Oh the places we’ll go..

I love having visitors. Being fairly new to New York I relish the opportunity to explore the city like a tourist. I recently had two of my good friends Megan & Katy come to stay for a bit. It was glorious good fun, lots of delicious food, long life affirming conversations and raucous laughter. We discovered new places together and savored some of the staples they look forward to enjoying when here. Here are a few of the highlights:

One last delicious bite

Luke’s Lobster : I actually discovered this place when my siblings were in town but I offered it up as a suggestion for potential lunch places to visit. They give a generous portion of lobster on a buttery roll. I don’t like lobster with too many fixins so the simplicity of these lobster rolls were right up my alley. The girls visited more than once which gives me the impression they liked it too.

St. Dymphnas: We had a hankering for some calamari while wandering St. Marks. This bar was a delightful surprise. An unassuming bright little bar. It felt like an italian place, but turns out it was an Irish bar. Cheeriest Irish bar I’ve ever been to. The girls and I had calamari, a cheese plate & beer lots and lots of beer.

Rebar: The magical land of Brooklyn is starting to grow on me. Finding places like rebar is one of the reasons. It had an inconspicuous entrance I figured it was just going to be another cramped NY restaurant but once the doors open you soon realize it’s bigger on the inside (like the Tardis!). The decor could best be described as log cabin resort. Beautiful iron gate doors act as a partition between the bar & restaurant. The tables are huge as if one big mighty tree was felled and fashioned into a dining table for the whole forest. The space is lit by a charming array of rustic chandeliers & lone low watt lightbulbs. The food was good! A bit pricey but delicious the polenta dish was a real stand out. A fun place to meet a bigger group.

Hester Street Fair: The name makes it sound much bigger than it actually is but what it lacks in size it makes up for  in charm. Situated in a little pocket between volleyball & tennis courts (don’t worry there are fences to keep the stray balls from flying toward your face) the fair houses a modest collection of artisans & food vendors. You can literally walk the whole fair in 2 min. We enjoyed sampling the food vendors (Luke’s Lobster is there!) and I managed to find a delicate little necklace just as I was losing hope in finding the perfect gift for a friend.

Serenity - the main ingredient Dragon Tears

Angel’s Share: The perfect place to take someone you want to impress. The bar is located behind an unmarked door in a busy yakatori restaurant. It’s usually pretty packed on the weekends but since we visited on a Wednesday early in the evening we managed to score a table in the back room. It is a classy places with dark wood, white gloved servers & $14 special cocktails made by mixologists.


Joe Shanghai: Soup Dumplings! This place is virtually on every “must eat” list when visitors roll through town. Two tidbits of advice: 1) The dumplings are a meal unless you want a ton of leftovers. For the average party of 3, 2 orders of the Dumplings (1 pork & 1 crab) and an appetizer or 2 (scallion pancakes & green beans are my favorite) are more than enough to satisfy. 2) If you’ve never had these type of dumplings first, watch the people around you and copy their technique otherwise prepare to have the inside of your mouth scalded by an explosion of soup. This place is popular and no frills so be prepared for a long wait and to share a table.

Momofuku Noodle Bar: David Chang is a rockstar of the NY culinary scene. He has a string of Momofuku restaurants around town varying in theme & exclusivity. We like to come here for the Ramen & Pork Buns. My perfect bowl of Ramen hinges on two criteria; the pork & the broth. The ramen here hits the pork portion of that criteria out of the park. Which is also why the pork buns are a winner. We didn’t go to the milk bar (which is a block over) but Momofuku also has excellent cookies which rival my beloved Levain cookies.

My list of places to take people is slowly growing. I try to take visitors to a combination of sure fire hits and new places we can test together. If you ever decide to head out to NY for a visit, I have a handy google map with markers for all of the places I’ve enjoyed.

Looking forward to your visit!

Homesick

This week has been downright shitty. I’m really missing the bay area. I miss my friends and especially my family. I don’t feel like I’ve really been able to connect with people here. It’s frustrating because I can’t figure out what the problem is. I know I’m not really smooth or particularly vibrant in social situations but I’m not completely inept when it comes to basic human interaction. This is the frustrating part when it comes to moving. Building relationships takes time and I suppose I just haven’t been here long enough. After a week like this one I just long to walk into a place where people know my name and care that I’m there. Where we’ve already gotten over the preliminaries and established we like each other, can have a drink or share a meal and laugh the afternoon away. Friends I miss you I will be back for a visit soon, let’s get together.

Tomorrow is the start of a new week. Hopefully it’s better than this last one.

Have You Seen This Man?

His name is Damien Rice; Irish singer songwriter and main stage artist of my favorite moody soundtrack. Listening to Damien usually leaves me emotionally exhausted and exhilarated. He captures perfectly the tenor of heartbreak. Sadly the last album he released was in 2006 and I miss him. So if you’ve heard any news, let me know.

Noteworthy Books

The book update is long overdue, I am very behind my 100 books goal but I am steadily catching up. I’m only going to blog about the books that stood out these past few months.

Everything Ravaged Everything Burned by Wells Tower:

This collection of stories was superb. Wells Tower constructs sentences expertly. I constantly found myself reading individual sentences over and over, in awe at the punch a few rightly chosen words strung together produced. These stories were a thing of literary beauty. Books like  this are not for everyone. There are pretensions that sometimes accompany the designation of being bookish. Some of these are: a proclivity to use big words (guilty), casual name dropping of famous authors in conversation (the serious ones and yes guilty again), earnest discussions about recent articles in the New Yorker or The New York Times, and a tendency toward literary fiction. What is literary fiction exactly? Basically it’s one long inner monologue of everyday mundane living. It often displays in heartbreaking detail the losing battle of life, the ridiculous coping mechanisms we use to get through life’s obstacles. There aren’t any loud explosions, no superheros, monsters, or epic romances. My favorite type of literary fiction contains stories of people getting pummeled by life and coming out on the losing end (i.e. anything by Richard Yates) or resigning themselves to mediocrity. This is a grim view of literary fiction but it is by no means comprehensive and does not do justice to the beautiful writing but again this type of story is not for everyone.

Recommended for book snobs (my favorite).

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder:

This book reduced me to blubbering tears on the train. I stopped wearing mascara the couple days I was reading this book in anticipation of the tears. Paul Farmer is an amazing human being. His very existence has changed my life. To read about a man who took a no nonsense approach to aiding those in need, who fought against the establishment bare knuckled, and also traveled miles and miles on foot to visit and treat one person. He is a superhero, if that sort of thing even exists. I was humbled by the way he treated the poor and desolate. He didn’t just acknowledge them in some sort of citizen high to citizen low demeanor but got down and dirty, became one of the people, advocated for them, became part of their families, he met their needs on various levels, he treated each of his patients like they were his own mother, father, daughter. It’s one thing to be generous with your money it’s a completely other thing to be generous with your life.

Recommended for everyone, yes you please read this book.

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene:

I haven’t quite finished this book yet. It was a bad idea to think this was good train fodder. I quickly had to relegate this to the weekend intense read shelf because I had to start taking notes to visualize the concepts he was writing about. Greene does a great job of breaking down superstring theory into manageable pieces for those who don’t regularly frequent the physics and math world. I’m really enjoying this book but really wish I had a theoretical physicists friend on call to talk to about it.

Recommended for math and science folks or those with even a fleeting interest in theoretical physics. There is a NOVA mini-series based on this book that is worth checking out.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson:

There always seems to be a mystery thriller everyone is talking about and/or reading. Currently it is the Stieg Larsson trilogy. I read the first book Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last year and really enjoyed it. I waited for the 2nd book to come out in paperback before buying it. The story in this second installment was predictable and yet still really enjoyable. It was nice to get swept up in a world of intrigue. I can imagine the Bourne Identity type movie these books are going to make (I think I heard rumor of this getting turned into an American movie). The cliff hanger of an ending easily segues into the third book which unfortunately is still in hardback. I will wait a few months before picking up the third book and seeing how the adventures of Lisbeth Salander play out.

Recommended for lovers of mystery thrillers and those eager to get swept up in a mystery adventure.

Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Friday Night…

I had a very interesting evening. It started off very unassuming. I had a date with a boy that I met playing softball. A guy who up to the very point I walked into the restaurant seemed 100% normal. We had gone to a book signing together a week ago and had a wonderful discussion about books. He’s athletic, bookish and not bad on the eyes; ostensibly a real winner until our date yesterday.

We exchanged semi-flirtatious emails and made plans for dinner Friday night.  I walk into the restaurant and find him seated at a table in the corner with an older woman. I walk over a little befuddled but manage to compose myself and say hello. He introduces the woman as his mom. Yes folks he brought his MOM!! At this point I am completely disoriented and actively searching for cameras because I’m surely getting Punk’d. I sat for a moment perusing the menu and making small talk. The crazy thing was they acted like it was completely normal (am I the crazy one here). I excuse myself to “wash my hands” in the bathroom and come up with a game plan.

I have endured my fair share of awkward moments. I’ve sat helplessly enduring boring dates, stood guard as girl friends had cringe worthy conversations with boys, I’ve even sat and played board games with a then maybe boyfriend and his back in town surprise visit ex-fiance. I sat in the bathroom texting friends in a digital cry for help but ultimately decided ENOUGH I will not endure an evening of mortification and confusion. I got back to the table said I wasn’t feeling well and promptly left. Very rude uncharacteristic behavior for me but I pull the alternate universe card because this situation was not normal.

I went to a movie alone (Knight & Day which was pretty entertaining) to indulge in some mindless activity. Grabbed a quick bite, headed home to open a bottle of wine and a new book. If you think that the Friday night mayhem is over you are mistaken.

I wake up to some commotion in the living room sometime after 11ish. I hear muffled cries and my roommate’s boyfriend on the phone with the police. I go into the living room and see both of my roommates huddled together. One of them visibly sobbing and very shaken up. I discern details from the phone call and a whispered exchange between my roommates. My roommate was MUGGED, just around the corner from where we live. A couple of guys ran up behind her, hit her on the head and ran off with her purse. We spent the next hour canceling her cards and she gave a statement to the police. 6 policemen got to our apartment in less than 20 minutes. They canvassed our neighborhood and thought they found the guys. Turns out they didn’t. New York just got very real this evening. My roommate is ok. She is understandably still a little shaken and wary. We are evaluating whether or not to change our locks.

I ended the last few minutes of Friday helping to calm my roommate. It was a horrible Friday evening. Thankfully Saturday started off beautifully. My friend Aaron called at around 1:30 which is weird because he called (which he never does) and it was such an ungodly hour. I called him back and got news that he proposed to his long time girlfriend Lorraine. It was wonderful news and turned my mood around. So today I will think twice before giving my phone number to a random guy, walk a little more cautiously late at night, thank God my roommate is physically ok from the attack, and celebrate the engagement of a wonderful couple. Happy Saturday everyone.

Summer summer summer time..

Yes that’s right, it’s time to sit back and unwind. The unbearable heat has made me call “retreat!” (temporarily) on my battle plans for fun this summer. The air conditioned buildings offer a welcome respite from the wall of humidity that awaits outdoors. Sitting indoors has allowed me wonderful glorious time getting lost in good books and short stories in the New Yorker. There will be book review updates shortly. For now I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned about the crazy New York summer.

1. Expect the unexpected:

This has been a typical weather report for the past month or so. Hot as hell with intermittent thunderstorms (WTH?!). This little California girl is used to the gradual relaxed changes in the weather. The weather has been quite temperamental. I’m always sure to pack a small umbrella on any given day.

2. Quality over Quantity:

Summer means free outdoor activities. There are free movie nights on a decommissioned aircraft carrier, in Bryant Park, on rooftops. Free concerts at 7am and 7pm. You can see Al Pacino in a Shakespeare play for free. Not to mention my usual favorite activities of book signings, lectures, comedy shows by various brainiacs & literati. Right now, I could plan something to do every night until the end of August with an alternate B plan. It’s exciting and overwhelming how much the city has to offer. After a mini-break into hermitage for a few days I was once again reminded that I burn out easily and need to take it easy. So now I choose more wisely.

3. Street fairs at your doorstep:

There is a street fair or festival somewhere in Manhattan every Saturday & Sunday. This past weekend there was a street fair right outside my door. Most of these are pretty generic. You can get kabobs, fruit, gyros, crepes, people selling t-shirts, jewelry, the New York Times always trying to get me to buy a subscription. The festivals are a different matter all together. Festivals are usually themed (i.e. bbq, <insert minority group> pride, science). You get better food, performances, lectures, and free stuff at festivals.

That’s all for now, it’s time for me to make myself some cool refreshment. Hope you’re having a nice summer thus far, stay cool.


Sometimes I pinch myself

I am a huge nerd. Some people get excited when Lady Gaga comes through their town. I get excited when my favorite author/public radio personality/scientist comes through town to give a lecture or do a reading. For many years I forced my poor siblings to attend these events, events that were few and far between in the Bay Area.

Now that I’ve made the move out to New York I am constantly pinching myself at all of the amazing events I’ve been able to attend. Tonight for instance, I attended a This American Life themed edition of Selected Shorts hosted by Ira Glass. Two of my favorite podcasts combined to put on a show live. One of my favorite comedians Mike Birbiglia was also there to regale us with one of his hilarious stories. It’s been shocking getting to see in person the voices I’ve heard through my headphones so many times. Tomorrow night I get another dose of Ira at The Talent Show.

I’ve seen Malcolm Gladwell at Barnes & Noble. Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert reading from To Kill a Mockingbird at Symphony Space. Donald Glover (Community) & John Lutz (30 Rock) at the Upright Citizens Brigade. Jonsi from Sigur Ros and Madeleine Peyroux at the Blue Note. I went to a lecture the other day on what was going on with the Large Hadron Collider that was sold out! These are the types of things I get to attend every week. I often turn to my friend (who not only willingly but eagerly joins me at these events) in a shocked breathlessness whisper “I can’t believe we live here!”

Atticus Finch (making American men feel inadequate for 50 years)

I attended an event tonight at Symphony Space to celebrate Harper Lee’s birthday and the influence “To Kill a Mockingbird” has had on the American psyche for the past 50 years. Panelists included Authors and actors:  Libba Bray (award winning young-adult novelist Going Bovine, winner of 2010 Printz Award), Oskar Eustis (Artistic Director at The Public Theater), Kurt Andersen (novelist and Studio 360 Host) ,Jayne Anne Phillips  (novelist and National Book Award finalist Lark & Termite), filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy (author of the upcoming book Scout, Atticus, and Boo) & Stephen Colbert (who let’s be honest is the only panelist I really cared about). The highlight of the evening was Stephen reading a chapter from the book.

The panelists discussed how the book affected their lives and the way they thought it had affected America. Oskar Eustis shared an anecdote about of a little girl he fancied and how she said “I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch”. Oskar went on to say that the Atticus Finch standard has made him feel inadequate as a man and after having kids, an inadequate father. He said this jokingly of course, but like most jokes there was a sad sad truth behind it. Atticus is not your typical hero. He isn’t overly militant, he is understated and determined. He does what’s right because it is right and doesn’t make a show about it. He is wise, generous, humble & compassionate. With his kids he is patient, honest, and tries to instill in them good values by example.  I want to echo Oskar’s girl’s statement. I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch too!

The panel discussed Harper Lee and the mystery surrounding why she never wrote again. Today (April 28th) is Harper Lee’s 84th birthday. She has rarely done interviews or made appearances. I think the general consensus was that she never wrote again because she could never live up to the anticipation. To Kill a Mockingbird was too much of a success for her to write anything again. I guess we’ll never know. Personally I think she is more than happy with the masterpiece she has contributed to American literature.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in 4th grade. My mom took us to the library almost every week and it was on one of these excursions that I stumbled upon and into the world of Scout Finch. I think even at that age I was able to glean so much about what integrity looked like, what justice was, how entrenched social constructs were hard to change but it didn’t mean you shouldn’t try if they were wrong.

I love this book. I loved the movie too. Thank you Harper Lee for giving us Atticus, Scout, Jem, Dill & Boo. Happy Birthday.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
- spoken by Atticus Finch, by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Visit Me!

Hello friend,

This is Karen, remember your friend that haphazardly followed her dream to live in the Big Apple. In case you were wondering I miss you and think you should visit. If you do we can go to some of these places.

I would love to share with you why I fell in love with this big crazy city.

xoxo

Karen