Thursday, April 28, 2011

A greedyguts tour of our new 'hood and its environs

(In case you hadn't already figured it out, you can tell I'm not really street by the way I use an apostrophe for the contraction of neighbourhood.)

So anyway, about our new 'hood... Rabbit Hutch Towers is not quite the heart of Chelsea, being a couple of blocks too far west for that. I suppose it's the left pec, or maybe the left abs of Chelsea. But we are in a pretty good spot for food.

Within our first weekend we spotted so many great looking places to eat that there was a risk we never leave our block. Which would be a shame given all the great variety the world east of 10th has to offer.

Some clauses:
a) The rule only applies to proper meals. So the repeat visits to the Half King and the Drunken Horse don't count, since we mainly had booze and cheese.
b) The rule only applies since we moved to New York on 9th April. So we can go back for roast pork and burnt ends at Porchetta any time we like.

Still, the return to places we loved, for a proper meal, is out until our two month 'trying everything once' period is over. I told a wise New Yorker this last night and she laughed and said 'you could do that for a year and still have plenty to try... anyway, that place you loved might be gone and replaced with something new in two months time.'

Oh I hope not! The list of places I can't wait to return to is growing by the day.

Living without the wonderful BES - with its incredible lobster ravioli and ginger crusted snapper, and great big photos of bottoms - till June seems intolerable. No zuppa di pescue at Bottino for six more weeks? Shame!

Last night's discovery, Tia Pol, was serving up croquetas so good I want them for breakfast. Every day. And the squid in ink, oh! I miss it already.

Wonder TLOML notice if I sneaked out and scarfed a couple...
The Red Cat, the perfect neighbourhood bistro, cosy, vibey, unambitious but solid, is begging us to return every time we walk past the door. Down in the village, Mary's Fish Camp was worth the hour long wait: for that amazing, mayonnaisey lobster roll I'll wait again as soon as I'm allowed. Further afield, Soba Totto's tasty yakitori and perfect soba left me wanting more.

My waistline may thank me for waiting a little while before returning to Righteous Urban Barbeque, where TLOML ate his own body weight in babybacks. But Le Grainne, the sweet place with the great crepes? I'm dying to go back! And Bombay Talkie, the first curry I've eaten outside of New Jersey was only average, but it's so close, and average curry is so good, I think we'll be back before June is out.

And can I really wait that long to soak up champagne, perfect moules, and soft light at Pastis again? I'm not sure I can...

So yes, this two month embargo will not be easy. Thank goodness there are still some good places to try...

But TLOML can take care of that: I'm heading out of town for three and half weeks, which I think is the only sensible way to spend this NO REPEAT VISITS period.

Wedding fever

Do I give two hoots? It turns out I do. I just looked at the clock and realised I've spent 45 minutes looking at Royal Wedding nonsense online. From the Guardian's interactive map, to the Hello! coverage of nutters sleeping outside Westminster Abbey, it's all proved rather fascinating.

London appears to have gone bananas, union jacks and crazy Royal watchers on every street. I feel a bit sad that I'm going to land the day after it all happens. I also feel a bit sad that I feel that way. What's wrong with me? I'm a Smiths fan suddenly bewitched by a Royal spectactular. Shame on me.

Shame on me also that I was touched by their complete anodyne statement 'The affection shown to us by so many people during our engagement has been incredibly moving, and has touched us deeply. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone most sincerely for their kindness.'

Long live Kate and Wills! (provide your own fanfare)

Do I give two hoots?

The big question on my mind today is not 'What will Kate wear on her big day?' but rather 'Is it worth getting up at 5am to find out?'.

The thing is, I do really want to know what Princess Kate will wear. I love her in jewel-bright Issa evening dresses. I feel faintly contemptuous of her in Sloane-in-the-Country sports casual. And I hate her in dowdy upholstered A-line daywear.

I'm completely tantalized by the potential of so many possible outcomes tomorrow. Will she be the dowdiest bride ever? Or the most fabulous? It really could go either way.

Apparently column inches over here dwarf the UK coverage. It seems all of America will either be getting up at sparrow's fart, or staying up all night, to catch the show. There's a massive screen in Times Square which will show the nuptials live. Funny how citizens of a republic love a Royal do, isn't it?

Although not all of them. I love the quote from the lady in Tea & Sympathy (a British shop in NY), who says 'I gotta tell you – I don't give two sh!ts.'

I think I might give enough of a sh!t to get up a little early and see what's going on. But 5am in Times Square is a bridge too far.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Side effects may include dry mouth, nausea and seizures...

....but what price 'feeling like myself again'?

In the US, if you sit and watch TV for an hour, you'll probably see at least three ads for prescription drugs. They usually start by suggesting you're terribly ill with some rather broad symptoms. For example, 'Feeling anxious and tense?' (Well yes, I think, I'm waiting for the judging on America's Next Top Model, of course I'm anxious!). Or 'Is tiredness holding you back?' (Indeed, that's the reason I've been lying on the sofa eating chips and salsa for the last hour... it isn't laziness at all...).

The ads baffle me for two reasons:
1. 'Ask your Doctor if it's right for you'. I can't imagine going to my slightly abrupt, average-of-12-minutes-per-consultation GP, and asking for a drug I like the look of. The NHS aren't really into self-diagnosis, and because you're not paying the Doctor for their services, they don't have to be polite about it either.

2. The side effects. I mean does anyone really see an ad for something which 'may cause bleeding, heart attacks or death' and think 'Oooh, I want some of that'?

For the benefits of my British readers, here are some examples pulled from YouTube.

Here's an ad about a drug which causes dry mouth, nausea and seizures but left this nice lady 'feeling like myself again'. Presumably she was a thirsty, fitting puker in her former life.

This ad turns the usual formula (sell hard, then warn of sideeffects) on its head. Instead it goes into lots of detail on side-effects, and then sells the drug - 'celebrex has never been taken off the market!' it trumpets. Seriously, that's the selling point.

We're going with Hulu Plus and Apple TV all the way in Rabbit Hutch Towers, so all those moving suggestions of illness and cures are a diversion I now miss. I feel better already!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chelsea Dog Show

When I walk out of the front door of Rabbit Hutch Towers, there are usually one or two dogs outside the building. They're usually also, by the way, pretty cute. By the time I reach the end of the block, I'll have passed another half a dozen. And in the space of a ten minute walk, I'll probably pass thirty dogs. Here in Chelsea they are typically nice looking dogs, often sporting a natty little dog jacket, or at least a stylish collar and lead.

I'd say on average, for every two people, I see one dog. I wanted to take photos of them all. I had in mind an experiment where I took a photo of every dog I saw within one block of our place. But TLOML's camera is on the blink so that will have to wait.

Instead here is some more evidence of canine population density:

This is a map of my immediate neighbourhood, roughly a 10-15 minute radius around Rabbit Hutch Towers. Every red dot on this map is a pet shop. Allow me to count them for you.

 Twenty two. That's right, there are 22 pet shops within a ten minute walk from my front door.

This is a shop down the road in the West Village, which is run by a lady who paints pet portraits. And that is her business. Incredible. I get that someone could make a nice supplementary income painting pet portraits, sure. But enough to run an actual shop off the back of it? They wouldn't buy it on Dragon's Den (aka Shark Tank in the US), that's for sure.

And yet right here in New York, where apartments are famously miniscule and shop rents presumably pretty damn high, there are enough pet dogs to make Mimi's shop a perfectly viable business.

So my question of the day is, given that people are living in rabbit hutches, where on earth do all these dogs live?

I know of a luxury building (in MiMA funnily enough) where they have a dog gym complete with treadmill. Perhaps New York's dirty dog secret is a large battery-hen-style facility where all these dogs live, being picked up to parade through Chelsea once a day. If not, perhaps that will be my Dragon's Den idea... there's definitely a market for it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A taste of home

Not so long ago I was musing about the availability of pork pies in New York. Imagine my delight and surprise on stumbling across Myers of Keswick, about ten minutes walk from Rabbit Hutch Towers.

They stock pork pie and gala pie, sausage rolls and scotch eggs, and pasties too. The scotch eggs looked a bit anaemic so we picked up a sausage roll which was actually a bit greasy. TLOML went mad on the Walkers crisps too. They also stock Liquorice Allsorts, Digestives, Robinson's Squash, and oooh!, I could go on... So many of the tastes of home.

For a moment I was like a dog in a dog park (maybe it's the Chelsea effect, but that resonates more than 'a kid in a sweet shop' with me right now).

But then I reminded myself that I am living in the city which produces the best hot dogs, pizza slices and bagels in the world. Isn't it a shame to be at home munching on a custard cream when I could be heading to Doughnut Plant for something I won't be able to get for love nor money in England? (I'm talking specifically of their creme brulee doughnut). Likewise, in LA, I was so happy to be able to get proper, legit tortilla chips I didn't miss Seabrooks salt'n'vinegar crisps at all.

I think my motto is: if you can't (easily) get the food you love, love the food you can (easily) get.

There are some exceptions to this rule. These are the three food stuffs worth trekking to an obscure grocers and/ or paying a massive premium for:
  1. Patum Pepperium anchovy relish, because I don't think there is an American anchovy paste designed just for a gentleman's toast
  2. Yorkshire Tea, because Liptons sucks. You need about 3 bags to get a cup of tea that would make my Northern friends say 'eeeh, when I were that weak they stayed up wi' me all night!'.
  3. Salad cream, because it really and truly does not exist in America. Shame! How do they make a decent egg sandwich? I have never tried an egg sandwich here for fear it will be made with mayo...
And as you know, I'm prepared to bake what I cannot find for a special occasion. The hot cross buns are the highlight of my breakfast still.

But for the rest - the wispas, sherbert lemons and mini-cheddars - I've found ample American snacks equally as delicious and empty of nutritional value. And for the good stuff, they really know how to do comfort food over here. Heinz Baked beans? I stick with BBQ beans, thank you. Fish finger sarnie? I'll take a lobster roll. Yup, I'll cope.
A gentleman's relish worth packing

There is, however, one taste of home I take wherever I go. I've listened to it at home in Malibu and New York, and trips to Jackson Hole and Aspen, and on travels as far afield as Hawaii and Japan. The setting sometimes made the listening material seem bizarre at first, but within seconds I was transported the heart of Borsetshire.

That's right, The Archers. Not a food but essential daily consumption nonetheless. Unmissable and completely irreplaceable. I take it everywhere I go. They just don't make daily 15 minute radio soap operas about farmers over here, you see.

White Gloves

When we were apartment hunting in New York, TLOML and I scoffed at ads which made a point of stating a 'white glove building.' Having lived all my life with no white gloved doorman, I was pretty sure I could survive a little longer without.

Apparently I am not alone in this. According to this dude, quoted in the NY Observer, "Tenants are sacrificing living conditions. They are leaving doorman buildings and going into elevator buildings." Oh, the horror!

Well, having given up a place on stilts over the Pacific, where it was sunny 350 days a year, I think we're the embodiment of 'sacrificing living conditions'. An elevator building? Heck, we'd take a walk-up.  (Walk-ups, i.e. buildings without elevators where you actually have to walk up stairs to get to your apartment, are the lowest of the low here. Although, again, having lived without an elevator in my home till now, I could definitely struggle on without one).

So TLOML and I looked at walk-ups, elevator buildings and white glove buildings alike, without prejudice. We took our place in Rabbit Hutch Towers because of the brilliant location, the absence of a broker's fee, and the fact that panic had set in, frankly.

So the doormen are a bonus - but I'm already enjoying them.

They don't wear white gloves, but they do wear a rather smart khaki that chimes nicely with the lobby's autumnal decor. They are all named something-beginning-with J, which is convenient as it makes it easier to remember their names. And if you forget you can just mumble 'Jer-um-ahem-son' and it will work. They are unfailing smiley and cheery and of average, or above average, attractiveness. They have the kind of faces you are happy to see.

The Js email us when a package arrives - no more coming home to find a box has been sitting on the doormat all day getting damp with Malibu sea mist. They send our drycleaning and our mail out. And when we have cardboard boxes to dispose of, we call them and they send a janitor up to take them away. Actually, even if we don't call, a recent experiment confirmed that if we leave the boxes outside for more than 4 hours, they get taken away. This for me is the height of luxury.

Frankly I'm starting to wonder how we will ever cope without them when we move to London, a city devoid of white gloves.

Yesterday they had a basket with little Easter bunny chocolates in on the front desk. In order to justify our exorbitant rent, we took down a couple each.  As TLOML said, 'If you imagine these are worth $100 each, our rent starts to look almost reasonable'.

I suppose the key to living in a white glove building is to make the very most of those white gloves, or else you'll just resent them. I might give Jerry, Jason or Julio a call and see if they wouldn't mind popping up and helping me finish the crossword.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


High excitement here at Rabbit Hutch Towers. We are involved with a butcher. A proper one too!

When we were in LA I had just assumed there were no butchers in America. The closest I found was the counter at Bristol Farms, or the meat stand at Malibu Farmers' Market. The Bristol Farms guy might represent himself as a butcher, but he's operating within a supermarket, which just demeans the whole thing for me. And the Farmers' Market stand, while they get brownie points for telling you the provenance of the meat, are selling it all vacuum packed up.

Perhaps at this point a definition of a butcher would be helpful.

butch·er [boo ch-er] - noun
1. a retail or wholesale dealer in meat.
2. a person who slaughters certain animals, or who dresses the flesh of animals, fish or poultry, food or market.
3. a person guilty of brutal or indiscriminate slaughter or murder.
4. a vendor who hawks newspapers, candy, beverages, etc., as on a train, at a stadium, etc.

Props to and all but I think 4 is just nonsense. And to be clear, I wasn't thinking so much of 3. either.

I'm talking about that guy who slaughters, dresses and sells good meat. You know, the dude who tells you where it's from and how to cook it, and who'll debone it for you too. So, by butcher, I mean the kind of place you wander into with a vague idea of cooking something meaty, and come away with a hunk of meat whose parentage you know, and a recipe, and probably 8 rashers of bacon too just it looked good.

Hello Dickson's of Chelsea Market!

I went in with Easter Sunday roast lamb in mind. I came out with lamb riblets - which I'd never heard of, so thanks Mr Butcher for the cooking tips - and 4 pork sausages.

Now that's what I call a proper butcher.

A Machine for Living

New York is truly, to steal Le Corbusier's phrase, a machine for living.

It's not like London where some streets seemed to happen by accident, and the many inconveniences of living in a large, populous city are tolerated with a bit of stiff upper lip. Or like Los Angeles which is just a big impractical sprawl - but no-one minds because the weather is gorgeous and everyone's so jolly good looking.

New York is brilliantly designed to be dense, and efficient, and it works. The street grid systems is the most obvious example, and I love how easy to navigate that makes Manhattan. I've also come to appreciate the way you get a green man every alternative light change: in London you can watch a set of lights change 4 times before you get to cross. It's no-one's fault, it's just London was invented before anyone meant to live in cities, and one-way systems were the stuff of a mad man's dreams.

As for those cool puffs of steam that escape the pavement and look all uber New Yorky: it's true! They really are the output of a city-wide underground heating system. Installed in the 1880s, at a time when a city London gent would have his maid light the gas lamp so she could see well enough to put a proper polish on the grate.

The next block from our rabbit hutch is filled with a massive fortress-like building which we called The Castle, until I investigated further. It's actually London Terrace, a 1930s apartment building that was the biggest in the world when it was built, comprising 1665 apartments, an acre of gardens, a building-wide intercom system, a free page-boy service, a roofdeck furnished like the deck of a grand ocean liner, and doormen dressed like London Bobbies. I suspect Mandel, the guy behind all this, was of the 'if you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly' school of thought.

(Unfortunately London Terrace was completed to neatly coincide with the worst years of the Great Depression: Mandel went bankrupt and threw himself off the top of the building. Untimely death and financial ruin aside, it was an impressive achievement.)

It's not just the grand scale and the feats of engineering. It's the little things, like umbrella stands in doorways, and coat checks (non-existent in LA). Or the number of people - myself included - who use an old-lady shopping trolley, for practical reasons. The whole city is just imminently, unashamedly practical, it seems to me. It works.

That said, it's pouring with rain outside. I had planned to go on a nice long walk today. But they haven't yet installed the city-wide rain shield. One day...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hot cross happy ending

For those of you who've had a sleepless night worrying about my hot cross bun situation... allow me to provide a pictorial summary of my Good Friday.

8am. Wake up with a cold sense of impending disappointment. There's no way those Amy's Bread ones will be any good. I will have to mobilize the fallback plan. Hurry to Gristedes, our nearest and coincidentally most down-at-heel grocery, in search of the missing ingredient: mixed peel.
'Mixed peel' is what I wanted - rainbow coloured is what I got.

9am. Start the inevitable googling required when translating UK recipes for use in the US: grams into cups, substitutes for fresh yeast, etc etc. I'm getting good at this now, after learning the hard way.

10am. Toast the Amy's Bread buns, after picking the icing off. They are okay, but they toast a bit crispily, a bit too close to brioche. And they are way too round, like little hillocks, not nice squashy buns.

10.30am. Make my dough while on mute on a conference call, and leave it to rise. While it rises I pick the weird violent green bits out of the so-called 'Old English' mixed peel.

2pm. The dough has risen and the mixed peel filtered. I knead in the raisins and make some proper non-icing crosses and leave them to prove. Whatever that is.
 3pm. How will I know they have proven (proofed? proved?)?

3.30pm. Decide if they haven't proved by now they never will. Time to bake. Start slagging off our new gas oven, as pre-emptive scapegoating move in case of bun failure.

4pm. Gloat to TLOML about how amazing my proper hot cross buns are.

4.10pm. Post this. And in case you're wondering, no, Good Friday is not a holiday in the US. So in between this production I did some important thought leadership and contributed to a number of gripping teleconferences. Another tough day in the office.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The mystery of the $20 juice

I cruised down to Chelsea Market today with TLOML in search of quality hot cross buns - or the ingredients to make my own. As I mentioned yesterday, I had some concerns about the quality of hot cross bun I might find.

We found some at Amy's Bread which are about half right. They smell fairly legit, but I can't quite get over the icing. However will I toast them? We bought them anyway, but as a fallback I decided to buy ingredients to make my own. I don't want to be found wanting for good hot cross buns on Good Friday.

So we headed to the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, a brilliant no frills store (cash only, tiny narrow aisles) which sells 8 different types of onion and tubs of spice for about $2 a pop. We were kinda shocked when our little basket of flour, yeast, some fruit and a bottle of juice resulted in a bill north of $60.

Why was it so expensive?
We're about $7 in so far.

This innocent looking juice is the culprit. We tossed it in the basket without looking at the price. I know we've got a wedding to save for and we've sworn off expensive sushi for a while, but we're not yet comparison-shopping our juice.

Well that's about to change. This 100% tangerine juice cost $20. Twenty whole dollars! I've drunk champagne that costs less. And that came in a pretty glass bottle too.
More bang for your buck

The mystery here is how on earth can a bottle of juice cost $20? I'm hoping it was made from tangerines which were raised in greenhouses made of crystal and misted daily with Evian. Cherubim and seraphim selected and picked the fruit one by one, and carried them in baskets made of feathers and clouds to a band of virgins who sang lullabies as they carefully peeled each tangerine before carefully squeezing the juice using their firm thighs.

If not I want my money back.

PS The juice is damn good.

Hot Cross Bun Surprise

Surprise! NYC does not sell proper hot cross buns. I had no idea they were so English, or at least, that the American version is so different.

I did a little hunting on chowhound and it seems there are a number of quality bakers who sell them. But I'm a little concerned by reviews saying things like 'I love the cardamon flavour' or references to pineapple icing. Frankly I'm not sure we're talking about the same food stuff.

Here's a photo of the offering from William Greenberg on Madison. Look! the cross is made of icing! Horrors.


I will give the good artisan bakers of Chelsea Market a whirl this afternoon. Otherwise I suspect I will have to roll my sleeves up and bake 'em myself. If I do, I will use this recipe from the brilliant and thorough Felicity Cloake.

Last night I dreamt...

...that I was posting on my blog.

Wish I could remember what I had written, I feel like it was a good one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New York, you do not surprise me

Not much anyway.

When I first moved to LA I was constantly being surprised. My eyebrows were raised at every corner. I had no idea the beaches would be so wide and so clean, or the mountains so green and so beautiful and so close, or the gardens of old Hollywood so lush.

New York, by contrast, is mostly unsurprising. The fleet of yellow cabs, the puffs of steam escaping the pavement, the pretzel stands, they're just as one imagines. It really looks just like it does in the movies. Which is nice, as it made me feel at home straight away. Last night TLOML and I passed a lovely building I thought I knew. After wondering for a moment, I confirmed it was the Public Library. I recognised it from Breakfast at Tiffany's, you see.
Feel like you know this building, even if you never been there in person? Me too.

I walked to the office* at Madison Square today, and on my way I passed the Flat Iron building and had a great view of the Empire State building. I glanced at them without even really seeing them, so familiar were they to me. New York really is just as one would expect.
Every intersection looks like this. No surprises.

There are a couple of exceptions though. These are the aspects of New York that truly surprise me:
1. The sheer number of dogs. The ratio of dogs to people. The ratio of dogs to open spaces, for that matter. Surprises me every time I leave the building.
2. People are not rude**, spiky or crazy like they are in the movies. Who knew?! Someone should send a memo to Hollywood telling them so.
3. No garbage disposal. Apparently they were banned for a while. Shame, as I think garbage disposals is one of the top ten brilliant things America has given the world. They are the height of kitchen luxury in my view. I miss mine already.

If I learn anything surprising about New York I will be sure to post immediately. Otherwise I'm afraid there's a risk that this blog will just be me confirming a series of well worn cliches about New York. I can't help it if they're all true!


*The rabbit hutch really is too small for two people to work all day together. Yesterday TLOML told me the sound of me typing was 'bouncing back at him'. So I gave him a break from the clatter of my keyboard and the chatter of my calls, and went into the office.

**Except the other people who live in our building who, judging by what I've seen in the lift, are a bunch of exercise fanatics and dog-crazy loners. But that's just my first impression...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lost in Translation (or Searching for Todgers in Texas)

This weekend I searched for 'Chelsea Antiques Market', using Google voice search on TLOML's  fancy phone.
'Sex positions' it responded.

Really. Which is at least less obscure than the result I got when I used it to search for 'Aveda Santa Monica'.
'Penis Texas', came back the search term. With quite a few results, I might add.

This begs a couple of questions.
1. Is my English accent really so incomprehensible? (for more on how Google mangles voices into lunatic phrases, see this post by Hemingway Holly aka The Euro)
And 2. Doesn't Google work on an algorithm based on popular search terms and similar results? In which case, I have to ask, is 'penis texas' really so popular? Haven't these people heard of Craig's List's Casual Encounters?

I suppose it all boils down to the funny way we English speak English.

9 out of 10 Americans will, on hearing an English girl introduce themselves as Katie, say 'Hi Casey' in response.
There's something about that hard British 't' that they just can't handle. And presumably Casey (Kacey? KC? Kaycee?) is just as common a name here as the imminently more sensible and less made-up Katie.

At JFK recently I asked a kiosk lady for water. As in 'war-ter', English style. After she said 'huh?' and I repeated myself three times, I finally relented and said 'waarduh'. 'Oh, waarduh!' she said, handing me my Aquafina and rolling her eyes like I was the idiot. Harumph.

Since then I've started adjusting my accent, so now I always ask for waarduh. I'll know I've lost the battle entirely when I start adopting my totally unconvincing American accent for Google voice search too.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Flea and bedbug market

TLOML and I hit the fleamarket scene hard yesterday. There is a risk attached to this, given the New York bedbug epidemic. Our building is certified bedbug free, and there would be massive shame attached to being the new residents whose flea market rug, say, was the carrier for a bedbug infestation. We are considering asking other friends to provide evidence that their home is bedbug free before meeting them. No-one wants to be 'those bedbug people.'

That said, there's only so much IKEA our little rabbit hutch can take. And we still need stuff. Although we won't be in NY for long, we don't want to feel like we're camping. And for me the difference between camping and actually living somewhere is the presence of a nightstand.

So... meet our new fleamarket nightstands: 
$25 for a nightstand in the shape of a tiny chair... a bargain

TLOML splashed out $40 on his tin solider box. Worth every penny for the masculine touch it brings the bedroom.
While we were at the Chelsea Antiques Garage, dodging fleas, men with green beards, and hallucinatorily awful art, we also kept our eyes peeled for a room divider. Something that would cunningly hide our desks from our living room area, and make us feel like we did not live in a rabbit hutch. So we found this cool shuttered screen, which makes it at least feel like a charmingly bijou rabbit hutch:

Something tells me we will never get around to sanding and repainting... shabby chic, or summat.
And on the advice of a good friend, we cleaned every inch of these pieces with Lysol wipes. Apparently it kills the bedbug eggs. Though surely if it were that simple, New York would not be overrun?

The efficacy of our bedbug precautions is yet to be known. Rest assured, dear reader, if I wake up itching all over, you will be the first to know. After TLOML that is.

Speaking of TLOML, he is of the opinion that the possession that marks the line between camping and living is a wine fridge. So as I type he's u-hauling it to Brooklyn in search of a Craig's List bargain.

I think we're almost actually living here!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Reinventing Hell's Kitchen

"They call it 42nd Street because you're not safe if you spend more than forty seconds on it."

The brilliant name Hell's Kitchen provides a not-so-subtle nod to the area's unsavoury reputation. Apparently back in the day some people (the kind that property developers want to attract, anyway) found the moniker rather off-putting. So in the 60s it was rebranded as Clinton. Clinton: makes one think of wedding cake buildings, the sax, and cherry blossom. Or is that just me? Anyway, it sounds way more salubrious than Hell's Kitchen.

And yet there's something about the gritty ring of Hell's Kitchen that is strangely more appealing. The name has stuck and I suspect will stick forever. No-one really calls it Clinton. Except perhaps to say 'That neighbourhood they're calling Clinton... you know, Hell's Kitchen.'

Which makes me wonder what bureaucratic hoops had to be jumped to have the non-existent neighbourhood of Clinton feature this prominently on the NY map:

Clinton - up there with Times Square and Central Park as an iconic NY destination.
The latest in real estate rebranding in Manhattan is MiMA. As in 'the Middle of Manhattan'. It's actually kind of a genius name, and the branding is pretty smart too. It almost fooled me.

 Till TLOML and I looked into an apartment there. Anyone who can read a map knows that MiMA is actually 'that noisy dirty part of Hell's Kitchen where the Port Authority is'.
Having lived in an area of London which estate agents called Highgate Slopes I will not be fooled. Far from being on the fringe of leafy green historic Highgate village, it was actually the heart of dirty, cheap Archway. And I was never convinced by the large posters in Holborn declaring it 'London's Midtown'. Given that London has neither an uptown, nor a downtown, that was never going to work.

What I want to know is... who on earth does fall for this shtick?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Silly and sillier

I often referred to LA, affectionately, as somewhat silly. And thought that New York was a more serious place altogether. This rather simplistic opinion was confirmed on our first night here in NY at our local bistro. There were more heads of curly hair, pairs of spectacles, and polo necks in the Red Cat that night than in all the restaurants in Malibu put together. And not a permatan in sight. 'Gosh,' thought I, 'How clever everyone is, how serious, and how grown up.'

Happily I have now begun to realise that this is not the case. Chelsea is every bit as silly as Malibu, but just in a different way. I think the difference is that Chelsea is selfconscious enough to know it is silly.

Exhibit A: Check out this cunning new addition to our block. Cute, huh? And daft too.

Exhibit B: Our new favourite restaurant declares itself to be 'by artists, for artists'. On entry we were greeted by this large photo of a nearly naked ladyboy.
I took this photo from outside on the street in case he minded me taking a photo of his bottom. Which in retrospect was unnecessary. He clearly does not mind at all.

Only to then be greeted by the very same guy. Fully dressed this time. Disconcerting to see someone's naked arse before you see their face, but hey, that's Chelsea.

Exhibit C: There are just as many silly tiny little dogs out here. Back in LA they were carried in posh bags by women with big fake boobs. Here they travel in pairs, sometimes three of them, scuttling along the pavement alongside burly men with big (fake? I'm sure it can be done) biceps. Yes, the chiuauas of Chelsea are dafter even than those of Hollywood.

And just as I loved Los Angeles for - not despite - it's daftness, I love Chelsea the same way. Bring on the posturing, the edgy art, the downright silliness. Shades of Shoreditch... but are the idiots winning?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Best things... small packages... really?

Having moved into a shoebox, I no longer believe the maxim.

We're paying 20% more for a place which is not even on stilts over the Pacific (I know, your heart bleeds for us doesn't it?). What's worse it is less than half the size of our beach pad. Ouch.

TLOML and I asked a New Yorker 'Isn't this crazily small? Aren't we paying an insanely high rent?' and she shook her head sagely and said with an air of resignation, 'This is what a New York one bedroom is like'.

Then she gave TLOML and I a look of pure pity for all the time we spent in California being softened up, and accumulating possessions a New Yorker would never dream of. The surfboard and the oversized clubchair are just two examples of things that almost literally don't fit into our apartment.

Still, living in a box is at least forcing us to be creative. Windowsills serve as bookshelves, and a much loved painting we have no space to hang is being used as a sort of screen around my desk. Our funky old medicine cabinet is being converted into a spice rack, which will practically double the kitchen storage space.

I like moving in somewhere, organising, establishing a system of sorts and hanging art. So I'm enjoying these little creative moments very much. But the shoebox just isn't getting any bigger.

Every time I leave the apartment or even look out of the window, I say 'I love New York!'. And with roughly the same frequency I'm coining the cheering phrase 'We won't be here forever!'. I say it every time I have to use my entire body weight to close the doors of what has become known as The Cupboard of Doom. (2 Malibu closets into 1 New York closet just doesn't go).

Still saying I love New York though...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Moving on... up?

Sometimes in life you have to move backwards to move forwards. Which is why TLOML and I have moved from the easy life in our roomy Malibu beach pad to a rabbit hutch.

New York is where TLOML’s dreams of world domination (in a purely business sense) will come true. And my dreams of living in a city, with noise and people and things I can walk to, will come true.

The world domination part is a work in progress. But I’m already living my dream. Within one block of our apartment – oh! Pause for joyous reflection! We live in a block! (There were no blocks in Malibu). Anyway, yes, within one block of our new pad is a great boozer called the Half King*, a tapas place, a French bistro which spearheaded the Chelsea restaurant gentrification era 12 years ago, a little Izakaya, a place called the Drunken Horse which does great cheese and wine, an old school Italian, and an exposed brick and scrubbed oak gastropub. And these are just the places which were buzzingly busy on Saturday night. So the street outside our little rabbit hutch is pretty promising.

What’s more, within 10 blocks is the legendary Pastis, Chelsea Market for proper cheese, bread and good meat, and Morimoto which just might replace Nobu as our local sushi joint.

As we explore the new ‘hood I’m uttering ‘I LOVE New York!’ at every corner. I just hope the residents of Chelsea provide me as much entertainment as the good people of Malibu did. Will we miss Dick Van Dyke and the Malibu Barbies? Something tells me they will be quickly forgotten as they are replaced by our new neighbours: mainly large burly men walking toy dogs with little dog outfits… we’re talking sunglasses and little Barbour jackets. I fully expect to see a French bulldog in a sailor suit the next time I step out of our building.

*The Half King describes itself as 'a bar owned by writers'. Which I think is a rather selfconscious way to describe a bar, even if it's true. And it's owned by Sebastian Junger, so it is true. This could be the kick my writing career needs. Perhaps through osmosis, I might soak up some of Junger's literary success. This is my excuse to cosy into the Half King on a nightly basis. It is, by the way, a great bar. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Focus focus focus ceramics belts pork and focus

I feel that my blog is losing focus.

It was meant to be about writing. I intended to blog all about my attack on the literary scene. Sure, I'd oil the machine with some sassy cultural observations, but the main thrust would be about my writing.

As weapons in my armory for this attack, I have a couple of brilliant, almost complete short stories, a novel called The Book of Ruth and of course my cool online interactive novel Face the Consequences. I hoped to use these and Transatlantic Tales to flag down some passing agents - ultimately so I can get a deal for my novel Erosion. I pictured myself dusting off those short stories, submitting them to the New Yorker and documenting the process in a concentrated fashion in my literary blog.

And yes, I'm assuming that the unblogged endeavour just doesn't have the same chance of success. That's the only explanation that makes sense for all those depressing (weird, as they should be cheering) weight loss and debt repayment blogs.

Face the Consequences - a new 'choose your own' adventure

The Book of Ruth, as narrated by God to Isadora Watts

This grand plan has gone wrong. Instead I am blogging about eating, drinking and moving house. And that's because I'm being restrained. Trust me, it could be even more scattered. I find myself writing blog posts in my mind - which thankfully don't see the light of day - on topics as random and trivial as my love of small ceramic jugs (including a digressive paragraph on the ones without handles) and the recent rediscovery of a favourite red belt I haven't worn for 5 years (obi-style!).

Other, better blogs are far more concentrated. My love of blogs begins and ends with Fashion Toast, which is essentially photos of Rumi Neely looking pouty in various vintage outfits. I look at it daily and know exactly what I will find when I do. Very satisfying. The Euro aka Hemingway Holly is firing witty continental barbs at the silliness of Los Angeles: a subject vast enough to provide the sole content of a hilarious blog. My smart friend Soph blogs on Babes with Babies about being a gorgeous glamourous mother, which is both focused and pretty aspirational. And a new favourite is Little Brown Pen, which consists solely of colour-study photos of Paris.

So I think I need to shape up. Stop chit chatting about eggs and ham and Skymall, and channel a laser-sharp beam directly at literary adventures.

Sigh. The thing is, I just had this amazing gingered pork belly with brussels sprout slaw (TLOML and I are going out of California with a bang, in Napa), and did so want to tell you all about it... And that red obi belt deserves an entry all of its own... I can't make any promises people. I guess I'm just not the laser-sharp focus type.

PS Just tagged this post and am ashamed to realise this is the first time I have labelled anything with 'writing'. Says it all, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eggs and ham

I have just spent 40 minutes reading this rather elaborate recipe for gala pie on the Guardian site. Any picture of ham, eggs or pastry on my favourite UK news site will immediately distract me from the actual news.

It took me 40 minutes to read, because I spent 15 minutes doing a careful study of the instructions and the photos. Decided it was too elaborate - boiling pigs trotters, crimping pastry, etc. Probably not worth the effort.

Then spent 5 minutes gazing into space thinking about pork pie and scotch eggs.

Spent 10 minutes re-reading the recipe. It still looks elaborate but totally worthwhile.

Then spent 10 minutes googling butchers in NY who can supply pigs trotters. And trying to decide how to explain to TLOML that we need to buy a pastry crimper, funnel, pie dish, hand mincer and palette knife to equip our NY kitchen (I predict "sweetie, we're in New York, we don't need to cook! and we're moving back to London in 6 months" in response).

In case you're wondering, gala pie is a pork pie with eggs in it. Like a scotch egg in a pie, sort of. Party time!

I want to make this pie. Badly. I suspect the upshot will be:
 Time spent researching and shopping: 3 hours
 Time spent cooking: 2 hours
 Time spent eating: 20 minutes
And it doesn't put me off one little bit...

Some pictorial explanations for my American readership:
Gala pie. A porkpie with an egg in it.

Pork pie. A gala pie without the egg.

Scotch egg. Egg wrapped in sausagemeat and deepfried.
Party egg. Like a scotch egg but the egg is chopped. Then wrapped in sausagemeat and deepfried.

Doctor My Eyes

In  Britain I buy contact lenses on the internet. No questions asked.

I put in the prescription I half-remember from an eye test back in the 90s. At the time my optician said, in a no-nonsense British healthcare kind of way, 'your prescription probably won't change now till you hit your 40s.' So I went merrily on my way and just order lenses online every few months.

I now have to order them in the UK and get my mother to forward them on. This system has recently broken down.

First I ordered the exact opposite of my prescription - i.e. I asked for +3.25 instead of -3.25. It took me three tries to realise there was some reason why I could see with phenomenal clarity anything 2 inches from my nose and the rest of the world was a blur. The dangers of keying in a barely remembered prescription I guess. Then the re-order has got lost in the mail.

Thus, I'm stuck in sunny California with no lenses, which means I can't wear sunglasses and am squinting. Not a good look.

And in litigation-scared America, you can't  buy lenses without proof of a recent prescription. Scaredy cats. Talk about mollycoddling...

So TLOML recommended I took out his insurance policy where you pay $200 and get an eye test and a year's worth of lenses. But in a weirdly inflexible way, you can only start the policy on the 1st of the month. I just don't have the patience, plus I object to buying insurance. I'm British, goddamnit.

Hence my frenzied googling of 'cheapest eye test in San Francisco'. Which lead me here:
That's right, my new optician is inside Costco. Handy if you want to pick up a year's supply of Craisins or an enormous sack of cheese puffs on your way out.

Cheap, quick and slightly dirty. Now that's what I call healthcare.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hidden treasures in San Francisco

San Francisco is very tourist friendly in many ways, with its jangling trams and its photogenic hills and bridges. The people are friendly too. I was invited to a party by a nice homeless chap just yesterday (I declined).

But like all good cities, this openness is just a facade. San Francisco is a city where fortune truly favours the brave. The best places to eat and drink are secret gems, hidden behind entirely unpromising facades. This is confusing for me as I have become used to Los Angeles, where the good restaurants have big flashing lights saying 'Awesome restaurant!!!', long lines, valet parking, and a guard of honour comprised of go-go girls to greet you.

In a few short funpacked days in San Francisco, we have dined supremely well at places which, frankly, I did not like the look of.

Take Yuet Lee, for example. Doesn't look all that, does it?
 Au contraire. They serve damn good crispy seafood noodles, pretty generous with the seafood. We had two portions, though that may be a result of the time spent in Specs bar.
Actually, Specs bar kinda ruins my 'Hidden treasures' theory, because it is just as divey on the inside as it looks on the outside.

So, on to Suppenkuche, which apparently serves German food so great you have to get there at 4.50pm in order to get a table for dinner. I know, I didn't warm to the idea either. But our hosts are experts in the area of good food and fixin's, so we took it on trust.

When we were standing outside this entrance, I started to have some doubts. It just doesn't scream "great, hot place to eat", does it?
Again, I was happily mistaken. If you like an enormous range of excellent German beers, top quality bratwurst, roast pork, spatzle and all that other good stuff, you will be repaid for being trepidatious and going inside.
Suppenkuche goodstuff evidence

On the way home from Suppenkuche we went to this great bar. That's right, behind that frontage which looks like an 'fax and mail' place that has fallen into disuse.
Guess what?! It was outstanding. Like being in an actual pirates ship. We just popped in for a quick drink and stayed for somewhere north of 18 rum cocktails. Check out the bewildering, inviting and impressive cocktail list on the Smuggler's Cove website (you have to register but it's worth it for a nosy): if it doesn't give you a thirst for some grog, you're weird.

Given all this evidence, I should have been less cautious about Monday's dining choice: Shalimar. But again, it met the SF gem requirements of looking rather unwelcoming.
Oh my, this place is damn good! Bring a beer from the liquor store next door, order up as many plates as can fit on the table, and imagine yourself in a more exotic land. (Mind you Polk Street is exotic enough). The plates are granny's finest but don't let that put you off.

So when I heard we were going to eat at a place called Hog and Rocks in the famously grungy Mission, I knew it would be good. And it was. 10 portions of ham (from Iowa's finest to Jamon Serrano), and 30 - count 'em - Kusshi oysters between the 4 of us prove it.

The silly thing about this whole adventure is that we are staying in Casa Gallego, courtesy of the two best cooks in the city - and we haven't eaten a single bite of their cooking. But when the shady alleyways and scuzzy doorways of San Francisco are so inviting... it's hard to stay home.