Sunday, 16 September 2007

New York and New Jersey Adventures

Barbara and Ben in the kitchen, Summit NJ, September 07.

Well, not all that adventurous. I seem to have packed a lot into a week. Emily, my oldest friend in New York, picked me up at Newark after my flight from Montreal - no mean feat for someone who lives so far away, but for her troubles she also got to see Barry for 5 minutes before he caught his connection back to Mexico. We headed back to her place in Briarcliff, NY ( near Ossining, famous as the site of Sing Sing prison), but stopped en route on the Upper West Side in Manhattan to pick up some groceries at the wonderful Fairway. I may have mentioned this enormous supermarket in dispatches in the past. There is a cool room which is very large: outside there is a rack of coathooks with heavy silver parkas to wear, as it is very cold in there! There is a very extensive kosher section plus a huge range of organic produce as well as the regular range of stuff available in NYC. For the Aussies, it is the one place I have found Vegemite in the past: maybe a bit past its use-by date, but I figure anything with so much salt in it can't go off anyway!

Along with some organic fruit and veg (including the bagged baby carrots they sell here which make the perfect snack - we scoffed most of them in the car during the long drive home ) and some fresh wild salmon for dinner the following evening, we were mostly shopping for the ingredients for honey cake. I had invited myself to bake in Emily's kosher kitchen, so I could take a cake to Lissy's parents' place in Summit, NJ, for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). I figured I needed to make three, one for Ben and Lissy, one for her parents, and one to leave at Emily's. We found self-raising flour (a rarity here, where it is called self-rising flour, for future reference in case any Aussies happen to be searching for it while in the USA), tried several types of honey, got a few spices, canola and grapeseed oils. We couldn't locate any foil baking tins of the right shape or volume, so we stopped off later almost at Emily's to pick up some candidates at her local supermarket - none seemed quite right, but Emily thought one of her Pyrex dishes would work, so these were for back up.

We eventually got home, joining Bob and Daniel, and I caught up with everyone and before and after supper tried to assist Bob who was assembling a trolley so he can have several computers going at once in his work space at home. Don't laugh - although I am not exactly renowned for being handy, and frequently get right and left confused, I am very persistent and logical - these traits should be useful in home assembly tasks. We established over the next couple of days that they had sent the wrong parts, so our difficulty was not entirely self-inflicted! It is always lovely to be with Emily. She was my first friend in NYC and meeting her in early 1968 is the reason I stayed 4 years though I had only come for 3 weeks.

I realize I didn't finish the Mexican honey cake saga a couple of entries ago: for those of you still wondering, my third Mexican honey cake came out perfectly: I was meticulous in following the high altitude recipe and method modifications, used a lower shelf in the oven and a lower temperature, and a Pyrex dish as the cake tin. The final cake looked good enough to cool and freeze for Barry to take to Elias and Silvia for their Rosh Hashanah lunch. What's more, I found a FedEx box which would just accommodate it and sent a text to Barry to remind him to take it with him, and it all worked out well, with many requests for the recipe (maybe I need to translate it into Spanish?) So when Monday dawned and with it the great NY honey cake bake-off, I was fairly confident except for the size of the cake pans. Emily was at the dentist when I started and I couldn't find the beaters for the hand-held mixer at first. Although the ones that I found were not the ones I had used once before, and certainly didn't look familiar, they clicked into place OK and seemed to work well. But I didn't quite master the oven settings, confusing the timer and temperature buttons. When Emily got in she found me the correct beaters (the ones I had used were from her food processor - how amazing that they even fit the mixer) and set me straight on how to manage the temperature and timer. But notwithstanding all of this, and that I had inadvertently turned the oven off at least twice while baking the first cake, it still looked OK and smelled terrific. I decided the Pyrex dish was a bit too shallow so decided to make the next 2 in foil dishes. Because I was using a hand held mixer with limited capacity, I had to make the cakes in sequence rather than do a triple mix, so it ended up taking a lot of time, but I must say the house smelled delicious for 4 hours instead of just an hour and a half!

I decided to take a walk late in the afternoon, and though I only made 3 turns and only walked down 3 different roads the whole way, thinking I was heading in the general direction of home, the area clearly in no way resembles a grid. I got so completely lost that I had to call Emily, who was getting organised for dinner, to come and rescue me. This took a while as she had to contact the guests and reorganise things a bit, so she gave me instructions on how to proceed to somewhere she could find me. After an hour and a half's walking I was still about 3 miles from home! Despite my disruption of the schedule, we still had a delightful dinner on Monday night - one of the guests was Judy Boehr, mother of our house sitter, Rachel, whom we hope will visit Melbourne next year.

Emily drove into Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon and we went downtown to Ben and Lissy's apartment to drop off my suitcase, and from there we went out to dinner at one of many local Indian places (the neighbourhood for obvious reasons is referred to as Curry Hill, I guess it's not too far from Murray Hill either) with Lissy and Daniel , Emily's son, who had been working in town that day. Ben joined us at the restaurant after having his hair cut after work, so he was a bit itchy. I spent that night at their apartment, then the next day went uptown to Joan's for lunch and a walk in Fort Tryon Park .

Last April Barry and I stayed at Joan's while she was in Denmark, so we missed seeing her then, and I had never met her dog, Lille Ting (no idea how to spell this, it means Little Thing in Danish) whom she acquired after my previous stay in her apartment in October 2005.
Catching up was lovely: note the fall crocuses in bloom in the Park, but I decided not to post the view of the George Washington Bridge from the Park as it is a bit too hazy.

Then back downtown to go to Grand Central with Lissy, again meeting Ben straight from work, to head off to stay with her parents, Barbara and Bernard, in Summit, NJ, for Rosh Hashanah. We went to their Synagogue, a Conservative Temple some way from Summit, where Bernard's parents used to belong. It is hard to get used to how large the Jewish communities are in parts of the US, and how vast the Synagogues can be. I have only recently joined the only Conservative Synagogue in Melbourne, having always belonged to and attended Orthodox Synagogues before. I enjoyed the egalitarian and inclusive services, and particularly their shofar-blowing. They had about six different teenage blowers, very well-rehearsed, stationed around the synagogue who shared the blowing. So we had surround sound and a lot of participation, which was a novel twist.

Both our Rosh Hashanah evening meals as well as Shabbat dinner on Friday were eaten at Lissy's Aunt and Uncle's house in nearby Springfield, but the lunches at Lissy's parents' were also large and delicious. It is always so difficult to eat moderately during Jewish festivals! Maybe I would show more restraint if I didn't love all the food: I always pass on the kugel (see as that is the one dish I have convinced myself I don't really like in any of its very many forms, but I try a little bit of everything else on offer. Partly to offset the large amount of eating I got about an hour's walk in each afternoon, armed with a map torn from the local Yellow Pages and some directions from Bernard, and I got home otherwise unaided each time. But I missed my pedometer, which I inadvertently left in Mexico. There were few pedestrians to be seen, though I ran into three women campaigning for a mayoral candidate who told me that the Victorian houses in that area were built right in amongst the native forest, hence the age and height of some of the magnificent trees still standing. It all looks so very green and lush, especially by comparison with the drought-affected landscapes at home. In Melbourne, as in Mexico, the fancier the neighbourhood, the higher the fences - in Summit as in most American suburbs, there are no fences and often no footpaths, and rather little happening on the expansive front lawns, though I saw a couple of dogs and just one family throwing a baseball around.

One of Lissy's sisters, her husband and their 3 year old daughter Lily were also staying with Barbara and Bernard, Lissy's parents. She is very sweet and we spent a lot of time playing with her. Here is a photo of Lily.

We returned to the City on Saturday evening and managed to connect with Sam Langer, a family friend from Melbourne on his first trip to NYC . We went out for sushi at a favourite place of Ben's and after walking me home the boys went out to a series of bars. Sam is completely blown away by the city. It really resonated to see him, just a bit younger than I was when I first arrived in New York nearly 40 years ago, and having exactly the same reaction. It seems to me people either love or hate NYC, it is rare to be neutral about the place (I fall into the lover category).

The next day was Sunday and we arranged to go to Scarsdale to meet up with my first cousin Jeremy and his family, who have been there for about 10 days, having just relocated from London. He and his American wife Tara have 3-year- old twins, so I seem to have encountered a lot of small kids on this leg of the trip. The path to Scarsdale was not entirely smooth, however. We left the apartment (on 23rd between Park and Lexington) with not quite enough time to walk up Lex to Grand Central (at 42ndSt) to catch the 1 o'clock train, intending to take a cab the few blocks. As we walked out of the building onto 23rd St (it is one of the 2-way cross streets which carries a lot of traffic) we couldn't help but notice a lot of Harley Davidsons riding in convoy along the street. Quite a sight as well as quite a sound! However after seeing what we thought were already a whole lot of bikes, a couple of motorcycle cops with full sirens blaring raced along the street to the corner of Lex and parked in the middle of the intersection, holding up all up- and down-town traffic while many hundreds more motorbikes rode their way across town! After watching bemused for a few minutes as the lights continued to change but no traffic moved on Lexington Avenue, we realised there would be no cabs to Grand Central for us till the traffic started again, and appreciation dawned that we would almost certainly miss the train! We started sprinting up Lex, and maybe 5 minutes later got a cab, but we arrived in the ticketing hall a couple of minutes after the train had pulled out. The next train was not due for an hour. It wasn't bad news for everybody, as I realized afterwards that in my rush to pay the cabbie I had included a $10 note instead of a $1 in the fare! We called Jeremy, who conceded that we couldn't possibly have made up such a tall tale to excuse our lateness, and proposed we take the next train to White Plains where he would pick us up and drive us back to Scarsdale. With the able assistance of his rented GPS and some innate sense of direction which was needed because the suggested route was closed for a special event (I wondered if it was the end point of the Harley rally!), we took the scenic route to Scarsdale to meet up with the rest of his family at a restaurant. As a restaurant critic and hotel consultant, it hasn't taken him long to suss out the eateries in town which cater best for kids! Jeremy and Ben had not met for more than 15 years, so each was glad to re-establish contact with a fairly close family member on a new continent. There is a chance that Jeremy and Tara could come to visit us in Mexico too, so I am looking forward to that.
Here are photos of Ben and Lissy and Tara and the twins Jonathan and Jacob at the restaurant in Scarsdale.

When we returned to Grand Central, Ben and Lissy went on to their next social commitment downtown while I wandered home, buying some new runners on the way. I called a few friends and was trying to get my packing done when the kids called and said there was a street festival on in Little Italy, and suggested I join them for dinner. So off I went to the festival of San Gennaro, who I suspected when I hit Mulberry Street must be the patron saint of cannoli. In fact he is the Patron Saint of Naples - read about the festival at

For those of you who live in Melbourne, imagine the Lygon Street Festa and multiply by about 400. Dozens of restaurants had extended out to the street and were in fierce competition with the street stands. The most amazing thing I saw was the battered and deep- fried Oreo cookie. Words fail me at this point- here is a photo to prove I am not making this up.

Also, now I know why mobile phones were invented. I would never have found Ben and Lissy or the restaurant they had chosen amongst the incredible crowds without their guidance over the airwaves: it was hard enough catching their directions over the extremely loud ambient noise. It's a shame I can't capture the smells: I could have done without the deep frying odours, but the fennel of Italian sausages sizzling, the frying onions and the pervasive garlic from the variations on Italian street foods, the waffles - it certainly worked up an appetite for the meal we had at the restaurant, though it was a bit late to have a coffee to finish. A fine end to a busy few days, but I am resolved never to spend such a brief period in NYC again - I hardly caught up with any of my many friends in the city, didn't visit a single museum, and never even went shopping!

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