to see where the crooked and cobbled streets take you.

Bonus super-secret tip:  lunch at Books for Cooks off Portobello Road.  The test kitchen at the back serves London’s best three-course deal.  But you have to know the drill:  get there at least 20 minutes before noon to nab one of the few seats, and be prepared to charm the regulars so they don’t hate me too much for telling you about this.  I enjoyed them – and this special place – so much.

my new favorite thing: roasted tomatoes

Raw tomatoes don’t usually agree with me, but the simplicity and sweetness of these definitely does.  So easy I feel silly giving a recipe: arrange tomatoes (these are the grape variety) in a baking dish, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, season with coarse kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for up to 1.5 hours, or until skin is blistery.  Keep steady stream on hand in fridge to use in bruschetta, pasta, sandwiches, salads.  Instant teleportation to the south of Italy.

cheese duet – vermont country store

In the postcard-pretty town of Weston, Kathy and Lenora serve up samples...and smiles.

As I handed over $3 for a tiny bottle of Vermont Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup, the cashier flashed me a giant smile.

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like…Janeane Garofalo!”

It wasn’t a question.

Oh, dear.  I had finally come to terms with the whole Sally Field thing…and now this?

Perhaps I shouldn’t pooh pooh it;  maybe it’s the girl-next-door thing that makes people feel like they can talk to me and my iPhone.

So here’s another improvised interview – straight from the land of sugary sap, marvelous music, and lush landscapes.

Photo courtesy of HCK

durianrider’s first bite of the big apple

Raw romance: Durianrider and Freelee outside Whole Foods Union Square

Once upon a short period of time, I was a raw vegan.  I got really into it.  And then I discovered there were other people who were really, really into it.  That’s how I came across Durianrider.

The 34-year-old Australian athlete takes his healthy-living mission around the world with his partner Freelee and is known for his, shall we say, colorful videos.  So when I saw him standing next to his bamboo bike in Union Square, I recognized him instantly.

Turns out Durianrider (Harley Johnstone) had landed in our metropolis only 12 hours before.  Breaking news!  In this meaty interview (pun intended), he reveals what he eats in a typical day, where he thinks you should get most of your calories, and which New York landmark really made his jaw drop.

cuban quickie: bongo brothers food truck

Bueno, bonito, y barato: Bongo Brothers NYC Cuban food truck

I had just finished the breakfast special at Café Orlin when I spotted it:  a Cuban food truck.  ¿Que?   Sí, right on 5th Avenue between 18th and 19th streets.  I eyed it suspiciously – not just because I’d never seen it there – I’ve been burned by wannabe Cuban food before.

I grew up in a Cuban household.  My mother’s name is Lucy.  I have a right to be picky about these things.

And yet I’m not the best judge of what you might think of as Cuban cuisine:  instead of the usual meat dishes like lechón asado (slow-roasted pork) and ropa vieja (stewed shredded beef), I get intense cravings for plátanos maduros (sweet, ripe plantains) and tostones (salty, green ones).  And when I do, I don’t want to sit at a restaurant or hit the kitchen.  Or pay over the odds for something that’s never going to top mi familia’s.

Enter Bongo Brothers Cuban food truck.  $1 for an order of tostones or maduros.  $1!  So, even though I was full, I had to get a bite.  That’s after I interviewed Danny Teran – one-half of the Bongo Brothers team – who was very excited to talk to me and tell me his story, even while I held up his line of hungry customers…and despite the humming of the truck.  Gracias, Danny.  As you can see from the photo at the end of the video, I didn’t get very far down the street before I tore open the steamy parcel bearing memories of salsa steps, sunny skies, and sandy shores.  Hasta la próxima.

friday photo: great mango stall, 14th st. & university place

five more reasons to love new york

Al Mazur with his new fans at the 92nd Street Y

At the beginning of Love Etc., a new documentary, we see a couple in bed, limbs entwined under a mound of crinkled sheets.

“I have to move the car,” mumbles one of them.

It’s a slice of New York romance – and one of five real stories shot over the course of a year throughout the boroughs.

I was at the sneak preview last night at the 92nd Street Y.  The characters range in age from 18 to 89, but one story truly captured my heart:  that of Albert and Marion Mazur of Canarsie, who celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary shortly after the film was completed.  Their tenderness for each other was palpable in every scene – right down to Al’s careful slicing of his wife’s peanut-buttered toast when she became too frail.  Marion had always taken care of everything around the house, but now it was Al’s turn.

“Do you want to listen to the radio?” asks Al as they sit down to eat.

“I’d rather listen to you,” replies Marion, without missing a beat.

We’re treated to more lessons of love as we watch Al and Marion.  They didn’t always see eye to eye; it’s just that every disagreement ended with a mutual agreement to “start over.”  Al said that his 48 years of marriage had felt like 48 minutes.

Marion passed away a few months ago, and Al spoke about their enduring story during the Q&A: “I really don’t know where the time went.”  Then he told us their secret:

“We lived our lives together, but separately.  That was really it.”

He tried to get her to exercise with him, but it really wasn’t her thing.  She was into political events while he wasn’t, so she’d often do that on her own.  Yet their joint dream was to have a musical hit, and their baby was a song they called “Every Day’s A Holiday in Brooklyn.” Even then, they preserved their individual identities and fused them into a beautiful whole:

“I wrote the music line, and she wrote the story line.”

Love Etc. opens this Friday in New York City.

friday photo: sunset, hudson river park

(Click on image for fancy lightbox.)

fab find: chozen “ice cream with chutzpah”

Chozen co-founder Meredith Fisher shares the flavors she grew up with

There are countless ice cream companies vying to cool you off under the summer sun.  How do you choose?

You don’t.

Chozen.  It has to be the most clever concept for ice cream I’ve come across, and I knew I needed to get an interview – and a taste – the second I saw it at Smorgasburg last Saturday.

With flavors inspired by traditional Jewish desserts and based on family recipes created by local bakers using all-natural ingredients, this is “Ice Cream With Chutzpah.”

Watch the video below to get the full story from co-founder Meredith Fisher, then make sure you check out the neat descriptions of all the flavors on their site.

This video is fudged – I was so smitten by my scoop of Apples & Honey that I forgot to take a picture of it, so I ran down to Whole Foods yesterday to try out Chozen’s bestselling Coconut Macaroon.  Those are the pictures you see at the end.  I don’t usually buy ice cream to keep at home, but I had a very good excuse this time.  Now there’s no telling how long that pint’s going to stick around the freezer.  And the Chocolate Gelt is calling my name – I can hear it all the way from Union Square.

In case you’re keeping score – yes, I did indeed have two desserts in a row on Saturday.  Actually, three.  But one of them, as you know, was raw bananas.  So it doesn’t count.

fab find: rob & anna’s “it’s just bananas”

Who are these people? Watch the video below to find out

I’ve always loved coming up with names (“name generation,” as they say in the ad world.) And so I get especially excited when I run into an example of both why-didn’t-I-think-of-that branding and I-want-to-eat-that-now brand.

This week, I want to rave about two vendors who caught both my eye and my taste buds during my first visit to Smorgasburg – the all-food market happening every Saturday throughout the summer on the Williamsburg waterfront.

First up:  Rob & Anna’s.  It’s really only one person – or not the people you’d think.  You’ll see what I mean in this video when I introduce you to Emma Schwartz, the brains behind the one-month old enterprise.

Frozen bananas masquerading as ice cream is not a new idea, but nobody’s found a way to make it mainstream…until now.  I really want to help out Emma and her gang.  They’re completely unpretentious and have a rocking idea that’s so simple, healthy, and fun, it’s bananas nobody’s done it like this before.

Rob & Anna’s Frozen Banana Soft Serve.  Every Saturday at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Go!  Or at least get their numbers up on their Facebook page.  Liking this post helps us all out, too.

And come back Wednesday when I’ll showcase two other ladies churning out another cool – and saucy – idea.

friday photo: empire state fog, flatiron

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what to do with your mom in new york

Mother figure: Fernando Botero’s “Eve” at the Time Warner Building

For me, there’s only one way to travel:  with the tongue.  My trips revolve around food.  It’s something I learned from my mother, who trained me to eat out since before I could chew.  So when my mom was preparing to visit me last week, I first made a list of my regular haunts to introduce her to.  Then I looked at the list and sighed.  There was no way we could hit them all in the time she was here.

Here’s what we ended up doing – with a few non-gustatory attractions thrown in.  Bear in mind I live in the Village and wanted her to get a feel for my neighborhood, so most of these are downtown…

Day 1

Mom wanted tapas since she can’t get them in Orlando.  This threw a bit of a wrench in the plans since, even though I love Spanish food, it’s not a regular thing for me.  We followed a Time Out tip to Las Ramblas on West 4th which, disappointingly, didn’t score highly with us.  If I had a redo, I would have taken her to Pipa; and that’s where you should take your mama, too.

Day 2

If you’re not a theater buff, Broadway tickets are going to shock you.  But it’s mom we’re talking about here, so you’d better shell out.  We headed to the TKTS booth in Times Square on a sweltering day, but don’t bother.  Here’s the trick:  go to the theater’s box office 45 minutes before the performance and wait for returns.  That’s where you’ll get the best prices.  And, even though I cringed at the idea, Sister Act, it turns out, is surprisingly fun for both mother and child.

After that, we jumped on the A train down to High Street for legendary Grimaldi’s pizza.  Getting there post-matinee – around 5pm – was key.  No usual marathon wait, and you’re out the door for a scoop at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory faster than you can say “mamma mia.”

Day 3

When your mom is a Cuban Catholic and your dad is a Russian Jew, there’s one thing you gotta do: get a history lesson at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum followed by an order of blintzes at B&H.

Did you know that if you live in an apartment building, you live in a tenement?  The root “tener” is Latin for “to hold,” and a tenement is simply a building that holds at least three families.  During the museum’s tour of the Orchard Street residence, you and your mom will also learn about the Prussian homemaker whose husband went to work and never returned (he skipped out on the family and was later discovered in Ohio), and, conversely, about the Italian cabinetmaker who went to great lengths to sneak his wife into the country sans papers.

Oh, I nearly forgot:  we started the day at the best breakfast (with the strongest coffee) in town:  Cafe Mogador.

Day 4

A place with 8 little tables and the best panini this side of Italy is special, as is your mom.  So take her to ‘ino on Bedford Street, where she’ll swoon over the stellar cheeses and fixings encased in perfectly pressed ciabatta.  Wash down with their freshly squeezed OJ, then head uptown for a stroll around the lower portion of Central Park before sinking your spoons into a lofty – and shareable – chocolate soufflé at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle.

At night, go to Suzie’s Finest Chinese Cuisine on Bleecker Street for old times’ sake – it’s where my mom and I ate when she moved me here in 1997 for grad school.  The food’s not so fine anymore; and maybe it wasn’t back then, either.  But I was 22 and had a lot to learn.

Wander up to Rocco so mom can pick up a real cheesecake as her carry-on luggage.  A very important detail they didn’t teach at NYU.

Have a glass of vino at my local Tavern on Jane – where the tables are draped with white paper and topped with big fat crayons.  A great spot to meet friends, talk for hours, and listen to your mom’s words of wisdom.

Day 5

Run over to Murray’s Bagels on 6th Ave between 12th and 13th for half a dozen so she can fulfill the remaining carry-on quota.  They’re each hot in the bag, crusted over with the necessary sprinklings, and worth every $1.15.

That’s all, kids.

friday photo: golden retriever at dinner, west village

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time to make the blintzes

“While Moses was giving the Ten Commandments to the men, the women were making blintzes.”

So says Lynn Kutner at the beginning of our 2.5 hour Blintz-A-Thon at a West Village synagogue. The author of two cookbooks, Bountiful Bread and A Pocketful of Pies, Lynn, like me, has Russian heritage – and a love of the kitchen – in her blood.  I am so grateful to her for being so generous with her time and culinary flair in anticipation of Shavuot, the joyous (dairy) holiday.

Watch as she shows us the tricks of the trade…and I make an attempt.  Note:  I asked Lynn how to maximize small kitchen space when making these.  Answer:  cook four, roll four.

All recipes © Lynn Kutner

Blintz Batter

Makes about 10 crêpes

3 eggs
2 tablespoons melted, cooled butter or 2 tablespoons (sunflower) oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour (unbleached all-purpose, i.e. Hecker’s)
1/2 cup water

1.  Break eggs into bowl.  Remove white “strings” using two spoons.
2.  Beat in next four ingredients.
3.  Beat in milk and flour very well to make sure batter is smooth.
4.  Beat in water.  Cover and refrigerate at least two hours, preferably overnight.

To cook:

Fry one test crêpe in a hot, buttered nonstick pan.  If it is too thick, thin batter with a few drops of water.

The technique for making a thin, even crêpe is to pour about 3 tablespoons of the batter onto one spot on the very hot pan.  Immediately swirl the pan so the batter coats the bottom evenly.  When the first side is nicely browned, turn and cook the second side.  The whole process takes 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.

It is the second side (the less pretty side) that is filled, so that the better side shows.

Lynn’s Healthy Crepes

2-3 eggs
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons pure maple syrup, honey, or molasses
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup (soy) milk
1/4 cup water

Blueberry Filling for Blintzes

(Fills about 8 medium)

One 12-ounce bag frozen blueberries or 1 pint fresh blueberries
1/4 to 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon cinammon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon water
Small squeeze of fresh lemon

1.  Mix all ingredients except the blueberries in a saucepan.  Stir in the blueberries.
2.  Bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly.  Boil 2-3 minutes.  Put in an ice bath to cool.  May be made a day or two in advance.  Recipe may be doubled or tripled.

Cheese Filling for Blintzes

(Fills 10)

Mix together well:

2 packages Friendship farmer cheese (with salt, 15 ounces)
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons apple juice

While it’s not expressly noted here, fry the blintzes on both sides until golden.

friday photo: truth in advertising, west village

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mango magic, union square

Peeling and slicing the succulent mango can be tricky business.  Take in the street action on the SE corner of 14th Street and University Place; then watch as Luz, a local vendor, shows us how it’s done.  This was taken before I figured out you need to turn the iPhone, but I wanted to share it anyway.