14 December 2015

A Warm December Day in NYC

December 13
On this spookily warm (mid 60's) December Sunday we spent much of the day enjoying New York's outdoor attractions. We had lunch in Brooklyn - a yummy veggie burger from a take out café. Then we popped into Vineapple for a caffeine fix. A local vibe, large tables, sofas, and youngsters hunched over MacBooks reminded us of Berkeley cafés. The coffee was decent too.

Time to join the throngs on the Brooklyn Bridge. As we strolled toward Manhattan, we were entertained by stunning views the whole time. First, the Lower Manhattan skyline appeared, dominated by the WTC Observatory and Gehry's Residential tower. Midtown's skyscrapers and the Manhattan Bridge then came into full view. Looking south of the Hudson River, to Staten and Ellis Islands, the Statue of Liberty commanded our attention. Fighting through the crowds was a bit challenging, but we enjoyed the walk anyway.

Over on the Manhattan side we took some moments to admire City Hall and the other beautiful buildings before taking the subway to 14th street.
We spent the afternoon on the High Line - as did everyone else in NYC. You guessed it! Another few hours of fighting through crowds for views ... and space to actually move forward!
In the late afternoon, when our legs were beginning to protest, we went down to street level in Chelsea. Daryl asked Siri to take us to the nearest place serving cocktails. We entered a tiny coffee shop, and when we asked about the bar, a doorman pushed the wall, and a door swung open. We found ourselves in a dimly lit, elegant 1920's style speakeasy - the Bathtub Gin. In this perfectly romantic spot a potent herb infused martini begged sampling. The place was empty at this time of day, but we could tell they were setting up for a full house later. An hour later we staggered to Blossom Restaurant, a few blocks up, where we were meeting up with an old pal.

We last saw Jamie about 15 years ago. So, over a tasty vegan meal, we did a whole lot of catching up. Daryl and Jamie, both mathematicians, have shared many memorable experiences together in their younger days, such as road trips to National Parks in the West. So this reunion was a bit like seeing a close family member after a long, long time. What a special evening!

09 December 2015


November 30 - December 3
It's December, so of course Boston was cold. Brrr! And rainy. But I bundled up and took the "T" – Boston's efficient subway system – from Somerville, where we spent 2 nights with colleagues, into the city. First stop: the visitor's center at Boston Common. Armed with a map and a plan, I was ready to brave the chill (mid 40's) and begin the Freedom Trail. But first, a detour into the lovely Public Garden with its famous duck pond (Make Way for Ducklings?). 

Public Garden
Despite the bleakness of an early winter landscape, I stood on the pretty bridge across the pond and thought how lovely everything looked.

I followed the very well laid out red brick trail through the downtown area to famous historic sites. This very walkable city makes it easy to appreciate its eclectic mix of architectural styles spanning almost 400 years. Brushing up on the Revolutionary War wasn't too painful either. I'd taught this stuff to 5th graders in past years, so it was a lot of fun to actually see places like Paul Revere's House. Around noon my feet were numb despite warm socks and boots, and luckily I'd arrived at Faneuil Hall, Boston's "Cradle of liberty", and first food hall. 

Among the market buildings was bustling Quincy Hall which was packed with food stalls. Hungry and cold, I was so pleased to be surrounded by all kinds of exotic and tempting things to eat in a toasty interior.

A tasty spanakopita gave me a boost of energy to continue on the Freedom Trail which now led me to the North End. On a cobbled road I saw the old wooden house in which Paul Revere lived. 
Paul Revere House

After scanning the many high end Italian restaurants in this area, I spotted a cosy café. In this perfect resting spot I sipped cappuccino and read a few chapters of a book set in London. Darn! The last stretch of the Freedom Trail led me to the Old North Church, famous for the place where lanterns were hung to warn Paul Revere that British troops had arrived. Cops Hill Burying Ground was next, then over to the Charles River. I'd had enough of the brisk air so I decided not to cross the Charlestown Bridge to Bunker Hill where the trail ended.
My iPhone showed I'd covered 6.6 miles even though the Freedom Trail was 2.5 miles in total. So, yes, I'd seen a fair amount of the city. Must return in warmer weather.

I absorbed through all my senses, the scholarliness of the area. You sense you're surrounded by brainiacs almost as soon as you get off the train platform and take a seat on the "T". Everyone is serious, either poring over the pages of some important work of literature, or engaged in academic discourse. Even the subway buskers are unnervingly talented. At the Harvard Square station a young woman crooned chansons in such a haunting voice, we wished the wait for the next train would be longer. 

In Cambridge, after a brief stroll through Harvard Square, Peets Café lured us away from the chill and rain. Robust coffee (and yes, that Peets! They are all over now, and I'm finding it a bit disconcerting. Too Starbucks like! But their coffee is bloody good) allowed us to watch the action from a warm spot. Later, we ambled across Harvard University, silently, aware of the sacred air and solemnity of our surroundings. We had lunch at Clover, a contemporary vegan restaurant, where menus are displayed on all the walls and waiters walk up to you to take your order. They make everything from scratch, even the pita bread, so a simple falafel platter was particularly tasty. So was the butternut squash soup.

From our Cambridge hotel beside the Charles River on our third day, it was an easy hike to MIT and Kendal Square. This area had quite an urban feel with its high tech companies and splashy shops.

A sensational meal at Oleana in Cambridge was definitely a high point. Run by a local celebrity chef, Ana Sortun, the cuisine is Turkish in orientation, with a huge emphasis on creatively prepared vegetables. We each ordered the Vegetable tasting menu ($40 pp), which turned into an 8 course meal of shared mezes and dessert. Each well crafted course with interesting flavor and texture combinations was pure culinary joy. Some examples: spinach falafel with beet yogurt in a thin pita roll; spicy fideos with chickpeas and chard; apple fatoush featuring beets and pomegranate. A hoppy, local IPA went really well with this divine meal. We'd intended to take a taxi back to the hotel because we were exhausted. But I was so totally stuffed that despite the crisp night air, I begged to walk back. The half hour trudge through Cambridge helped hugely, but we didn't make it to the hotel lounge where we'd hoped to enjoy the terrific views of Boston and the Charles River over cocktails. Next time ... 

Yup! We had a good time in Boston.

07 December 2015

Thanksgiving followed by Rachmaninoff

November 26 - 28
An unseasonably warm - early 60's - Thanksgiving day at IAS started off with a pleasant walk in the woods. The trees are completely bare now, but there's a different beauty.
Therese and Danny hosted dinner, which was an elaborate feast consisting of everyone's tasty contribution. Tasty appetizers of warm brie and pear, veg crudités, and crackers and dips kicked the feasting into action.
We were a group of 12 from various parts of the country, and unlikely to ever come together as a group again. The roast turkey was a hit, and so were the tofu steaks I had marinated in a syrupy balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard before roasting. The usual - roasted brussels sprouts, potatoes, cornbread, mash, cranberry sauce, etc.  - made it all feel authentic. Desserts of apple pie and pumpkin pie made from scratch by Sarah and Jeremy were too tasty to resist biggish slices. We met some new friends - Maya, Asha, and Joshua - who kept the conversation stimulating for hours. Definitely a Thanksgiving for the memory books.

Back in NYC on Saturday for the NY Phil. Their Rachmaninoff festival through the month of November gave us the opportunity to be immersed in the beautiful music of this composer, and also gave us an excuse to spend 3 consecutive full weekends in the city. This time we stayed at an Upper West side hotel, allowing us a chance to get to know this posh neighborhood a little better. We dined at Pasha, an elegant Turkish restaurant where we had a selection of delicious mezzes. Especially loved the smoked eggplant and white bean salad. A pomegranate martini took it up another notch.
We had dessert at the Lincoln Center Kitchen, another fine dining establishment. Here we met a friendly local with whom we talked about vegetarianism. I must say, this city takes veganism very seriously. It isn't hard at all to find really good, innovative, healthy vegan food in even the snootiest of places. Speaking of snooty, it's sometimes hard to tell you're not in Paris! So the local we met, a realtor, chatted about his life in this city that he adored, raving about the excellent entertainment and restaurants and stuff. As we were leaving he gave us his card and suggested getting together for dinner the following weekend. "Yes, we New Yorkers are friendly," was his parting words.
The evening's main event - Daniil Trifonov blasting out Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 3, the Everest of the repertoire played at top concert venues - had us in a state of stupefied ecstasy.  Sitting close to the stage we were totally pulled into the music. It gave us chills to watch the young genius so fluidly and passionately fingering the keys - all from memory. He got a standing ovation with loud cheers from audience. Russian dances followed, also fantastic, bringing the festival to a loud ending.
The beauty of Rach 3 lingered with us for days afterwards.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast at Maison Kayser. Cappuccinos and a basket of delicate pastries fueled us up for another day in the city. Daryl walked across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he spent all day. I took the subway downtown for a stroll along the High Line. A wintry crispness meant wearing hat, scarf, gloves, and my warmest coat. It was a lovely walk - away from traffic with greenery on either side of the path and constantly changing views of the city.

There's some seriously interesting contemporary architecture beside the High Line. Conveniently, Chelsea Market, a bustling food paradise was at the other end. Vegan sushi rolls from Beyond Sushi nourished me in a satisfyingly virtuous way. I spent the afternoon strolling through Chelsea, onto Bleeker Street, then SoHo. For dinner Daryl and I met up at Buddha Bodhi on Mott Street in Chinatown. The meal was okay, but I regretted not getting dumplings.
Then, across the street we saw a crowd in line to get into an ice cream parlor. Ice cream on a chilly winter evening? Well, we had to try it. And that's how we stumbled upon 10Below Ice-cream on Mott Street. This absurdly popular place has a unique style. They make the whole thing in front of you, starting with creme anglaise spread on a chilled metal plate. Fruit, nuts, and other stuff are chopped into the mixture as it hardens, then it's all rolled up and cut into for pieces. Instead of scoops you get rolls that look exotic, but taste fairly normal.

On that chilly note our weekend came to an end.