Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big Apple, Part III: A cheesy afternoon delight

Way up on the list of things to do when visiting The Big Apple is eating. The lovely Miss Wendy and I keep our chowing down simple when visiting New York, mostly searching out kosher delis – well, at least kosher-style delis!

So it was that we spent some quality time at the Carnegie Deli over the weekend, a mere hop, skip and jump from our hotel in midtown Manhattan. I once again let my stomach call the shots and ordered a hot pastrami sandwich – it’s a whopping pound of meat and costs a whopping $17.

I spent a good minute or two savoring the feast that spread out before me – slabs of thinly sliced pastrami spilling out from under two tiny pieces of bread – before pushing aside half of the sandwich and pulling off at least half of the meat from what remained in front of me, all to be eaten later that evening.

I scarfed down the now-manageable treat, enjoying the rich and deep flavor of the pastrami, nicely blended with a mix of spicy mustard, tangy bit of pickle and crusty slice of rye bread. A perfect bite! There would be many more.

A day earlier, Wendy and I dined at Ben’s Kosher Deli, an expansive restaurant with an expansive menu of Jewish treats. Yet again I feasted on a hot pastrami sandwich, but also enjoyed a steaming hot bowl of mushroom-barley soup. Yummy! Since Ben’s is actually a real kosher restaurant, Wendy ordered a brisket sandwich – moist and tender with just enough fat to tickle the taste buds.

It’s worth noting that we had breakfast at a few specialty diners in midtown and the upper west side of the city each morning and noshed on some dee-licious sweets from bakeries around Times Square most afternoons. All of this was a nice and classic way to eat over our long weekend holiday; but I was also hankering for something a little different and, ah, cheesy!

Late last year, while clicking through the cable channels on the tube, I came across a program on the Food Network focusing on a little specialty restaurant in Manhattan. It’s called S’Mac and its cooks – it’s way too small to have chefs – focus all of their culinary talents on one dish – Mac-n-cheese!

The 30-minute program left me drooling and promising myself that the next time I was in The Big Apple I’d be making a pilgrimage to the East Village. So it was that on a frigid afternoon in early February, Wendy and I found ourselves just east of Union Square in a gritty little space filled mostly with teens and young adults.

A dozen or so tables were spread about the room and a dozen or so people were waiting in line to place their orders. A large menu was on display across one wall, detailing the many ways S’Mac pulls together cheese, pasta, veggies, meat and spices.

Wendy and I kept it simple. I ordered the 4 Cheese Delight, featuring Cheddar, Muenster, Gruyere and a touch of Pecorino. Wendy opted for the Garden Lite – Cheddar, Parmesan, roasted cauliflower and portobello mushrooms, roasted garlic, broccoli and scallions. We weren’t disappointed!

Meals are presented in skillets nestled in wooden serving dishes, the cheesy tops still bubbling away amidst a heavenly aroma of cheese and spices. There’s a fine crunchy topping of bread crumbs that easily gives way to a euphonic blend of robust flavors.

It’s all so simple and fresh, and a perfect way to spend a chilly afternoon in The Big Apple. S’Mac – the full name is Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese and you can find its website right here – is a happening place; cheesy in just about every way possible. We’ll be back!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Big Apple, Part II: Pilgrimage to Ground Zero

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were all bundled up, ready to face the morning chill in the Big Apple on Sunday when we ran smack into a small delay. Waiting along with a dozen or so other folks outside the elevator on the fifth floor of the Park Central Hotel in midtown Manhattan, we all realized at about the same moment that something was amiss.

The first hint? The fact that there were a dozen of us waiting to cram onto an elevator that might hold half our number. A moment later, after hearing cars whooshing up and down and all about, someone reached the front desk and learned that all was not right with the elevator and it would be awhile before it would be stopping on our floor.

What to do? Those hearty and adventurous enough to trek down five flights of stairs headed for a nearby exit. The stairwell was what you’d expect – a fireproof concrete bunker with metal rails, filled with twists and turns; good lighting, poor signage, funky smells and a few dead ends. It was a memorable descent, handled without incident.

The episode is only worth mentioning because of where Wendy and I were headed – the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero on the southern tip of Manhattan. Our very little setback continued rattling about my noggin as Wendy and I found the right subway – in our case, the C train – to reach Fulton Street. The stop is just north of the Financial District and a short – if frigid – walk to the memorial site.

All about are skyscrapers, shadowy canyons and dark memories. This is the area of the city that was filled with chaos a decade or so ago; dust, debris and people fleeing the death and destruction caused when the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center were toppled by terrorists.

There are at least five security checkpoints around the memorial, one filled with the same sort of scanners and sensors you’ll find when flying. After showing your ticket – it’s free, but you need to request it online in advance of your visit – and passing through security, you walk through one final gate and find yourself standing in front of a large, mostly barren plaza.

This is where a complex of seven buildings, including the landmark Twin Towers, was situated. The towers – they were once the two tallest buildings in the world – were destroyed and the other buildings were left irreparably damaged. The entire complex was flattened and the site is now being rebuilt with five news skyscrapers and a memorial to the 2,977 victims who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

The memorial spreads across several blocks of space and includes two massive fountains, one at the base of what was once the North and South Towers. They are surreal and other worldly in design, water tumbling down from the surface, 30 feet into a reflecting pool that spills into a distant opening.

The names of the victims from each tower and the first responders who died in their heroic efforts to reach people before the buildings collapsed are inscribed on metal panels around the fountains. But it’s the flowing water that takes center stage, reflecting the day’s light, constantly moving, shifting about and tumbling off into the distance.

The movement is a shadowy reminder of the tragedy and despite the water tumbling away, it seems to me that in a fashion everything is actually moving forward. Look long and hard enough, and down becomes up, the water – perhaps the souls of those loss – being elevated in our collective hearts and minds.

Once finished, the entire area will be nicely landscaped, complete with trees, shrubbery and flowers. New skyscrapers, filled with thousands of workers, will overlook the site and life, yet again, will continue day by day.

Ground Zero, however, will remain sacred ground; a melancholy spot and a place to recall a desperate moment when time stopped and the world stood still.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Big Apple, Part I: In search of winter’s chill

It was a warm and humid Land of Cotton that the lovely Miss Wendy and I jetted away from late last week. Winter was paying little attention to our little corner of the world, so we decided if we wanted to be, ah, cool, we would have to turn the temperature down ourselves.

That’s how we ended up in New York over the weekend, in search of a little winter chill and cheer. We weren’t disappointed! The Big Apple has also been experiencing an unseasonably warm winter this year, so we had no idea really what sort of weather we’d find a 1,000 miles north of home.

Apparently Mother Nature decided it was time to make a showing. She blew into town, riding an arctic cold front that greeted us with falling temps and falling snow.

I had packed my bag with a couple of new and little-used sweaters that, along with a new hat, scarf, gloves and winter coat, kept me warm and toasty. Ditto Wendy! Over the long weekend, We stayed busy strolling around the upper west side of Manhattan, then down through Central Park to Columbus Circle and on to Times Square.

We eventually made our way all the way through Midtown to Union Square, on to Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca, the Financial District and the 9/11 Memorial; and, finally, Battery Park on the southern tip of the island – more about all that in postings later this week. Stay Tuned!

For three days, the sky was a wintry gray and the temperature hovered around freezing. On Saturday morning a light snow fell, partially blanketing the trees, walkways and green spaces with a dusting of the white stuff; a special little gift from Mother Nature and the Big Apple’s Bureau of Tourism.

The whole winter thing almost became a little much when on Sunday gale force gusts whipping off the Hudson and East Rivers dropped temps into the teens. As Wendy and I walked around the area it felt like we had momentarily stumbled onto the North Pole.

Back home now and it’s all a warm memory, the chilly trip up north a nice reminder of the joys of winter and the promise of spring. The oh-so drab and gray days of February linger about, but the temperate month of March is waiting in the wings.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Out with the old and in with the digital

I’ve embraced the 21st century and learned that I can get my news each day without wrestling with my morning paper. It’s a habit that’s been part of my life for decades, a morning ritual that in my case was also part of my work life.

Not so long ago I was in the business of putting out the paper; for years focusing on the newsy side of things – the national, international and local reports – before moving to features in the mid-1990s and fiddling around with a wide assortment of topics.

When I say wide assortment, I’m not exaggerating. In the last decade of my career, in one fashion or another I helped produce weekly and special sections on religion, travel, food, heath, aging, books, theater, movies, music, fashion, parenting, jobs, cars, homes and gardening. But I digress!

I worked for at least a half-dozen or so weeklies and dailies over four decades, the last 30 years for that place in the Land of Cotton with its own printing press that once upon a time “Covered Dixie Like the Dew”! The paper is still around; hunkered down in a new building in the suburbs, its editors trying to figure out how best to embrace the brave new world we all call home.

For a decade or so, as circulation and advertising revenues plummeted, the paper’s top bosses have been toying with the product, cutting resources – everything from the iconic headquarters building to staff writers, editors, artists, photographers and researchers – and wrapping their collective minds and arms around all things digital.

One success story is the paper’s new e-paper. I no longer have to waddle out to my driveway at the crack of dawn, deal with soggy newsprint on rainy days, or goose bumps when the temperature dips below freezing – okay, that doesn’t happen all that often in my little corner of the world, but still …

Best of all, the little dance of spreading out sheets of newsprint, smoothing out wrinkles and reading around smudges and tears is a thing of the past. Of course, the lovely Miss Wendy continues her love affair with all these things and wouldn’t consider dropping the hold-it-in-your-hands product that people of a certain, ah, age continue to enjoy. I say, viva la difference!

I find the e-paper to be a quick and easy way to get my morning dose of news, features and commentary. It’s easily accessible online and maneuvering about the paper is, literally, a simple matter of clicking from page to page.

I find that I spend much more time with the e-paper then I ever did with the, ah, paper paper. It also allows me to stumble across interesting little news stories and features that just isn’t part of the deal when surfing news websites.

If I keep moving in this direction, I might have to turn in my Old Fart’s card. That’s probably not going to happen, however, given the fact I’d never heard of MIA before last Sunday and still don't understand why she was making obscene gestures during the half-time show at the Super Bowl. Also, what's a Gaga and who's Adele?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ode to winter: Daisies, tulips and weeds; oh my!

The world is out of whack and all I can do is wonder when Mother Nature will take note. In my bizarre, abstract, literary way of thinking, I’m also wondering what Shelley – as in Percy Bysshe – might have to say about the unseasonably warm temps hanging out here in the Land of Cotton.

After all, it was Shelley who once wondered “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Well, what happens if winter never really blows its chilly way into the area? Will we simply go about our lives in a state of eternal tepidness? It’s a quandary!

Here I am in the oh-so eternally gray month of February, wearing T-shirts, shorts and sandals, watching daisies and tulips push their way through the earth. The flowery bits of whimsy that bring life and color each spring to my little corner of the world are showing off way too early, confused by the heat of a wintry day.

Trees are blooming, azaleas budding and, oh-so horribly, weeds are stretching their leafy tendrils much too soon across my lovely bare lawn. Another week or so of sunshine and I’ll be forced to push the cobwebs aside in my utility shed and waken my lawn mower, weed whacker, hedge clippers and blower.

So I’m hoping – well, praying – that Mother Nature comes to my rescue. It’ll only take a little cold snap to put things right; a day or week of frigid temps; maybe a bit of ice to cool things off!

Unwilling to leave myself and my needs to the capricious nature of, ah, nature, the lovely Miss Wendy and I will be jetting off in a week or two, searching for winter in the Big Apple. Highlights will certainly include eating our way through a few iconic delis – can you say HOT PASTRAMI – listening to Sutton Foster remind us that “Anything Goes”, tapping our tootsies at a Barry Manilow concert at, wait for it, Radio City, and – please – feeling the rejuvenating slap of an icy breeze across my face as we walk along Fifth Avenue!

And then, refreshed, I can return to Dixie, settle in for a slow thaw and wait for the warm embrace of March. If winter comes – even if I have to travel a 1,000 miles to find it – can spring be far behind? I’m hoping!