I began my weekend visit to the Parents Chan by riding a series of commuter trains up to Connecticut with the Princeton Madam (not her real nickname… yet!), 2 bottles of red and a cheap corkscrew. Sadly for the commuters, the quiet reading car was the only one with room for us. Amidst the sombre library quiet of paperback pages turning, our styrofoam cups did a poor job of concealing what we were doing. After a while, we didn’t hear any pages turning. I’d like to think that meant we were saying (yelling?) some pretty interesting stuff. Or at least cursing in a fun enough way. Pros that we were, the Princeton Madam and I finished our first bottle of wine just before we had to switch trains. We congratulated ourselves as we deposited the bag with empty bottle into a recyclables bin on the platform. Remember those shape-sorting toys for babies? That bin had a glass bottles hole that was perfectly shaped for a wine bottle. I guess if any commuter train catered to winos, it would be the Connecticut commuter train! It wasn’t until we were comfortably ensconced in our seats on the new train that we realized we had thrown the cheap corkscrew away. It had been in the bag with the first bottle. Luckily, we were part of the MacGyver generation and not to be deterred by the mere lack of real tools. Using an ingenious combo of a ballpoint pen, a tube of lip balm and a plastic bag (don’t ask), we were able to open our second bottle for the rest of our ride up to family-land before we parted ways.

At first, my parents seemed like they would be a much better influence on me. I helped the mama water and sun her potted bamboo plants, picked fresh veggies from my aunt and uncle’s amazing terraced, hanging garden and relaxed by the pool. But I quickly found out where my partying genes came from. Out at dinner the first night, my parents pulled out a flask of Remy Martin X.O. and poured it into teacups while whistling innocently. I don’t think it fooled the waiters since the air above our table was wavy from alcohol fumes, but they knew better than to question the mama and the papa! They were a teensy bit better behaved the next night since we dined at home. They did, however, bust out a fancy pants bottle of wine (so fancy the bottle came in its own sleek silver canister) which they had saved for this weekend. One glass in, we got inspired to dress up in tradish garb for dinner because a family friend had just given me a cheongsam for my birthday. My mom almost stabbed me in the head while excitedly sticking chopsticks into my hair to “decorate” me. Whoa mama! (Come on, I had to say that.)

Partying wasn’t the only thing I inherited from these crazy cats though. At the end of the day, they are both astoundingly good cooks. For the joint birthday dinner (my daddy’s and mine), mommy-pants went all out. She sauteed green beans and pale eggplants freshly plucked from the hanging garden, made simple-but-scrumptious salted fry ups of shrimp and steak and tested a new chicken with seaweed dish. Feast your eyes on the pics below. My goodness, life is beautiful!


My Big Fat Fake Birthday

I’m a September baby, but you wouldn’t know it since I had my birthday party this past weekend. It all began when four of my august friends (see what I did there?) banded together to plan a group celebration at Le Lupanar. “It’ll be fun,” they gushed to each other. “We can take over the place and dance all night and…” “Ok-ok-ok, I’m in!!” I sighed like they had been begging me to join for ages (simply ages, dah-ling). Four pairs of eyes swiveled toward me in surprise and they struggled for a polite way to ask 1. who I was and 2. when my birthday was. I switched tactics. “Something something falls on Labor Day, and everybody’s always away that weekend, blah blah pity on me,” I said intelligently. They patted me on the head and told me I could be part of the August birthday party as a pity fifth. Score!

On the day of the party, my good friend Ctina treated me to an early birthday dinner at db townhouse because she knew how much I loved dining there during Restaurant Week. I revisited the Sea Scallops Benedict for the starter, I just had to. The salt-water tang of the scallops melded with the sharper savoriness of thin slices of chorizo sausage, which all got mellowed out by poached quail eggs laying on top. I broke their yolks with my fork and watched deep yellow rivulets slide along the smooth round surface of each scallop, pause at the edge, and then creep over and run thickly down its sides to pool upon the plate. An airy lobster foam completed the dish and melted like a dream in my mouth. I started thinking about how the foam was so light and the quail egg yolk so thick, that they were opposites, and I was simultaneously tasting the air and the earth. Or maybe that was just the wine talking! For my entree, I had seared medium rare tuna on a bed of couscous and tiny grasslike mushrooms. The waitress solemnly poured warm broth over the dish, bathing me and Ctina in a fragrant cloud of lemongrass and beets, light and vegetable sweet. When we somehow found room to attempt dessert, we sampled an Orange Blossom Panna Cotta (heavenly) and a Strawberry Shortcake Sundae (your childhood memories, one-upped by a master chef). True caffeine junkies that we were, we had several cups of coffee before heading out to the birthday party I’d muscled my way into.

Le Lupanar was amazingly fun! I worked for 5-1/2 years in book publishing before Black Wednesday hit, and the night was full of reunions with friends from all of the major houses. It was also a chance to mash all my groups together so that socializing could be easier (I love y’all but I’m lazy, yo). Alas, friendships were not to be forged since, as always, the night devolved into a series of dance-offs. Well. Not dance-offs in the sense that anyone actually knew how to dance. Hence the “off” part of that statement. There we were, publishing nerds in cocktail dresses or button-up shirts and khaki cargo shorts, pretending we knew how to crump. It was quite a sight. Meanwhile, at the bar beyond the dance floor battleground, one friend found a way around my No Shots policy by buying me many gin martinis (straight up with a twist, and I would prefer stirred not shaken, but trying telling that to an intimidating Manhattan bartender). Next time, I may just accept the shots. It would be less alcohol. In my gin-soaked haze, another friend appeared and presented me with a $2 bill upon which he penned a personalized haiku. Fitting, since we’re in the same writing group. Hours of “dancing” later (it feels more honest to include those quote marks), the best present of all arrived in the form of a car ride home. Whoo!

Gosh I wonder what’ll happen in two weeks when it actually is my birthday?

Keep on Truckin’

It began when I was 15. I was walking along the side of the road with a friend, when a truck came tumbling around the corner towards us. Instead of flinching, my friend raised one arm and casually pulled twice, on nothing, in the air. The truck honked twice at us before flying by and showering us in grey road dust. “What was that?” I asked. She shrugged. “It’s just how you get trucks to honk.” That was all it took. For the last 2 years of high school, every chance I got, I used that move to get trucks to honk as they zoomed past me. There was something about the sudden appearance of a truck on the horizon, its equally sudden disappearance to destinations unknown and its brief acknowledgment of me standing on the side, watching it go by. The whirlwind of grit and gravel left in each truck’s wake gave me a taste of the open road long before I’d ever heard of Kerouac. It never lost its thrill.

With as little warning as the first time, trucks re-entered my life this summer in collaboration with another great love, food. Within my first week at my awesome new job, Co-Quirkers introduced me to the famous Calexico cart in SoHo and even taught me how to pronounce it (like the beginning of California and the end of Mexico). West Coast friends celebrated when they learned I finally tasted a “proper” burrito with perfectly al dente’d rice and beans, flavorful pull-apart pork, guac, cream, and the genius finishing touch of pickled red onions! The next week, I ventured further afield to the Bistro Truck for a daily special of lamb and steak served atop a bed of fragrant rice. It was heaven. The meats each had their unique textures. The lamb was tender and fell apart immediately on my tongue. The steak resisted my first bite with its beefy sinews but soon gave in and released a hot, rich broth as I chewed. The flavors were savory but so aromatic that it hinted at sweetness. I inhaled through my mouth as I ate to try to understand where the boundary between taste and smell lay but could not pinpoint where one ended and the other began.

Lest I lose myself in savory reveries, no summer is complete without the sacred ice cream truck. While the Ben & Jerry’s Truck did not play music, they did bring boxes of free Cookie Dough and Peanut Brittle when they visited the Quirky office! And on a mellow evening, the Van Leeuwen truck provided the perfect accompaniment to an after-work stroll in the form of ginger ice cream in a crunchy sugar cone (which is the only way to eat a scoop of ice cream, cups and wafer cones be damned!). Although Wafels & Dinges has ice cream on their menu and has become a weekly Thursday night destination, I have yet to try it. So far, their BBQ Pulled Pork and Bacon & Syrup waffles keep luring me away from the sweet stuff. Eyes on the prize!

Last weekend, the second Food Truck mashup at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea gave me the chance to try a few trucks who don’t frequent my neck of the woods. It also gave a great excuse for an impromptu Random House reunion with the ladies! We may have all found new career paths to pursue, but sound the alarm for a gourmet sidewalk picnic and we’ll make it top priority, gosh darn it. We divided to conquer on lines for the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, Go Burger, and The Krave. Unfortch, the grills were broken for The Krave so we didn’t get to try any Korean BBQ. Then again, the Kobe Hot Dog, BLT Burger, Cheeseburger and skinny fries from Go Burger and the Pork & Chive, Thai Basil & Chicken, and Vegetarian Edamame dumplings from Rickshaw managed to make a pretty impressive spread on our slice of sidewalk. And it made all the other people still waiting in line jealous. Which is really what it was all about! The upside of The Krave being down was that it left room for dessert. Kelvin Slush beckoned like a cool, frosty mirage so we waited to try their wares. Even though 2 of their 3 machines were broken, we got to sample their Tangy Citrus slushie with a variety of mix-ins (by sample, I mean that everybody else got a slushie, and I put my mouth on it without permission. Bad, Shirley, bad.) like basil, mint and white peach. Once again, I didn’t leave enough space for Big Gay Ice Cream, but I am determined to have a Salty Pimp before he closes for the season. Mark my words!

Anyhoodle, I have a whole list of trucks left to try and the summer is slipping away. Which makes me verrry tempted to get tix to the 2010 Vendy Awards!! More to come soon. I can’t seem to stop eating. Oops!

Let’s Go Kick Some Boxes!

A few weeks ago, I deviated from my usual workout routine (hop on elliptical, rock out to Gaga-Ke$ha-Hillary Duff medley, do 2 pushups, pat self on back) and tried a free kickboxing class at my gym. WOW. Turns out I didn’t know what working out really was, I couldn’t even make it through the warm ups! I had to step out and walk in place until I could catch my breath and then keep trying. After class, I had to go back to the office to drink water and sit still (as still as my twitchy muscles would let me be) for an hour before commuting home. One co-Quirker asked if it was raining outside because I was so drenched. I said no, it was sweat. He left the office very quickly. I was sore for about 5 days after my first class. Really sore. As in, I would walk like a Barbie doll by keeping my legs and arms as straight as possible and only bending at the joints. People laughed at me. But they’ll be sorry. They’ll all be sorry!! I’m keeping up with the classes, and even bought boxing gloves. The salesguy at the sporting goods store asked if I wanted “pretty pink” gloves which sounded ridiculous. I told him I wanted classic red and that I’d wipe the smirk off his face with them one day. He said that was cute. Goddammit.

My belligerafication (it works if you say it fast) doesn’t stop there though. I also took a free Jiu Jitsu self defense course where the black belt sensei encouraged all the women to kick, stomp, punch and gouge the eyes out of anyone attacking us. It was so kickass that I signed up for a 6-week course. Watch out, world!

One Perfect Day (and then some)

It’s a bit late, but last Monday was so perfect that I wanted to share. Work had been so intense that day, that I almost decided to skip the Flaming Lips at Summerstage but my co-Quirkers kicked me and told me not to be retarded. Ya know, in a good way. I had been chained to my desk all day so it was a nice surprise when I stepped outside and found that the heat wave had broken. A pleasant little springtime breeze ruffled my hair and the air smelled sweet. Which is something, considering it usually smells like hot dogs and taxi exhaust on that particular stretch of Broadway. Once inside Central Park, I met up with Little Miss Hussy and the Silent Brit, and the three of us just sat there mostly not talking and taking it all in. The crowd was friendly and (this might sound strange) straightforward. Not sure if that makes sense, but everybody seemed so comfortable in their own skin that night that it felt good to be immersed in it. The concert took that feeling to the next level. It was like I was calm but really happy and excited, all at the same time. It was almost a musically induced out-of-body experience. Well ok, the mysterious clouds of smoke which wafted over my head from some neighboring groups helped too, but only a little!

Relaxed to the max, I subway’d down to the best pizza on earth and strolled back to the office to keep on keepin’ on for a few more hours. I know, it doesn’t sound like it should be a component of a perfect day, but it felt good to just storm through a pile of work that needed to get done. My concert-pizza-strolling high carried me so far that I found a 24 hour gym to visit before finally heading home. I definitely couldn’t do that too often, but for that one day, I got everything I wanted and needed out of life.