Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Step Inside Happiness
First there was a chalk arrow on the sidewalk pointing towards happiness followed by a circle of happiness for anyone to step inside.

Morning rush hour on 6th Avenue at five minutes to nine. I giggled as I stepped inside, amused by its silliness. Then I waited around to see how many more ventured in for a moment away from their hectic mornings.

No one else did. One more paused for a picture, but he didn't step inside. I was a few minutes late for work.

Mid-afternoon I had another chance at stepping into happiness. Then I waited. I didn't see anyone else even noticing happiness was right there, or if they did, they chose not to step into it.

It was a crowded sidewalk on 6th avenue between 18th and 19th. It's a busy thoroughfare with a constant flow of foot traffic in both directions. The chalk drawing was at the edge of the sidewalk in the area generally reserved for street vendors. It was on a clear space between a hat and cellphone accessories stall and a cluster of free newspaper stands. There was plenty of room around it, but like happiness, you had to step outside the flow to reach it.

After work, I had one more opportunity. This time I stayed in there for about a minute, smiling and watching people walk by me. This in New York is crazy behavior.

Since I wasn't on my way to or back to work, I moved a few feet away and took my time. I was baffled at happiness' invisibility. When I started getting cold I decided to count. I'd wait to see if at least one in a hundred would step inside.

If happiness were right there, wouldn't you want to stop for it?

I was up to 87 when a couple in their early twenties came by holding hands. He was on the phone heading in a straight line and she pulled him towards the sign. They stopped and stared at it. They let go of their hands. She stepped in and turned, looking around her in a defiant pose. He stayed outside, only the tip of his converse grazing the circle of happiness. Still on the phone, he was non-committal.

Friday, May 3, 2013

10 Easy Steps to Enjoying the Best New York City Spring by Getting a Root Canal*

Cherry Blossoms, Flatiron Building, bird and Penske truck. 
Spring in New York City is a magical time when the city gets blanketed by pink cherry blossom clouds. The air  fills with tear inducing pollen which makes everything look even more beautiful. After months of being burdened with thick coats cloaking them in darkness, New York City residents shed layers and start wearing happy colors. The relief is palpable in the city and some people even start to smile.

Part of what makes spring amazing is that suddenly beautiful things start popping up where there was nothing before. As someone who didn't grow up with seasons, this never fails to amaze me. However, if you have become inured to nature's tricks, there's still hope for you. In order to regain that sense of wonder and relief, you must first go through a series of exercises that will help you by offering a sense of perspective. In order to make the most out of the experience, I suggest a root canal.

Step 1 - Fracture your face*
Though this is not strictly necessary in order to get a root canal, it will help confuse matters. The best way to fracture your face is by playing some obscure and mildly dangerous game like broomball and taking it too seriously, but any sport will do. When you fracture your face, make sure you get told that you have nerve damage in your cheek and that pain might continue to flare up years later, particularly when there are changes in weather.

Step 2 - Go on a road trip
This gives your facial pain a good reason to flare up. I recommend traveling the backroads of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. They are beautiful enough to help you forget the pain that is now throbbing in your cheek. You'll start wondering if it's your old fracture or a problem with a tooth but your reluctance to get it checked out on New Year's Eve at the office of a small town Tennessee dentist will help maximize the pain.

Colter by the tracks by the Shack Up Inn in MS. He wasn't having any tooth pain.

Step 3 - See a dentist
Go see your regular dentist as soon as possible. Going early in January if you were having pain over New Year's works well. Have him tell you everything checks out fine. Have him tell you it was probably congestion and that if it comes back again, to first try decongestants and see if that helps. 

Step 4 - Travel 
Everyone knows tooth pain likes to come back when you travel. A third world country is best, particularly if that third world country is your home and where your parents live and you haven't visited in two years. But really, any trip will do because who plans a vacation and includes possible dental or other emergencies in the itinerary?

Step 5- Take decongestants*
Once you get back home, or while traveling if you can get your hands on them, stuff yourself with decongestants. If they don't work, try following the instructions. If they still don't work, try stronger decongestants. Repeat no more than twice, then start panicking wondering if this is what the rest of your life will be like: debilitating facial pain and tissues stuck up your nose.

Step 6 - See a dentist
Not to be confused with Step 3.  Make sure there is a three to four month gap between Steps 3 and 6 for maximum benefit. Have him refer you to an endodontist, but first have your new dentist thoroughly check your tooth until you almost involuntarily kick him as you jump out of the chair in pain. Don't kick your dentist.

Step 7 - See an endodontist
View from the endodontist's chair.
If you've done this right, you have now waited long enough for your root to have fully died. Have the endodontist confirm that you need a root canal. There is now dead tissue in your face getting infected which will require two trips to get the root canal procedure completed instead of the customary one.

Step 8 - Stock up on soft foods
Since you haven't been able to properly chew since back around Step 5, make sure you keep soft foods handy. Paté, hummus, and anything that's been put through the food processor works well. Disclaimer: eating only soft or liquid foods won't keep you from being hungry. Keep your loved ones at a proper distance to ensure their safety.

Step 9 - Go back to the dentist and get a crown
This step is far less fun than Disney will have you believe. Putting on a crown is what they do in order to make what's left of your mangled tooth work like a proper tooth. After this you can eat like a human again.

This process takes about three visits. Since both endodontist and dentists visits include about three numbing shots in your gums and require recovery time, they're spaced about a week apart. What this means is that for about five weeks for half the week you'll be in pain from your last visit, then you have a few days of relief and mandibular freedom before you go in for the next round. Make the most out of those days. Eat a fried burger if that's your thing.

These five weeks will give you the necessary perspective to properly enjoy a time in your life when you don't have to go to the dentist on a weekly basis.

Step 10 - Enjoy Spring in New York!
After a long winter that didn't know enough to leave when it had overstayed its welcome, Spring finally arrived in New York City in all it's daffodil and tulip glory. Go out and enjoy it!
Strut your new shiny crown! You deserve it!

Go eat. Because you can.

Giant tulips trying to take over Madison Square Park.

*Do not try this at home. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Colombia 2013

With the parents in Cartagena
It was time for the boyfriend to go meet the family. If they lived nearby, I would've brought him over for Sunday dinner; or a Sunday noon-time sancocho most likely. Since they're in another continent, it took time and planning.

We ended up going for two weeks. We went to Bogotá first. I figured it would be best to ease him into Colombia and wild as Bogotá can get, it's a proper city. He'd get to meet my brother and his wife. Plus, there's natural air conditioning, and most of the people he'd meet in Bogotá spoke English.

That would not be the case once we got to the coast. Fortunately, by the time we got there he'd found himself a guitar and he was so happy eating Colombian food and drinking fruit juices he'd never previously heard of that he didn't care much about not being able to understand what was going on.

Sí, delicioso, and gracias go a long way when you're meeting parents.

It was a few vacations wrapped up in one. First, we enjoyed urban Bogotá with its new Transmilenio buses, shopping centers that looked like futuristic concepts drawn in the the seventies, gorgeous graffiti and street art, and Monserrate for the best views of the city and an amazing lunch.

Then we headed out of the city. First to the Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá. That's a Cathedral carved out of  a salt mine and it's as beautifully surreal as you might imagine. It's made of rock salt. After that we went to Andrés Carne de Res in Chía for a late lunch.
Meta-photo at the Salt Cathedral

There is no restaurant to compare it to. In Colter's words "Imagine a restaurant the size of a small town, with a menu that requires both a table of contents and an index. Décor is junk shop art and food is five start quality." He descended into primal grunting as the first bite he took of one of the appetizers rendered him speechless, but that's how he was able to sum up the experience on FB after regaining use of words. Since it was his birthday the following day, there was also a sash, a crown and a bit of serenading. There was dancing. There was eating. There were hammocks. This place is a spa for those who like to eat.

That was day 3. On the 4th day we went flying.

We strapped ourselves to huge parachutes strapped to instructors and we ran off the mountain to sail high above the lake and glide away as the mountain top restaurant became smaller and smaller. We gently looped back around and landed roughly in the same spot. Floating is weird. It feels amazing, but it also feels deeply wrong. It's like the body knows it's not supposed to be up in the sky without any kind of hard structure AND not falling.

I'd go again tomorrow if I could.
At Parapente Paraiso in Sopó

Then we went to Barranquilla, my hometown. It was meet the parents time. It was probably a mistake to let Colter meet my parents. By the time we left, they were pampering him more than they pamper me.

We also took a day trip to Cartagena. You should visit Cartagena if you ever have the chance. It's like New Orleans but with better food and kick-ass castles.

After that we went to Parque Tayrona for a couple of days, and that will take a separate blog post. It's the kind of place that makes no sense until you see it.

Then we backtracked to Rodadero, a beach town where friends of my parents have an apartment. It's where we went away on holiday weekends when I was a teenager. I hadn't been back in about ten years. I got to spend time on that balcony staring at the sun setting over the Caribbean, with Colter playing guitar leaning against my bent knees, while my parents and their friends amicably argued about the best place to buy unpasteurized cheese.

It was a long trip back after that. From Rodadero to Barranquilla, then Barranquilla to Bogotá, then Bogotá to JFK.

Still not quite back.

Here's a taste of what it was like.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Salad! Salad in a Jar.
I'm one of those people who brings lunch to work. Often I'll also bring snacks: a handful of olives, slices of cheese, chopped mango,mixed nuts. As a Park Slope Food Co-op card-carrying member, my co-workers have been known to make fun of the variety and amount of food I bring to work, even as they jealously eye my lunch while biting into their protein bars washed down with Red Bull.

I don't care. I enjoy taking the time to eat well. Over the years I've gotten efficient at the dinner leftover transformation into brown bag lunch. However salads had remained elusive. If I really wanted one, it would require three containers: one for greens, one for whatever was on the salad, and one for dressing.

Enter Salad in a Jar.

I noticed an intriguing post on @nycsharaton's Instagram feed. Salads! In jars! I'd seen something like that floating around on Pinterest, so I took a better look. You pack from wet to dry. Wet stuff in the bottom (dressing, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc...) and dry stuff on top (mesclun, spinach, etc..) That way things stay separated until ready to eat and the greens stay fresh.

Depending on what you put in it, it can last a week. I've done it a couple of times now and have loved the results. When I'm putting together a salad in the evening, I pack an extra jar and take it to work the following day. Since I don't like having just salad for lunch, I do a small jar as a side.

Pictured: lemon yoghurt dressing, cucumbers, shredded beets, broccoli sprouts, and mesclun. I that order. It was light an refreshing salad to go with an arepa sandwich lunch.

You're stuck carrying a jar, but if you're lucky, maybe you'll be visiting a friend that evening for bookclub and she'll fill your empty jar with cookies. Thank you, Tara

Chocolate Chip Cookies in a jar

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Olived Oranges

Olived Oranges
As a kid, I had no interest in learning how to cook. I thought I'd always have others cooking for me. At home, or out, cooking was something others would do while I pursued whatever self-important thing I wanted to pursue.

If neither of those two options were available, by the time I grew up we'd be eating scientifically designed nutritional packets while  strapping on our jetpacks to head to the glass-domed labs and work compounds.

I'm glad that's not the way things turned out. Besides, somewhere along the way I developed a love for the kind of food that's not easy to find in restaurants.

Though I mostly cook without recipes, I look at them for inspiration. A couple of months ago I bumped into The Exalted Olive by Mark Bittman. Olives and oranges seemed like a strange combination, but since lightly salted oranges is one of my favorite things to eat after a hot summer run, I thought I'd give them a try.

Since that first attempt, I've been having this about once a week. The first time I made it I tried to make it look like the original recipe picture. As if that ever worked. Then I decided it was better to chop and toss. I also skip making my own olive puree in favor of a jar of olive paste that had been languishing in the back of the fridge waiting for the right moment.

It's a simple pleasure. Chopped orange slices, tossed with olive oil and a bit of olive puree. Light and filling. It works well on its own, as part of a tapas style dinner, or as a starter. Two oranges can be enough for dinner if I'm not too hungry. One per person is an appetizer.

This will come in handy on those hot summer nights that are up ahead. Even though this has been the winter that refuses to quit, I believe in summer.