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Hitting the reset button

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It’s been the kind of week where a series of minor frustrations and aggravations and other people’s snits and phlegm and egos have combined to leave me a quivering mass of raw, exposed nerves. I’m sensitive and snappish and paying too much attention to what Sarah Wilson calls “the vile, judgey voice” in my head. And I hate it.

There are ways to work myself out of this state, of course, and I’ll be doing my best to fill up the weekend with them: good food, good fiction, seeing friends, making progress on existing projects, getting outside and getting some exercise, going somewhere I haven’t been before, cleaning the apartment (no better way to redirect a bad mood, really), combing the dusty shelves in the back room at Metalliferous, being gentle with myself.

Day trip

Saturday, I met my mother a bit north of the city for a day of sightseeing. She really likes visiting historic homes and I’m perfectly willing to go to one once in a while, so our first stop was Lyndhurst, one-time home of Jay Gould. (I nearly typed Stephen Jay Gould, which would be a whole other story.) I thought the grounds were a lot more interesting than the house.

From there we headed over to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I’d never been there, but I’m a huge fan of Dan Barber and everything he’s done to make sustainable agriculture viable and visible and, frankly, kind of sexy. I’d been curious to see the operation for a long time. There is a fancy restaurant on the premises, but there’s also a nice little cafe where we got soup and sandwiches before walking around the grounds.

Escapee turkey (the little bastard hopped down, walked over to us and tried to peck me; I hope someone finds her delicious):

Maybe not the most alert livestock guardian dog I’ve ever met:

Then we went over to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, since we both have a thing for old cemeteries. It’s a nice one, hilly and old, with some interesting monuments. Washington Irving is buried there, and plenty of people who share names with his characters (a passel of Van Tassels, for example). At one point when we were walking around, a woman drove up next to us, asked my mother if she is of Dutch descent (she is), burbled happily about how much she loves history, and then drove away, leaving the two of us open-mouthed and giggly.

The Bronx Is Up and the Battery, Not Unlike the Dollar, Is Down

I noticed recently that one of my favorite food bloggers, Julie of Dinner With Julie, had her first trip to New York coming up. She mentioned having spent a ton of money on flights and the hotel and also that she had an inbox full of recommendations of things to do here. I’ve noticed from reading the comments on similar posts elsewhere that the recommendations people tend to give NYC-bound food bloggers are often of the ‘the truffled ocelet liver at Chez Fancipants is not to be missed!’ variety, and I took it upon myself to write her a little guide to free and cheap things to do in New York. And then I thought I might as well post it in case anyone else found it useful.

The Tenement Museum is completely fascinating and well done. They only do tours, no wandering around by yourself, and do an amazing job of recreating and explaining what it was like to live in the tenements. I *think* you need reservations for the tours. They have a fantastic book store too and when you leave the museum you’re right next to Il Laboratorio del Gelato which is awesome, and not far from the Doughnut Plant.* Also nearby-ish: Russ and Daughters, a family-run “appetizing shop.”

From the Lower East Side, you can head south(ish) to Chinatown (soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai and ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory) or north to the East Village, where there is a remarkable concentration of Japanese ramen places (I like Ippudo) and Ukrainian food (Veselka is a must-visit; it’s an institution. GREAT borscht.). If you have Tuesday or Wednesday evening free, my friend Tony runs pub trivia nights that are really fun.

You’ll kick yourself if you miss out on Kalustyan’s, amazing specialty food market. Likewise, Sahadi’s, which is in Brooklyn, but very easy to get to and close to the Brooklyn Promenade, which is a gorgeous way to see the Manhattan skyline. Walking around Brooklyn Heights is a good way to get a feel for brownstone Brooklyn. It’s almost ridiculously charming.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is a must. The High Line is absolutely incredible, one of the coolest things in the city (and free). The Grand Central oyster bar (in Grand Central station) is a really fun, old New York place. The Staten Island Ferry is both free and one of the best ways to see the Statue of Liberty. If you want to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the posted price is a SUGGESTED donation; you are perfectly within your rights to give the cashier a dollar and say, “one, please.” I do it every time I go โ€” don’t be scared to try it. Most museums have free or cheap nights/days.

If you want to explore a little further afield, take the 7 train into Queens. Jackson Heights is a fascinating neighborhood with an Indian section (Bollywood theater, fascinating grocery stores, great restaurants like the Jackson Diner) and a South American section. Flushing, Queens’ Chinatown, is at the end of the 7 train. It’s HUGE and wonderful.

The Skint is a very useful website listing free goings-on around the city.
For a cheap, very filling breakfast, go to the deli counter in any bodega and ask for an egg and cheese on a roll. It’ll be made to order and should always be under $3, though depending on the neighborhood might be a little north of that.
My advice for a first-time visitor:
1. Make sure you get out of midtown. Sure, see Times Square and whatever else if you want to, but make an effort to spend time in other neighborhoods. ALWAYS eat elsewhere. SO MUCH of what’s wonderful about the city is in the smaller-scale areas where normal people are just going about their normal lives. Yes, a lot of things in the city are really expensive, but there are a lot of things that aren’t. (Manicures, for example: wicked cheap) Yes, sometimes the city gets really crowded, but plenty of areas aren’t. There are tons of free or cheap options for just about anything you want to do or eat, but almost all of them are not in midtown.
2. New Yorkers are really, really great. We get a bad rap, but we LOVE to help lost people and tell you what train to take and how to get to wherever you need to go. Just ask anyone nearby. Seriously.
3. Don’t be afraid of the subway and buses. Get unlimited Metrocards and use them.
4. Bring comfortable shoes and expect to walk. It’s the best way to see the city.
*I’ve never been to the Doughnut Plant because I find doughnuts utterly resistible. I hear other people go crazy for them though.

Cheap luxury

I don’t do it weekly, or even monthly โ€” the pleasure in just as much in the break of routine as it is in the experience itself โ€” but I love going to nice restaurants by myself at lunch. It’s a fraction of the price of going at dinner (even with a 25% tip, I spent less than $13), but somehow feels much more luxurious. It’s quieter and brighter, the pace is slower, but the service is faster. No one is looking over her shoulder from the bar, waiting for her turn at my table. Sure, I have to go back to the office afterward, but knowing that I took the effort to carve out that space in the middle of an otherwise busy day makes it that much sweeter.

Today I went to my favorite neighborhood sushi place. Out of the office, away from my desk, at a table with a waitress and a menu and the nice, non-splintery chopsticks, I sat quietly for an hour, sipping miso, nibbling salad, making notes about the book I’m working on, and savoring my spicy salmon and eel avocado rolls. It was a pleasure that was far greater than the sum of its parts.