Monthly Archives: September 2012

Musical equinox

This is us at Radio City Music Hall before the Bon Iver show. Being a cute newlywed couple and stuff.

Sean and I kicked off this autumn of many concerts this past Friday, just before the season officially began, according to astronomy or whatever. I’m pretty sure Bon Iver is the sound of autumn, and since we went to his concert on Friday, that’s when I’m saying is the official start of fall. (Yeah, yeah, I know Bon Iver is a play off “Bon hiver,” which my four college semesters of French tell me means “good winter.” It’s cold weather music, alright?)

Since someone is FINALLY done with the second tax busy season and has managed to escape the all-consuming World of Accounting, we are able to enjoy more of our non-working hours together. And one thing that we both really, really enjoy is going to concerts. Usually my birthday gift involves some form of live music — for my 21st, we went to the ACL Music Festival; for my 22nd (last year), I brought in a new year of life with Austin indie band Quiet Company in downtown Bryan and scored a free T-shirt from the band members for being a birthday girl; and this year for the big two-three, we’re going to see Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit.

I call this one “Poor Quality View of Bon Iver, As Taken Without Flash on an iPhone from the Back of the Second Mezzanine.”

Anyway, we have at least one concert scheduled every month through this December, and we kicked off the season with Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall. Not your typical concert venue if you’re not going to see a symphony or, uh, the Rockettes, but it was pretty swanky. Definitely worth at least stepping into the lobby for. And Justin Vernon surprised everyone with jazzed-up, rocked-out versions of his typically super-chill tunes.

In case you didn’t know, Bon Iver has made appearances in a few Kanye West songs. I used to think that was weirdly awesome, but I’m gonna have to drop the “weirdly” part of the opinion because apparently they both have a penchant for using lighting effects at concerts that could probably induce epileptic seizures. Like I said, not the super-chill stuff you were expecting.

If you have not yet listened to any of Bon Iver’s music, you really should. You can listen to the song from his first album below and then sing along and imagine hundreds of other people are singing along with you. There, it’s almost like you were at the concert too, huh?

Then on Saturday, we bought fairly cheap last-minute tickets to see the Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. We bought them from some chill hipster dude who also lives in the UES and posted an ad on Craigslist. I know he was a hipster even though Sean went on that errand by himself because he wanted to meet at a bar that serves only crafts beers and, um, hello…he was selling Purity Ring tickets. If you’re going to Craigslist anything, I suggest hipster-ish transactions with hipsters only. You are less likely to get killed this way. (This is also how we obtained used Bose speakers for our turntable.)

This picture is a bit better than my Bon Iver one, since it was general admission and we got there early with the NYU undergrads so we could be near the front.

I have listened to Purity Ring’s debut album, Shrines, like a million times on Spotify in these past few weeks, so it was really awesome to see them live. There were two other electronic dudes who opened for them, and I don’t really know how any of the music I heard Saturday night was made, but I loved it nonetheless. Even though some Cool Asians (using Mean Girls classifications here) danced a little to crazily, and stomped on my foot and caused another girl to accidentally splash beer on my shoes, it was still worth a late night out in Brooklyn, which is a good 30+-minute subway ride away from us. What matters is that I saw two Canadians doing mesmerizing things with lights and computers and special microphones.

Below is a clip from one of Purity Ring’s other shows, and if someone can please explain to me how this all works, that would be awesome:

Other groups we’re seeing this fall: Father John Misty (also known as that one dude from Fleet Foxes), Grouplove, Japandroids, and The Gaslight Anthem, not necessarily in that order. And Frightened Rabbit, as I mentioned before. It’s like football season, only BETTER!!! Because it’s something I actually want to stand around for hours for. (See Texas Aggie traditions: 12th Man.) The best part about all these indie bands is that tickets cost a fraction of what Lady Gaga or One Direction or whoever kids listen to these days would charge you. That, and most of the other people in the audience care deeply about music. I like that.

Just because we’re kind of on the topic and I want to…here is the album cover art for Father John Misty’s Fear Fun, which we got on vinyl somewhat recently. I swear I could stare at it all day, and it will never make any more sense.

Sean and I would much, much rather spend our money on experiences than things, and concerts are our ultimate experience. We don’t have cable, we pack our own lunches for work everyday, and we shop the clothing sale racks and thrift stores. But we are surely going to some concerts. I figure that when I’m 80, I won’t look back and be all “Oh, I had, like, 15 pairs of designer skinny jeans and went to salad bars everyday for lunch and watched every episode of So You Think You Can Dance as it was originally broadcast when I lived in New York and life was awesome.”

No. Just…no.

I’ll say, “I saw all my favorite bands perform live in New York, and that kids, is awesome.”

P.S. If you think two concerts in one weekend is a little excessive (I was afraid it was), I overheard a girl standing behind us at the Purity Ring Show talking about how it was their FIFTH show that week but she had a friend who was going to his SEVENTH. That’s literally a concert every single day for a week. I would say THAT is excessive…but I kinda envy the guy. Where does he find the time? And money? And energy?

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How a cat took over our hearts…and apartment

Disclaimer: Brace yourself for a lot of cat pictures. Either you will succumb to the cuteness, or you will leave quietly. No teasing. I am a girl obsessed.

So we’ve had our Ali for nearly two months now (my goodness, how time flies!), and it’s safe to say that she has completely won over our hearts…and our apartment. I think it’s the New Yorker in her showing through. In case you didn’t know, New Yorkers are obsessed with real estate. Some of the first questions people ask when they meet you are: “Do you live in Manhattan? What neighborhood? Prewar? Elevator or walk-up? How many bedrooms?”

Ali owns her little patch of Manhattan like nobody’s business. She weirdly sticks to the living room only, except for necessary visits to the litter box in our bedroom. We noticed within a week or so of adopting her that she had slowly started to claim things as hers.

First, it was the scratching post.

We refer to this as the “don’t ever leeeeave meeeee!!!” pic. This was before she had learned that furniture is not for kitties, so I had to cover part of our armchair with foil and put the catnip-covered post right next to it. She might have been a little high in this photo.

Then it was her cat bed:

It is a wee bit too small for her, but it was given to us by the cat adoption people.

But when she realized that wasn’t nearly as spacious or comfy as the humans’ couch, she claimed that, too:

It’s remarkable how a cat so small can take up so much space.

Then there was the little canvas container I purchased from Bed, Bath & Beyond for the specific purpose of storing our numerous issues of WSJ and Time that were lying about, but Ali knew it was really a cat storage box:

“Why be organized and tidy when you can look at adorable meeeee?!?!?”

And then, of course, there’s the windowsills and her cat toys and food and water bowls and a piece of discarded cardboard she discovered and likes to sit on. They’re hers, OK? She’ll let you know by sitting on these items, or crowding you out when you approach.

Her most recent claim? The colored pen I’m using to annotate my Lech-brary book this month and an empty American Eagle shopping bag.

Whatever, cat. You totally lost your cat toys under the couch and TV stand, are creatively improvising until the humans retrieve them for you.

Her infatuation with the shopping bag has grown over the past few days. After attacking it until it was suitably dead, she spent some time sitting on it in the middle of the living room floor, watching us eat cereal and other mundane human activities. Now it is her preferred sleeping spot…even though it is right next to her much more comfy, much more cat-friendly bed. Weirdo.

We call her “HoboKitty.”

She’s also very good at marking her roughly 400-square foot territory by getting her litter and food everywhere. Also, she has all colors of fur, so she is good at making that evident on everything from a brown couch to blue curtains and white T-shirts. And if you didn’t already know whose apartment it really is, she yowls through the night to remind you.

We should probably hate, or at least resent, her.

But we just can’t. I never knew I could love a little ball of get-all-over-you fur so much. I mean, can you blame me? Just look at that face.

The face of an adorable dictator usurping her small kingdom by cuteness and cuddle-ability.

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The Great Hot Dog Rivalry: East Side vs. West Side

Having survived closing out my first issue of one of the magazines I copy edit at my new job last week — and the longest issue of the year, mind you — I am happy to return to blogging more regularly. No, I did not work until the obscene hours my accountant husband has these past few months, but even just working an extra hour or so killed my spirit for wanting to look at words at home too much. Not even leisurely reading (gasp!). One night I came home, ordered Chinese food online (how lazy can you get?!?) and watched what felt like a half million YouTube videos of late ’90s and early ’00s music videos. I mean, you can’t watch just ONE Britney video. Trust me.

Sometimes, I really cannot explain or excuse my behavior.

Ahem. To the point of this post. On Sunday afternoon post-Mass, Sean suggested we grab a light lunch. “Where?” I asked. “I was thinking…hot dogs.” And then, because our hearts and minds are just so in sync, I just knew where we were going.

Papaya King.

Behold! The glowing yellow delights of Papaya King. (Photo not mine because I feel awkward taking pictures of food in public. I should get over this.)

Actually, I think that whole mind-/stomach-reading thing was less due to love and more due to common sense. I mean…where else are you going to get a hot dog in New York?

Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) know what’s up. They dig a NYC hot dog here and there.

Yes, you can buy one for dirt-cheap from one of those carts in Central Park or Time Square or wherever tourists are (this is what Tina Fey does on 30 Rock, so it’s OK, I promise!), but here’s a little tip: check out a neighborhood favorite! I first learned this when I came to visit the city during spring break my senior year of college while my then-boyfriend/now-husband was interning up here, and we went to check out Gray’s Papaya in the Upper West Side.

We’d heard about it on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations NYC episode, when he raved about “the recession special,” which boasted two hot dogs and a tropical drink for $4 or something equally ridiculous. I was also pumped because this is the brightly colored joint where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meet when their characters become friends (and are unknowingly in love with one another) in You’ve Got Mail. Oh, and Ted takes Robin there on How I Met Your Mother when she gets really hungry on New Year’s Eve. It’s a hopping place on TV.

Previously, I considered hot dogs a “specific occasion food,” as in, they were acceptable to eat at a professional baseball game or a backyard barbecue, but other than that, forget about it. Then I tried Gray’s hot dogs and they had this wonderful bite/crunch to them, plus I really dig the combination of the saltiness of the hot dog with the bitter/vinegary-ness of the traditional NYC toppings (sauerkraut, onions, and spicy brown mustard). However, once we moved up here and settled in the UES, getting over to Gray’s Papaya isn’t so easy. But good news! We have Papaya King:

There it is, right on 86th and 3rd, in all its colorful glory!

I’ve determined that I like this place more than Gray’s Papaya, so it’s all good. And I’m not just saying that to show my Upper East Side pride. The papaya drinks here actually taste like papaya, and not just thick sugar-water, so that’s a definite plus. Also, you can get a variety of hot dog toppings, like an onion-crunch dog or a chili-cheese dog. I still go with the classic toppings, but my favorite combo is “the 1932” (not so coincidentally, the year this fine dining establishment was founded), a balanced and nutritious meal consisting of one hot dog, a tropical drink, and an overflowing cup of curly fries for around $6. Like, I said you’ve got all the food groups covered.

It’s a teeny-tiny place with little counters by the windows where you have to stand to eat your food, just like we see Meg & Tom demonstrating in the You’ve Got Mail screencap above, or you can take it on the go and enjoy a meal in all of a New York minute. If you do choose to stay inside, I like to read the various news clippings on the wall. According to this collage of media, Julia Child proclaimed Papaya King to be her favorite NYC hot dog, and Chef Anthony Bourdain — a current UES resident, if I haven’t mentioned that half a dozen times already — said the Papaya King special (two hot dogs and a tropical drink, our pick this past Sunday) is the best meal you can get in the city for under $5. Uh, apparently, Bourdain is not very loyal with this hot dog stands. Which one do you really prefer, Tony?

Apparently, chef/author/TV host Anthony Bourdain has no discrimination when it comes to his NYC hot dogs. Here he is pictured in front of Papaya King (you can see where it says “King’s Special” on the sign behind him). I would love to run into Bourdain at Papaya King. Can the gods of the universe arrange this for me, please?

The restaurant itself boasts all kinds of ridiculousness, from “our frankfurters are tastier than filet mignon” and “papaya promotes heart health.” The last one might be true, except for when consumed with curly fries and hot dogs, of course. You can’t blame them for trying.

So how exactly did these two seemingly random foods, papaya juice and hot dogs, end up irrevocably paired together? As the story goes, the founder, Gus Poulos, fell in love with papaya while on a tropical vacation in Miami. So then he opened several successful tropical juice stands in the city. One day Gus fell on his roller blades and a young German-American woman (hopefully she wasn’t a Nazi spy…you know how Yorkville was back in the day) named “Birdie” helped him up and nurtured him by bringing him traditional German food, including…frankfurters! (This also explains the sauerkraut.)

Needless to say, “Birdie” and Gus were married, and he soon introduced the frankfurter to his juice stand. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a food legend was born.

Sorry to post a gazillion pictures of this guy, but “OH HEY! I totally stood in that same exact spot this past weekend and ate my hot dog.” Sadly, Bourdain was not there to stand and eat with me.

So maybe you’re a UWS resident with a fierce and undying loyalty to Gray’s Papaya.* Whatever your preference, I hope you relish (hardy har har) your classic New York meal! According to some statistic I saw while enjoying my hot dog, it takes about 5 bites for the average American to down a frank. So be careful: your meal could be over before you know it. Good thing the menu is cheap and the calorie counts aren’t displayed, right?

*…but we all know Papaya King is where it’s at.

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5 Good Things

One of my favorite authors, Sarah Dessen, writes “the Friday Five” every, well, Friday in her personal blog. I love the concept, but personally, I think Fridays are already awesome. But Mondays? They could use a little help.

So here’s five things that have brought joy to my life recently in some way or another. Make your Monday merrier! Besides, you know what they say about “counting your blessings…”

5 Good Things

1. On Friday night, Sean treated me to ice cream from a neighborhood place, Emack & Bolio’s, and I tried salted caramel ice cream with chocolate-covered mini pretzels! I never knew I why people always rave about the salted caramel lattes at Starbucks, but now I totally get it. Salty sweetness is sometimes just the perfect juxtaposition of flavors. The ice cream was SO. GOOD. The perfect start to an otherwise laundry- and chore-filled weekend.

2. Now that the weather is a little nicer — it’s in the lower 60s right now, so I didn’t have to turn on the A/C when I got home, for once! — street festivals are popping up all over the place. Yesterday a pretty extensive one sprung up on 3rd Ave. on the UES. I walked down the street from 86th to 75th, and as I was walking downhill as well as downtown, I could see huge throngs of people all at once. I never did figure out what the festival was for or about, but there were your typical fair food vendors (deep-fried oreos, kettle korn, and at least a dozen fresh-squeezed lemonade stands in that 11-block stretch alone), a man making balloon animals for children, a few stands for the Chamber of Commerce and other city organizations, and little stands selling silk scarves, costume jewelry, handbags, and so on. What was amusing was that I began to see multiple tents selling the same things–I saw at least three selling knock-off designer sunglasses.

It was almost like Niceville’s annual Mullet Festival, except with less smoke and fried fish, and more tall buildings.

The usual street vendors, who camp out near the metro station and sell the weirdest things (one man has a table of high-end nail polish for suspiciously low prices, another sells CDs of himself covering Bob Dylan songs, and a woman has little plastic baggies of dried fruits and nuts), seemed to be enjoying the extra foot traffic. My only purchase was a cup of lemonade. It was tricky deciding which one to spend my money on, as there were so many. I was unable to turn down an overly jolly man who referred to his citrusy beverage as “exquisite.” How often is lemonade described as “exquisite”? Too rarely, I tell you. Also, he shook the ice, drink, and lemon slices together “like a margarita.” He meant martini, but the sentiment was still nice.

I noticed a sign this evening for a fall street festival at the Catholic parish down the street. I’ll have to check that one out too!

3. Do you ever become completely obsessed with one particular song and then listen to it over and over and over and OVER again? I only have this problem every once in a great while, but I swear for the past month, I can’t get over Radical Face’s “Welcome Home.” The whole album, Ghost, is fantastic, but this one song stands out to me in its folksy acoustic and clapping goodness. This is everything I feel like a song should be.

Plus, Ben Cooper, the man behind this musical act, is based out of Jacksonville, Florida. Sometimes you just gotta have home state pride. I love the music video, too, because you can see distinctly northern Floridian landscape in the background of some scenes.

Go ahead, I dare you do listen to this song and not be happier after:

4. As if we didn’t already know our cat was a huge couch potato (except, of course, when the humans are attempting to sleep at night), she appears to love watching television. She sat completely absorbed for most of the animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox a few weekends ago, watching the little animal-characters run around the screen. I think she enjoyed it because she thought the foxes were cats.

Kitty enjoys the Interwebz.

And like I’ve mentioned before, she can totally veg out in front of a video from the YouTube channel “Videos for your Cat.” Maybe “veg out” isn’t the right phrase. She sits very alert, her eyes darting around the screen, and occasionally paws at the birds or fish moving around on the laptop. Poor thing doesn’t get to see real wildlife much, even with the garden courtyard she can see from her favorite perch on either of the living room windows. Although she did once spot one of the cats who lives out there as it ran across a fence. I’ve never seen her eyes get bigger.

E.B. stands for “Elwyn Brooks.” No wonder he went by his initials professionally.

5. Last week I read the wonderful essay “Here is New York” by E.B. White. Yes, the E.B. White of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web fame. This little gem of a book, which I borrowed from the library on my Kindle, was named one of the 10 best books ever written about NYC by The New York Times and declared “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city” by The New Yorker. It is truly White’s love letter to the city.

Even though it was penned in 1949, so many of White’s words still ring true. He captures the mysteriously captivating traits of New York in ways that I never could. A must-read for anyone living in or visiting New York–or dreaming of it. I’ll copy one of my favorite passages here:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is the third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

Here’s to a new week of yet-to-be-discovered opportunities and adventures!

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You’ve got (snail) mail!

It is one of the greatest joys in life to receive a letter. Not a text message, a Facebook notification, or even an email from someone other than the marketing people at Sephora and Amazon. A real, bonafide handwritten letter. The thing is, no one really does this much these days. Sometimes I think the only things really supporting the U.S. Postal System are magazine subscriptions, wedding invitations, and Netflix DVDs. What else do you typically get in your mailbox except these things — and junk?

Some recent personal snail-mail I’ve received in the past month or so: a wedding gift thank you from Kaitlyn & Andy, a Paris versus New York postcard from Michelle, and a letter on Nancy Drew stationary from Caitlin!

I check our little mailbox every day, but aside from movies here and there and Friday’s copy of Time, it tends to be depressingly empty in there. Much to my delight, a couple of days ago I received a lovely Paris versus New York postcard from Michelle (I’ve linked to her blog, which is filled with lovely pictures), who was our wedding photographer. What could be more perfect than to receive this particular postcard to my NY address from a former French class buddy? Et quelle surprise! The thing about receiving mail — even a short, sweet note with a fantastic piece of graphic design on the back (front?) — is that it is wonderful to be thought of.

In order to receive a letter, someone had to not only take the time to sit down and write the thing, but also to scrounge up a stamp (and possibly an envelope), and then remember to drop it off in the mailbox and not let it be buried beneath the daily newspaper or what-have-you. For me, mailing things is a bit of a pain because I have to track down a blue mailbox on the street or an actual post office, but it’s an errand I don’t mind doing when I think of the delight of the receiver — or my delight, if it’s a Netflix DVD I’m returning, and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever’s next in the queue.

Fortunately, I’ve found a loyal pen pal in my college friend, Caitlin. It all started when she was so pleased with the personalized, detailed thank you note Sean and I sent her after our wedding, that she actually sent us a thank you for our thank you, or something like that. That’s when I realized that out of everyone I know, including my former college roommates (of which, Caitlin was not one), Caitlin would be the most likely to actually respond to a letter.

Some of my favorite stationary: a set with lined envelopes (!!!) that reminds me of something Elizabeth Bennet or Mary Crawley would use, and a divinely delicate Vera Bradley laser-cut notecard set my mother-in-law gifted me one Christmas.

So I wrote her one.

And a week or so later, I got one back that was TWICE as long. On Nancy Drew stationary. I just about died from happiness. (Nancy Drew was my childhood is my heroine. I still think the PC games they made loosely adapted from the books are the bee’s knees because you had to solve puzzles and riddles and interview/interrogate suspects and stuff. Plus, Nancy Drew is so stylish and just plain cool. I want to be as suave and savvy as her when I grow up.) Anyway, this chain of correspondence has continued, and now it is my turn to belatedly respond to her most recent correspondence.

Caitlin has such interesting stationary and stamps that I was persuaded to wait in line at the post office just to buy prettier stamps than the American flag/Statue of Liberty ones you can get from the self-service machines. I got Bonsai tree ones. Not as fun as Caitlin’s Disney/Pixar ones, but they’ll do. I also spent a copious amount of time exploring the entire ROOM of stationary at the UES Barnes & Noble recently. I have a number of assorted note cards remaining, but I’ve made it a goal to use them up before I turn 30. Which is…not so very soon.

Another thing about Caitlin is that she is an excellent organizer of things. From multi-part birthday parties to “No Pants Week” (the modern girl’s excuse to embrace her femininity and wear skirts and dresses for a full seven days), she dreams and schemes up it all. Perhaps her most impressive planning endeavor, in my opinion, is the creation of Lech-brary.

Lech-brary is a funny combination of the words “Lechner,” the name of our freshmen year honors dorm where I met so many of the best people and friends (including my husband), and, well, “library.” Basically, she realized we needed to do something to maintain our strong friendships with one another upon our graduations in 2011. She also knew we are all various kinds of nerdy, including bookworm-nerdy, and that graduating meant we’d have a lot more time to read for leisure. Thus, Lech-brary was born.

I’ll be honest and say I skipped out the first time because I was so opposed to any sort of book club and assigned reading after finally finishing the heaps of required reading I had double-majoring in English Lit and Communication. But I came around this year. Because the things is, I like reading…but I love my Lechnerd friends AND receiving mail. Combine these three things, and my gosh, I am a happy girl indeed.

I’ve joined in the second round, the theme of which is “your favorite childhood/YA book that no one else has ever heard of.” I figured that it would be a lot easier to work juvenile fiction into my already hefty personal reading list. Lech-brary is a lot like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but with books instead of magical jeans, and male participants are included. Everyone purchases a book under the theme, reads and annotates it, then ships it off to a designated recipient in the group, who then reads and annotates it in their own distinctive pen/handwriting. And so on and so forth each month until the thing comes full-circle. It’s a long-distance book club, of sorts.

My first Lech-brary book: a tale of time-travel, a cathedral, and according to Grant’s note inside, “cat descriptions.” Love it.

My first book arrived today, and I’m so excited! It looks a bit ridiculous, as the back cover description tells of time-traveling back to the Victorian era to save a cathedral destroyed in a Nazi air raid–but promisingly comical. My book-sender is Grant (his blog is linked, too), an aviation enthusiast, aerospace engineer (considering the first listed characteristic…duh!), Catholic hobbyist, and also one of my brother-in-law’s summer roommates during their internships at Boeing up in the Seattle area. It’s a small world, after all. And of course, Grant is a proud member of Lechner XIX, our fantastic pseudo-intellectual society of former dorm residents. Grant is a cool guy with very different interests from myself, so I’m ready to expose myself to the type of reading I wouldn’t ordinarily gravitate towards.

Note: I learned somewhat recently that Grant also enjoys the band Purity Ring, which I also like a lot, so that’s cool too.

I mean, my most recent read was Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key, a YA novel made of almost pure fluff with the occasional thought-provoking comment thrown in here and there. And my Lech-brary pick dwarfs in length and sophistication to even Grant’s silly book. I chose The Grand Escape (Cat Pack, No. 1) by Phyllis Reynold Naylor, more commonly known as the author of Shiloh. To give you an idea of how mature this book is, most of my “annotations” were smiley faces, “lol”s, “awww”s, and “so cute!”s. I must have read that book three times at least while in elementary school. Funny how small the book seems now — I read it in about two hours on Tuesday night — when I once thought the little chapter book was so advanced. (Um, it has illustrations in it? What was I thinking?)

Just look at that cover art! I know you want to read it already. This is an Ali-approved read.

The point is, one lucky young lady back in League City, Texas will receive a copy of that adorable cat-centric book very soon, along with a quick note I scribbled on — what else? — cat stationary. And it will most likely make her day, or at least break up the monotony of pizza delivery coupons, James Avery catalogs, and dental appointment reminders.

When’s the last time you mailed something to somebody? If you know me personally, send me your address in private (you know how) and I’ll send YOU a letter!

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Recipes: Back-to-‘school’ snacks

It’s almost time for another autumn ritual: my annual viewing of the cheesy Halloween flick “Hocus Pocus.”

I know the first official day of autumn isn’t until Sept. 22, but the point is that it is now September and as of tomorrow, all of the NYC public school students will be in class. As of yesterday, Starbucks brought back its seasonal pumpkin spice latte. Grocery and liquor stores set up their displays of pumpkin ales. Labor Day weekend was the last hurrah of summer for a lot of people, and now it is time to transition into fall.

I don’t know if it’s because of having an October birthday or the fact that my family always had way more Halloween decorations on our house than Christmas ones growing up, but I think fall is simply the best. And I cannot express to you just how excited I am to experience my first real fall in a decade, since moving from four-season Maryland to forever-summer Florida (and Texas). I can’t wait to see the leaves change colors–even if I have to leave this little isle for a bit to truly experience it. I want to wear scarves and sweaters again.

This is what Central Park looks like in the fall. I can’t wait!

I love the line from the film You’ve Got Mail — a forever-favorite of mine — “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” I’ve never even experienced New York in the fall, but I’ve always loved that image and imagined scent of a pencil bouquet!

I think because for so much of our lives, we abide by the academic calendar, I’ve come to believe that fall–not New Year’s–is a time to begin fresh again. To buy new shoes and folders and learn new things. I’ve already gotten in the spirit of learning what with all of the learning how to do my new job and personal endeavors, like attempting to roast a chicken for dinner for the first time and watching educational documentaries like Waiting for “Superman” (depressing) and Helvetica (I am a font nerd!).

But I also like to get into the flavors of fall a little prematurely, too. I kicked off the season by baking some spiced applesauce cookies — well, a cookie (a 9×13 cookie) because our lovely baking sheets don’t fit in our oven. And then I just kind of kept going from there. So here are two simple recipes to get you in the spirit. You’re on your own assembling that bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils.

Peanut butter and fruit: two of my favorite food groups combining to create something heavenly.

Peanut Butter Apple Dip (a.k.a. “Let’s take something healthy and make it unhealthy–but tastier! Nutella does it all the time.”)

I first tried some version of this my freshman year of college at a Super Bowl party. While all the guys chowed down on chips and queso, all us girls munched through a giant bowl of apple slices and a vat of this stuff, pretending like we were being SO much healthier. It’s much more dippable than  plain peanut butter and I think the brown sugar gives it a somewhat caramel-ish flavor. I think it’s best with tart Granny Smith apples, but I had it with some Gala apple slices, and that was yummy too!

Note: This recipe makes a ton of dip. So if you aren’t going to a Super Bowl party or serving this to your 2.3 children, go easy on it. I  made a third of a batch, and it’s enough for 4 or 5 apples, at least.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, preferably reduced fat, softened
  • 1 cup peanut butter — either crunchy or creamy, pick your favorite!
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • apples, cut into wedges

Instructions:

Basically, mix the first four ingredients together until well-blended. Dip your apples in as many times as you like. Be sure to refrigerate in an air-tight container between snackings!

They’re like cookies, only much more filling and somewhat healthier.

Lunchbox Granola Bars

I am a lifelong lunchbox-er. Not a brown bag-er, but a lunchbox-er (or lunchbag-er, technically). It might be dorky, but it saves the environment and insulates your food to a safe temperature. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, these filling and budget-friendly granola bars are the perfect addition to a packed lunch. They are fairly soft and a lot more dense than the Quaker and Kashi storebought granola bars I’ve had, but my husband says they taste like Clif Bars. I’ve never had a Clif Bar before, but I still took that as a compliment!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats (I used the “old-fashioned” kind)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup toasted, deshelled pumpkin seeds
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries (or raisins or craisins or whatever)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Makes 24 granola bars.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F, and generously grease a 9×13 baking pan/dish.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, flour, dried fruit, and salt.
  3. Make a well in the center (yay, it’s like making sandcastles!), and pour in the honey, egg, oil and vanilla. Mix well using a spoon — or your hands.
  4. Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan/dish.
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bars begin to turn golden at the edges. Let the bars cool for 5 minutes but not too much harder (or the bars will get too hard), and cut into 24 bars.

Lastly, because I never escape an opportunity to share photos of our Ali Cat, check out our kitty’s gorgeous fall coat:

Torties are always dressed in style.

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