Archive for the 'New York' Category

A Taste of Holiday at Home

I took a cooking class in Bali when I was there in September. I love to cook, I love food, and I loved Bali. It like seemed a good way to spend three hours.

As it turns out, I also really love Balinese food. The prominent use of lime and ginger—coupled with the sweetness of palm sugar, the subtle tanginess of tamarind, and just enough heat to make you sweat—hit all my foodie sweet spots. The cooking class was one of the highlights of my trip.

Anatomy of a cooking class, Bumi Bali Cooking School in Ubud. September 2011.

However, I have yet to cook a single Balinese dish at home. Why haven’t I put my fancy culinary skills into practice?

I met a young Belgian bride at my cooking class who told me she and her husband learn to cook the cuisine wherever they travel. They then plan monthly date nights to make the food from their holiday destinations. “It’s little taste of holiday was once you go home,” she said. What a great concept.

I thought of her the other night as I ate Turkish takeout out of an aluminum bowl. It turns out that New York, in all its international culinary glory, has spoiled me from ever bothering to create international culinary brilliance on my own.

The best Turkish food I’ve ever had? Not in Istanbul. In Queens. Mangal Kebab in Sunnyside got me through grad school. I can also score a bottle or two of Efes, a Turkish pilsner, at the deli two blocks from my apartment.

Istanbul via Queens: lamb adana, home bread, some of the best baklava I've ever had. Washed down with the beer I was too ladylike and respectful to drink in Muslim Turkey.

I became obsessed with palak paneer in India. Minardirectly across the street from my office, does some of the best—complete with Bollywood music and Hindi newspapers. Check.

I’ve even found a pretty close match to the elusive Singaporean/Malay laksa. FoodParc’s new Mr. Wong’s Noodles does a red coconut curry broth that, with some pho, fried tofu, and add-on bamboo shoots transported me back to that first happy meal in Asia.

Fresh lime juice and curry laksa, my first (heavenly) meal in Singapore. Well, if you don't count the quiche at the Changi Starbucks. And I don't.

And at home in New York: Mr. Wong's red curry coconut broth. Not exactly laksa. But pretty darn close. And deliciously indulgent in its own soupy rite.

I will cook Balinese food. I will. I’ve even going to try to beat Mr. Wong at his laksa. I gloated to my cooking class compatriots that I didn’t need to smuggle back exotic spices because, in New York, we can get everything—even galangal root and kaffir lime leaves (Asia Market on Mulberry and Bangkok Center Grocery in Chinatown, if you’re wondering).

But, as any New Yorker will tell you, there’s a big difference between having it all and having time for it all. Even in the hustle of the holidays, I hope to set aside some time to sink my teeth—and my Santoku knife—into some sayur urab and a big steaming pot of opor ayam.

If I can’t find time to cook it all in New York, I have a plan. I will trudge around town, procure the ingredients, wrap them ever so carefully, and smuggle them in my luggage to a faraway land where they can’t be found. Iowa, where I will spend nine relaxing days at Christmas, is exotic in its inactivity, and I’m looking forward to sharing the taste of my holidays with the family I love.

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Light

I love the way the light of the sun plays off the Hudson, plays on my shoulders, saturates those who play on its shores. The smell of the river, the sound of bikes whizzing by, the sight of something open, something free. Potential exists in the gaze forward across the open space, at the space between the here and the there. Chaos is restrained—unnoticed, insignificant—behind me.

I love that as the sun sets behind the Hudson, the people along it arise. The sun slowly descends, the people finally emerge. From stifling offices or high-rise apartments or subway trains or ivory towers. To move. To breathe.

Those green patches along the water are vision to me. They are healing. They are solace. They are bathed in light that warms my head, dries my tears, inspires my hope, and bears my doubt, as the light of the sun plays off the Hudson.

Creation Interrupted

As I walked today along the border of the LES, Soho, and Chinatown, in that gritty area where neighborhoods converge and diverge, I realized how inspired I am creatively by Manhattan. I think it’s akin to the resilience of a cactus—when something has to overcome harsh conditions to flourish, it will use what little resource it has to grow strong, bright, and feisty.

Then I saw this palette on Lafayette Street, deserted. Void of art, but bearing evidence of its presence. Is the work still in progress or was it abandoned for something new?

Either way, that flash of color stands as an altar to me, a marker of a place where the process of creation managed to survive.

My Heart Cries Out for Art

Late at night my heart cries out for art.

During the day? I’m not sure. Too busy with making a living, too afraid of what people might think, too concerned with meeting expectations, I float through the days. Some happy, some exasperating, but honest. Productive. Legitimate. This is how I spend my days. But at night… My heart cries out for art.

Tears well up in my eyes as I pass a windmill and ragged pieces of metal wrapped around a chalk board on the streets of the Lower East Side, declaring, challenging, boasting facetiously, “This is not art.” A smile plays across my lips and my heart physically warms as the clock nears midnight and I walk past a wall of six video screens displaying an Andy Warhol film on a quiet stretch of the Bowery. My eyebrows arch but I am inspired as I encounter mannequins with teddy bear heads and cafes that beckon on the streets of downtown.

Late at night my heart cries out for art.

It’s as if the inspiration wells up all day. Though I am distracted, my creative mind records the stimuli I encounter hour by hour. At night, when my rational money-earning people-pleasing self finally gives herself permission to rest, my heart can be heard, at last, crying out for art. I need to consume it, desire to create it, weep at the deficit of it, and vow to make room for more.

My heart is made for art. Not merely at night, but from dawn until dusk. Though it cries out for it at night, I will choose to nourish it more each day. My soul was made to create by the creator of all. I will honor him by creating, by writing, by committing.

Because my heart is not the only one that cries out.. So many hearts cry: for art, for beauty, for hope. What answers their plea? What have I to say to those hearts, those insomniac hearts, crying out for art?

Perception

N train, Brooklyn to Manhattan, 7:32 a.m. Wednesday

I’m watching this guy across from me, slouched on the subway bench, slogging away with the rest of us through the morning commute, eyes closed. He’s dressed in black pleather off-brand sneakers, faded jeans that are faded neither for fashion’s sake or irony, and has a belly rivaling my dad’s hanging over his belt.

I guess at his story. He’s a union guy, probably some kind of contractor—the kind of guy who rolls into the deli ordering his egg sandwich on a hero and coffee light and sweet. He owns a house, deep in Bay Ridge. His wife’s name is Louise, but he calls her “Lou,” or, when he’s with the guys, “the old lady.” His accent is Brooklyn, through and through, and it is thick.

But he has a Moleskine journal open on his lap, a blue ballpoint pen in his hand. It’s a sketchbook. The spread he’s open to is as blank as can be. Not even rule lines guide his musings. But I can see through this page to the one behind, and there’s a drawing there. Two distinct vertical lines and some detailing to the side. Only the broad strokes bleed through the page, but this faint impression of his work is enough to totally alter mine of him.

His eyes have opened. He’s now watching me scribble frantically in my own Moleskine, considering him, as he considers his blank page. Two people, considering one another, creating, at 7:32 a.m. Here’s my stop; time to go. As I pack up my Moleskine, now all the richer for his story in it, I wonder if he’ll sketch me in his. I wonder where his stop is. I wonder how often he draws. I wonder if it’s his career, his passion or both.

Ceasing assumption and choosing instead to wonder, I set about my day, all the more creative, thanks to the man in the black pleather sneakers.

It All Happens On the Street

I had no idea so many elements of New York City’s “je ne sais quoi” could be so elegantly woven together in a 90-minute documentary about an 83-year-old fashion photographer.

If you have any interest in fashion, New York City, photography, the arts, the changing face of the urban culture, real estate battles, bicycles or human nature, add Bill Cunningham: New York to your Netflix queue. (Or run down to the Film Forum if you’re lucky enough to be in New York, in which case you’ll love it even more.)

For the uninitiated, Cunningham has worked for the New York Times for decades as a fashion chronicler of sorts. His weekly “column” is a page full of photographs focused on a particular trend. When I worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, little unfashionable Iowa fish-out-of-water that I was, his Sunday Styles page was open on everyone’s desk come Monday morning. I remember the clamor around the office when my already very glamorous and well-known boss was included on his page. If Bill took your photo, so they said, you’d made it. But to put it all in perspective, Anna Wintour, perhaps the most fashionable woman in the world, is the one who utters these words in the film. The mere fact she was willing to appear in the film (smiling, at that) speaks to the influence Cunningham, who cycles around town in a reflective orange vest, wields.

Even if you have no interest in fashion, this is a brilliant film about generations worth of life in New York City. Until recently, Cunningham lived in legendary artist studios above Carnegie Hall that evicted their tenants when they were converted into office space. It’s a fascinating look at gentrification and the changing landscape for creative types.

Personally, I loved watching a film so rich with personal memories. I studied Bill’s trends as a young, reluctant fashionista to have something to talk about ’round the water cooler. Years later, I harassed my media relations agency daily to get Cunningham to photograph charity events for the university where I worked. One of my best friends worked at Carnegie Hall when he lived upstairs; she said her colleagues all used to wonder if they were wearing anything worthy of “On the Street” as they came to work.

New York’s one great big small town. I’m so glad Bill Cunningham is one of my neighbors.

My Mobile Life

In one of my jobs as a communicator, I teach others how to communicate better. Part of that process involves strategically choosing and considering the messages you actually send.

In the midst of working on this, I have realized I can post to my blog via email from my BlackBerry from just about anywhere. I can publish detailed, illustrated updates from anywhere in the world. I find this fact both exciting and terrifying: convenience and speed may well be the enemy of targeted, strategic, empathic communication.

But we all succumb once in a while, she says as she excitedly tests the feature with a photo of my favorite cafe. Choose your communications battles well, friends. And I’ll promise not to tweet any photos of my breakfast. Er, not today at least.

 


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