Sunday, August 31, 2008

Things I love about Portsmouth

- a private deck containing a weber grill suitable for grilling anything that tickles my fancy, sitting out while the mesquito magnet removes the mesquitos, and solving the worlds problems with Rick.
- motorcycle rides to Petey's Summertime Seafood Restaurant.
- The annual lobster bake.
- Hosting friends and family in our home.
- hanging out at the beach, including the occasional dragging of Rick to the beach for coffee early in the morning.
- having a garage and a car
- storage for loads of christmas decorations and ornaments
- stopping at the 99 for dinner for less than $35 or the Rusty Hammer for less than $30
- going to the Music Hall, the Theater by the Sea, and Prescott Park festival
- Market Square Day or New Years Eve downtown
- sirloin tips on the grill from the Meat House with a rich cabernet
- room to have a wine cellar to let my cabernets age gracefully
- the Portsmouth Farmers Market every Saturday morning in summer, and $6 lobster rolls for brunch
- corn stands and fresh tomatoes
- fresh salty air

The Carlyle - A Birthday Dinner Extravaganza

One of the cool things about having a birthday mid-week is that usually you can find a way to have a celebration on the day, and then another on the weekend :) Rick made reservations at the Carlyle. I'd read somewhere that Sarah Jessica Parker had been spotted there a few weeks ago, and I'll admit, I was anxious to see where she chose to go to dinner herself. The fact it was close to our neighborhood sealed the deal.

It was fun getting dressed up - granted, I do find myself paying more attention to fashion and what I'm wearing than I used to. It's kind of a new hobby :) Around here, you have to be careful, because it could be a really expensive hobby. I actually wore a dress I ordered online - there was free shipping, so I figured I'd try it out and send it back if it didn't work. Thankfully it did work :) I paired some crystal earrings and a big flexible crystal bracelet, and I carried a cocktail purse with grey pearl beading. Rick bought me the purse at York Beach when we were on vacation:) Rick wore a sportcoat and slacks and looked like a million bucks.
We took at cab over to 35 East 76th Street and stepped inside. We were greeted in the lobby, and escorted to the dining room - every service person we passed welcomed us, and the hostess recognized our names and seated us immediately. Yes, the suck up factor was awesome :)

Our seat in the dining room was beautiful - we got to look at the huge floral arrangement in the center, and appreciate the architecture in the room. Although we had a "loud talker" seated a couple of tables away, generally the room was a nice respite from the city as the wall treatments were fabric and seemed to soak up much of the sound.

We ordered cocktails - I had a Cosmo and Rick went for the Grey Goose on the rocks. I love having a martini that is a little bit sweet before a special meal - the shape of the glass, the color of the cocktail and the relaxing feeling it imparts all contribute to making it a special evening. Our server brought a small basket of warm breads - 5 or 6 different rolls, along with 2 selections of butter. We were good - we didn't try them all :)

We were pleasantly surprised when the server brought out an amuse bouche - a tiny little something that the chef selects to start the evening. This evening it was a tuna tartar with granny smith apple and an asian sauce, and wow, it was really wonderful. The tuna was cut in a dice and placed on the sauce, on a small square plate. It was topped with the apple which was also diced, and a sprig of something green. It was about a tablespoon of food, but served with a small seafood cocktail fork so there were a number of yummy little bites to start our meal and anticipate what was to come!

We heard about the specials of the evening and recommendations. The lobster bisque was recommended, so I tried that. It was very rich, as you'd expect, and had 2 pieces of knuckle meat immersed in it. It was served in an individual china soup tureen - a beautiful presentation. Rick ordered a green salad with roasted baby beets and this wonderful cheese - it's flavor seemed to change like wine would depending what you ate with it - it smoothed the bitterness of the greens, and enlightened the sweetness of the beets. It was called Brillat Savarin and was a kind of brie, but firmer. Very nice :)

For dinner I selected the Colorado Rack of Lamb, and I wasn't disappointed. It came medium rare as I requested, along with an eggplant cannalloni which was sweet not bitter as I usually find with eggplant. The roasted tomatoes were red and yellow grape tomatoes and they were very nice. Also served was a small goat cheese flan - I was very interested in trying this as I had never tried a savory flan before. It was much more cheesy and firm than I expected, but tasty. I'll admit, the lobster bisque must have done me in because I struggled to finish my meal.

Rick ordered the special for the night, a pan roasted pork chop with parsnip fries, spiced carrot coulis and madeira jus. This special did look special! The chop was cooked beautifully to medium, and was very juicy. The parsnip fries were actually lined up and built up in a kind of cross hatch cube, each placed on the plate just so. The carrot coulis was served on the side in a separate dish, and tasted even lighter than the whipped carrots appeared.

I ordered a wonderful Sonoma Valley Cabernet with my meal, and Rick tried a gorgeous French Pinot Noir. The Carlyle serves these wines in glasses that are designed to enrich the experience of the variety of wine. So although we both ordered red, my glass was longer and thinner, but still round, for the Cabernet, than Rick's which was rounder and fuller in which to enjoy the Pinot Noir. I thought this was super as it's kind of a pet peeve of mine when you order a glass of wine and the glass is too small to capture most of the aroma. Even inexpensive wines benefit from fuller stemware in my opinion. Plus, lets face it - they are pretty!

After dinner, when I thought I might pop, the dessert menu appeared. Rick thought it was very important for us to order dessert as it was a birthday dinner, but I wasn't so sure. We were going back and forth, and considering sharing an apple cobbler, when the server came out singing (softly so that the whole room wasn't interrupted thankfully) Happy Birthday and brought a slice of flourless chocolate cake with a small round yellow cake on top, complete with rasberry sauce and a candle. How sweet was that? :) The flourless chocolate was one of the richest I'd ever tasted - almost like a chocolate bar. The yellow cake on top was tasty - rich but a nice light contrast to the chocolate. Rick mentioned to the server that he enjoyed the yellow cake, and the server appeared a few moments later with a small plate of little yellow cakes and a dish of raspberry sauce. Rick very much appreciated this :)

As we chatted and Rick finished his decaf, the server brought over a small gift bag containing a small box of chocolates and a thank you note from the chef and the manager for stopping in for dinner. I'm having a chocolate now - wow, just amazing. For a special occasion, the Carlyle really pulls out all the stops in service and really makes the evening special. I'd definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tomato Feta Salad

I came up with this recipe because I don't really care for caprese salad. I don't actually like basil, and I think that mozzerella cheese (fresh or not) is tasteless. This salad is the ultimate to me in flavor. It must be mixed *just* before you serve it. If you toss it early, the vinegar will breakdown the tomatoes and it will be ugly and mushy. But - tossing it just before you put it on the table - everyone will ask for the recipe :)

- Sweet beefsteak type tomatoes - like the variety Tomato Glamour - fresh from the garden - cut in bite sized pieces
- Crumbled Feta cheese
- the best balsalmic vinegar you can afford

I mix the tomatoes and feta at a ratio of about 5 parts tomato to 1 part feta. Drizzle with vinegar just a little heavier than you would for a green salad.

That's it! Such an easy side, especially if you have a few tomato plants and you have tomatoes coming out your ears. The feta cheese is salty already, so you don't need more salt. If you favor black pepper, you could try some - black pepper is not my thing, but maybe you'll like it. Try it without to start.


Happy Birthday To Us!

That was the first message I got yesterday after Rick sleepily wished me a Happy Birthday - my friend Ann had sent an email when she got up at oh-dark-thirty, and it reminded me of our 29th birthday when we shamelessly sang at the top of our lungs in the residential condos where I lived late at night - including on my back patio. In Portsmouth most people sleep in summer with the windows open as the ocean keeps the air cool at night. Needless to say, the next morning all my neighbors wished me a happy birthday :) It was a fun birthday and this one was too.

Ann and I shared emails throughout the morning, and I got a call from Mom and one from Pa - yes they do still live together, but sometimes they are on different farm schedules. My friend Darrah was sweet to send a card, and I woke up to roses Rick so sweetly and thoughtfully brought home the previous evening.

Rick made reservations at the Oyster Bar for lunch - a beautiful historic seafood restaurant located in the lower level of Grand Central Terminal. That blue thing in the middle is the lobster tank!

When I arrived at the restaurant, the m'aitre d thoughtfully wished me a Happy Birthday :) Rick was on a conference call, so he was delayed a couple of minutes, but when he arrived he grabbed the camera and took my picture. I took one of him too. The waitress kindly took one of the two of us.

At lunch it was difficult to decide what to order! I changed my mind at least 5 times. I finally settled on the clams casino for an appetizer - cherrystones pried open and topped with butter, garlic, minced red bell pepper and crisp bacon, roasted and served on the half shell. I rarely find these in restaurants, and while usually they aren't as good as when my friend Suzanne makes them by the panful, these were very very fresh and tasty! For lunch I had pan seared scallops topped by a cherry tomato salsa with sauteed veggies. The scallops were so sweet and fresh - and I love cilantro so it was a great flavor combination. I even talked Rick into trying a bite, and he liked it! Woo Hoo! Now I can make them at home! Rick started with a green salad, and had broiled haddock - normally he doesn't order fish, but he's agreed to eat it once a week since it's good for him :)

After lunch we decided to take home a very small birthday cake from the bakery in Grand Central Market - Zaros's had a Chocolate Blackout cake - it was chocolate cake, with chocolate pudding between the layers, and chocolate icing and chocolate cookie crumbs over the top. We decided a picnic with a small slice of cake and champagne in bed would be fabulous for dinner since we had such a big lunch ;)

I left Grand Central and Rick went back to work, and I headed to Blooming Nails II on Lex. I hadn't had a pedicure since Ann came to visit in June, and I really needed one. Seemed like a nice way to spend a birthday afternoon. I picked out one of the new fall colors - a dark grapey purple. My pedicurist, Ann, spent an hour and 15 minutes scrubbing, rubbing, moisturizing and painting my toes (and feet and legs). It was amazing! I think since it was a mid week afternoon, and the shop was slow, she spent extra time :)

I stopped on the way home to pick up some strawberries at Grestedes on Lex and a medium dry pink champagne at Mister Wright's on Third for our picnic later. Wow - that champagne - well, it was really sparkling wine since it was from California - a Chandon Rose - it was *perfect* with the cake and the strawberries. The evening was wonderful :)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Blues BBQ - Hudson River Park

Yesterday Rick as in cave mode, anxious to do some video gaming, and I knew it was going to rain today, so I really wanted to get out. The Hudson River Park Association was organizing a Blues BBQ, so I figured I'd check it out. I took the 4/5 down to Union Square (wow, not too many people on the train on Sundays) and then I took the L to 8th Avenue. I walked from the subway over on 14th street to 11th Ave and over West street.

The festival was from 2 - 8, and I got there around 2:30 - looked like the organizers weren't quite ready as there was a line a few blocks long out front. I noticed the Chelsea Piers were just a block or so from the end of the line, so I thought I'd walk through and check out the Chelsea Brewing Company. I'd read that this is supposed to be a great place to have a drink outdoors. I had the Summer Wheat.

If I lived in the area I might go again, but I don't so I probably won't.

After lunch, I went back by the blues festival, and the line was gone. It was out on a long pier (54) and I walked in past 5 or 6 different BBQ tents - I think the BBQ may have been the bigger draw for the festival based on the very long lines at each tent. I was really more interested in the music.

I really enjoyed the festival, and the music. Next year I'll come again, and get there a little later so I won't have to wait in line to get in. I will plan to wait in line for the BBQ - the roasted corn looked really good!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Central Park Zoo

Yesterday Rick and I made our way to the Central Park Zoo. $8 for adults gets you into the park, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the animals and the habitats created for them. We started in the Tropical Rain Forest - there was a building created to keep the heat and humidity in for birds, snakes and stuff like that. The flowers were pretty and we were able to see the well known Jungle Chicken. It was well known to Rick - I had never heard of a Jungle Chicken, but he assured me it was nice to be able to see one :) We also got to see the Jungle Pigeon, but I didn't get a picture of that.

There were many many beautiful birds in different hues - almost like someone had pulled out the crayola 64 box and spend a few afternoons coloring them in.

Next we came upon the turtle pond - there was quite a little turtle party going on - I thought I saw them smiling and satisfied :)

I think my favorite was the polar bear. Although, he too may have been in his habitat too long, he spent all the time we were there swimming back and forth, back and forth. He starts at the waters edge - smells to the left and and right, and once satisfied he is alone, leans back in to a Nestea-plunge. You can see in the shot below he even occassionally will let his tounge lol around.

We also saw the sea otters being fed, and the sea lion came out when we got to his pool to swim for us.

After spending a couple of hours looking at all the exhibits, we found a nice bench in the shade, and had a hot dog. The souvenier trolley in front of us did a brisk business - I was surprised that all the boys wanted the stuffed bats (they were cool), and the girls went for the spray bottle - slash - fan (??? no idea why). I would have gotten the polar bear myself if I had a place to put it :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

John Findlay Walk

I had a bazillion things to do today - too many that should have been done last month or the month before - but it was just to beautiful out there today. Just like yesterday - cooler than it has been and no humidity. Don't even have to run the a/c.

I decided to pack up my bag go someplace. While I was in the elevator, I weighed going to Central Park with heading over near the river. Rick is talking about going to the Central Park Zoo on Saturday, so I picked the river. Plus I could hit the produce store I really like :)

I started walking south and east, and it was so nice out I decided to just keep walking a while to see more of the neighborhood (though is it my neighborhood if it's more than 2 blocks away? Some NY'ers indicate not as they want to stay close to home I guess, and others not, willing to walk further). So around 77th street or so I decided to make my way all the way to the river - where ever I was, there just happened to be a ramp crossing FDR Drive to drop pedestrians on the otherside near the river.

See the teeny tiny strip on the otherside of the highway? At this point along the river it's really more like a median strip than a walk way or park. And, no kidding, some chick was sunbathing on the 3' wide strip of grass in her little black bikini. I guess you have to get sun when and where you can :)

Now, you probably can't read this, but the graphic is nice - it tells you that the landing strip you are about to come upon is John Finlay Walk. It's actually pretty nice for runners, walkers and bikers that it's continuous and there is access.

While I was sitting on a bench listening to the traffic a few feet behind me and reading my book, I looked up and found this boat right in front of me. I had to wait a little to take a picture because it wouldn't fit in my view finder!

This cleate is very big and it looks like there used to be boats parked up along here. Kinda hard to imagine doing any kind of unloading or loading since the highway is so close. These line the area near the water every few feet.
Oh - I just found this picture and it looks like I was on 78th street not 77th. Gotta love documentation that makes up for a leaky memory :)
Up around 84th Street this strip widens considerably and is raised above the traffic so you really can barely hear it. This is Carl Schurz Park. There are lots of flowers and benches, and 2 dog parks - one for the little ones and one for the big ones. I didn't see the sign that said "You must be at least this tall to go on this ride" on the park for big dogs - maybe they should have one :)

While in the Carl Shurz Park, I got this nice shot of the light house. At some point they must have needed it, though now it aways seems pretty bright in the city.

I stopped on the way back from the park at my favorite veggie shack - U Don't Know Nothing Produce. I really wish this place was closer to me. I got some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, some blackberries and a nectarine. Some night soon I'm going to make my Tomato and Feta salad. Gotta celebrate summer while it's here!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Union Square Green Market

Today is amazing - sunny, not too hot, not humid - just about 80. It has been so hot for so long, this just feels like a breeze of Fall. I know - who'da thunk that 80 would feel like Fall???

I made my way to the Union Square Green Market - it's the only farmers market open all year long in the city, but this is HARVEST TIME so I'm thinking that now is the time where there will be the most variety :)

I made a pit stop at Filene's Basement and DSW before going through the stalls. Here is the view from Filenes on the 4th floor. You can see some of the tents for the stalls in the lower left hand side, but they actually ring the entire square. I only made it around half of the stalls.

You know, really browsing the goods - it's so gorgeous. I loved this in Portsmouth, too. The colors and textures. The flowers are really the best.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get all this variety of veggies everyday? I guess you have to live in California for that :)
I was going to buy some of these pattypans - they are so hard to grow - but the line was about 12 people long - I left them there... Looks like New Yorkers now know what to do about the squash avalanche that comes this time of year - pick the flowers! I think people stuff them with soft cheese, bread them and fry them. Kind of like a jalapeno popper without the jalapeno :)

I bought a couple ears of corn - I feel pretty confident that it wasn't picked this morning, but maybe yesterday afternoon :) Since the line was short, I also got a couple of small yellow squash too.

The markets also had lots of places with fresh baked goods, artisan cheeses, organic grass fed beef, organic lamb, organic eggs....there were even a few fish stalls! Also, if you feel like you need more variety, there is a huge Whole Foods store here too. If the 4/5/6 wasn't so busy and crowded, I would come here 2x a week :)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Coney Island

We woke up today and the weather was gorgeous - sunny and not too humid. I made some omlettes with sauteed onion and yellow sqaush, some american cheese and some fresh tomatos. Knowing Rick would be happier with a little meat, I added some sausage links on the side. The sauteed veggies were really sweet, and the tomatoes were too. I like veggie omlettes.
We decided to make our way to Coney Island - only a few more weekends of summer, and it's got to be more fun in the summer than in the winter - right? According to the web, it should take about 45 minutes from mid-town. I feel pretty confident that it took longer than that to get there, but I didn't look at my watch when I left. I read in one of my NYC books, that if you take the Q train, that you get a nice view on the way over and can see the other beaches in that area as well. We looked for the Q at 59th street, but only found the N R and W. The N would work, but no views. Somewhere along the way the N and the Q crossed and there happened to be a Q train waiting going in our direction, so we hopped over. There were a lot of stops in Brooklyn - and ours was the last one. It was nice to be above ground - it kind of reminded me of the green line on the T. Here is what we saw when we approached Coney Island -

We walked along the boardwalk - it was a traditional boardwalk made with actual boards. You need to keep your eyes open - those boards aren't too even.

We decided to take a ride on the Wonder Wheel. It has stationary carriages and those that swing in and out of the wheel - so it's different than any other ferris wheel I've ever been on...below you can see the cars that are toward the inside of the wheel - those are the ones that swing. And those are the ones we rode on!

As we swung from the outter part of the wheel to the inner part of the wheel and back, we heard the little girls ahead of us screaming - I think they were surprised :) I said "Wheeeeeeeeeeee!" and the people in the stationary car ahead of us looked back at us each time I said it....ok maybe they glared at me - who knows?
We walked out and had some really bad shish-ke-babs - avoid those if you go. Then we walked over to the pier. Lots of people were fishing and drinking beer and generally talking loud (guess those fish aren't afraid of a little human noise :).

There were some people with small crab traps - I thought it was funny because they were baiting them with raw chicken legs (no kidding). I kinda thought that was like gambling since if you cooked the chicken, you could eat that and didn't need the crabs. This guy was pulling in his trap and he had about 8 crabs in there, but he tossed them all back. Too small?

The view of Coney Island was pretty as you walked back from the pier.

We took the train back - the train station at Coney Island is really pretty and I meant to take a picture of it, but some how missed that. We left at 1:45 (figuring our sunburns were nicely renewed from vacation) and got home around 3:45. We took the Q into Union Station and the 4/5/6 was jammed with people - we were able to squeeze into the next express train, but lots of people didn't make it in. I thought this would be quicker as there are fewer stops, but sometimes things just take longer in the city!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brooklyn Bridge

Today is the first day in a long time that it hasn't rained in NYC. Rick calls Manhattan Island a swamp for how humid it is - maybe it's just a quirky year. Today is gorgeous - not too hot, sunny with puffy clouds.

I decided to check out the Brooklyn Bridge - It is supposed to be the best place to watch a sunrise, but I don't think I'll be checking that out. I seem to like sleeping in lately - at least in comparison to a sunrise :)

I just took the 4/5/6 down to the Brooklyn Bridge stop, and the stop is right there at the entrance to the walking and biking part of the bridge. It's nice to walk on as the people are actually a story above the cars buzzing by below.

From the Brooklyn Bridge, you can see Pier 17 and the Seaport Village, and 3 of the 4 waterfalls. The one underneath the bridge is hidden from view!

When I got to the other side in Brooklyn, I saw signs to walk across the Manhattan Bridge, so I figured I'd go back that way for a different view. The Manhattan Bridge is not as nice to walk across - I probably won't do that again. Here is a view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge.

And here is a view of China town as I walked across the Manhattan Bridge. Don'tcha love how I was not able to get the chain link out of my photo? It didn't show in my view finder....
C'est la vie...