August 2012 Archives

The Return of Bitchin' Fridays

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Lately I feel like this blog could be accurately subtitled "Fun Things I Did with Penelope," as our schedules and inclinations have synched perfectly for the first time in months (years?). When we used to work together, we celebrated the end of the week (which was paradoxically our busiest, most demanding day) with Bitchin' Fridays, consistently my favorite part of the week.

Now it turns out my job has summer hours on Fridays from break until Labor Day, where instead of getting out at 5:30, we get out at 3. I know, right?? Pretty freaking sweet. Determined to take advantage of these days, especially when they've coincided with P having afternoons off, I've had some pretty spectacular Fridays lately.

Our first was one of the all-time best. We grabbed a bottle of prosecco and Shake Shack to go, then picnicked in Central Park for the free New York Philharmonic concert. I was recently obsessed with the philharmonic, having attended an all-Tchaikovsky performance that Monday. The music was incredible, and I couldn't have imagined a more perfect way to enjoy a summer evening, surrounded by thousands of other New Yorkers, sipping prosecco, startling to see fireflies come out. Oh, and then there were fireworks too.

There was something so magical about seeing the fireworks over the lit-up skyline at the southern border of the park. I felt this sense of connectedness and home in this city, where hearing Alec Baldwin in real life made perfect sense (he gave the welcome address) and knowing that everyone else around us, thousands and thousands of people, read or heard the same thing I did and thought, "Yeah, that sounds like a nice thing to do on Friday." It made me fall in love with this city and its people all over again.

Our next bitchin' Friday included celebration of some super exciting news (it's not my news, so I can't spill it here yet). We met at the Asia Society, to catch the last day of the phenomenal Wu Guanzhong exhibit, "Revolutionary Ink." I have much, much more to say about that exhibit, but it should suffice to say it was one of the best I've ever seen and inspiring in countless ways.

(If you know the city, this photograph is a huge hint.)

I had a bottle of prosecco tucked in my bag (look, we really like prosecco), so we took to the park to drink outside. Foolishly, because I was in a big rush and just asked the liquor store guy for "the driest one you have," I didn't notice that the bottle I'd gotten had a spago closure (that annoying cork and string situation), and we needed a bottle opener. Penelope laughingly pointed out that they serve wine at Shake Shack, and we talked ourselves into walking across the park and getting dinner. I mean, twist my arm, right.

We happened upon Strawberry Fields, which for all the years I've lived in the city, I don't think I'd ever gotten around to visiting in person. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect, flowers arranged in a peace sign over the "Imagine" mosaic, hippies surreptitiously smoking pot and strumming acoustic guitars, people queuing up to take photos, occasionally of themselves making peace signs.

I was perhaps excessively amused when a little kid started tipping over the framed photographs of John Lennon and grabbing at the various things people left at the memorial.

Let me be the one to tell you, if you don't already know, that prosecco and Shake Shack are a match made in heaven. We already knew this from our picnic in the park, but man, it really is just perfect. We talked and laughed for hours and I still got back to the southern tip of Manhattan in time to take the last ferry back to New Jersey. We were both blown away by the art we saw, the loveliness of the park in the late afternoon / early evening, and of course we were delighted to have the time to spend excitedly talking about the future and giggling over the past.

This past Friday, we had plans to sip prosecco on the rooftop of the Met (Have you spotted a theme in our plans? We really like prosecco.) but the sky fell out while I was still at work, and neither of us wanted to chance the forecast for continued thunderstorms. The decadence of rooftop cocktails comes in part from an abundance of time and an absence of demands, the ability to just enjoy being, without glancing constantly at the clouds to see if they're turning.

Instead we met on the Lower East Side, beginning with gelato outside. I've been obsessed with half chocolate half raspberry all summer, and Gelato Ti Amo was pretty near perfect. If you use Scoutmob, by the way (which you really, really should), they currently have a free cone deal, which I only discovered after we'd purchased ours. I've filed that one away for future reference, though.

The weather held up (argh), and while we felt like chumps for forgoing the Met, we both enjoyed relaxing and chatting as the afternoon settled into the evening. When it turned toward dinner time, we discovered a terrific restaurant a few blocks away. It happened they had a 50% off deal on Scoutmob (do I sound like a shill yet? I don't get anything out of mentioning this, I just think it was really cool), so we thought it would be good to try a new place. And what a terrific decision that turned out to be!

I seriously love places where you can sit outside on the sidewalk, probably because it reminds me so much of Italy. The Lower East Side has no shortage of such places, but it can be tough to find one that's tucked away enough from traffic, doesn't get mobbed with pedestrians, and actually has really good food. Three of Cups ticked all the boxes, and it was such a pleasure to sip wine, laugh hysterically, and over-indulge in crazy delicious food.

When I first met Penelope, I asked if she thought it was weird that I liked taking pictures of food. Not only did she not think it was weird, but she admitted that she did it too, and we've both unabashedly done so all the time since. So of course, you get to see just how much we overdid it (yes, after eating gelato. I had a tough week).

We shared extraordinary, massive arancini, with fresh ricotta and delectable marinara.

We both got papardelle in a mushroom ragu with prosciutto and truffle oil. It was as extraordinary as it sounds. I've long believed truffle oil is Nature's MSG, and they were quite generous with it. I have to appreciate the very Italianness of a place that serves perfect rosemary focaccia with white truffle infused olive oil right out of the gates and keeps pushing truffles throughout the meal. One of the first times we were in Italy together, Penelope and I both commented on how abundant truffles were in the Tuscan dishes we were eating, even though the peak of the Piedmont season is the fall (how delighted was I to meet someone who knows those facts off the top of her head??). We joked that the chefs of Volterra were cleaning out their pantries in anticipation of the next harvest, and I've associated super rich truffle dishes with summer since then.

You'd think after such a rich meal, there'd be no room for dessert, but you'd be completely wrong. I was hypnotized by the description of a special blackberry panna cotta from the moment we sat down, and I was going to find a way to suffer through it.

It was positively heavenly. Panna cotta is one of those desserts that's so easy to make, but also so easy to mess up. Americans tend to overdo the gelatin content, so they come out bouncier, more solid, without that cloudy, delicate texture of supple cream. This panna cotta was on par with the best I ever had in Italy, and the blackberries mixed in instead of sprinkled on top made an arresting difference.

It was pretty much the most perfect meal I've had lately, and I couldn't have asked for a lovelier companion. Once again, I had to rush to catch the last ferry back to Jersey, but I rode the subway with a couple about to get married, who had met at the 8th Ave subway stop 5 years ago. Their friends were taking them for a late-night champagne sail around the city, and they all talked about what an extraordinary twist of fate it was to find each other in the middle of the night, standing on a subway platform. I kept thinking about them on the ferry, and as we docked in Atlantic Highlands, I looked at the perfect stillness of the bay and sighed, thinking "Damn, I really truly love New York."

Pel and I have resolved to do more in the city, to visit the places we've always meant to, do the things that sound like fun, take advantage of all the amazing cultural and artistic things this wonderful place has to offer. It's hard to convey these evenings spent talking about everything in the world with such a great friend in photographs (especially when they're all of food) or even words, but I know that for all of my life, I will think of these days as some of the most magical and lovely. Bitchin' Friday, a perfect state of mind.

(Many more photos here.)

Beach House at Central Park SummerStage

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A few years ago I got tickets to see The Black Keys in Central Park for my friend Penelope's birthday, and one of my favorite summer traditions was born. It seems that the show I'm most anticipating each summer falls on the week or even day of her birthday (July 28), and we have seen some of the best concerts of my life for these birthday shows.

Last year, it was the mind-bogglingly amazing Flaming Lips and Weezer special tag-team show at Jones Beach. (Bonus: my brother came for that one because Weezer is one of his all-time favorite bands, and the three of us were completely blown away).

This year was Beach House on a Monday night in Central Park. From the very first time I heard the song "Gila" years ago, I've been obsessed with seeing Beach House live. I couldn't have hoped for a better venue than Central Park in the summer. I bought these tickets back in January, and I'd been eagerly awaiting it for months.

Man, oh man, it was worth the wait. We started by meeting early for a bottle of wine and dinner at Bar Italia, then got gelato before heading into the park. Thanks to Twitter, I knew we had loads of time before the stated 5pm doors / 6pm start, so we lingered and relaxed.


If you are ever near the 72nd Street entrance to Central Park, go to the Grom Gelato cart. It is extraordinary. We both got half chocolate, half raspberry, and it was an exquisite blend of tartness and rich, velvety chocolate. Truly perfect stuff.

We got into the park as the opening act, Lower Dens, began their first song. I'm really glad we got to see their set because they were terrific, and I've enjoyed getting to know their music better since.

It was so hot and humid crammed in with hundreds of generally surprisingly awesome people that sweat was literally streaming down our legs. The technical no-smoking policy generally in place at SummerStage concerts was particularly lackadaisically enforced at this show, and because Penelope and I are probably the only two women of our generation who don't smoke, we moved out of the thick haze of the crowd for a while. (I realize that sentence probably makes me sound eight million years old and supremely cantankerous, but I have basically lost all patience for people smoking all over me.)

This move turned out to be especially fortuitous, as we found shelter (and a seat - yep, still old, but I was full of wine and spaghetti carbonara) on the bleachers under the trees, which afforded both air to breathe and an amazing view of the spectacular lightning in the massive thunderstorm that accompanied Beach House's set.

(You'll have to take my word that they're in there.)

Unlike some bands inclined toward playing rushed or abbreviated sets when poor weather hits outdoor shows (cough, Walkmen and Grizzly Bear at Governor's Island, cough), Beach House played a full luscious, beautiful set. (Set list here.) If you know the band, then you can see what a tremendous concert it was. Victoria Legrand adorably said she hoped Mother Nature would be benevolent and let them play the whole show, and toward the end, she thanked Her for being so sweet and lovely. I couldn't possibly have a bigger crush on a band than I do Beach House, and in a way, incorporating natural pyrotechnics and a refreshing downpour made the concert even better. Couples sweetly kissing under umbrellas suggested I wasn't the only one who appreciated the added ambiance.

I tried to take a video of the way the lights shimmering in the trees combined with the heavy rain made the whole park look and feel like it was underwater. I didn't really succeed in capturing it, but you can perhaps get an idea of how spectacularly lovely the evening was anyway.

Outdoor summer concerts in the parks are one of my very favorite parts of living in New York. I think this birthday concert tradition is one of the better plans Pel and I have ever devised.

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