Oh, New York, you beauty. Sometimes the city is a real kick in the guts, and sometimes it is a gilded wonder full of love, flower crowns, good music, old friends, and truffled egg toasts. Guess which one it is this week?
This Brooklyn sidewalk garden on the block next to ours is exactly how I want my wild country side yard to be. Juuust out of frame: an apple tree (I have that), and this awesome mural (I don’t have that).
I found my new place. This happens about, oh, once in a New York Blue Moon. It hasn’t happened to me since 2006 when I found 7B covered in fake snow and possibility a block from my first-ever 6th floor walk-up. It goes like this: you stumble upon a place by some wild and karmic circumstance, you’re in your own neighborhood, maybe the bar you thought was your place inexplicably had a $5 cover and sheerly on principle you refuse to pay that and you happen down some stairs you’ve passed before in the strange new one-way-warren of Bed-Stuy, and behind a caged door is shangri-la with a Little Richard doorman and an exquisite jukebox immediately playing Jennifer Holliday and then Ray Charles and then Al Green and the lights are pink and there’s hardly anyone there and whoever’s been there has been there for years and you know there’s food but there’s no menu you just have to guess that they’d have fried whiting and chicken wings with bright red sauce and french fries and good cold beer. I didn’t take any pictures, out of respect for the Sasquatch-like-awesomeness of this place, but I found the one above, my new place, The Tip Top Bar.
Yes, this is me riding on top of a moving piano welded to a shopping cart with lower Manhattan in the background. nbd. Let’s just say that this weekend marked the umpty-umpth anniversary of the Brooklyn Idiotarod. The Idiotarod is modeled on Alaska’s famous Iditarod sled dog race except that instead of sleek sleds and beautiful mush dogs, the Idiotarod features shopping carts and idiots. In short, teams of morons decide on a theme and build, weld, and decorate shopping carts (secured via various nefarious dealings of which I have no knowledge) according to that theme, and race from neighborhood to neighborhood, from checkpoint to checkpoint, competing in games of wit, battle raps, and feats of strength to learn the location of the next stop. Brilliant. This year, we were a mobile speakeasy- replete with illegal gambling, a speakeasy bar with punches and teas that would surely give you the jake leg, and an ACTUAL PIANO for prohibition-era ivory tinkling. That’s right, a Piano. And, obviously, all on wheels.We battled snow and salt, the ample hills of Brooklyn and her painful BQE crossings, teams of Pac Men, Nuns with Bad Habits, Game of Thongs (feat. House Stark Naked), bubbies from behind the Iron Curtain, knights in armor, a circus menagerie, apocalyptic steampunkers (whose cart featured a working woodstove, wtf omg), and Charlie Sheen.And, of course, the race finished at the Gowanus Ballroom with a drag show, a brass band, and a giant trebuchet called the cart-a-pult specifically designed to hurl the carts from the race against a wall. On fire. (more info on that here).Only in New York. Bless you Brooklyn. And bless Rav and Stephen for coming up and really making it something special. Images from flickr (thank you), Gothamist for the first and flaming cart images, and Tony and Evan, fellow idiots and dear friends. Oh. And we made the news.
Everyone knows about New York’s neighborhoods. You emerge out of the train in Sunset Park or SoHo or Chinatown or the Upper West Side or the very edge of the East Village and somehow even the air feels different. It’s something that is uniquely New York, a distinct feeling, palpable, from the architecture to the contents of the bodegas… But, there’s a funny thing about New York, which is that within the oft-discussed boundaries of each neighborhood, every single solitary New Yorker has built their own world. A constellation of grocers, wine stores, dive bars, pizza places, cheap chinese joints, laundromats, and coffee spots that is ever-shifting and truly personal, a perfect alchemy of your cross streets and your heartstrings. You are fiercely loyal to your go-to spots… until they’re a block or two out of the way. We moved a mere eight blocks from our old spot, hop-skipping due east, across TWO actual, proven neighborhood boundaries, right into Bedford-Stuyvesant. Eight blocks is not a lot, but with that slight geographical maneuver came a great shift. A brave new world. Just eight blocks up Fulton street is the difference between Provisions’ grass fed beef from local New York farms and a man loading a freshly skinned halal goat from the back of a truck into a shopping cart (I would like to eat both of those, please). I spent a few days just walking around, eating tiny warm pastries from the bakery up the block, falling in love with the strange pizza-making Frenchmen listening to Nina Simone AND the soccer on the tube both at top decibels, triangulating trains, testing the air, exploring… I’ve had a few excellent adventures already, and can’t wait to share them with you. Soon.
Brooklyn map from Ork- we’ve had this hanging in our kitchen for years now, and I actually use it almost daily as a reference map.
This is what it looks like when you’ve just eaten a raw oyster from your home waters. Very, very good. Growing up in the Virginia lowlands, of water stock, I actually never really understood the sense of place in an oyster. They just tasted like oysters. It wasn’t until I was long out of Virginia, a New York veteran of a few years, meeting McKay and Cakes at Marlow for one of those hours long dinners that meeting those girls at that place requires, that I saw a James River oyster on the menu and ordered it. Oh man. Just the taste of that dusky brine and I was immediately transported to summers on the Mobjack bay, wearing white rubber watermen’s boots and traversing the mudflats like they were my kingdom. Tidewater, in an instant, a taste. I bet the old salts around the bar in Montauk feel the same way about their super saline Long Island Blue Points, but the fact is they’re the exact same oyster species as my fat and sweet-salty Virginia half-shell, they’re just tempered differently by the water they’re in. Per usual, a parable. Back in Virginia, for my big birthday, I was lucky enough to have two bushels brought to me directly from the coast, just a little over 400 oysters. The plan was to roast most and shuck some. Lucky for me, my dear friend Rob came straight from the banks of the York river bearing his oyster knife, super shucking skills, and intimate knowledge of the oyster crab. The little yellow-orange jewel here is a tiny soft-shelled crab, a lady, who is symbiotic with the Virginia oyster. They are friends, and are only found in the best and healthiest oyster beds. The New York Times wrote two separate articles in the early 1900′s on the little buggers- here and here. The Times suggests frying them or covering them with a mayonnaise lightly colored pink with beet juice, but Rob told me to just eat it raw. Incredible. It was the first one I ever found, and I felt so lucky to have had it in Virginia, on my birthday.
On my last night before returning back to the country for my own EPIC PARTY PREPARATIONS, all of my dear ones who won’t be able to make it down south for my own Jubilee birthday all got together to have a big celebratory, adventurous Sichuan dinner in Bay Ridge. After sweet peppered ginger duck, prickly hot red-oil dumplings, salt and pepper shrimp, and (my favorite) the Chengdu softshell crab— a glistening pile of shining red chiles and clovey brown peppercorns dotted with fried softshell crab omigod— we decided to go on a little adventure. After all, we were already on 86th street, just a hop and a jump away from Dyker Heights and its fabled Christmas Light EXTRAVAGANZAS. Trumpeting Angels, Two-Storey Santas, Nutcrackers riding life-size-mechanized-rearing-stallions… all with a belly full of flavor. Everything you could possibly want from a New York Christmas whirlwind. So far so great.
And it’s Occupy Sandy!! Forget the gravy boats and Tiffany’s china, Occupy has set up an amazing registry here, chock full of the stuff that people affected by the storm actually need. We can attest firsthand that they hit the nail on the head (with one of these hammers- they’ve registered for 40 of them) with what’s needed. The items will be shipped to the Occupy Sandy relief outpost at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill. I was there this morning, and it’s a truly majestic scene in there- a beautiful sanctuary full to the brim with food, blankets, volunteers, and tools, glorious tools (painted pink so they can be identified and shared)! For those of you out of the area wondering how you can help, get the future Mr. and Mrs. Occupy something off of the registry- and get them to the church on time!
top picture from here, bottom pics from my fuzzy phone.