Category Archives: and so on

Raw milk

Last winter, my brother took me to a farm where he sometimes buys cheese for his restaurant so that we could meet the farmer, a woman whose hand, when she shook mine, was so calloused and beautifully used that my own soft and varnished paws made me feel like the last coddled and inbred remnant of a soon-to-be-extinct monarchy, and also to get me some raw milk. Apparently, when Geoff first brought the subject up with her, she asked him, a little suspiciously, why I wanted it, since it’s not really legal to sell and I could have been an undercover dairy inspector setting up some sort of very small-scale sting operation. But he just replied, “She’s from Brooklyn,” which, it’s handy to know, apparently will excuse any precious or outlandish behavior one cares to engage in in the Northeast Kingdom.

Up to and including taking photos of bottles of milk with one’s phone.

It was delicious.

Someone’s not quite living up to theirs

Over the weekend, I was wandering from the East Village to Chinatown (on a mission to visit this supermarket, which was quite nice, even though it didn’t carry the two things I was looking for, mochiko sweet rice flour and macapuno coconut strings, to make this) and this strangely elaborate, busted-up bench caught my eye.
And then I saw who had (made? arranged for? commissioned?) it:

New York day trip: Dead Horse Bay

I remember hearing about Dead Horse Bay ages ago and thinking it sounded interesting. Then this past Friday I followed a link from somewhere and ended up here, at which point I said to myself, Self, you should go there and see what that’s all about. So I did.

Dead Horse Bay is out on the far eastern edge of Brooklyn, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was home to a number of horse-rendering plants, where dead horses were taken to be turned into glue and fertilizer and whatever else one can turn a dead horse into. Post-processing, the bones were just dumped in the water. Once automobiles became more popular and there were fewer horse corpses to go around, the area was used as a landfill. The trash heap was capped in the ’30s, but exploded onto the beach a couple decades later and because of whatever tidal oddities go on there, a lot of it remains to this day.

It’s actually pretty easy to get there: take the 2 train to the last stop, then pick up the Q35 bus right outside the station. I asked the driver to give me a head’s up when we got to the last stop before the bridge, which he was nice enough to do after double-checking that I knew where I was headed. The trail leads off right from the bus stop and it’s about a ten-minute walk before you hit sand. I’d checked the tide tables beforehand to make sure I’d arrive around low tide, since there didn’t seem to be much point if everything I wanted to look at was under water. There were a handful of other people walking around, but few enough to really feel like I’d somehow managed to remove myself to a different place and/or time entirely.

Early on in my wanderings, I met a mysterious old man who gave me this clay pipe he’d just found. As I mentioned on twitter yesterday, there’s pretty much no way it doesn’t have magical properties.

Oui! C’est une pipe!

I’d read accounts of other visitors finding horse bones on the beach, but this was the only evidence of that part of the area’s history that I came across:

I did find a fair number of intact old bottles in the midst of all of those shards, but honestly, I don’t really have any use for old bottles. So the only things I brought home with me were the pipe and an interestingly calcified clam shell. I don’t know that I’d necessarily be in a hurry to return, but I’m glad I went. It was a fascinating glimpse into a little-known piece of New York history, as well as its potential future (hundred-year-old glass on the beach has a certain kind of charm; this much modern garbage decidedly would not), and gave me a chance to explore a part of Brooklyn I’d never visited. If you do decide to take a trip out there, wear your absolute sturdiest shoes. I was wearing hiking shoes and was fine, but I think walking over that much broken glass would have ripped normal sneakers to shreds.

Admiral’s Row: So close, yet so far away

Yesterday morning, I went to the first New Amsterdam Market of the spring. I said hello to a few people, introduced myself to some of my interview subjects I hadn’t yet met in person, bought a grapefruit/chamomile soda from the lovely folks at P&H and a pepperwort plant from the Vermont wild food people, and left before it got too crowded. It was a not-too-warm sunny day, so I decided to walk back into Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge and walk home from there. Halfway over, however, I was thinking about the route home and the fact that it’s the same walk I take from home to work and back again every working day. And I was overcome with ennui. However, thinking about where I’d be coming off the bridge, I realized that I wouldn’t be far from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where there was something I’d been wanting to go look at for years.

Admiral’s Row is a block of decrepit mansions where the naval officers lived around the turn of the twentieth century back when the Navy Yard was a bustling industrial center. They’re behind walls and fences now, so not really accessible, but they’re at least visible. I had a confusing walk over from the bridge — I knew which direction I needed to go and had a good basic idea of which streets would get me there, but I kept coming up against dead ends and on-ramps and strange roads with no sidewalks, some of which I swear were not on the map I pulled up on my phone. (Ah, Brooklyn!) But I persevered and found Flushing Avenue … and realized I wouldn’t be able to get any closer because the thousands of cyclists participating in the 5Boro Bike Tour were whizzing along in my way.I’ll head back over sooner rather than later, so should have some more photos then, but in the meantime, the Officer’s Row Project site is well worth your time and there are some beautiful shots on Gothamist and Scouting New York.

At least I’ll know how to get there next time.

Infinite Variety: detail shots

As I sifted through my photos of the Infinite Variety exhibition, I realized that the only detail shots I took were of allover embroidered quilts, ones with pictorial or text elements, or both. This is something that I’ve noticed before, the way themes emerge from a body of photos I take without an agenda, generally indicating interests I wouldn’t have necessarily realized I had. (Oh, subconscious mind, what are you up to back there?)

This one is embroidered with more than 100 children’s handprints, with their name and age inside. I can’t figure out what population that would have been drawn from — the ages ranged from 3 months to 4 years, so not a school. Hospital? Town? Church? There wasn’t any identifying information on it anywhere.

This one was presumably a fundraiser for the Newburgh Red Cross. There are a number of cutesy repeat motifs, then some random proverbs and adages (I thought I had a shot of the ‘Ill blows the wind that profits no one,’ block, but I guess not) and the occasional city name. I don’t know what that Battle Hymn of the Republic one is all about though.


This one was covered with presumably thousands of names, arranged into patterns. Again, since there was no identifying information it’s hard to know what sort of occasion this was meant to commemorate.


This one though, was my favorite. Simple whole-cloth panels covered with small, whimsical motifs: portraits, soldiers, real animals, fanciful animals, plants, flowers, butterflies, birds, scattered around without regard for scale or any relationship between the items. It feels like a sketchbook, or a diary even. Looking at it, I almost felt like I was prying into something I shouldn’t be.

Infinite Variety

Infinite Variety, the Folk Art Museum’s satellite exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory, is an absolutely stunning installation of 650 red and white quilts from a single private collection. It’s one of the most amazing textile shows I’ve ever seen, and I’d even go so far as to say one of the most extraordinary experiences that I’ve had, not least because every single one of the hundreds of people in the Armory with me last night (jaded, post-work New Yorkers, most of them) was walking around in a state of child-like wonder, just barely whispering one word: “Wow.”

In which I learn a lesson

My brother was in town last night, playing a show with his best friend from high school. I really, really didn’t want to go out in Manhattan last night. St. Patrick’s Day is always chaos, I was kind of beat. But I’d said I’d be there, I don’t get to see him and my sister-in-law very often, and I do like seeing him play.

And you know what? I had a blast. The show was awesome, I saw a bunch of guys my brother was friends with back in the day, it was a happy, friendly crowd and I went home smiling. It was a good reminder that forcing myself to do stuff I don’t want to do doesn’t always end with me sulking in the corner. Sometimes it leads to dancing. Or a strange old man with an impressive beard affixing an adhesive mustache to my face.

Snow hiking

I always like to get outside when I’m upstate, but my dad and I tend to have bad luck with weather, getting rained out more often than not. It’s not all bad, since we get to see a lot of movies, but I can see movies at home. When I’m that close to the woods, I want to be IN the woods. This time, there was a storm blowing in, but it managed to hold off until we were down off the mountain.

The view from somewhere approaching the top. I spent a lot of the hike telling my dad the entire narrative arc of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which is about a disastrous mountain-climbing expedition, and some highlights from The Tiger by John Vaillant, which is about a man-eating tiger that stalks and eats people in the snowy woods of eastern Siberia (“And they were walking single file. JUST LIKE WE ARE DOING RIGHT NOW.”).

This weird snowmelt pattern kept turning up all over the place. It didn’t seem to be located in a way that dripping trees could have explained. In some places, it was almost a trail, like here, and in some places was spread out over a wider area. Aliens, most likely. I hear they really like the Berkshires.

It wouldn’t be an outing with my dad without at least one “Go stand over there. I’ll take your picture,” so here I am, standing over there. I didn’t bring actual hiking clothes with me, having looked at the weather forecast and expecting that we’d be going to the movies again, so I’m just wearing jeans and my normal black leather motorcycle boots and my favorite cashmere sweater. But I comforted myself that in all of the Scottish-set mysteries I read, the native hill walkers snicker at the city folk dressed up in brightly colored nylon clothing and futuristic shoes, all just to do a little walking. For a couple of hours on a relatively mild day, my normal clothes did me just fine.

We had a great, if steep, hike and then drove up to Vermont and ate a fantastic dinner at my brother’s restaurant. He’s been serving local rabbit for a while and makes an appetizer with it that’s very, very good, though I can’t remember offhand exactly what he does with it. But the night we were there, the man who raises the rabbits was also going to be coming in and he’d called ahead of time to ask Geoff to make him something special off menu. And since my brother knows that I like special things, he made an extra serving in case I wanted to try it. I didn’t take a picture, since it was pretty dark in there and I don’t really like taking photos of my food in restaurants anyway, but I can’t imagine it would have done it justice in any case. He started by making rabbit and fennel sausage, then pounded a rabbit loin thin, rolled the sausage mixture inside, and braised it in what I’m going to call Awesome Sauce, since I don’t think I ever knew what was in it and it was, in fact, awesomesauce. Then he sliced the little loin bundle into roulades, arranged them on a pile of celery that had been braised in rabbit stock, which was itself settled in the middle of a puddle of Awesome Sauce, and laid some roasted asparagus on top. I actively dislike celery and it was still one of the most delicious things I’ve had in recent memory. It was just … perfect. All of the elements came together perfectly and created something that was much greater than the sum of its parts. It was a fantastic end to a fantastic day.

Tiny luxuries

I’m a big believer in the idea of a tiny luxury, a thing or, most often, an experience that doesn’t cost much, but is just far enough outside my normal range of activity to be special. Taking myself out for a nice breakfast before work is a perfect example — it costs less than going to a movie to sit in a charming cafe for an hour, eating something delicious, drinking good coffee, going back and forth between reading my book and eavesdropping on the conversations around me.