Sunday, August 20, 2017

Clam Strips and Magazines

Having planned our outing weeks in advance, I made my way to the Cape House in Bushwick, where HanOre and I had decided to read magazines and eat clam strips. New Yorkers are perhaps some of the busiest people you’ll ever meet, so time to sit and do (almost) nothing has to be thought out ahead of time. 
“Can you do next Wednesday?” I might ask a friend.
“Agh, no, maybe the following Sunday?” 

That’s really how it goes. I think to some extent the city is filled with people who are constantly doing, and to make plans at the last minute often really isn’t an option unless you know someone really well. And even then it’s not a guarantee. 

So I was looking forward to this day where I would not only get to sit and tackle the giant stack of magazines that had been building up on my dresser, but to share them with my friend who appreciates nothing if not the finely worded phrases, beautifully designed layouts, chic photography, and lush wardrobes associated with what becomes monthly-assembled and bound printed pages. 

I stuffed the stack of magazines in my red backpack, tied a leopard scarf around a bun on my head, swept on a splash of red lipstick, and made my way to Brooklyn. 

The Cape House is a lovely yet idiosyncratic spot just off the Morgan stop on the L, its white wooden walls and sailboat decor featuring a nautical kitsch not shared by its industrial surroundings. Freight trucks rumble past us in the Saturday summer sun as we sit outside on wooden benches cordoned off by more white wooden walls from aged warehouses still in use. 

HanOre jokes that today we have both dressed very much like the embodiment of ourselves, me in a tacky button-down top printed with storybook scenes and red shorts, she in loafers and a Juicy Couture sweatsuit, an item she is perhaps singlehandedly, shamelessly bringing back into vogue. I make a joke about my eyes bleeding. Understanding this is how I show I care about people, she laughs. Secretly (although I guess not so much as of right now), I love how she loves what she loves without apology. 

Thank RuPaul for people like her, I think to myself. People who get it, who get me. Who get any of us. That there’s some cross-breeze in the universe that deposits people at our doorstep who either love the things that we love or understand us for everything that we are or both, no explanation required. 

My friendship with HanOre started over our love of magazines, an inexplicable love we still have despite what we’re told is a dying age of print media. Who else before her had I met in the world who understood the beauty of the newsstand at a bookstore, the glamour of a masthead, the excitement of a September issue, who would understand why I kept every issue of ElleGirl ever published? It was like finding a friend who spoke a language I thought nobody else knew. 

So to be able to sit and read magazines with my friend for an entire day felt not just like a luxury, but a gift. 

Ultimately, we decide on clam bellies as our snack of choice instead. “You’ve never had them so let’s get them,” HanOre says. Growing up in New England, she is a relative expert on the stuff. They arrive and they’re crispy, meaty, with a taste of iron and sand (but like, in a good way). Topped with a squirt of lemon, they mash gently against my teeth with sprightly acidic pops. 

In between bites, we gasp at the gorgeousness of font choices, the smoothness of papers in our hands, the creative headline choices that made us bubble in appreciation and joy. We are, by definition, nerds: single-minded in what is perhaps a niche field and totally unapologetic about it. And goodness, it’s a beautiful feeling. 

We sit there for hours with a giant stack of magazines: T, Vanity Fair, Elle, V, others.
“It looks like a work project,” says a man passing by our table, trying to make conversation with us. 

“No,” HanOre says, polite but curt, from behind black cat-eye glasses. “It’s for fun.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Jeffrey Goodman

Jeffrey Goodman is many things: a husband, an avid reader, a retired financial advisor of nearly 40 years, a dad. My dad. Though he lives in South Florida, he was born and raised in the Bronx. He was born in Montefiore Hospital, went to DeWitt Clinton High School, went to delis on Jerome Avenue and teen dances at Bronx House community center, enjoyed visiting the International Center of Photography and The Jewish Museum. He worked at Saks Fifth Avenue, taught math at a junior high school in Williamsburg, then moved to Israel where he lived on a kibbutz for two years selling oranges.

He moved to South Florida in the late 1970s and started a landscaping business but, still entranced from a young age by a Technicolor stock an uncle had given him for his bar mitzvah, decided to become a financial advisor instead. Somewhere in the middle he met my mother, to whom he has been married for 31 years. He retired last September and now goes to the beach, reads, goes to the gym, has a cigar and occasionally, like the day I chronicle, also has a haircut and a pastrami sandwich. He still has a New York accent.

We are in the car driving to get haircuts and my father wears his signature black Ray-Ban aviators, linen shirt, dark jeans, and moccasins. Tito Cruz has been cutting my family’s hair for something like 16 years. We’ve followed him as he’s traveled from salon to salon because we find nobody cuts hair quite like him. My father waits his turn sitting on the leather couches at the front of Sullo salon. Soon Tito is washing and cutting his hair.
“Your hair grows so quickly,” Tito says to my dad. “What’s in your diet?”
“Ice cream,” my father laughs.
Watching Tito cut my father’s hair, I realize I never knew how much work went into a man’s haircut. There are several kinds of combs and scissors and razors involved, and ultimately a shine treatment my father refuses with a firm yet polite hand.

Then we’re off to my father’s favorite part of the day, going to Pomperdale, a New York-style deli right in the middle of Fort Lauderdale. He orders pastrami on rye with a sour pickle and gets a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, a classic New York brand, from the refrigerator in the back. The sandwich arrives, and he slathers the cured, seasoned meat with brown deli mustard—“What’s with this ‘Yellow Mustard’ they have here?” he asks of the French’s on the table. “Who uses that, goys?”—and the Russian dressing and cole slaw that comes on the side. He bites into it and a deep “Mmmh!” comes from his throat. There’s silence while he finishes his sandwich.
“Did you enjoy it?” I ask.
He smirks. “I had been dreaming about this all week.”

After we come home from lunch, he sits on the patio smoking what’s left of a cigar, thick puffs of smoke rising into the air.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Billy Snow

Billy Snow’s living room has sleek, elegant lines I’ve never actually seen outside of a magazine before, with a gorgeous glass dining room table, a three-legged silver lamp, and two luscious black chairs with almost geometric gold armrests. There’s a succulent resting on the glass coffee table, and light streaming in from the windows of the brownstone where he and his boyfriend Christopher live. “This is pretty much me,” he says, noting the vintage modern aesthetic. So this is what your apartment looks like if you’re a designer!

Billy got his degree in architecture, but ultimately decided he’d prefer a different design path. He’s currently the Senior User Experience Designer at LearnVest, a financial planning company that hopes to help people manage their personal finances. The company’s mission is important to him he says, as his end goal is always being able to help people. He’s interested in the healthcare sector as well, but also dreams of having his own interior design concept firm where each room he creates can tell a story.

He’s also an avid traveler and in the last two years he’s made his way to Berlin, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Santorini, Mykonos, and there’s more to come this year. Today we’re more local.

“Cheese, wine, olives, and the park, that has been my life the last few weeks,” he says as we make our way to the first item on the list at the Park Slope Food Co-op, where Billy and Christopher are members. We go to the membership office so I can get a visitor pass. The grocery store is notoriously strict (it was also parodied in an episode of Broad City), but all members pay less than at regular grocery stores because of the venue’s communal work ethic: every member must work one two-hour and forty-five minute shift every four weeks. The fruits of Billy and Christopher’s labor today are blocks of gouda and manchego and a snack called Cauliflower Puffs Billy has recently become obsessed with.

We stop off to get a bottle of Pinot Grigio, one of Billy’s favorites, and head to the park.

Perhaps the most prepared picnicker I have ever come across, Billy unfurls a padded blanket for us to sit on, then begins to assemble our snacks.
“Billy,” I say. “Did you just pull out a cheese board?”
“Oh yes,” he says with a smile. “This is not my first time doing this.”
A knife follows the cheese board, as do a bag of olives, and two cans of orange-flavored seltzer. He slices the cheeses and opens the Cauliflower Puffs. I quickly become obsessed as well.

Billy stretches his long legs the length of the blanket and tells me about his family, growing up, his future travels, his career goals, and his newly discovered love of writer James Baldwin, who he feels gives an elegant, eloquent prose voice to his own lived experiences.

We snack and chat and drink wine for hours and really, it’s as glamorous as it sounds. 

Follow Billy on Instagram

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Vive La Cleve

Montenegro, the French Riviera, Palm Springs, and Austin are just a few places on the list of locales I would like to visit. Cleveland was decidedly…not. 

I had already visited as a college student in Pittsburgh and gone to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Since it was just two hours west of our campus, my friend J and I had taken a road trip out there to cross it off our senior bucket list. My impression of the city was that it was…clean. There was barely anyone walking around on the weekend we went, hardly a piece of litter strayed from its rightful receptacle. It wasn’t dirty or loud or anything I had come to know from cities in my short 21 years on earth at that point. 

The occasion arose, ALiCo’s wedding, for me to return this year, just last week, and I was excited to celebrate my friend’s nuptials. But having exhausted what I thought was the one cool thing in the city, what on earth would I DO there for TWO WHOLE DAYS?

But where, I critiqued myself, was my sense of adventure? Why didn’t I lose the ‘tude and discover what was really great about this city that so many people probably overlooked, including myself? It was, after all, still a city, so there HAD to be something interesting there, besides the Rock Hall. 

So I looked up some stuff and lo and behold…Cleveland, I owe you an apology. 

Turns out this Midwestern city is nothing to sneeze at, especially not given the proliferation of public art, amazing restaurants, historical architecture, and sweet main streets that made up my trip this time. 

EH, her boyfriend S, and I all drove out there from New Jersey, with a stable of ideas of things to do in our back pockets. EH was most excited about the world’s largest rubber stamp, which is not actually rubber but a giant sculpture called ‘Free Stamp’ by Claes Oldenburg and his late wife Coosje van Bruggen. It says ‘free’ on it in mirror image as if it were actually going to be used to stamp something at some point. We were also curious about the West Side Market, a huge indoor food market, and eating a Polish Boy, a treat native to Cleveland that’s a kielbasa in a bun topped with barbecue sauce, fries, and cole slaw. I also discovered that the city has undertaken a huge public art initiative (which I swear I must have said in awe and delight thousands of times as we drove out there, and even while we were still there), so big in fact it is catalogued online. My groans of ‘we’re going to Cleveland’ turned into enthusiastic shrieks of, ‘We’re going to CLEVELAND!!!’ 

The day of the wedding we had the morning and afternoon to ourselves, so our friends DW and EL joined us, and we all piled into EH’s car and drove the 15 minutes into the city. Everything in Cleveland, we would learn, is 15 minutes from each other. Our first destination was West Side Market. 

“It’s a market…” ALiCo said. 
“We know!” we all said, excited.
“No, but like… it’s a market.”

So, West Side Market is just a market. Partially. One building of it is oodles and oodles of fruit vendors selling everything from cherries to rambutan, from bananas to dragon fruit. The vendors cut up lots of different varieties in hopes of selling their wares, or they’ll offer you different things to taste. It turns out I don’t like papaya, but at least I tried it!

Westside Market
The other building, however, is what we were looking for: food counters by the dozens, with fresh pastries, coffees, crepes, jerky, smoothies, pasties (the pastry kind, not the boobs kind), cheese, pirogies, and RuPaul knows what else. The market was built in 1912 and features over 100 vendors. We strolled through the aisles trying to select what we wanted to eat for breakfast, sampling different wares along the way. I saw apple fritters the size of my face, blue mashed potatoes, infinite kinds of pirogies and seafood and glittery meringues, but ultimately I settled on delicious, juicy homemade lamb jerky from Badstuber and Sons, and a green tea smoothie from Juice Garden. Juice Garden also made an incredible vanilla bean lemonade that was strangely perfectly balanced and easily one of the best things I consumed all day.

Apple Fritters
the size of my head

 We then went for a stroll up Market Street, having a gander at all of the new restaurants and breweries and cafes in the area. We wandered into Ohio City Farm, an urban farm right in the middle of the city, and walked through on the paths, eyeing all of the curly kale and peppers and tomatoes that are all grown by local farmers. It turns out this particular urban farm, at almost six acres, is one of country’s largest.

The Free Stamp was next, and it really was quite marvelous and giant. I’ve since learned sculpture is one of 44 giant objects designed by Oldenburg and van Bruggen and placed all over the U.S. and the world, the others being things like a set of giant shuttlecocks in Kansas City, an umbrella in Des Moines, and a bent spoon and a cherry in Minneapolis. We took a bunch of pictures like tourists and—despite how much we viciously loathe tourists here in New York—it was incredible fun. I even got a good one of DW dancing in front of it.
EH calls this one
"Crushed Under the Weight of Freedom" 

Victorian Arcade
We walked around downtown after that, visiting the gorgeous Victorian shopping arcades with ornate windows and gold ornamentation. We saw more public art, this time featuring bright pink metal sound tubes that you could speak into and from on opposite sides of the park. It was a piece called “Dialogue” by Buffalo, NY-based artists Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster, and was brought to Cleveland by a public art initiative between the Cleveland Public Library and public art non-profit LAND Studio called “See Also,” which looks to bring inspiring artwork from all over to the small park that’s next to the library’s main branch.

Having worked up an appetite, we drove next to Banter, a restaurant that’s been open for about a year and half in Cleveland’s Gordon Square/Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. They serve sausages and poutine only, and you can select a beverage from their extensive beer, cider, and wine refrigerators in the back. We were seeking a Polish Boy, but also ended up sharing poutines—the original with French fries, gravy, and cheese curds, and the Vladimir, with “frites, braised Ohio lamb stroganoff, mushroom, borscht gravy, curds, and orange zest” for the table. Everything. Was. Amazing. The gravies were thick and flavorful but not too salty, the French fries somehow maintained their crispness despite being under mounds of sauce, the barbecue sauce had hints of nutmeg and was so good EH bought a bottle of it. Interestingly, they didn’t even sell bottles of it, but they put some in a mason jar for her when she said she wanted to buy it. I see they deliver on Uber Eats, but do they deliver to New York???? Actually, I'm lucky they're not here because if they were I would go every day and weigh 1,000 pounds. 

Closeup of "Dialogue"
So we had a fabulous day, but on top of that every single person we encountered was SO NICE. People were patient and kind and understanding and polite in ways that sometimes I forget people are (and maybe even forget to be myself) living in New York. It’s good to be reminded of this, and it’s good to get out of New York every once in a while. And if you are leaving the city for a minute, might I suggest Cleveland?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Steven Tietjen

“I hope you're ready to learn the finer points of salting eggplant!” Steven Tietjen writes to me via email.

Steven, who I and many of his other friends affectionately refer to as Steven Jude, is a full-time freelancer like me. A self-described “professional opera queen,” he has written about opera for places like Opera News, Opera America, and Opera Pulse. He also works in publicity, specializing in classical music artists and organizations; he translates opera supertitles (the words you read above an opera so you can understand the dialogue); writes for opera companies’ in-house publications; and has worked as a dramaturg for places like the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York. He's also beginning a career as a food writer and getting a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing from NYU.

And Steven Jude, wearer of jewel-toned pashminas and lover of all things (Republic of) Georgia, is one of my dearest and utmost companions. We have especially bonded in recent years over a love of food writing and, well, food eating, so today he has decided to take me on a journey to his local farmer’s market in search of eggplants and whatever else might tickle his fancy. Perusing the market’s wares, he teaches me how to select an eggplant—a good one doesn’t have too much give, he says. It feels like a hard balloon in my hand. He debates if he wants a red onion or not, but swiftly turns away from a long, green stalked vegetable and declares with a wave of his hand, “I do not fuck with leeks.” (They are difficult to clean, apparently.) His eyes light up, however, when he spots bushels of purple basil, or opal basil. The herb is often used in Georgian cooking, and he has not yet decided how we will use it in today’s cooking, but grabs a bushel nonetheless. “We’ll figure it out later,” he says. On the way out, he spies some beet greens and snatches them up with the same vigor, an “Oooh” purring from his lips.

We head back to his apartment and I wash the vegetables, a tomato, garlic scapes, eggplant, and summer squash from his father’s garden. Shortly SJT is slicing eggplant. He salts it because he wants it to be softer when it’s cooked, but you don’t have to salt it if you want it to be firmer. After a while, the eggplant starts to sweat, small beads of moisture pooling on the slices’ exteriors. With sunflower seed oil, salt, and pepper, it goes on a roasting pan in the oven. Our friends Dan and Qite look on in awe. Shortly Steven Jude slices squash and softens it in chicken broth. He chops tomatoes and cucumbers and basil, and sends beet greens and scapes into a pan to crisp. All the while Klavdiya Shulzhenko, a Soviet cabaret singer who rose to fame in the 1920s, sings in the background. “I have no idea what she’s saying,” Steven Jude says, “But I just love her."

Follow Steven Jude on Instagram and Twitter.