A paradise of Greek food? Have a little wine, and you’ll feel transported somewhere away—even if it’s not Heaven, it’s lovely.
Where do I start? This is gonna get emotional kids, so get ready.
If you've read any of my posts or my website, then you'll probably know that I'm a Native New Yorker. Not only a Native New Yorker, thought, a Manhattanite. To me it's not unusual because it's the only life I've ever known, but others have called me a unicorn. I guess some people just have a hard time even believing that I really exist. But my fellow Natives get it. They get me (unless they're from the East Side, of course:-) ). The kids that I grew up with, those fellow Upper West Siders, and those who may have "lived" elsewhere, but adopted the UWS as their 2nd home, they truly know who I am and what makes me that way. We all shared a lot of the same insanities, challenges, and experiences. We've also all seen our neighborhood change drastically over the last 30 years with a few dependables that withstood the real estate storms (good and bad) and the big box invasions (mostly bad) and the increase in banks and nail salons to shut down places we literally grew up in. Places that weren't just a restaurant or a bar, but were home. They were mecca, they were our oases. We didn't have cars. We didn't have backyards or basements or attics...OK, sometimes we would sneak into those places, but there were all sorts of dangers when we did--mostly that we'd still be cold in the winter or hot in the summer and likely someone would find us and kick us out (and then tell our parents if not the police). What I'm saying is that while you may not understand how it is that I grew up in the city, I don't understand what your life was like in the burbs or whereever. What this all means is that we attach major emotions to our local watering holes or divey diners, that would host our late night bullshitting in their booths as we fill up on greasy fried food or underage boozing just to connect with one another. Because despite what you may think of NYers that's something we're damn good at, connecting at a real human level. With so many different characters, it just becomes second nature to be able to have a deep meaning conversation with a complete stranger, when you want to, or to completely ignore your neighbor, when you're just too damn tired. So, when you find a place where they know your face, if not your name and welcome you in for unlimited hours to contemplate the world with old friends and new, it becomes easy to call that place home. And next thing you know you're spending your nights and probably your days there. Big Nick's was one of those places.
The history of the Upper West Side is sort of a Rags to Riches to Rags to Riches story. Compared to Manhattan neighborhoods below 59th street and even more so below 14th street, the UWS (as we call it), is a pretty young neighborhood. In the early 1800's there were some farms and villages, including the historic Seneca Village that was comprised mostly of freed black slaves who were displaced by the building of Central Park. Ah, the parks--another place that was home to those of us that grew up in the neighborhood. Central Park and Riverside Park make the Upper West Side, literally. As the neighborhood is actually defined by the reaches of Central Park (59th-110th Streets). The bordering parks opened in the mid-late 1800's setting the stage for luxury developments to come in along the beautiful vistas created by these landmarks. The rich were moving in. And,of course with the Ninth Avenue Elevated train (The El) bringing the working class into the area, tenements were built to accommodate another class of resident. And Broadway provided a main shopping thoroughfare for the lot of them. The difference between the East and West Sides is not just the old vs the new money (Early on German tycoons moved to the UES after a major tragedy in the East Village), but also the diversity in the crowd. The variety of housing and businesses on the UWS led not only business professionals, but creative types and educators and blue collar workers of all shapes, sizes and colors to move into the area. Things were going very well up until the depression hit. And it hit the UWS hard. People turned to drugs and so followed crime. Just another layer of the fabric that has made us what we are. Crime drives down real estate and more and more immigrants move in. The Upper West Side's ever-changing face continues and Mayor LaGuardia seeks to turn things around. So the place featured in West Side Story becomes slated for a huge arts complex, that we now know and love as Lincoln Center. This was all apart of a major urban renewal project started in the 1950's. And it worked. For the most part anyway. Dollars started flowing back into the Upper West Side, and the artists and political activists never left. Great schools were created, but a lot of the lower income residents still had issues with drugs and crime, so people were still hesitant to buy property through the 80's. Enter the parents of myself and the friends I grew up with. Some of whom still have super-rent controlled apartments, but then others had families who decided to buy on the UWS in the late 1970's early 1980's. My parents purchased a three bedroom apartment on West 70th Street in a pre-war co-op for under $200,000 in 1983. Which, to bring you up to speed, would probably go for close to a million dollars today, at least.
My sister was born shortly after we moved into the Santa Monica, and the two of us grew up in what is now one of the most sought after neighborhoods for young families and professionals who can afford it. You're smack dab in the center of a great school district for both public and private educations, and you're surrounded by parks and artistic institutions as mentioned already. And in the last 5-10 years there have been a ton of great restaurants moving up to the area, making it quite the culinary hotspot (if you've got the $ to spare). We've even got some big box stores in the area--missing your hometown Cold Stone Creamery? Check it out on 72nd Street! They do all the things you'd expect from any other part of the country! Yeah you can stop by a Best Buy on your way to Lincoln Center, no problem it's right there! Or maybe just pop into Daniel Boulud's restaurant/cafe that's just across the street for a little nibble of high-end foodstuffs. But at the time we were growing up there it was still very diverse and very middle class.
With huge housing projects starting across the street from our little old building and filling in the blocks through to Hell's Kitchen, affordable housing was aplenty, for a time. Going North there were tons of smaller buildings and brownstones that had been around for quite a while and many people managed to fall into the rent-control goldmine as they stuck through the bad times and the good. It truly was a small community. There are people who have lived in the area since I was a child and when I see them today they still recognize me and I them, because we shared our home. Things that most people think cityfolk lack, we had. Because we were surrounded by small businesses. They weren't just businesses, they were people, and they were safe havens, they were comforting for parents of children in such a big city. We knew if we walked up the block to the pharmacy, they'd know us--as kids that was our local candy store. The owners at the Italian restaurant would greet us as we'd dine in regularly to get our fixes of our favorite foods (mine was fettuccine alfredo and I rarely had to even order it). We went to school with the kids of the cashiers at our A&P, and often my mom would end up holding up the line as she'd gossip with her friends. Woolworth's provided a place for us to try out all of our hobbies and interests, from knitting to sticker collecting to hamster owning, and the staff knew to be on high alert when we walked into the store, as we also tried our hands at petty-theft there before getting caught at The Paper House a few blocks north. We saw Pathmark turn into Rite Aid, turn into Duane Reade and then into a financial institution (before the epic Walgreens takeover). When I got caught doing bad things in High School, my friend was able to escape to our local bagel shop, where every single employee in there knew us by name--and although they weren't necessarily the wisest when it came to minor care, we knew that they would always keep us safe.
Slowly, at first, we watched as these things would shut down one by one, all citing the same issue: "The Rent is Too Damn High!" Some were just a symptom of poor business performance, but the ones that the whole neighborhood loved, were gone because there was no way they'd be able to make enough money to pay their rents without pricing out their loyal customers. Why were rents going up? Well it started with a man who had a big plan...you might know him by "The Donald" or simply Trump. The building I grew up in was the last one on 70th Street all the way west. 70th & Freedom Place. But that's no longer the case. Today it sits right next to a Trump building--a HUGE Trump building. For years the community board would battle The Donald, his hair, and his various investors. He was going to come right in and steal the views we'd enjoyed for many years, to lay out a strip of these ginormous condos. Not to mention what the implications would be to bring in these giant residences. Eventually an agreement was made that required him to build out the extension of Riverside Park in order for him to get the space. But as soon as he was looking into the space, things began to change. Buildings started going down and new bigger ones would come up in their place, all the while getting rid of the small businesses located on the ground floors. We got our first big multiplex in the area, which would have the 1st IMAX screen in NY and I think the 3rd in the world at the time. This was when things started changing. Some for the good and others not so much. One by one our favorite restaurants and stores would disappear, and we'd be upset about it, but a lot of them we could understand. As I said, a lot of the early ones were whole buildings that were changing. But once that slowed, it just became a matter of who could hold onto these fancy new spaces and their high-priced leases.
But even as we watched and dealt with the changes of our neighborhood, some things we were pretty sure weren't going to go anywhere. They had history and a steady flow of customers. They weren't packed or anything, not always, but they had a good amount of business. Enough were the bartenders and servers were making a living wage. No one was complaining, and if they were it was just them being New Yorkers. The first of these old standbys to face the fate of many small businesses before them was the All State. You had to walk down a small flight of stairs to reach the bar and restaurant with old school charm and lots of woodwork. You'd think they were just another pub, by the look of the space and the (mostly) old bartenders that hung behind the front bar as soon as you walked in. But when you'd get the menu you would see that one page was written out as it was changed daily to offer you fresh and seasonal foods, while the other side was printed out with your typical pub fare. The quality of the food was surprisingly good. And for my household--especially my father and I, it was the old go-to when we couldn't decide where to have dinner or lunch. After pondering our options we'd just look at each other and almost simultaneously say "All State?" Old reliable. Until we got the news that the place we'd all at one point or another carved our names or thoughts into the tables was going to be closing. We heard it from our friend whose sister even worked there for a little while. Tragic we thought. What will happen to the bartender that's been there for decades and his following that visits him nightly for his stories and his booze? I guess they'll move over to P&G, another local watering hole with great drinks and service, but little to no good food that was just a couple blocks away. It was another Cheersy spot where everyone knew your name. P&G, being strictly a bar scene, was definitely the place you'd go for cheap drinks and sufficient buybacks. You'd also go when you wanted to run into friends, because at some point in the evening, if they were going out in the area they'd likely stop in there. There were rumors before All State closed that one of the owners of P&G was trying to buy it, but that didn't work out and soon other places came and went in that space. But at least some of the staff found a new place to work at P&G for a shift or two, and the locals had a new watering hole. For there wouldn't be a reason that P&G would close, if anything we would think it'd get landmarked. One of the last remaining neon signed bars left in the city, it was a place where my mom used to hang out before she even met my father--back when she used to drink. And her daughters were carrying on the tradition with one another and our friends. It was good enough of a hole that we kept going there even when we were of legal drinking age! ;) But soon they started posting notices and collecting signatures to keep P&G open. The community board began to change its tune about its feelings for a bar in that corner spot! But all of the history, we thought! There's no way you can shut this place down! There's Ratpack signatures in the basement! It was a mafia hangout at one point! Did I mention that signage?! We're talking a ton of TV shows and movies! We all signed the petitions, and got our friends to do the same, we sent out emails and begged and pleaded and hoped it wasn't really going to happen. But as you can infer from the tense I've used to describe it, it shut down. Guess the middles class don't need a place to drink anymore. And not just drink, but communicate with one another. These are places where you could go for hours upon hours and do that thing that people rarely do now...connect. Now that it's closed I suppose those regulars have found new spots, perhaps they frequent Malachy's, which for now, is still around.
I guess with the pattern of these beloved dives closing you might wonder why the shuttered Big Nick's Burger Joint would be such a big deal. My first answer is that unlike the other places I mentioned, Big Nick's was always BUSY. It was open 23 hours, 7 days a week and it was always BUSY. Sometimes in the wee hours it was less busy, but there was never a lull. And if the restaurant itself wasn't full of people there would certainly be tons of deliveries going out. 23 hours, 7 days a week! Also it WAS the Upper West Side. Everyone went there--poor, rich and everything in between. You went for the full experience. For all of these reasons and more it was a place that we naively thought would be around forever. I know that I can say we because I've been commiserating with my fellow Upper West Siders for the last two and a half days since we found out. Yes, this was a place we went late at night or early in the morning with friends, but it was also a place where you'd go with your family. It was the epitome of a greasy spoon with a menu that lasted for days. And for a place that was a quarter of the size of most of your big chains, they would amaze you with the number of items that would fling out of their kitchens by the hour. It's a place that would get flack from one of those restaurant makeover reality shows because of all the things that we loved it for. They NEVER changed the decor, as I said--the menu was enormous and overwhelming, and the service was often pretty crappy. But the food was good, and you were never rushed to move along, even if you were just bullshitting over milkshakes. The walls were plastered with signs about specials on directions on how to properly pronounce the word Gyro. And then there were all the signs for the waitstaff to selectively ignore. Not only did I bond with friends and family there, but I took dates there. It was sort of a litmus test for me, and a place were I was safe. Once, the notoriously cold-shouldered waitress, who retired a couple years ago, was more into my date than I was. I had never seen her smile before until I brought this guy there. Of course it made me look like a liar as I'd warned him ahead of our arrival about the she-devil that we'd probably be served by. But this wasn't a reason to dislike the joint--we loved it. As my mom would say, it added character. And if we were too stoned to leave my friends couch we would find the phone and simply order a double-double, extra crispy, with cheese (two orders each of fries and onion rings covered in cheese and DEEP friend) for delivery...two blocks away. And although I haven't been there as often as I used to (mostly because I don't live in the hood any longer), it's always been a comfort to know that it was there. A place we could go after spending far too much on drinks in the area, we'd count on those burgers and gyros and cheese fries and pizzas to soak up all that alcohol. And we'd know that unless they were approaching cleaning hour, we wouldn't be pushed out. I'm sure that a lot of you out there have your hometown diners that you're equally attached to, but probably don't face the same threat of a shutdown if they're as successful as Big Nick's was, because the real estate is astronomical. And if you don't have a place like that, then I'm sorry for you. Nick, who's the owner of Big Nick's has said that they're looking into moving uptown--which would be great for me, as I live uptown, but of course it'll never be the same. I've also seen similar establishments like P&G attempt a location change only to be met by failure there as well. So I'm skeptic. I mean the thing about a neighborhood spot is that's it's just not the same if it's not in the neighborhood.
Whatever the fate of Big Nick's is, I will treasure its existence forever in my mind and my soul. But, as with the passing of anything you have love for it will always sting that it's no longer there. Because these places that have so much history for me, for my friends, my family and my neighbors as well as the transplants aplenty that were touched by them, I may scoff at your suggestion to eat at Panera Bread, when there's a little luncheonette on the corner. So if you've ever wondered why I try to avoid those huge chains, it's because of events like the closing of Big Nick's that make it near impossible for me not to hate them. Without the money from their corporate offices, they wouldn't be able to afford the skyrocketing rents that push out the mom and pop shops that add character and charm and provide a landing spot to their neighbors. This is why we resist your Walmarts, IHOPS, Dennys, etc. We were perfectly happy with Big Nick's and Woolworth's, and now they're gone. So RIP to those we miss, and good luck to those that are still around. Remember the next time you're thinking of where to eat your next meal that it's not just a restaurant, it's a neighborhood spot, and if it's not--skip it!
I know that we have CINCO De MAYO coming up this weekend, which is one of my favorites! But I have a catering job, so I'm not celebrating! :P So, for anyone else that's not partaking in Tequila drinking, OR you are just interested in checking out things on days that aren't Sunday as well...you might want to check out the Food Book Fair, happening this weekend in Brooklyn. DUH. Rundown NYC made a mention in a recent email about this "comi-con for foodies" and I knew I should pass the info along. I myself am looking for some novels that will take me places outside of a kitchen my that's neither here nor there. If my head was in another place right now I'd definitely be scouring the streets of ol BK for foodie fun and brain eats...in book form. It looks like there's gonna be a bunch of fun events as well, that would be worth checking out for sure. So if you're looking for something different to do this first weekend in May, check it out!
May is here!!! And it's my favorite month for a variety of reasons:
1. It's my birthday month! I was born on May 29th and I share that honor with my cousin, Dana who's exactly 1 year older than me, and I take this time to remind her of that fact every year! We also have the same birthday as that beloved President, John F Kennedy. So, clearly we're destined for great things! Last year was a big one for me. I hit 30 and celebrated at one of my tour stops, Souvlaki GR, in the Lower East Side. They've got great food, wine and a perfect atmosphere for such an event (it's designed to make you feel as though you're in the Greek Isles, you're inside, but feel like you're outside)! This year, I'm thinking I might try a small family dinner at Feast and then get someone with outdoor space to throw a party with grilling and beer involved. If you want to be that person, just let me know!
2. That brings me to my next favorite thing...outdoor dining and drinking and grilling and drinking and YAY outdoors! May is a great time to have some outdoor brunch or waterfront margaritas or throw a party that includes meat and booze and me! There are all sorts of great opportunities to take advantage of NYC and the outdoors and it's al fresco dining. I love wandering around South Street Seaport...more on that soon, going to the beer garden (I know there are several, but the best is the Bohemian Hall in Queens, sorry guys), or playing drinking games on a friends terrace, deck or patio! I also enjoy going to street fairs, which is cheap and always a good time, here's a listing of those, for you to check out!
3. You might notice the Cinco de Mayo at Grand Central event in that listing, which brings me to the next great thing about May...all of the various Foodievents throughout the city. I've brought up a few already in this blog, and I will highlight more as the weeks go. But for now I will mention one that's going on tomorrow. As I use Grand Central on my winter tour I figured it was appropriate to point out The Flavor of Midtown, which is taking place tomorrow from 7-9:30pm in Vanderbilt Hall. You can check out more information and link to buy tickets here. There will be more than 30 restaurants and food and drink vendors there for you to sample from, including some standouts, like Murray's Cheese, Magnolia Bakery, and the historic Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant.
So, what are you waiting for? GET OUT THERE!
While the thermometer still isn't quite where we'd like it to be, I'd say we're getting there! And with the dawn of the more happy-making seasons it's time for some new tours!! Plan your days and make some of mine by joining me on my newest food tours!
First up is the Spring Tour!
I'm bringing you to the neighborhood that brought me up, the Upper West Side. Long dubbed a "culinary wasteland", it was always a place of family and beauty, even during the city's darker days. But the food finds have finally caught up to its culturally sophisticated inhabitants! With some of the most expensive addresses on the island, we could ponder for hours why it took so long for restauranteurs to realize the built-in customers they'd have if only they took to opening a location uptown. To our benefit though, whatever the reason is, it's peeled away as we welcome merchant upon merchant into this lovely, homey and historical neighborhood! So let's explore some of this new cuisine that's representative of nearly every continent! And while we taste what there is to offer, we'll also see some of that history I mentioned and if you don't know from your own experiences, let me enlighten you on what it was like to grow up in this town. This used to be my playground, but today it's yours as well!
Next I've got a Friday Tour that'll cover three seasons!
When I worked in the corporate world it was still in hospitality, which basically meant that "Summer Fridays" were never something I was able to enjoy. :( Now that I run my own company, I'm responsible for my own schedule and I'm forcing myself to work for you and for the greater good of the foodie community! OK, so it's nice work if you can get it! Why don't you join me while you skip he rest of your Friday afternoon and we can enjoy some of the goods fresh of the various trucks and vans and carts that want to feed you in lower Manhattan? Our truckin' culture has evolved to produce some of the best food that you can find in the city...all available from the back (or center really) of someone's oversized vehicle! Food carts started out of necessity, but they've turned into mini-restaurants created out of passionate entrepreneurs with good taste and smart business sense! Forget that "TPS report" and join me for a more fun Friday activity! I'll tell you about that summer that I worked in the heat of my friend's own Feed Your Hole Truck...you know, while we feed our own...mouths!
Lastly, for now is the Summertime Tour!
Shortly after St Patrick's Day I was challenged by a former schoolmate to try his corned beef...literally. I'd said it was gross on a friend's Facebook page and he said he could change my mind. When I discovered that he was one of the owners of Court Street Grocers, I decided to take the trip out to Brooklyn and try his house-cured meat (I know, it sounds a lot dirtier than it was)! "Would you like a Reuben?" he asked..."Yes, please!" And sure enough, it was THE best one I'd ever tried! To top it all off I finally had perspective on a neighborhood I knew of, but wasn't at all familiar with and as soon as I walked out of the subway I was inspired. I was originally considering a more midtown neighborhood for the summer tour, but then it hit me that Brooklyn would be a much cooler place to be--in all senses of the word! Not only is it a pretty and quiet neighborhood, perfect for a summer walking tour, but it's rich in immigrant history, culture and a variety of foodstuffs that range from your local corner store to some high-end dinner hot spots. So on this tour we'll explore it all...and just think--without Facebook, it would never have been possible!
OK...So, I'm late with this, but better late than never...right? I won't go too deep into all of the things that typically make me feel warm and fuzzy come the winter holiday celebrations, but I will share a couple brief things...with some pics.
I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post that my favorite part of the holidays is getting together with family, and in my family that means our Christmas Lights tour. My mother is one of five kids, and aside from her brother Jay and his family the rest of them live on the West Coast...but aside from us they're all tied to the East Coast as they've all produced children with people who are or have family here. This means we get to sit back each year and let them come to us! And about 8 years ago, my mother booked a van and took some clients on her first Christmas Lights Tour that she decided to share with her loved ones and it's now become our family tradition.
We start at my parents' home where the mini coach meets us, and then we make our way down to the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center, which is across the street from Ground Zero. The atrium features 50,000 lights, which makes it a perfect place to start our tour. Also...there are two decent spots for some coffee or hot chocolate; Starbucks of course...or Financier Patisserie, which is my preference of the two.
After about 10 minutes of wandering the Winter Garden and gathering any of our crew that's decided to meet us there we get back on the van and head to Brooklyn! This year, we marveled as we took the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which was flooded to the top during Sandy. Next destination is Dyker Heights, where the residents show their Christmas Spirit with as many lights and figurines and blow up characters as they can fit in their yard. We ooooo and aaaah at the creativity, decadence and dedication displayed for our viewing pleasure.
After taking a few blocks of the lights in we get back on our mini-bus and head over to Mona Lisa's for dinner...to consist of pizza, salad, bruschetta, and WINE! Once the food was devoured and wine finished off, we made our way into the pastry section of the shop for some sweet treats before heading back on the bus to return to the isle of Man...hattan.
Back on the island means time for Wall Street. We lucked out this year and got some time at Trinity Church before they shut it up for the evening.
And then off the Wall Street itself...which has lost some of it's luster over the years...I guess we can't be so ostentatious when we're still coming out of a recession. But after the last of the lights are taken in it's time to pack it up and head home.
So that's my favorite holiday tradition. Feel free to share yours!
Lastly, I mentioned resolutions, so I will say this is mine:
Independence or at least a good deal more of it for this next year...that and of course happiness and peace for my family and friends.
Also I hope to be better at writing more regularly.
What are you trying to tackle this year?
I had a revelation last night! (It wasn't a dream--plus I don't want to rip off Dr. King Jr) As I was lying in bed, attempting to get some sleep (of course, after staring at my computer screen for hours where I couldn't think clearly or creatively), I realized where I'd draw the inspiration from and focus for MY food tours. The seasons. I realize when it's said it sounds a little hokey, and perhaps even too broad, but I realize that is what is inspiring to me, and I think THAT is a great place to start.
Considering I'm trying to get this whole operation up and running for the holidays, I figured it couldn't be more appropriate. Especially as my conversation with a vendor yesterday made it clear to me (from my own words and thoughts even) that marketing the tours I've already got and those I look to creating will be simplest if taking advantage of the seasons in which they'll be most enjoyable/relevant!
Like most people, I do truly love the holiday season. Do I think that we start talking about it too early? Yes, but I would say that's now become true of most things. I mean, I noticed Sam Adams was selling their Oktoberfest beer as early as July/August! As far as my holiday tour is concerned, however, it's dependent upon things that don't operate until the appropriate time! Tried and true traditions that have been around for centuries, decades, or sometimes only a few years, but they don't come until after Thanksgiving, which is just right! Especially because I don't want to skip over Thanksgiving--I'm clearly into eating, so this is one of my favorite holidays!
With that said, I wanted to convey some of My favorite Thanksgiving holiday traditions and treats, and then next week I'll share my Christmastime faves. Please feel free to join in and add your own or share mine with others!
I must start with Thanksgiving Eve. Here in NYC, it's known as the biggest party night of the year! Of course, I am not a club-going kind of gal. What I've been known to do in the past is hang in my old stomping grounds on the Upper West Side--sometimes I'll check out the balloons being blown up, with some spiked cider in tow...other times, I'll skip the crowds and hope to catch a glimpse of the floats making their way down Columbus and Amsterdam at the wee hours of the morning. Regardless of the planned activities, I almost always find a way to bump into other fellow Upper West Siders, which makes this evening reserved for reunions! In fact, this year one of these great gals has officially put together a reunion event at the restaurant where my sister works, so I'm looking forward to an evening of smiley drinky reunion!
The food! It's all about the food! And while the turkey is the main event, we all know we REALLY love the sides. Whenever I cook Thanksgiving dinner, it means we're doing it at my parents' place. This is mostly due to capacity--my apartment is not really capable of hosting anything for more that 3 people, and there's no proper table to speak of. So, usually I leave my good Mother in charge of cooking the bird, as I'm not getting to their place that early...see #1 for the reasons as to why not. Planning is of great importance, however and I usually have already gotten all the necessary items to their place and I have some semblance of how I will stumble through the day in my hungover state. Lots of coffee is usually involved, and in the end we typically end up with a VERY tasty meal. I think the favorite thing I've made was the savory mushroom bread pudding...I know, right?! Even my mother, who's not that big into mushrooms loved it! I really need to do it again sometime. I also really liked the hazelnut butter that I made one year and incorporated into almost everything! Basically, I love the classics...with a twist! What's your favorite?
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. OK, so we have plenty of parades here in the city, and while the Pride Parade and the Halloween Parade (tear, for Sandy making it impossible this year) are both fantastic displays of creativity and uninhibited love and joy, the only two parades that I watch a significant portion of every year are the Thanksgiving Day Parade and St. Patrick's Day...but check back in with me for that in March. Whether I'm at home or at my parent's place these will be on TV. And every Turkey Day the child inside of me comes out to watch with joy and memories of the times I've seen it in person (I've said I grew up on the Upper West Side, so it's really not that much of a challenge to get there---just requires waking up for it). It makes me feel like the holidays are really here.
The National Dog Show. OK, so this has become tradition in the last 5-10 years for us. And it's all thanks to the great film: Best in Show. We watched this movie as a family and now we leave the dog show on after the parade, because it's just so great. No only can you imagine the characters from the movie to be real life people at these things, but the judges and their trainers are fun enough to watch on their own. Plus you get to see lots of adorable dogs. It should be noted, that other than this one show...I don't pay attention to these things at all. Sometimes, depending on the crowd, we'll even put the film on after the real thing is over. What can I say? We love to laugh.
Wine. I love wine, and all things drinkable...ok MOST things. And when I took the Windows on the World Wine Course with Kevin Zraly, he made a great point that one should NOT bring the good stuff to holiday gatherings. Mostly, because people, in general, don't have enough of an appreciation to make the cost worth it. So, my standard wine to bring has become beaujolais nouveau. If you're unfamiliar, it's a French table wine that comes around this time of year only. You could try holding on to it, but it's not strong enough to last a long time. It's delicate and should be consumed with in weeks of purchase, if not days. To me it's the perfect Thanksgiving wine. It's a cheap (Under $10 usually), easy drinking red wine that pairs well with most traditional foods that find their way to your table on this day. The added benefit for me is that my family does actually appreciate quality, and my sister doesn't drink red wine, so it means I'm typically drinking it all on my own--but the gesture has still been made!
Lastly, family. For me, holidays are just really an excuse to hang out with family. But I think the added pleasure about Thanksgiving...the thing that I'm truly Thankful for, is that you don't also have the stress of gift-giving. We just eat a lot, drink even more, and laugh about it all.
Well thanks for indulging me and my list of T-day traditions. Stay tuned for more ho-list-days, and if you're around NYC for one, with nothing to do, try one of my tours and perhaps you'll want to make it a tradition of your very own!