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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Make My Menu Month: Prelude

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Yay!  Tomorrow I get to start the Make My Menu Month challenge!  And already there’s a time I’m going to have to pull the “my friends are inviting me out to dinner” card – tomorrow night after work!

No matter, though – the biggest challenge for me is usually lunch.  There’s a sandwich place and a pizza place in my lobby, and it’s gotten a little too easy to pop in there and grab either a baguette or a couple slices.  Especially if I’m in a rush in the morning, and packing a bag lunch would involve a little too much work.

But! It’s due to rain today, so I made a quick grocery run and got a bunch of staples, and then spent a couple hours cooking up some quick grab-and-go items that I can use to throw a lunch together – I roasted up a couple pounds of chicken wings, hardboiled a half dozen eggs, parboiled a whole package of green beans and new potatoes.  I also made these amazing-sounding snack bars out of cereal, peanuts, and a peanut buttery-caramel sauce.  In a bit I’m going to make up some cold Sichuan noodles with the rest of the peanut butter.  And all of that, plus a couple of other random odds and ends in the pantry and the fridge – canned tuna, a handful of olives, a bunch of radishes, cucumbers and grape tomatoes – and I’ll be able to dabble and mix and match and pack and go.  And I’ll probably be just starting to run out of a couple things by Saturday, when I get my first hit from the CSA and start living on 75% plant matter.

….The irony, however, is that I had originally planned to spend the rainy day indoors writing.  Oh well.


Announcing: Make My Menu Month

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Recently, a Facebook friend bared her soul about something.  She has two kids, see, and a busy job, and between the job and taking one kid to band practice and another to cheerleading practice it just got hectic, and so, she hit up a McDonald’s Drive-Thru window rather than making dinner.  “Vegetables and salad tomorrow, I promise,” she wailed.  I indulged in a little of the kind of talking-trash that only the single and childless can get away with and say that I’ve never had to do that, and wouldn’t dream of such a thing, tsk tsk…

But then I was wondering – how true is that, really?  I mean, I do tend to avoid fast food, but could I really say I make all my own meals?  No matter what?

So I’m gonna try to earn that smugness, with something I’m calling the “Make My Menu Month” challenge.  Which means: for the entire month of June, I will be making all of my own meals myself.  All three meals, every day, for the whole month.  No TV dinners, no takeout, no nibbles at a restaurant – basically, if I have to pay someone else to prepare the meal for me, it’s off limits.

Okay, I am allowing myself a couple of very specific exceptions:

  • If I’m spending the day at a museum or public garden that won’t let you smuggle food in.  If I’m at the Botanic Garden for the afternoon, I’m not going to go all the way home just to make myself a sandwich and then go back.  But by the same token, if I am going somewhere that will let you bring food, I gotta pack it.
  • If I’m out on with friends and that involves food.  A bunch of friends saying “hey, let’s go get Thai food” is always going to win.
  • If I’m on a date.   Yeah, I could cook for the guy myself, but that’s a particular talent I like saving for later.
  • I’m also allowing myself no more than two lazy brunches at the place on the corner.  I’m also going to be getting a scoop if I’m anywhere near Ample Hills ice cream but that’s not a meal anyway and it totally doesn’t count so shut up.

Other than that, it’s all on me – breakfast at home before work, brown-bagging it to lunch, and actually preparing a complete meal for dinner, every night, for the whole month.

To be fair, this actually isn’t too far off from how I eat anyway.   In summer I have a habit of stocking the fridge with big bowls of different salads, precisely so that dinner becomes a matter of just grabbing a little each of a couple options and dishing them up – they’re cold, they’re tasty, they require no thought, perfect.  If I want something with more heft, I’ll roast a chicken leg or something.  And the same bowls feed the lunchbox I take to work.  Plus in mid-June, my roommate will be taking off for a concert gig in California and will be gone for a month and a half, leaving the whole fridge at my disposal – all the more room to stock up.  And my CSA will also be starting up the first weekend of June – and it’s probably going to be way easier to always make myself good food when I’ve got several pounds of fresh produce dropping through the window every week.  And yeah, I’m also aware that cooking only for me, as opposed cooking for me-plus-husband-plus-a-couple-tweens-maybe puts me at a definite advantage.

But….I do sometimes fall off the meal wagon.  Sometimes it’s just plain easier to get a sandwich from the Pret a Manger in my office’s lobby or get a street cart hot dog or something; making all my own meals, even the snacks, is going to be a commitment.

But that’s it – I’m still going to.  If for no other reason than bragging rights.

So starting June 1st, it’s on.  I’ll check back in with progress every so often.


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gi self portrait


So my favorite spot in the entire city is open again.

Governors Island wasn’t even a place I could go when I first moved here back in 1988 – it was still a Coast Guard base back then.  But then it closed in 1996, and stayed in a weird sort of limbo for five years or so; there’s a nationally-landmarked fort on one end of the island, so someone had to maintain it, but the other end had some nondescript buildings no one wanted, so it wasn’t enough to justify the whole island being taken over.  The back-and-forth went on until 2003, just long enough for all the buildings to get a properly picturesque level of decay before New York City took it over, opening it up as a seasonal park; the ferryboats to get you there only run from Memorial Day through to the end of October, and at first they only ran on weekends.  Last year they started running every day.

I think I first went out in September of 2010, and fell in total love with the place.  It sits smack in the middle of New York harbor, with amazing views of Lower Manhattan on one side, Brooklyn on another, and the Statue of Liberty off to the south.  Back then the  there was a tiny picnic area on the southern tip, with a few freestanding hammocks scattered throughout; I was there on September 11th that year, and managed to snag a hammock and spent a long afternoon lying there, rereading E.B. White’s This Is New York and gazing at the Statue of Liberty.  I got back a bit sooner in the summer in 2011, bringing my bike that time and exploring a bit – peering through the windows of old officers’ houses at the north end, exploring the forts, and doing laps on my bike, free from the need to dodge cars.  I also got a kick out of how some of the old buildings were being repurposed into arts spaces,  with other pop-up public art projects scattered across the island – a mini reading room here, a minigolf course there…

More and more stuff has been added over the years.  There’s a small boutique that opens a pop-up shop out of one of the houses each year, the New York Historical Society has been getting into the act, and twice a summer there’s a jazz party which lures people in 1920’s cosplay. There’s a vintage rules baseball club that uses a corner the old parade grounds for its home games, and there’s even a small teaching farm with an active vegetable patch, a flock of chickens and a huge composting system.

My kayak club has made a few trips back and forth; paddling from Red Hook out around the island and back is a decently low-level adventure, taking just a couple hours or so, depending on how heavy the current is running along the west side.  We also once were specially commissioned by the farm to ferry some of their vegetables to the mainland.  Mainly it was just a photo op, but about ten of us made up a small flotilla of kayaks who paddled over to the island, where we were met by a team of people armed with boxes of kale and Swiss chard and a lot of bungee cords and they strapped the boxes to our prows, and we paddled back across to Red Hook, where a lone guy took pictures of us all storming ashore and then they gave us half the food.  We’ve also made regular trips for the annual City of Water Day, with some of the club opting to stay overnight – it’s the only time the park allows people to camp out each year, and you have to be part of a pre-approved boat club to do so.  The one year I did, we paddled across in the morning, our gear carefully stationed in our kayaks through the day; we gathered with the other clubs in the late afternoon, all of us patiently waiting for the last of the day trippers to leave.  When the last ferry pulled away, and we all started unpacking our gear, the most insane stuff started coming out of everyone’s boats – huge coolers, entire cases of beer, a whole slackline set….I swear I saw one group had managed to smuggle on an entire roast pig.   Technically we were also supposed to stay in one spot, but I managed to slip past the ranger and had a long moonlit walk across the empty parade ground.

The southern half of the park is undergoing a major renovation, and that first tiny park I went to was one of the first things to go – but they’ve moved the hammocks up to a new spot, planting a score of trees around them.  But the trees are a little too short still and the demand for hammocks has always been a little too great, so last year I hinted loudly that I wanted a hammock for Christmas – specifically so I could pack it on my trips and find my own quiet place to string it up.

I swear to God I would live out here if it were zoned for that.  Sadly, it isn’t – there’s a little problem of the plumbing system not having any potable water, and most of the residence buildings being just too damn old.  Plus I’d have to take some kind of ferry boat back to the mainland for 99.9% of anything.  But it could have the plumbing switched right back on and a couple of shops and services hooked right back up, and I would quite happily adjust to having to row to shore for shopping, I promise.

A Poem For The Day:

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I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do but laugh and go?

-Richard LeGallienne


….Okay, in my case it’s more like “but the laundromat was closed today and a sale at Ikea was calling me”.  But still.

The World Spins On

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Of course one of the biggest bits of good news I’ve heard in a long while is happening on a day when I am deep in the throes of Summer Brain.

I’ll have formed more thoughts in a few weeks – hopefully, just in time for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality here – but in the meantime I’ll say good on ye, Ireland.

Sun In A Bottle

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In my 30’s I went through a seriously big, and super-changeable, crafty phase.  Every spring I’d be idly reading some kind of craft book, or see some DIY idea on a web site or see a kids’ crafting kit in a store, for something I’d not tried before.  If it sounded kind of easy, I’d try it.  And more often than not, it’d be way easier than I thought.

And then I’d spend the next several months going flat-out bazoo over it, cranking out one after another craft project with whatever my new hobby was; glass painting, fabric painting, soap making, natural dyes, wood craft, paper craft…I’d be all into it all summer, and then by fall I’d usually come to my senses and see that I’d amassed a huge pile of this….stuff that I never would be able to use up all by myself, and then I’d spend the next couple months gradually unloading it onto friends.  Maybe, now and then, I’d dabble back in, but not to anywhere near the extent I’d done before.

One time the year’s hobby was making liqueur.  Which was actually a little out of character, because I don’t drink all that much as a general rule.  But something about liqueur seemed so genteel – they’re not things you chug, you sip them, preferably on a shady porch out of antique crystal glasses only just big enough to give you the tiniest sippet of something, the facets in the glass showing off the clear jewel tones of the drink itself.  And of the things I’ve tried, this was hands-down the easiest of all – most of the recipes I found involved simply dumping things into a jar full of vodka and leaving them alone for several weeks.

My friends really liked that craze, eagerly snapping up my bottles of spiced rum and homemade amaretto and blackberry wine, and my friends Colin and Niki even found something to do with a weird banana-mango thing I made, using it as the “secret ingredient” in their sangria pitchers for the better part of a summer.  But I still had a lot of little bottles of random liqueur left over, and after a while the labels started to fall off all of them and I got uneasy about giving them to anyone without knowing what they were and they gradually fell further and further back in a closet until I finally just dumped them all out.  They weren’t getting drunk, and they couldn’t possibly be any good, I thought.

But now and then the urge still hits.  A couple years ago, on a trip to Italy, I bought a tiny little bottle of limoncello from a market stall somewhere in Florence, something just big enough for me to get onto the plane home.  I was going to save it for a summer party or something.  But then my first day back to work after my vacation I was laid off, and came home a half hour before my then-roommate – who’d also lost his job that same day.  I figured we needed a double-dose of comfort and broke into the limoncello, digging out a pair of tiny cordial glasses that my grandmother had owned.  I forgot all about it until the next time I had a job-related tragedy, and was home wondering “now what” and saw the limoncello bottle still had a good amount left inside and poured myself a glass.

That bottle became the house “emergency job shock soother” for the next two years, until just last month, when I was facing a return to unemployment.  I finished out the bottle, telling my current roommate that well, if I was about to be unemployed, I would go out in style.  I washed out the bottle to save as a bud vase, and started to accept my fate.  But then literally the next work day, I was offered a full time job after all.

The thing is, though, I’ve now kind of gotten accustomed to having a small bottle of limoncello in the house.  But it’s going to be a while before I can get back to Italy again, and I’ll probably be springing for salame or pancetta to bring home instead.  However…I can make it.

There is now thus a big jar lurking in a corner of my kitchen counter, full of the contents of a whole bottle of vodka and the zest of eight lemons.  The entire apartment smelled absolutely gorgeous, and it took on a beautiful sunny yellow color after only a couple days.  But I need to leave it there for another four weeks still, and it’s starting to look like old pee.  But that’s part of the process – four weeks from now I just play with some filters and add some sugar and water, let it age some more, and then in early August, right when I’ll be wanting a cold apertif anyway, it’ll be ready to drink, preferably out of antique crystal glasses on a shady porch.  Or, more likely, from a flask smuggled into a park during an open-air movie or something.

But I don’t think I’ll be saving it just for job-related emergencies this time.

I Give Up

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So today at work I asked someone what I thought was a simple question about a task.  Fifteen minutes later four different department heads were in a side room yelling at each other in an attempt to work out the answer.

I’m not leaving the house for the rest of the night.  I’m clearly a bad influence on people.