Retail Therapy at Marimekko

A little retail therapy, in moderation of course, is sometimes just the fix I need to shake a bad mood and lift my spirits. I am admittedly no stranger to this self-prescribed remedy. My latest therapy session took place in none other than the bright and cheery Marimekko flagship store on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, which opened this past October.

Anxiety-ridden after work one night, with an hour to kill before meeting a friend for dinner in the West Village, I marched myself over to Marimekko for a jolt of joy. Marimekko’s classic, bold prints and colors are utterly timeless.

The Finnish export has been brightening wardrobes, coloring homes, and cheering up patrons since 1951. Dawning everything from shower curtains to blouses, Marimekko’s vibrant pops of color and chunky graphic designs feel clean and orderly in their reliable, straightforward patterns.

A proud owner of my mother’s original 1975 Marimekko Oy Tangerine sheets, and a yellow Pieni Unikko Oven Mitten (not vintage, but very…handy?), I added to my collection that night and purchased a Large Räsymatto Bowl, which I absolutely love. This therapy session came home with me and sits in plain view in my apartment, making every day – even those that I can’t make it to the airy, high ceilinged flagship store – feel a little sunnier.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Jewish Deli-Themed Dination Supper Club

The best meal I ate last week was the best meal I’ve eaten in 2013, and actually, in recent history. Good friend Daniel Meyer has started a supper club, for a good cause. Dination combines two great things: sharing a good meal with friends and giving to a good cause. The basic concept is simple, and the results have been extraordinary thus far. You get a group of friends together for a meal, choose a charity or cause to donate to, and as long as you raise more than the cost of the meal – be it any amount, small or large – you’ve done a good thing (or two, actually, because you’ve gotten a great meal out of it!).

I was lucky enough to attend Saturday’s Jewish-Deli-themed dinner, and words can’t do the evening justice. We raised $300 for the Food Bank of New York City, and walked home — bacon peanut brittle in hand — buzzed on great food, loud laughs, Dr. Brown’s Dark & Stormy’s and giving to a worthy cause. See below for the menu and see here for some photos of the exquisite food.

Daniel, the brainchild behind this outrageous menu and the awesome dination, is a self-taught, brilliant chef. Yes, the bagels were homemade. Yes, so was the smoked bluefish pate. Yes, the gravlax melted in my mouth with the creme fraiche dressing, and were elevated to new heights with a crunch of pumpernickel crouton and the crisp watercress. Yes, the chicken-liver crostini was perfect for dipping in the matzo dumpling soup, which was better than my mother’s (sorry, mom). Yes, the pastrami short ribs were smoked with wood chips and coals out back on Daniel’s grill and yes, the caraway mashed potatoes were pure genius, offering that jewish rye flavor that fits so right with pastrami and (yes, homemade) pickles. For a lover of cinnamon raison bagels who is constantly coming to their defense, the cinnamon raisin bread pudding with (YES!) cream cheese ice cream blew me away. Adjectives or descriptions won’t do any good here. Sign up for a dination dinner and see what I mean. I know this is just the first of many for me!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Steve’s Swingle

The best thing I ate last week was at Atlantic Antic this past Sunday. After shuffling down Atlantic Avenue – closed to motor traffic, overrun with foot traffic on the 38th Annual Atlantic Antic festival, a day of celebrating Brooklyn’s finest on a ten block stretch of Atlantic Avenue – I spotted the stall I had been waiting for: Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. Steve’s Authentic makes outrageously good key lime pies from their waterfront bakery in Redhook. Seeing it closer to home on Sunday was almost too good to be true. Having passed by food stalls the likes of Mile End, Rucola and Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, I almost felt like Steve’s stall at the end of the line was something of a mirage.

I had only ever tried the regular pies (which converted me from being an occasional fan of key lime to a die-hard one), but ever since I heard about the Swingle, I’ve been dreaming of trying one. The Swingle is a frozen, chocolate-covered mini key lime pie on a stick. If you’re wondering, it’s unquestionably as incredible as it sounds. Atlantic Antic, the street fair of all NYC street fairs, is a wonderful event, bringing local businesses and neighbors together for a fantastic day of music, food, crafts and community. Yesterday, it brought me together with the Swingle, my new favorite dessert and definitely the best thing I ate last week.

The Sweet Side of the Subcontinent

Dessert might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about South Asian food, but sweets are an integral part of South Asian cuisine and culture. Often overlooked, forgotten or even unknown outside of South Asia, sweets seem to have gotten lost in translation on many of the Westernized menus that we find in the United States. Where thousands of stand-alone shops sell nothing but sweets in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the United States shops that offer any kind South Asian sweet, let alone ones singularly dedicated to sweets, are few and far between.

From deep-fried pancakes soaked in sugary syrup, to fudge-like squares garnished with edible, silver foil, South Asian sweets come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. With such great and delicious variety, it’s too bad these confections seem to have such a low profile outside of South Asia.

Having not been exposed to the wonderful world of South Asian sweets before I studied in India, I was relieved and excited to discover that my sweet tooth would not be neglected during my stay. I quickly fell for mithai: a broad category of milk-based sweets. Burfi, one of the most popular types of mithai, became one of my favorites. Burfi itself can come in many flavors — like kaaju burfi, made with cashews; pista burfi, made with pistachios; or badam burfi, made with almonds. Gulab jamuns — deep-fried dough made of milk-solids, soaked in sweet syrup — became a decadent vice for me, and I couldn’t escape jalebi — a circular or pretzel-shaped, deep-fried, orange treat, sold on so many street corners. Justifying my indulgent exploration into the world of South Asian sweets were the encouraging words of nearly everyone I shared a meal with. A little milk- and sugar-based dessert was good for my digestion, I was told, and would help settle the acidity of a spicy meal. I was in heaven.

Not only are sweets an important part of a complete, South Asian meal, but they are also an essential part of daily culture. Upon my arrival in India, I learned that giving and receiving sweets is a habitual way both to show hospitality and to thank someone for hosting you. Even as clueless as I was when I first arrived at my new home, I knew that I shouldn’t decline the rasgulla — a cottage-cheese-like dumpling, boiled in sugar syrup — I was offered. If you are visiting someone’s home, you should never show up empty-handed, even, as my Bangladeshi friend Shanaz Chowdhury says, if you’re a frequent visitor. While the tradition sometimes strays in the United States to bringing beer, wine or alcohol, it is still very common, Shanaz explains, to bring a mixed box of sweets when you go to someone’s house.

Exchanging sweets is also a central part of festivals like Diwali, one of the most important festivals for Hindus, and personal celebrations, like weddings, having a baby or getting a new job. If a new baby is born into your family, you buy sweets for your friends — not the other way around. Likewise, if you get hired, you share your accomplishment by offering treats, not by accepting them. My nephew was born when I was living in a small town outside the city of Jaipur, and following the advice of a friend, I bought ladoos and burfi to deliver my good news properly. I love this tradition of giving, instead of receiving, when you have good news to share.

Unfortunately, finding good sweets outside of the South Asian subcontinent proves to be quite the task. Despite the abundance of Indian restaurants and food stores in New York City, for example, you will be hard pressed to find many specialty sweet shops. In Manhattan, Spice Corner in Curry Hill offers the best and largest selection you can find. If you want to find alternatives to this Curry Hill market in the city, you’ll have to sit down at a restaurant. But even at restaurants, dessert, if offered, is often an afterthought.The Masala Wala in the Lower East Side makes an excellent gulab jamun, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

In New York, the sweets really worth eating, and in shops of their own, are in Jackson Heights, Queens. AtRajbhog, you can find up to 10 kinds of burfi, up to five varieties of ladoos and outstanding gulab jamuns. A block away, Maharaja Sweets offers an excellent array of almond and cashew rolls decorated with with Varakh — a thin layer of silver foil — alongside more burfi, rasgulla and jalebi.

With so many varieties, there really is a mithai for everyone. The trick may be finding them, but once you do, you’ll definitely be going back for more!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Spicy Tuna Takumi Taco

I finally made it to Smorgusburg this past Sunday. With the original Brooklyn Flea three and a half blocks west of our apartment in the Winter, and three and a half blocks east in the Summer, I have never felt much need to trek up to Williamsburg for the Flea relocated there, and have never held much desire to see its food-centric offshoot, Smorgusburg, which opened last year in May, 2011. On a lazy Sunday, however, when it was a little too cloudy for the beach, Alex and I decided to venture north to the ‘Burg for a gluttonous morning at what has become the quintessential, open-air, artisanal Brooklyn food market.

The highlight from Smorgusburg was the Spicy Tuna Taco from Takumi Taco. Japanese-Mexican fusion: an epic combo in my book. And no wonder I liked it so much. Founder Mark Spitzer is the executive chef atBond Street, one of my favorite Asian-fusian restaurants in the city, home to the Wasabi Bloody Mary (with Citrus Vodka, Wasabi, Shichimi Cucumber, shaken and served in a martini glass), the Spicy Crispy Shrimp (with Yuzu Calamanci Vinaigrette and Chipotle Aioli) and the swanky ambiance that has kept my girlfriends and me coming back for years. Takumi Taco packs the same punch of flavors into fusian street food, and it works perfectly in the Spicy Tuna Taco: Sashimi grade big eye tuna with jicama, avocado, cucumber and spicy mayo in a crispy gyoza shell. It took a lot of willpower not to go back for a second. Luckily, there were plenty of other tempting items to try.

This Flamingo Stole My Heart

Elad Lassry, Chilean Flamingo, 90028, 2007. Chromogenic print, 14 × 11 in. (35.6 × 27.9 cm). Edition no. 3/5. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo 2008.194a-b © Elad Lassry

Meredith Marks Jewelery

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of going to Meredith Marks’ trunk show at the Gramercy Hotel.  Meredith Marks is Chicago-based jewelry designer whose line combines practicality with exoticism for a wearable but glamorous look.  A former model who also happens to hold a JD and MBA from Northwestern and certificates from the Gemological Institute of America, Meredith’s own beauty and smarts come through in her work.

I am no expert when it comes to jewelry — except that I adore it like any girl does — but Meredith seems to have created a very special line: one that has struck a  perfect balance of exoticism and simplicity.  From dangly earrings to bangles, from studs to cuffs, every piece is somehow both bold and delicate. The simplicity of her designs makes even the most ornate jewels into everyday pieces.  

Much of her collection is inspired by Indian jewelry, which is typically quite opulent — the more, the bigger, the better. Meredith’s pieces, however, are stripped versions of these often over-the-top, magnificent ornaments, making them accessible for daily wear. Her signature earrings sparkle femininity, and have caught the eye of a growing list of celebrities, including Courtney Cox, Reese Witherspoon and Chelsea Handler. I was instantly drawn to the Indian-inspired design channeled through a clean and basic composition. Try as I might to pick out my favorites, I was constantly finding new ones that took first place.

Meredith’s jewelry is as inspiring as she is: a mother of two, she built the business from scratch in just a few years and her pieces are now popping up in boutiques from LA to Chicago. I have my eyes set on these smoky earrings for now, but as soon as I keep scanning the collection, I know I’ll find something else that steals my heart.

Echo

One afternoon this spring, I happened upon Jaume Plensa‘s “Echo,” a forty-four foot high sculpture of a girl’s head, coming straight out of the ground in Madison Square Park.

Glowing white in the middle of the green park, surrounded by towering buildings, the head shone like the moon. The incredible “Echo” graced Madison Square Park all summer, but has since been taken down, so I wanted to share it here for those who may have missed it.

I’m not sure whether it was the shock of seeing it there for the first time, or the indistinguishable race of the girl depicted, or the serenity of her expression, but the sculpture seemed futuristic and almost other-worldly to me. Every time I walked by, it continued to stun me with its beauty.

Reading more about the piece didn’t detract from its magic. I’m a complete novice when it comes to art, but I do love it, and this sculpture moved me. I don’t know where “Echo” will go, but she will certainly ring loud in my memory.

Harbor Line Cruising

For something new, Alex and I took a Classic Harbor Line cruise one summer afternoon. Not only was it far less corny that I had expected, but it was actually quite sophisticated and impressively educational. Starting at Pier 62 in Chelsea, we cruised down around the tip of Manhattan and then up and around the island to return on the Hudson to Pier 62 three fact-filled hours later. If you ever wanted to take a crash course in the city’s architectural history, and you like sipping drinks on a yacht while you learn, the Classic Harbor Line’s Architecture Tour is for you!
(And after the cruise, walk a few avenues over to Eataly’s roof-top beer garden, Birreria, for some house-brewed ales and delectable, Italian – of course – bar food! Just get there before the after-work scene lines-up for an hour+ wait.)
 
 

Restoring the waterfront will be the one of the city’s primary projects of our lifetime. The Harbor Line Architecture Tour delves into the reasons the waterfront was built the way it was, and discusses how the waterfront is slowly being restored to maximize its incredible potential. We are a city surrounded by waterfront, and in time, hopefully we’ll not only be able to admire but also enjoy and partake in this privilege. Seeing parts of the city I had never seen before, and with the breath of perspective of viewing them from the water, I found an enhanced appreciation for both the waterfront and the architectural glory of this great city.

Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade

Today Alex and I woke up and decided to go to Coney Island. The last and only time I had been there was for a Daft Punk concert that still reigns as one of, if not the, very best nights of my life. And I was excited to see Coney Island in daylight and in the comfort of cut-offs and a tank-top, as opposed to the gold, spandex leggings I sported at the concert.

As we approached the train station, we realized that our spur-of-the-moment day trip to Coney Island was going to coincide with the Mermaid Parade – an annual art festival celebrating the beginning of sum
mer.

Every summer since I moved to New York, I’ve been tempted to follow the mermaids and sea creature-clad paraders that I spot on the train down to Coney Island to see them in action.

Today turned out to be that day! Hipster neon replaced by aquamarine and magenta, high-tops and skinny jeans by seashell bikinis and umbrella-converted jelly fish, Coney Island was still a carnival through and through.

When we got off the train among the thousands of Mermaid Paraders, we watched the beginning of the parade and paid equal attention to the lively audience.

Then we indulged in Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, fries and beer.
(I also had a chocolate and vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles in a waffle cone, to the audible envy of every woman I passed).

Next we walked to the boardwalk and strolled onto the pier, where the people-watching was almost as good as the ocean view.

Leaning over the railing and noting the deep green of the water, all of a sudden we saw a fisherman tugging his string. “He’s got something!”

A few seconds later, to our amazement, we watched him pull a thrashing sting ray out of the water!

Needless to say, the catch caused quite the commotion on the pier, and a small crowd gathered around to watch the fisherman unhook the flopping ray.

Everyone watched in nervous excitement as the fisherman, an old hand at the job, got to work. I’ll spare you the rest of the story, but will say that Coney Island certainly offered more bizarre thrills than I had expected.

We sat out on the beach for a few hours, which, although not the most pristine in the world, was great for a beach read and for soaking in some… rays?

We didn’t ride the Cyclone, so we’ll have to return for some more adventure. For now, I’m happy I finally got to see the Mermaid Parade in all its glory, with a few added delights and surprises along the way.

Sichuan and Bowling in Sunset Park

I’ve only been to Sunset Park twice, and both times I’ve followed the exact same itinerary – and what a worthy one it is. I can’t wait to return and continue exploring, next time, to be sure, with a different line up. Regardless of where my next visit takes me, however, I have a feeling I will always recommend my twice-tried plan to any visitor; remarkably, it’s a plan that would suit pretty much any group size and appeal to pretty much any age group.

The plan is a simple one: a two-stop trip with a nice, long walk in-between. Chinese food, followed by a walk in Sunset Park – the actual park, not the entire neighborhood- followed by bowling.

You’ll begin at Metro Cafe, a friendly, causal and delicious Sichuan restaurant on Eighth Avenue (at 50th Street), which has become known as the Chinatown of Brooklyn. The texture of the spicy Mapo Tofu will woo even a non-tofu eater, and the divine, sweet and sour Pork with Eggplant in Garlic is a perfect accompaniment. Wash it all down with a Tsingtao or two, and you’re ready to bowl.


To get to the bowling alley, take a digestive walk through Sunset Park, where the views of Manhattan are real. The elevated vantage point is such that you might feel you are on a mountain, looking down on the city from across an expansive body of water. And I do mean expansive. If you felt like the trip down to Sunset Park was leading you too far from home, this view will not soothe your separation anxiety. When you are done admiring the views and the great distance, Melody Lanes awaits.

Melody Lanes is an institution. I imagine it feels just the same as it did the day opened. Heavily patterned carpet covers the floor of the entrance, where on one side sits the sign-up desk and shoe exchange, and on the other side sits the barroom, where the infamous bartender, Peter Napolitano, resides.

Mr. Napolitano is a verifiable hoot. He sports a bow-tie, suspenders, and the fattest chops you’ve ever seen. He’s ready to launch a minimum ten-minute-long-story to anyone that nears his tap. Deservingly dubbed a “bartender-philosopher” by The New York Times in a wonderful exposé from May, 2009, Peter Napolitano is one of a kind. During my last visit to the bowling alley, my lovely boyfriend and I got to hear Peter explain how the house he grew up in backed right up to the hospital where he was born. On a paper napkin, he drew a diagram to show us how the window of the room where his mother gave birth literally faced his childhood bunk beds, and although they have since built a building in-between the the hospital and his house, Peter could show us the alley-way that would still permit a clear pathway from window to window. Peter is a spectacular storyteller and a truly congenial man. Although I still didn’t want to ask for his photograph, he’s the type of person who wouldn’t think anything of it and would gladly agree with no suspicion or reservations. If only everyone was so unassuming and trustworthy.
One side of the bowling alley are the disco-bowling lanes, flashing lights, music, disco-ball and all. These are the lanes for the recreational bowler, and where I’ve bowled both times. The opposing side is reserved for the leagues and professional bowlers: the lights are fully iluminated and the sound of ten pins falling in one fell strike is the primary noise coming from this side of the room. As a layman, it’s fun to watch the other side, although I did feel somewhat intrusive even at the full distance of five, empty lanes away from the action.

But Melody Lanes is a friendly place; everyone is there to have a good time, and it was refreshing, for me, to hang out among people of all ages and backgrounds in one, communal space. If you still have room after a Sichuan feast, have some curly fries, a beer, and a gum ball, and maybe feel like you’ve gone back in time for a brief moment. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to hear a tale from the legendary, Bay Ridge-born bartender.