Monday, September 17, 2012

Life Lesson: Get Back on Your Feet No Matter What

It was one of the nicer days in New York City, sunny, breezy and warm. We had just recovered from a hurricane and some bouts of rain. Work was not particularly stressful and I had a rare opportunity to step out for some lunch. I grabbed my coworker and off we went on a mission to buy some falafel.

We didn't get past one block before I found myself on the ground and in the street. I had slipped on a wet sloped curb and twisted my ankle. My coworker protected me from the traffic and helped me get on my feet. I took a moment to pause against a fire hydrant and catch my breath. I said I was okay, tried to mask any wince of pain my face showed and said, "I think I should go back to the office."

I felt defeated and embarrassed to tell people I fell for falafel. I did not want to look weak so I kept saying that I was fine. My coworkers got me a bag of ice from the deli and for the rest of the afternoon I nursed my ankle while it was propped up on a few boxes.

My ankle did not break. It was just swollen to the point where it looked like a baseball. The ice helped along with ibuprofren. For a week I took a tax/car service to/from work. It was tough for me to walk three avenues, eight flights of stairs, and some change.

Every day got a little bit better. For the first few days I felt pathetic and handicapped. I cancelled all my social engagements and walked like a turtle. Self deprication could only last so long and soon I was cracking jokes, smiling, and testing out how far I could walk without support and pausing.

I feel that mental state plays a big part in how fast you heal. I felt blessed that my fall did not put me in a worse state than I was already in. I was on my way to recovery and determined to be mobile for the upcoming week's festivities.

Earlier in the year, I found myself crying at work frustrated over certain things in my personal life. One of my coworkers said to me, "What's wrong? You're doing great. You don't realize it but you bounce back quickly. You're strong, brave, and fearless." It felt strange to hear these words come out from someone's mouth when they were about me but I've always remembered it and think about it when things get tough.

It was a year ago when I fell down. It was Fashion Night Out. When all the ladies were walking around Fifth Avenue shopping, I was at home, plans foiled, with my leg propped up on a pillow. Hey, I can walk now and I can walk fast, way faster than anyone in high heels.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Job- Sometimes I Feel Like I am in Jail


Not me, just a stock photo found online.
I always had a vision of myself dressed in high heels and business attire, full makeup, and perfectly blown out hair, getting out of a cab. Successful women take taxis not the subway. I came to the big city and landed a job at a large retailer and lived that life for a brief minute. I was the assistant to a Vice President and soon enough my glamorous position turned into something out of The Devil Wears Prada. I lasted six months until I called it quits. 

I found myself unemployed and desperate for a job. My livelihood in New York depended on a stable income. Two weeks later I received an offer for a small mom and pop business which seemed pretty solid. They had even given me an option of what department I would like to work in. It was incredible. I was no longer a small fish in a big pond but finally regarded as someone important. I held the key to my own destiny and I chose prison life.

Visiting Inmates Upstate
What do I mean by prison life? I didn’t do anything illegal nor am I on death row but every day I deal with inmates on the federal level nationwide. I sell them clothing and footwear, not the orange jumpsuit kind, but athletic wear and Nikes. In a sense, I still work in fashion. My job is quite the conversation piece. Actually, that’s why I chose it; to be able to say I do something different and have stories to tell.

The big underwear. If you only knew.
My days often stretch to the 7 o’clock hour and I have to keep things light just to get through the daily grind. Each day is different and I am always amazed at what I encounter. Through this job I get sent on assignment to exciting destinations like St. Joseph, Missouri and St. Petersburg, Virginia, listen to how inmates turn Doritos into enchiladas, get a play by play of the latest inmate revolt and attack on prison staff (bloody details included), and receive the occasional love letter. That is just the tip of it.

Sizing shoes before I ship them out.
My job is not glamorous nor is it high profile but it suits my life here just fine. I would have never had this opportunity in California. This job also gives me another reason to say, “Only in New York.” Only in New York, indeed.   

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Trip Back in Time- Historic Richmond Town


Old school printing press
In a city where everything is so fast paced and in a constant state of evolution, it is a rarity to find something so old and unchanged. Far from skyscrapers and a Gap, lives Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island.

What makes Richmond Town historic? The town is in its original state from as early as the late 1600s. Believe it or not, the building structures of Historic Richmond Town have never been rebuilt or restructured. A walk around Richmond Town feels like a trip back in time during the colonial days when the Dutch, French, and English first took up residence in Staten Island

I visited Historic Richmond Town for their second Chili and BBQ Cook Off. During this two day affair, various groups and local restaurants set their best recipes and cooking techniques forward in hopes of winning a poker chip vote from the public. An admission ticket granted unlimited tastings throughout the day.

Pier 76 and their chili pot
There are many events that take place in Historic Richmond Town. Currently, there is a county fair going on. Events are meant to foster community and awareness of Historic Richmond Town. Proceeds go towards preservation. The Staten Island Historical Society, the City of New York, and an unnamed independent nonprofit cultural organization oversee Historic Richmond Town.

Traditional Cornbread
All handmade!
Cooper's White Work
Historic Richmond Town is open to the public and visitors are encouraged to tour the museum and walk freely on the premises. I got to wander into the old homes and working businesses. A typical visit to Historic Richmond Town may include a variety of activities from learning about basket making, tasting food cooked by an antique stove, and a demonstration from a tinsmith to having a drink at the local watering hole as well as a taking a walk around the lake and the old mills. Historic Richmond Town may be a small quaint space but it’s big enough to convey the feel of a living, working village 350 years ago.

441 Clarke Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10306

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Meatopia 2012- Randall's Island, NYC

Meatopia and the Best Butcher Competition Stage
The plan was to conquer 40 food stands in four hours, eat something every six minutes, take pictures of everything, and meat our destiny. In reality, there were about 50 food stands, way too much (always a good thing), a visit from mother nature, and a cast of characters from all over the nation. I tried about 20 stalls before feeling full, took pictures while shielding my camera from the rain, and was overjoyed to see my beloved hometown of the Bay Area, California represented not once but a few times.

I was impressed with last year's Meatopia and ecstatic over this year's. Meatopia gets better every year. Bigger, more organized, more impressive, and more expensive. Worth every penny. It's a chockfull of fun. Here are the highlights.

Shane McBride: Smoked Duck Neck Gumbo w/ Wild Rice
Harold Moore: DUO OF SQUAB- Rillette of Dark Meat and Roasted Breast Ancienne
US Navy SEALs: Grilled Venison Steaks and Marinated Tenderloin
Gabriele Corcos & Debi Mazar: Pizza al Carpaccio w/ Certified Piedmontese Eye Round Beef
Paul Denamiel: Beef Shank Bourguignon
Chef Alex Guarnashchelli
Alex Guarnashelli: Canard a la Presse w/ Sauce Chasseur
Michael White for Osteria Morini: Grilled Hampshire Pork Cheeks w/ Late Summer Mostarda
Eduard Frauneder: Grilled Veal Breast w/ Arugula, Peach, and Rye Bread Mustard Vinaigrette
Justin Smillie: Spit-Roasted Short Ribs w/ Castelvetrano Olives, Celery, Walnuts and Horseradish
Joey Campanaro: Sangria Marinated Butcher Steak w/ Hearts of Romaine alla Caesar
Noah Bernamoff of Mile End: Sizzling Smoked Veal Brisket w/ Charred Garlic Scrapes
Rae Cohen of Mile End
The 1,000 pound steer of Pat LaFrieda
Pat LaFrieda: Marinated Creekstone Steer
April Bloomfield of The Breslin: Kansas City Style BBQ'd Whole Hog
April Bloomfield of The Breslin: KC Style BBQ Pork Slider w/ Slaw
Zak Pelaccio: Spit-roasted Duck w/ Lady Jayne's Cured Citrus
I did not eat one bad thing at Meatopia. At the point of my fullness, I walked around for the last two hours salivating over Ilili, BZ Grill, Dinosaur BBQ, and a few others. I took a break to watch a bit of the Whole Foods Best Butcher Competition. After that, I stopped by Whole Foods' tent to just be in awe of their giant sausages and "World's Largest" Toppings Bar. Randall's Island served as a great stage for Meatopia. There was plenty of space and lots of trees that helped shield a little from the ghastly rain storm which turned the nice lawn into a muddy mess. Ah, true meat lovers did not flinch one bit. The meatfest (err, eating) continued.



The Ritz Cracker Competition- Dinner Party

Every now and then there is an event I just know I have to be a part of.

A few weeks ago I got an email that was an invitation for a dinner party. It was all very mysterious and intriguing. The hosts would be cooking a “New American” meal for everyone but first there would be a Ritz Crackeroff. What exactly was a Ritz Crackeroff? If you chose to participate you would have 30 minutes to assemble toppings of your choice on a Ritz Cracker. The crackers would then be voted by your peers and the one winner with the most votes would be referred to as whatever moniker they preferred for the rest of the evening. In this case it would be either “Your Highness,” “Your Majesty,” or “Your Master.”

Host Chef Albert
I arrived at the location, an apartment building in Brooklyn, without knowing who’s apartment I was going to, a contact phone number, or an apartment number. Puzzled, my friend and I scrolled through e-mails to find a way to contact our mutual friend. The doorman, amused by us, saved the day by saying, “You must be here for Albert. There are already a few people who have shown up.” 

Off we went with eyebrows raised. We had no idea what to expect only that in New York this was common. You show up with an open mind and just go with the flow. The Ritz Cracker competition was about to begin.

There were eight of us participating. We had all brought our own ingredients and got to work. We were permitted use of the kitchen and whatever gadgets or appliances we needed. I had practiced my recipe earlier in the day. I called it A Picnic in Tuscany. My concoction was cream cheese based. I soaked sun dried tomatoes in olive oil and chopped them up in a blender. I threw in red pepper flakes for spice. I mixed the tomatoes with cream cheese and let it sit in the refrigerator to form. For assembly, I put a dollop of sun dried tomato cream cheese on top of the Ritz cracker and topped it with a pinch of dried basil and jalapeno cheddar pepperoni. The result was favorable. Everyone said it belonged at an Oscar party.

A Picnic in Tuscany
I was amazed at everyone’s creation. None of us knew what each other was bringing. In fact, the majority of us were meeting for the very first time. Some did savory recipes. Some did sweet. A few drew from their cultures for inspiration and some were fueled purely by determination to impress. In the end we had a full on meal of Ritz Crackers from appetizers and main courses to dessert.

Which one would you vote for?
We had cucumber shrimp salad, salmon and lox, Thanksgiving, A Picnic in Tuscany, Thai Mango chili, red wine figs and brie, ribs with sour cream, and chocolate ganache with cannoli filling. Everyone was given 20 Ritz Crackers. We had a choice between regular, low fat, and wheat Ritz Crackers. It was interesting to see how each was paired and even more fun tasting each contest entry.

Ribs flavored with Sriracha for a kick!
The winning Ritz Cracker was ribs with sour cream made by @Stellaaa. She has a new blog called Cooking With Stella. Hopefully, she will post her winning recipe! 

The Ritz Crackeroff turned out to be a huge success. We were all full from the tastings and had bonded over the shared experience. If you ever need an ice breaker to start a dinner party, this would be a great one. Of course, the delectable bites didn’t stop there. We then moved on to a full sit down dinner of salad, barbecue chicken, grits and chorizo, vegetables, and sugar pie. How I love dinner parties but this one really took the cake!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mosaic of Life- Philadelphia Magic Gardens

Philadelphia Magic Gardens lower level
Imagine an empty alleyway transformed by garbage and knickknacks. Glass bottles protruding out of the walls, mirrors smashed into a million pieces, ceramic tiles strategically placed, and painted quotes all over. At the Philadelphia Magic Gardens there is so much to see and make sense of. It is only natural to question the origins of this mosaic garden in the middle of the city. Who made it? Why? How is it that you feel like you are in Barcelona when you are really in Philadelphia?

Genius or Madman?

Visionary is the word in regards to artistry that can be used to describe Isaiah Zagar, the artist and mastermind behind the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. For the past 10 years, 72 year old Zagar has taken junk, bottles, tiles, dishes, sculpture, mirrors, anything and everything and turned them into beautiful mosaics and murals adorning the Philadelphia Magic Gardens and surrounding South Street neighborhood. Even the ceiling of the Philadelphia Magic Gardens building has been transformed into a mosaic. Zagar’s work is distinct and provides many messages cultural, political, and sentimental. Zagar’s approach to his art and the community, however, is another story. Genius or Madman? Everyone has their own opinion.

Zagar's ode to 9/11
Zagar is an artist with a one track mind and mission. If he sees a wall or an empty plot of land and wants it, he will do whatever it takes to have it. There have been times in the past where Zagar has seized a blank slate like a graffiti artist and started working. It is also common that he commemorates people from the community into his mosaics and murals. Guy with tools and cap look familiar? He’s the local plumber. Imagine seeing yourself one day in a 50 foot mosaic mural. What a surprise that would be.
Mike Mattio - Zagar's Plumber
I stumbled upon the Philadelphia Magic Gardens on my last Philly trip. The center was closed and I was only able to peer in from the outside gates. I managed to snap some pictures and when I found out you could take a tour of the grounds, I vowed to come back and center my next day trip around the Philadelphia Magic Gardens.

Carlos Carpet
For $10 you get a private tour of the building and South Street neighborhood. The tour will take anywhere from one and a half hours to two if you go overtime. The walking tour covers quite a bit of ground so plan accordingly. Bring water with you, wear comfortable shoes, and bring a stroller if you have small children. The tour must be booked in advance. Philadelphia Magic Gardens is also open to the public for self guided viewing for a mere admission cost of $5.

South Street Neighborhood Mural
The Philadelphia Magic Gardens is a non-profit organization and definitely worth a look when in the Philadelphia area. Great for photography buffs, families, art enthusiasts, and anyone who loves something shiny and interesting. 

1020 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147