Summer is Over and Gone

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s end, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.”

E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

My sidekick is going back to school.

That’s really what it feels like, even though there have been plenty of moments this summer when I have thrown up my hands and said “I need this kid to go back to school/to a sleep-away camp/to a friend’s house/to his grandparent’s” because he was making me nuts. I mean obviously. But all in all, he’s been my sidekick. My travel buddy around the city, my assistant at the grocery store, my Disney trivia partner on the subway, and now my apprentice in the kitchen. So I’m a little sad that the summer is, at last, over.

Cal and me

This guy.

But there are wonderful things about it — he gets a social life that isn’t his mom or a computer chat, for starters, which is probably important. I get a schedule… wait, I hate schedules. But yes, I get a schedule. I’ll leave the apartment every day. That can be an accomplishment for me, so that’s good, too. I work better in cafes and in public, when the presence of other people who might see my screen shames me away from goofing around on social media, so my time will be better spent.

Good things, all.

And I’m starting to enjoy the idea of seasons for the first time, as if I’m finally getting the hang of this living in the Northeast thing. In Florida, I dreaded any season that wasn’t summer (namely, winter) because I found the days so boring. I like the turmoil and confusion of an afternoon thunderstorm during the rainy season more than most. I’m strange, I know. The endless sunny days, punctuated at random moments by a day of rain rolling in from the northwest, that characterize the dry season in Florida… they do nothing for me.

But summer in New York City is a strange beast, wobbling back and forth — foggy days, clammy and of an indeterminate temperature that is neither warm nor cool; searing hot weeks without a cloud in the sky by day nor a cool-down at night; humid breezes off the harbor and the ocean that somehow don’t stir up thunderstorms; sudden crashes of thunder that are neither expected nor repeated. The weather can be boring, but not in the same monotony of a Florida winter. So there’s that, anyway.

And the cool air that has flooded the city over the past week — it’s lovely, I have to admit. The hot here is just kind of annoying. It isn’t a fact of life the way it is in Florida, it’s more of an imposition on a lifestyle that requires a lot of walking over (and under) a lot of pavement. It’s a good lifestyle, it’s a healthy lifestyle, but it wants a more moderate temperature than 90 degrees. And a more sedate storm pattern than a daily monsoon.

So today, on the last day of summer, we sat around. Well, that’s not entirely true. We went on a jog. Then we sat around. I worked on writing projects. Cal did whatever Cal does. He got bored. I handed him The Hobbit. He came out of his room a half-hour later and said he could see Gandalf walking down the hall, it was so descriptive. I said that’s what most Young Adult books don’t bother with: the word-paintings that put you in the story. I think we have a winner with Tolkien, but really, how can one not have a winner with Tolkien? Tolkien is always the right decision.

And then he wanted to know what we were going to make for dinner. Night two of cooking with Calvin! I had a whole chicken and some gorgeous early New York apples, so we came up with Roast Chicken with Apples, a recipe that requires a lot of chopping. Luckily Calvin proved he is not afraid of handling raw meat and took care of the chicken while I was cutting things up; he did the rinsing, the drying, the rubbing-all-over-with-butter, the cavity-stuffing, and the seasoning. We considered cooking the giblets as an experiment, but when I opened the packet I saw they’d only given me the neck and the heart — so stingy! We cut open the heart and examined the chambers instead.

So tonight we’ll eat a fall dinner: roast chicken with apples, sauteed kale, those lovely yellow tomatoes from the farmer’s market drizzled with balsamic vinegar. And tomorrow we’ll go back to school and schedules, and work hard, knowing that in just 31 days, we’ll be playing hard at Walt Disney World, sidekicks reunited.


Michael Smith’s Apple Roasted Chicken: The Messy Baker (We used homemade chicken stock instead of apple cider)

Basic Sauteed Kale: Eating Well


New Tomato City

The most interesting thing that has changed about me since I moved to Brooklyn, and this includes publishing several novels, working as a mounted officer and riding a horse around New York City parks and streets, and a willingness to travel on a bus and sleep on a street corner to save on hotel room costs, is that I cook now.

No, seriously.

I never used to cook. Anything. I didn’t even know how to grocery shop. If there wasn’t meat in the fridge and my husband wasn’t around, we just ate pasta and vegetables. Because I could figure out that much. But I could scarcely look at the different mysterious pink and beige things in the grocery store case and figure out what was the stuff that made hamburger and what was the stuff that made grilled chicken. And I wouldn’t have been able to make it even if I’d bought the ingredients.

In Brooklyn, I learned two things: that I am surrounded by amazing food I want to eat, and that I can’t afford it already made. Restaurants are crazy expensive. I would read about the gorgeous new American menus all around me, sigh over the prices, and resignedly make a bowl of pasta with some cherry tomatoes and some feta cheese.

The other uniquely New York problem was the issue of price. Processed foods — things that come in a box, pre-made things that are frozen — might be the cheap choice around the nation. But in a cramped city grocery, the boxed stuff is expensive. I was galloping horses and writing a novel. My husband’s job was paying the rent on our tiny apartment, but we were strapped tight. And it was learn to cook whole foods — cheap veggies from the Korean greengrocer, inexpensive cuts of meat — or live on pasta… so I learned to cook.

I used Google and blog posts. I made a lot of messes. I made food so bad it made me angry as I ate it. I burned things, I overcooked things, I underseasoned things, I basically made awful awful food for a while. But like everything else, I got better with practice. And cooking became my favorite thing to do in the evening, after sitting and writing all day. I could stand up, listen to the radio or a podcast, and chop things up and make them delicious.

Yellow tomatoes at the Farmer's Market. So sweet.

Yellow tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. So sweet.

Today my son and I went to a farmer’s market and went basically crazy over the tomatoes. I’m sure he was following my lead when he joined me in squealing over the heirloom tomatoes on display, but he wasn’t kidding when he starting eating samples of the yellow or green or purple specimens offered to us. He was genuinely enjoying those little fruits, which were bursting with summer flavor.

We brought home our veggies and went about our separate afternoon things. I wrote a blog post for my Disney blog, entitled “Justifying a School-Year Vacation.” It was all about maximizing family time, even at the cost of missing some school for a family vacation. I published it and then helped Cal publish his newest book review on his blog. I went out to start dinner, he went back to his computer game, and then I thought… wait.

This was perfect family time right here. I went back to his room. “Hey man… do you want to help me cook dinner?”

He looked doubtful.

“It’s an open invitation. Any time you want to help me, come on out.”

I went back to the kitchen to start, and suddenly there he was. He’d put down his keyboard and come to help me cook.

So we made dinner together. We made pan-fried pork chops that I’d seen on The Pioneer Woman this morning, garlic smashed potatoes, and fried green tomatoes with some of the little Jersey Fresh beauties we picked up at the market. I set up the laptop in the kitchen so that we could see what to do from the various websites we were pulling recipes from, and we got busy. He did a little of everything, even, astonishingly, cracking an egg into a bowl with such precision that we both stood and stared at his egg-cracking genius. It was a moment, all right.

Stirring, slicing, smashing

Stirring, slicing, smashing

And because we were cooking together, having fun, chatting, one person cleaning something or chopping something while the other person was dipping something or mixing something, by the time supper was ready the kitchen was virtually clean again and no one was complaining about how long dinner was taking. We had a great time and we eliminated the awful, awful, awful sink full of dishes that no one wants to face, without even giving it a second thought.

Fried green tomatoes

Fried green amazing

So, I cook now, and now my son cooks with me. See why I say it’s one of the most interesting changes I’ve gone through in Brooklyn? Buying fresh, local food from farmers, cooking it together… talk about maximizing family time and instilling values that are sustainable and healthy. Sure, cooking takes time. But it’s so, so worth the time it takes.

And my son agrees.

Here are the recipes we used tonight:

Fried Green Tomatoes: Southern Living Magazine(we used plain cornmeal, not self-rising, and 2% milk instead of buttermilk)

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes: The Pioneer Woman (we didn’t use cream cheese, and we used 2% milk because that’s what we had on-hand)

Pan-Fried Pork Chops: The Pioneer Woman(we didn’t use butter but I think we should have to help the meat brown more crisply)

The Neddiad Book Review

I’m bringing back Shiny City to chronicle our lives in our magical city, and this is part of it – our reading culture. Here my nine-year-old son reviews Daniel Pinkwater’s “The Neddiad.” On his list of “What I did on my summer vacation” he can add “started a book blog.”

Calvin's Book Block

The Neddiad is a book about a boy named Neddie and the friends he meets along the way. NePDgfcaHOFkIi89X3qGs.htm1_ddie is going to L.A. because he is moving. He meets a shaman who gives him a mysterious turtle. As the train leaves him, he goes to a hotel for the night. While he’s there, he meets a ghost, and two new friends, an actor and an actor’s son.

A man tries to rob Neddie of the mysterious turtle, but his friend does a trick causing the man to leave the tour plane that they are on with a jellybean. Once they get back to Neddie’s parents, his mom meets some parents who have a daughter. Then, they meet and become friends.

Both of Neddie’s friends go to school in L.A. Neddie joins one of the schools, and he meets all the kids there. Once the time has come, a weird thing…

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Side Streets: Brooklyn Mac

Chalkboard signs that pull you in - first rule of biz in Brooklyn

Side streets are magical things, but they’re neglected far too often. Sometimes, when you’re exploring a neighborhood, you can make the mistake of staying on “the main drag,” the avenue, where it looks like all the main stores are. And, like as not, you see the same stores over and over again: dollar stores, pizza joints, really scary-looking Chinese take-outs, nail salons, nail salons, and oh, let’s not forget nail salons — and of course a bodega on every corner.

The side streets can have some pretty wonderful surprises on them, primarily because the rents are lower and it allows more ambitious start-ups to get rolling. And that’s why I peer down every street as we cross them, hoping for something new and exciting.

Dueling forks as we dive into the Red Hook - smoked gouda and bacon!

Today, in Greenpoint, we were walking up Manhattan Avenue talking about how hungry we were. We’d been hungry for about four hours, ever since that everything bagel from Bagelsmith on Bedford, which was wonderful, but not really all-day exploration-adventure worthy. We needed more. But what? Not tacos, not a hero, not a slice… I glanced down Norman Avenue as we waited for the light to change and saw it. Brooklyn Mac.

“I think there’s a chance that ‘Mac’ stands for ‘Mac and Cheese,’ ” I told Cory, and we were off. We’re always up for Mac and Cheese.

Brooklyn Mac has just enough room to step inside, gaze up at the wall of potential ingredients, and order. But that’s all you need. There’s a bench outside, perfumed with the aroma of what must have been some damn fine coffee from Cup, right next door, to await your casserole dish of Mac and Cheese. And oh, what Mac and Cheese!

You can build your own from about a half million ingredients, (seven cheeses and two vegan selections, a half dozen meats plus their vegan varieties, and nineteen veggies and seeds and things) or try one of Brooklyn Mac’s own concoctions, named for neighborhoods in the borough. We had to go with a Red Hook and a Carroll Gardens. The Red Hook was made with smoked gouda and bacon (!!!) and the Carroll Gardens with carmelized apples and brie. Cal got the Prince County — that’s plain old mac with American cheese. (Get it — PRINCE County? Hah.)

Drawings? Customer forever.I want to order all of them to see the different artwork!

I was charmed by everything about this joint, but most of all the Sharpie artwork on all of the boxes! If you want to keep me coming back, you’ll draw little pictures for me. Gets me everytime.

Everything tasted like heaven, which I suppose goes without saying, and the small size, which is priced between 4.75 and 6.75, is more than enough for one person. There is a lot of cheese going into these things. They accidentally made us a medium size of the Carroll Gardens ($9.75) and guess what is currently in our fridge, waiting for suppertime?

My only regret is that I am sure I live far out of their delivery zone. Oh, Greenpoint, as usual, I love you.

Brooklyn Mac is located at 77 Norman Ave., between Lorimer and Manhattan Avenues. Here’s their website:

Coney Island on Memorial Day

Beach on Coney Island just before sunset, Broo...

Coney Island the way it looks in winter. Image via Wikipedia

After five years at Walt Disney World, I’m kind of indifferent to crowds. I don’t seek them out, but they have to be pretty serious to scare me. And so when I found out the temperature was going to be up near 90 degrees, I decided to humor the boy and give him a trip to the beach for his Memorial Day off of school.

(Other thing I could have done: go to Green-Wood Cemetary for the Civil War camp and the concert. I would have preferred this. But he wouldn’t have.)

So off we went, on subway cars packed with screaming teenage girls in bikinis and young men draped in Puerto Rican flags and lugging massive coolers. I wondered if any of the coolers had been subject to the “random search” tables at the big train stations. We’d had a decent thunderstorm at dawn but any trace of the deluge was long gone; it was impressively hot out on the street, and the trains’ air-conditioning was welcome.

We join the throng

Coney Island’s train station resembled the Magic Kingdom Monorail Station at about ten a.m. on any major holiday, absolutely packed to the gills with people. The signs deceptively point you towards the front exit, where there are about five turnstiles and one emergency exit door – not nearly enough! I had a feeling the return trip was going to look a lot like the Magic Kingdom Monorail Station at about ten p.m. on any major holiday, which didn’t excite me. But Calvin was excited, so we shuffled with the crowd and made our way out onto the hot street and towards the beach, crossing the avenue despite the despair of the traffic cop: “People, please! Please just STOP CROSSING!” 

(I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for the cars trying to turn. Why are you trying to do drive around Coney Island on Memorial Day? I don’t care if you live there and you’ve been gone for five years in equatorial Africa and you fixed your broken airplane with the help of an unknown tribe of helpful aviation-savvy gorillas, you are just asking for it if you try to drive around on Memorial Day. Wait until Tuesday, for heaven’s sake. It’s one more day.)

The route to the beach is a long stretch of black top with Nathan’s and a pasture of urban waste on one side, and a flea market on the other. It is unattractive and loud, and the pit bulls in studded leather harnesses add to the feeling that maybe Coney Island’s best days are long behind it. There is a crowded boardwalk to the left which most people choose to ascend up to the main boardwalk, the real deal, or you can walk around a little overgrown patch of grass which was apparently a neighborhood garden of the year in 2009. A huge shiny man in front of us suddenly stopped walking, flung himself into the garden pathway, and began doing rapid push-ups, his arms resting on the low iron railing around the tired flowers, while his kindergarten-age daughter watched without alarm.

To the left there are a few amusement park rides, which sent the teenagers into a frenzy: “OH my god, I’m gonna PUKE MY GUTS OUT, oh my GOD!” but luckily, Calvin is smarter than that, and we plunged straight into the fray of the boardwalk, hiking down to a beach entrance.

Business Strategy: Go To Your Customers

The beach was packed.


Still dry. But contemplating the dip.

We made it to the water with some difficulty, weaving through family picnics, teen necking sessions, sleeping sunbathers, and the occasional Italian ice cart, and Calvin was off. “Calvin, come back and take off your shoes.” And Calvin was off, again. “Calvin,  come back and take off your socks.” I wasn’t sure what to do with my bag, and he was already in the water – I took off my shoes, tucked them on top of the bag, and set the bag very gently next to a large encampment of women who didn’t look like they’d be above chopping the hands off of would-be thieves. Thus basking in their implied protection, I went after Calvin – right into the water.

I’m not really one for diving into the Atlantic Ocean north of, say, Satellite Beach, and I’m deeply impressed that I went into the water all the way to my knees. It wasn’t  that cold. I guess. It was cold, but… it didn’t freak me out.

I love these girls on the left. Modest? Oh yes. Better camera than me? You better believe it.

I was in the minority. Most people stuck in their toes, screamed, cursed, and ran out again. The running splashed me all over. Being at a beach that crowded puts you in a constant splash zone. You cannot avoid other people’s water fights, water guns (right in the eyes!  That hurt.) or just people walking by in the ankle-deep water. I got wet. Much more wet than I had planned. And the water is opaque with churned up sand – which was present in every splotch of water that smacked up against my knee-length jeans.

Calvin had no such qualms about the water temperature – he doesn’t actually feel the cold, I’ve discovered – and was almost immediately sitting in the water, letting the waves crash into him, splashing, laughing hysterically, basically having an amazing time. And all I could do was stand there and watch him. Which was kind of lame, and made me think that maybe, just maybe, I’d overturn my personal embargo against the North Atlantic and actually seek out a slightly quieter beach, on a less desirable day, and wear something actually tailored for swimming.

...And he makes it happen.

It took about twenty minutes for a surprise wave to roll him, so that he came out of the water squawling and seeking solace, and after we sat on our sandy towel (“You have to set it up, Mom. Set it up.” – referring to the towel, not the LCD Soundsystem song) and ate our Nutella sandwiches and drank our lukewarm water, he was ready for more. I told him ten minutes, he promptly went out of earshot (not difficult, considering all the screaming and crashing surf) and managed to get another half an hour while I wrangled with the unpleasing proposition of getting my now-dry feet all wet and sandy again. When a No-See-Um bit me, I gave in and went out yelling for him. No beach day can survive against No-See-Ums. They are beach kryptonite.

He had an Italian ice on the way back to the train, which was pleasingly only jacked up to two dollars from the typical one, and we panted and shoved our way back through the train station while he delicately spooned it up. For some reason he was hell-bent to run up the Q train platform – “Calvin! When do we EVER ride the Q ANYwhere?” – but somehow we made it back to our own D, climbed into the last window seat on the waiting train, and then I had to get up immediately and use a water bottle to rinse sand off his spoon, which he had rubbed on his hat, which had sand on it. The train ride home was blissfully quiet; people were tired, kids were doing their forgotten homework on their iPhones, even the guy wearing the Haitian flag like a cape was content to look out the window like the rest of us.

Weird mural and boy with Italian ice. Classic Brooklyn?

"I can make an Italian ice last 25 minutes!"


April Storms

The storms here are just amazing! So random, so unexpected, so fierce. In Florida, thunderstorms win through sheer overpowering strength and repetition. Not one thunderstorm a week, but one each day! Not a few bolts of lightning or rumbles of thunder, but constant strobe-light flashes and so many growls and bangs that you can’t distinguish one from the other!

I thought part of leaving Florida was leaving behind great thunderstorms, and I was mostly okay with that. But the thunderstorms in Brooklyn have proved pretty awesome, with lightning streaking through the sky largely unannounced and unexpected, thunder crashing without warning, and hanging around for hours instead of minutes.

Yesterday, in fact, was perfectly beautiful all day long, except for these sudden clouds which suddenly appeared over the Manhattan skyline, racing northeast towards Connecticut.

Thunderstorm looms over Manhattan, April 2011

I raced up to the roof to take pictures. Another thing I hadn’t anticipated easily replacing: in Florida, we could see storms a hundred miles away, and it was easy to observe clouds. In New York, it turns out, I can get a pretty good view from the roof, too.

This particular storm kept rolling on and missed us. But late last night, I looked out the window just in time to catch a flash of lightning and hear a sudden rumble of thunder. It was startling – there was no rain, and no repeats. I did see an airplane, low on approach to the airport, and what looked like sparks trailing after it for just a second. Did lightning strike the airplane? It really looked that way.


LCD Soundsystem: Bring on the Dancing Hipsters

I guess it’s important to share that I’m not little. I’m 5’7″ (“tall for a woman”) and although I’m slim, I’m pretty tough. But there’s something about being in the GA pit that makes even a girl who is “tall for a woman” feel pretty small.

And we should have gotten there earlier. I’m not sure if that would have helped with the occasional panicky feelings of claustrophobia. Or the sweaty airlessness that comes of being amongst hundreds of people flinging themselves up/down/back/forth/around in circles. But at least I wouldn’t have been behind ginormous 6’6″ guy and his merry men and women, who combined drunk and high with stupidity as a pre-existing condition. They made it hard.

But oh, jingly cowbells, I’d do it all again just to hear your pretty tunes.

This was a sing-along, a dance-along, an occasional awkward-crowd-surfing-while-clutching-ironic-glasses-along. From opening with “Dance Yrself Clean” – I managed to get a shoulder in my ear during the freak-out head-slamming euphoria that sets in at about four minutes in when James Murphy shouts “DON’T YOU WANT ME TO WAKE UP?” – to my personal favorite moment of the night, the glittery and wistful “Home,” and the sweet ending of “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” with James’ “fucked” voice cracking through the highs and lows of living in the clean, dirty, safe, dangerous city we love, it was a celebration. A celebration with awesome lights and synths and a red-headed dude with no shirt thrashing on a guitar.

If white indie types want to dance, they’ve been choosing LCD Soundsystem to dance to for years. I’m not saying that the world will be a sadder place if white indie types stop dancing, because it’s a pretty tragic sight once we try to do anything north of bouncing up and down. But it’s going to be a hard sell for another band to convince us that they’re as good for bouncing up and down to as LCD Soundsystem was.

Watch it on Pitchfork Saturday night when it’s over for real.
Here’s a tease:

The Scottish in Park Slope: Broken Records at The Rock Shop

Backing up their stirring guitars and drums with violin, keyboard, and trumpet, the half dozen members of Broken Records were, as the singer joked, “packed like sardines” on the tiny stage at Brooklyn’s Rock Shop. But if their style was cramped by the tight quarters, their soaring sound was unhindered, providing the rarest kind of moving concert experience that keeps us all coming back to bars, hoping for more.

Packed like sardines, but one hell of a show.

The Rock Shop is half sports bar and half music venue – and the better half of both. Sitting upstairs in the stifling heat, leaning with our backs against the glass between us and Fourth Avenue below, we watched members of the opening act, U.S. Royalty, alternate between a game of pool and some truly fantastic-looking cupcakes. The kind of cupcakes that tempt you to steal them from small children. Not sold at the bar. Sadly. We contented ourselves with Southampton IPA (on tap, $6, the Brooklyn average) and looked on covetously.

It wasn’t terribly hard to figure out that the cupcake-eaters were U.S. Royalty – we were in a sports bar in Park Slope, after all. The boys were the only ones in the room impeccably dressed in the discriminating western pioneer stage of current indie fashion, and while I found the vests and button-down shirts perfect with the boys’ skinny jeans, I was a little flummoxed by the guy wearing one spur. One, single, jingling spur attached to the right cowboy boot.

(I was temporarily distracted away from coveting the gorgeous cupcakes by imagining him riding a horse which forever went spinning in left-hand circles. My husband and I eventually reached the conclusion that wearing western rowled spurs was so new that it required some sort of complicated new code – obviously if you wear a spur on your left boot, this would mean you were gay. But in five years I’m sure everyone will be wearing both spurs.)

The show was due to start at nine, and we dutifully clumped downstairs along with a slowly growing crowd, where we leaned languidly against amps and assorted musical gear which didn’t belong to us until 9:30, where the boys of cupcakes and isolated spurs came jangling downstairs, evidently having finished their game of pool at last, and without preamble walked through the little audience, onto the stage, and slipped into place to launch into a song.

U.S. Royalty - on a sugar high, apparently.

Hailing from D.C., whose indie music scene has produced some particularly energetic and danceable acts of late, U.S. Royalty’s tambourines, swirling guitar solos and high rich vocals owe a lot to classic rock. But there’s nothing nostalgic about their sound. And the bandmates are unapologetic showmen, thrashing manes of long hair during pounding instrumentals and waving instruments in the air. They even dropped a cover of the gypsy herself, playing Stevie Nick’s energetic, if monotonous, “Wild Wild Heart,” to the delight of a small gaggle of girls in the audience. But the other half-dozen songs came from their new LP “Mirrors,” and it was clear from this that U.S. Royalty have no need for cover songs.

Love the Freelance Whales shirt, although I got very distracted when I realized it was a dead horse.

Broken Records owe more to the soul-searching melancholy of 4AD label-mates The National than to glam guitar, and their quiet, self-deprecating frontman set the tone of slight apology, shaggy hair covering his eyes. Fresh off a co-headline tour of the UK with folksy-popsy delicious Freelance Whales (the violinist wore a Freelance Whales t-shirt under his blazer) they admitted to being astonished to being in the U.S. at all. “Does anybody here know who we are?” the singer asked, and smiled sheepishly at the clapping and the cheering in response.

Their Scottish heritage is evident in their swirling layers of sound, backed up by frequently military drumbeats and relying heavily on violin, trumpet, and keyboards (which was especially impressive when used together, as the trumpeter and the keyboardist is one and the same). The rich, high vocals of the singer are really stand-outs live, but like any band which had a singer who actually, you know, sings, (instead of speaking enthusiastically) he fretted about the occasional hoarseness in his falsetto notes. But overall the painful seriousness of the songs was balanced by his sense of humor about it all – “This is a song about being 28 and broke – just what you wanted to hear tonight –”

One of the rare moments with head up and eyes open.

The Broken Records’ recent second album, Let Me Come Home, has received mixed reviews – some have lauded it as a triumph, some have criticized their layers of instruments and vocals of being muddy and lumbering. But live, the songs, from their song they’d expected “to go straight to the top of the top 40 chart – but that didn’t happen…” A Darkness Rises Up to the mournful violin and vocal duet of The Promise, are works of art, proving again that the best bands are the live bands, and making everyone in the room a believer.


Broken Records

U.S. Royalty

Freelance Whales

The National

ALL PHOTOS are by Kyle Dean Reinford

And came from right here: Brooklyn Vegan

(because I do not take photos at shows!)

Greenpoint, Where Pastry Lives

It was a bright, breezy, cold morning, and we were headed to Peter Pan for donuts.

Peter Pan donuts need no introduction for the Brooklyn foodie. I think people even come here from Manhattan. These pastries are rich, endlessly beautiful and inventive, served to you, in between texts and shouting matches with the manager, by young Polish girls in teal and pink smocks. The plate glass window is a still life celebrating the juxtaposition of sugar, icing, and dough into colorful, bulgy, crumbly acts of dietary sin. The plate glass window, alone, makes your teeth ache and your stomach writhe. It is wonderful.

Greenpoint is, in fact, overflowing with baked goods. Are Polish people just better at baking than everyone else? In my book, yes. Spanish bakeries are full of pretty cakes and lots of Italian cookies (I have no idea why.) Chinese bakeries are studies in opposing flavors mashed together (the red bean paste in the sweet dough is very odd.) Polish bakeries have thick pastries stuffed with cheese, fruit, and chocolate. Now that is what I call dessert.

Anyway like a lot of people in a district where English is not the common tongue, we felt a little wary of going into businesses we weren’t familiar with (we’re working on that) and we had a tendency to just walk past the signs that were strictly in Polish in favor of the domesticity of legible menus. We’d gone to the wrong train stop and had a long walk down Greenpoint’s commercial drag, Manhattan, and it was very cold and very windy and I hadn’t worn my warm boots so my feet were freezing and – we stopped dead.

Unassuming? Yes. But hey, it got an A from the Health Department.

What stopped us, as we were walking down Manhattan Avenue with rosy cheeks and frozen noses, was the sight of bakers’ racks filled with babkas, danishes spilling over with apple slices, and a cherry coffee cake which beckoned to my deepest, worst parts. There was a typed price sheet taped to the window glass that didn’t seem possible. A dollar and a quarter for cake?The woman inside could see us gazing through the glass like drunks and was making welcoming gestures. We went in and regarded the prices on the huge pastries with something like awe.

I had enough in my pocket for one of each. How often can you say that in this town?

At last we succumbed to a piece of the cherry cake, which we ate on the street, dribbling crumbs, on our way to Peter Pan. There is something impossibly charming about the thought that this woman got up at three o’clock in the morning, made that cake, and then sold it to us so that we could eat it in great  handfuls on the street. For a buck twenty-five, which was, frankly, criminal. That cake, a week old and half as delicious, would be $3.50 at Starbucks.

Gooey sticky sweet and tart!

We went on to Peter Pan, where we stood and admired, drooling, the beautiful front case, and then went inside and spent a little less than three dollars on a massive chocolate donut heaped through the middle with light vanilla whipped buttercream, like some sort of Hostess Cupcake gone mad, and a chewy sweet donut heaped with thick chocolate icing, Bavarian cream, and a single beautiful strawberry on top.

But Peter Pan Donuts is sadly lacking in delicious coffee, and we were people on a mission. We took them to go and ate them like drunks, getting cream on our noses and cheeks, while walking down a totally different avenue, one train stop away, on our way to get coffee on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.

The Key Lime Pie King of Brooklyn (And Key West)

Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory

Image by afagen via Flickr

We’re no strangers to Key Lime Pie.

We got married in Key West, undisputed home of Key Lime Pie. We once spent half a week in Key West bicycling from one Key Lime Pie hotspot to the next, trying to decide, between all the Painkillers and conch fritters and margaritas, who had the best pie of all.

Of course, for years, Blond Giraffe reigned supreme in Key West’s highly competitive Key Lime Pie market. And we were completely addicted to their signature, sold in coolers all over town: Chocolate Covered Key Lime Pie on a Stick. This wedge of key lime goodness dunked in rich dark chocolate was, without a doubt, our favorite food in the entire world. We mastered how to eat it whilst riding a bicycle in city traffic and gained five pounds in five days.

Now Blond Giraffe is closed (hopefully a temporary problem) and Key West is thousands of miles away, in another world altogether from this snow-dazed city we call home. Making our own pie isn’t really an option – we no longer have convenient friends with key lime trees who give us Publix bags full of the tiny little yellow fruits because they can’t eat them all. And even if we could, dipping it in Belgian chocolate and freezing it is quite beyond our time, or skill, or interest level.

Naturally, Brooklyn has a solution.

We heard about Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies from some link on a link on a link that I followed from a Twitter post. We weren’t yet familiar with Red Hook, but we’d heard that it was interesting place where interesting things were happening… if you could get past the fact that no subways run there.

pies here

Image by h-bomb via Flickr

We were very uncertain of the directions (the quote on the website is “located at the intersection of the Florida Keys and the Brooklyn Waterfront.” Incidentally, that’s exactly where I’d like to live.) and plenty disoriented when the bus dropped us on a cobblestone street in a nineteenth century seafaring port. But we faithfully followed the directions to walk down Van Dyke Street and when we came to the very Key West style signs, hung with buoys, advertising an art gallery, a glassworks, and . . . pie.

Right down on the waterfront is a brick warehouse with a bright yellow door and the tantalizing words “PIES HERE.” Follow the arrow, tug on the door, pray that they’re open – and we’re inside a yellow room hung with tropical souvenirs and the very disorienting feeling that we’ve accidentally stepped into a Key West bakery.

After this, it just kind of disappears.

And then, we had them. Chocolate Covered Key Lime Pie on a Stick.

They don’t have such a prosaic name here. They’re called The Swingle. And they are amazing.

We expected a pie wedge like the Key West version. We got a whole miniature pie, encased in a thick hard shell of chocolate, optimistically skewered with a popsicle stick. We went outside in the damp and cold to eat our mess along the waterfront. I’ve had Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. I know how fast you have to eat these things before you lose the chocolate.

So fast, in fact, that we didn’t take any pictures of this delight to share. Except for this one, of it disappearing into my mouth.

Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies without a doubt win the Key Lime Pie wars. It’s also a very worthy introduction to the fabulous neighborhood of Red Hook. More on that later.