Bagels: A Remembrance

Topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried onion and garlic & salt

Photo courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker on Flickr

This morning, as I munched on my toasted “everything bagel” with butter, I was inexorably drawn back to my years in New York City, one of the bagel capitals of the world.

Prior to moving there, I had certainly had my share of these round wonders. Panera makes a fine bagel, if I do say so myself. However, there really is something to be said for the culture of bagels in New York, something I have experienced nowhere else.

In fact, by the time I had graduated from college, I declared myself to be a person who really didn’t like bagels. And if you just thought to yourself that I must be crazy for holding that opinion, get in line. My friends thought it was incredibly bizarre. I think I just had a natural aversion to them for years. I have never liked using bagels for sandwiches, either. Too thick and chewy for a sandwich, at least from my perspective. The idea of a plain bagel with cream cheese sounded incredibly unappetizing to me (in fact, it still does).

Google "NYC bagels" and this is what you get.

However, something shifted for me when I lived in New York. Not only are bagels everywhere – bodegas, delis, bakeries, cafes – but people line up for them like they’re going out of style. A distinct Sunday Morning Bagel Ritual takes place in hundreds of shops each week in that grand city, where thousands of people slowly gravitate towards their favorite local place to “get on line” and call out their regular order. And no two are the same!

I was in New York for five years but I probably didn’t appreciate the bagels there until the last two. At the last place I worked, they had Bagel/Donut Fridays. Usually there was no stopping me from partaking in a donut or two, but one day, I started noticing a particular bagel staring back at me. I later learned that it was called an “everything” bagel. On top of these round creations are poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, dried onion, and salt.

Craving something salty to go with my sweet donut, I tried one. I loved it.

Everything bagels renewed my palate for this local delicacy. They’re insanely messy to eat and you will spill no less than three thousand pieces of bagel debris on yourself while you eat it, but the mixture of flavors can’t be beat. I became a total convert.

And! I even started frequenting Brooklyn Bagels in my neighborhood (though I lived in Astoria, Queens). There was one on Broadway around the corner from me and they had a great array of things to eat, including French Toast Bagels, which I don’t even have to say were amaaaaaziiiiing. One had to get to this place before 10am on Sundays or there would be at least a fifteen to twenty minute wait. It was worth it, though.

Like the rug in The Big Lebowski that tied the room together, frequenting my local bagel shop for my “usual” really solidified the love I had for my neighborhood, and even living in that enormous metropolis. (Astoria rocks and if I were to move back to New York City, I’d totally live there again.) I have extremely fond memories of getting breakfast at Brooklyn Bagels with Kevin when we were first seeing one another. Can you beat an everything (or French Toast) bagel with a cappuccino? I propose that you can not.

While I now have to settle for buying my everything bagels by the half dozen in a bag from the supermarket, toasting them myself and buttering them, they still bring forth these treasured memories which I hold dear to me.

Bagels are more than just “something to eat” in New York City. They are an experience. They are New York.

A satisfying breakfast to say the least.

Arbitrary Musings on a Hot Summer Day

Melted

It is hot as crap outside. Summer is officially here.

Actually, today is only 88 but the 90s have come and gone and are only a day or two away from happening again. I’m finding that there are those people in New York City who love how hot it gets here in the summertime. I am baffled by them. The streets hold in the heat, feeling like you have an invisible electric blanket shrouding you everywhere you go, even in (and sometimes especially) on the subway platform. (How did people live here before air-conditioned subway cars?)

In the past two weeks, I have only been able to wear my hair down once. And not because it was cool enough to do so. The high was only going to be 86 yesterday and I determinedly blow dried my hair and put a touch of anti-frizz silk stuff on the crown of my head to keep my hair from making me look like an unkempt 7 year-old the second I stepped foot outside of my un-airconditioned bedroom. Usually I can’t stand the thought of having long hair cover my nape while I am trying to keep cool to and from work so I think screw it, and I put my hair up wet in a makeshift bun. (I have yet to learn how to give myself a French braid but am hoping to get a lesson very soon.) Having my hair up everyday is not the most stylish thing to do but when it comes to being sticky and uncomfortable, I always end up choosing comfort over style. The picture you see here is how I look pretty much everyday in the summer at work. Hell, it’s how I look right now, minus the mascara and earrings.

If you haven’t already been able to tell, I am very fair-skinned and I do not have a high tolerance for heat…or direct sunlight, for that matter. My boyfriend despises the heat more than I do, and if I had any doubts as to his tolerance for temperatures above 78 degrees, I had only to look to the dog that he came with. I present to you below Lucas, an Alaskan Malamute/Husky mix.

This is a dog who eats ice like popcorn and bathes in snow.

The three of us go into either the living room or the bedroom, switch on an air conditioner and proceed to stay cool doing all the stuff we normally do at home – watch TV, get on the interwebs, sleep, etc. And so here we are, on a gorgeously hot Saturday afternoon, hanging out in the cool bedroom while I sit at my desk and the boyfriend does whatever it is he’s doing on his laptop. On Monday morning, I’ll be regaled of stories of what other folks did over the weekend besides sit next to an air conditioning unit. This is just how we roll.

And now, as if that introduction wasn’t long enough, I’ll detail the few wisps of thoughts I have had over the last week or two to share with you all. Because, you know, I should have something to say after a six month hiatus from the blog.

Enjoy these random observations from yours truly and stay cool (or hot, if that’s your preference).

1. Have you ever thought about the fact that when your phone isn’t ringing, it means that not one person on the face of the planet wants to call you? Considering the number of people, telephones and phone numbers that exist, you’d think the odds of your phone ringing at any given time would be higher.  Maybe I just don’t get that many phone calls. Hm.

2. I tried the new snack size Reese’s McFlurry from McDonald’s the other day. It melted into candy soup in about five minutes flat. However, for the 180 seconds it was semi-solid, it was absolutely delicious. There was a run on ice cream snacks when I ordered it. People were running in and shouting out ice cream orders like the streets were frying them alive. Maybe they were. Anyway, a guy ran in and ordered three or four sundaes and asked if the ice cream was soft. The server replied wryly, “Well yes, it’s soft. It’s soft serve.” The man replied, “Too soft?” The server answered, “I guess.” I suppose it’s possible that there is someone who has never gotten ice cream from McDonald’s and that every second, someone new tries it, but I’m just perplexed at anybody who doesn’t understand the consistency of fast food ice cream. It’s not even real ice cream. What do you expect for $.99?

3. Working in the summertime reminds me that working in the summertime sucks. Hard. I always think about when I had summers off as a kid up through the time I was 16, and I never really appreciated it. Actually, I was unable to find work between years in college and I enjoyed lazy days then. I could do with a solid month off, even if it was just sitting in front of my air conditioner and pondering how I have nothing to do.

4. In order of use and preference of social networking sites, it goes Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare. For those of you who don’t have Foursquare yet, I absolutely recommend trying it. You earn Mayorships and Badges the more times you check into venues. It’s become so popular that you can actually earn discounts from participating companies the more you check in to places. The novelty of earning the badges/mayorships keeps me remembering to do it. It’s kind of like a real life video game, where you earn meaningless rewards for just walking around. (I think that was the creator’s intent, actually.)

5. I hate when people ask you if the elevator is going down, when the wall indicator not only alerts you audibly, but lights up a big red down arrow – twice! The other day, I’m in the elevator in my work building going down to the lobby and it stops on the second floor (the SECOND floor), where a man on his cell phone looks up distractedly and asks, “Is this going down?” The other guy in the elevator and I stared at him incredulously before replying yes. Seriously, dude, you’re going to hold us up even further by clarifying whether the elevator is going down before you get on it? To be clear, there is a stairwell for the folks on 2. They ought to wear a blazing red A for Asshole when they need to take the elevator DOWN. Or at least have the decency to apologize when you get in. Yeah that’s right, you should be sorry. I’m not a skinny gal but even I would be taking the stairs everyday if I worked on the second floor.

6. Robyn’s new song, Dancing On My Own, (click on that link to see her video!) has taken over my life. I have listened to it obsessively and I ended up buying her album, Body Talk Pt. 1, on iTunes, because I loved it so much.  The song invokes images of Flashdance and J. Lo impersonating Jennifer Flowers in Flashdance, because if you’re like me, you’ll just want to dance and dance to the crazy awesome beats. Get you some Robyn!

A Midwesterner’s Take on Grocery Shopping in NYC

If you’re reading this and you don’t happen to reside in New York (or any other metropolitan area where it doesn’t make sense to own a car), consider yourself lucky if for no other reason than you most likely own a car and can run errands with it. Specifically, you can transport yourself to the grocery store/supermarket/”food store,” be it a Super Target, Super Wal-Mart, CostCo, Sam’s Club and the like.

I try to keep whining to a minimum but when it comes to grocery shopping without a car, it gets pretty bad. It goes something like this: I run out of food little by little. Pretty soon, I’m getting creative with the few staples I have left in the house: “I know! I’ll make rice with butter for dinner!” or “Cereal with half ‘n half is fine.” Finally, it comes down to making something with eggs, eating peanut butter out of the jar and resorting to actually eating the oatmeal I bought months ago. Then I’m really out of everything.

Enter the whining. I have no food, I’m starving and I have needed to go to the store for weeks. My inner adult self wars with the three year-old in there having a tantrum, pounding her fists on the floor: “But I don’t wanna go to the store! I hate it! I hate it! Don’t make me! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.” I told you it wasn’t pretty. (I recently performed such antics when I was forced to cook the chicken I had needed to make all week. I told my boyfriend to MAKE me prepare the chicken but it was no easy feat on his part, bless his heart. Oh and I literally stamped my foot on the floor about not wanting to do it, too. See what he has to put up with?)

Interestingly enough, I never minded going to the store when I lived in St. Louis and when I was in college. But I had a car. (Sniffle – God, I miss having a car.) It never even crossed my mind to despise doing it. The car was right there. You just get in and go. When those of us with on-campus jobs got paid, we trundled off to Wegman’s to stock up on stuff we’d need that wasn’t overpriced from the campus Corner Store or made from dehydrated food packets in the cafeteria. (Don’t EVEN get me started on Aramark.)

I’ll go so far as to say that I enjoyed grocery shopping when I went with a friend or my then boyfriend. Helen loved going to the store with me, just to gab while I was throwing stuff in the cart. The boyfriend in question hated grocery shopping with me, but that is because we would argue over the quality of paper towels and toilet paper we were buying (ladies, you feel me – it’s all about the high quality stuff). I never thought that a regular outing such as that would become one of the biggest major thorns in my side down the line.

And so. Living in New York, there are tons of shops from which to buy all manner of things, from the extravagently gourmet to the ridiculously cheap. (And  I am a huge proponent of  the adage “You get what you pay for.” Hmmm, possible post down the line formulating…) It sounds fun in your head if you don’t live here.

Maybe you picture a gorgeous, sunny day going from store to store and selecting your specialty meats from your butcher who knows you by face or name;  stocking up at the fromagerie for a tart piece of Chèvre, gruyere or smoked gouda; grabbing all your canned and jarred goods (green olives? hello) at the regular corner store or bodega even; moving on to the local produce stand or farmer’s market for produce and daily specials; getting to the checkout counter where the man or woman is only too thrilled to send you on your way with your purchases. Then you happily carry it all home like you’re Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman after you get to go on a shopping spree in Beverly Hills with Richard Gere’s credit card.

Groceries

WRONG. This is a fallacy of the grandest design. It is a pain in the freaking ass to go to more than one place and if you are unfortunate enough to only live close by to a poorly stocked grocery store where even finding something as simple as powdered sugar just ain’t happening, your options are extremely limited.

You can make the attempt to go to all the local places and find out that it’s exorbitantly overpriced, and/or that the employees don’t understand exactly what you’re looking for, and/or that these places don’t carry “quality” items (read: a filthy cat is walking around the deli behind the counter – I have seen it with my own eyes!) and/or that it’s raining and/or that this shit gets heavy after awhile and/or that you don’t own your own cart with which to schlep all this stuff home (much less up your third, fourth or fifth floor walk-up apartment building), and/or that the fantastic store you are fortunate enough to live by draws every other New Yorker to it and you are competing with a mob of other people in narrow, cramped aisles for all the same stuff like a meteor is going to hit and you all are stocking up to go hide in your bomb shelters.

Am I painting enough of a picture here? Do I come off as slightly cynical and fatigued? It’s because I am. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait my entire four years of living here to benefit from the genius of one particular company who has saved me from overspending on living à la carte. If you know what lunch costs on a daily basis working in Midtown, you know that you can easily spend anywhere from $50-$100 per week on lunch alone. For Chrissakes, Goodburger charges $16 for a “value meal” of a hamburger, fries and a milkshake.  I don’t mean to shamelessly namedrop but that place makes great burgers, fries and shakes. (I’ll write a post after I finally try Shake Shack.) But I don’t want to not make rent by eating there on a regular basis.

The online company Fresh Direct came along to save me from my grocery woes. Both a supermarket and a catering company, it has everything a person could ever want to buy right from the comfort of your own home or office (or on vacation – wherever!). They carry organic fare and their ready-to-eat and bakery items are out of this world. Here’s the best part. Your groceries are delivered (on the day and within a time slot of your choosing) in a referigerated truck where burly men come in carrying the boxes full of goodies and if you happen to live in a fifth floor walk-up or have a cat and you’ve just ordered two 14-lb boxes of cat litter, they do all the lifting and huffing and puffing. Voilà! It couldn’t be any simpler.

When one is deprived of the magic of having a car with a TRUNK, four wheels and an engine to get you to and from the grocery store, this place is a lifesaver. I know I personally breathe a sigh of relief whenever I’ve hit the Checkout button.

An actual image from Fresh Direct with a cuke in the cart.

An actual image from Fresh Direct with a cuke in the cart.

Besides the convenience factor, I have been able to order some really great food items and meals because I don’t have to ask myself the question, “Can I get this home? Am I going to be found laying on the side of the road, groceries strewn everywhere around me, because everything has broken out of their respective bags? Is this too ambitious?” I mean, seriously. Furthermore, there is no getting stuck behind the elderly couple who is paying for their groceries either by check or by 92,837,492,038,743 nickels, dimes and pennies. Nor do you have to get behind the coupon lady (it is NOT pronounced “kewpon”!)who needs to save twenty-five cents on six cans of tomato soup. No muss, no fuss. Just “set it and forget it!”

I know it seems kind of surreal to think about groceries being delivered right to one’s home but it is such an incredible tradeoff when one has to compromise one’s standards of living; because let’s face it, the majority of people who move here compromise their standards of living. I am stating officially for the record that the living experience here resembles nothing whatsoever like that of Sex and the City.

All of this having been said, do I still bitch about grocery shopping? Yes, yes I do. It’s such a chore. Granted, it’s not as bad as laundry or washing a huge sink full of dishes. But certain individuals who shall remain nameless have had to browbeat me into completing this bi-weekly duty, lest I go broke and/or I am found wasting away eating corn starch out of the box because the pantry is empty.

Still, I know that one day I will return to my suburban roots (Schnucks/Dierberg’s/Wegman’s for the win!) and I, too, also, along with the majority of the U.S. population, will once again have the sheer joy and privilege flowing through my veins of getting into an automobile, blasting music, parking the grocery-carrier in a parking spot (with its bigass trunk!) and loading up my Sam’s Club elephant-sized cart with items like a drum of pickles and a 40-pack of toilet paper and think, “Welcome home, Zoe.”

My one-time experience at the Bloomingdale’s makeup floor

shoppers

Post Christmas shopping. New York City. January of the New Year – in this case, 2009.

I had a couple of appointments today in “the city,” as I refer to Manhattan since I live in Queens. Going in on a weekend day is always a gamble with how long it will take. Catching a train within two minutes of getting to the subway platform on a Saturday or Sunday can really set the tone for the day. However, if the train line is under construction and/or rerouted, God only knows how long it will take to get to a destination, be it one or five miles away. I got lucky today and wasn’t rerouted upon boarding.

I met my friend Cornelia on the UES and after a little bit of shopping, we drifted down Lexington to Bloomingdale’s, since I received a $50 gift card for Christmas. I was actually pretty excited, since in three years I’ve never had a reason to actually go in the store. I take that back: I met another friend there once on the makeup floor, but since I wasn’t there to actually buy anything and we left within minutes of meeting up, I didn’t count it as an actual trip to Bloomingdale’s, ie Bloomies. Since I’m not a regular shopper, I don’t think I can get away with calling it that.

What can a person buy for $50 at Bloomingdale’s? I’ll be honest – not a whole helluva lot. Let me put it this way: I’m reading a fabulous book Helen sent to me, entitled The Best of Everything, which is a novel delving into the lives of young secretaries working in a publishing firm in the 1950s in New York City. The starting salary is $50 a week, which apparently was really good money back then for being in a typing pool. Flash forward fifty-three years later, and my $50 gift card can buy me either a discount on something more expensive, a singular expensive item that shouldn’t be expensive (like a tie, a pair of panties or a travel size bottle of perfume), or two small expensive items. So one week’s salary from the 1950s is buying me something small and hopefully classy.

That having been said, most women know that the best bet is to go to the makeup counter (unless that woman is not a girly girl). There are lots of things $50 and under. Seeing as I was still using the same, tired tube of L’Extreme Mascara I wrote about back in November, I knew exactly where I was headed: my beloved Lancome counter.

I really tried to find an excuse to buy a gift set of perfume or something unexpected, but everything was more expensive than I wanted it to be, and damn it, my eyelashes have been crying out for fresh mascara. They simply won’t lengthen anymore with the practically-dried-up tube I have at home.

So here’s the downfall about being on the makeup floor at Bloomingdale’s, one of the most famous stores in the world: it’s a fucking snake pit! Nordstrom, something we don’t have here (pity), is known for its customer service. I would really love to do some compare and contrast shopping because God’s honest truth (and I had a certified New Yorker, Miss Cornelia, with me), the place is loaded with a higher ratio of sales people to customers, practially, all scrambling for a commission on whatever you end up purchasing. They don’t care if you have the money or not, nor how much of your precious time they’re taking up; and they certainly don’t care if they come off as bottom-feeding jerks. It’s all about the sale.

First things first: it’s a good thing I knew exactly what I wanted to buy at Lancome, because while they have the samples of mascara sitting out, everything is hidden and not organized well. I’m sure there’s some marketing scheme on why nothing flows together, like a candy aisle at the grocery store, but it just added to the confusion, if you ask this consumer. The woman who “helped” me didn’t describe anything about any of the other mascaras or eye makeup, didn’t mention any specials, sales or what goes really well with L’Extreme; she simply got out the box I asked for and handed it to me.

My lady was probably in her 50s or 60s, short, and sported a poof of coiffed, blonde (dyed) hair and lots and lots of green eye makeup. I own a subtle shade of green eyeliner of which I don’t like to dab on too much, but this woman had the super bright set all over her: upper and lower lids, corner of the eyes, with green eye shadow to match. I think she even had something glittery. I don’t know about 60 year-olds with glittery eyeliner. I’m just saying.

Maybe when you’re a salesperson you have to make yourself stand out as much as possible, because then I could always find her, saying, “It’s the one with tons of green eye makeup at the Lancome counter.”

“Ah! That’s Zsa Zsa. Right this way,” the helpful Information person might say.

“Zsa Zsa’s” lame attempt at upselling was encouraging me to buy a gift set of Juicy Tubes, which are “only” in stock now and then they’ll be gone forever. Yeah yeah, lady. I held onto my mascara box and continued looking. When I strayed too far at the Lancome border, almost into MAC country, she told me she could just hold onto it for me until I decided. Clearly she was worried I would pocket the mascara in my purse. Fine, I leave it with her. So I turn the corner to go find Cornelia, unsure yet of what else I would be purchasing (because nothing’s worse than having $20 on a gift card at an expensive store – I just wanted to use it up!), and suddenly, an overly groomed, waaaay too much gel in his hair sales guy, accosts me and proceeds to give me the hardest sell I’ve ever had in my life to sign up to have a makeover done by a professional makeup artist at the end of the month.

Thankfully, Cornelia found me in the middle of his spiel (even though I was clearly giving off the not interested vibe), and she managed to keep him at bay. The catch was we had to purchase a $50 gift card to Bloomingdale’s that day and if we missed the appointment, we could just use it towards Bloomingdale’s some other time. They don’t give a rat’s ass whether you come and get the glamorous “makeover,” they just want you to purchase a $50 gift card that day. They’d love it if it never got spent, or better yet, put it towards an even more expensive purchase if you come back for the makeover and Francois or whoever is doing the makeover, recommends $250 worth of products. Uh huh. I’ve got your number, Slick.

When I said I couldn’t afford the $50 today, he literally said, “But it’s like money in the bank!” Who says that? It’s not money in the bank; it’s out of my bank account and going towards something I haven’t even bought yet. Furthermore, I’m signing myself up to come back to this place…on purpose….again in three weeks? No thanks. Somehow I managed to get out of his clutches. I returned to the Lancome counter and bought a new Le Stylo waterproof eyeliner in black (add it to the Bottom Line, These Are Awesome list!). Again, thankfully I knew the name but did Zsa Zsa even try to care about the sale? No. When I picked up the bottle of Oui perfume, which smelled delicious, I asked her how much the small bottle was.

Here is the perfect opportunity to try to upsell me on something I already have an interest in! Instead, Zsa Zsa says to me in her thick Slavic accent, “Ummm…I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up.” I checked out, my items coming to $51.50 (so close!), and she did not bother looking up the price of Oui. No matter. I can probably buy it on Fragrancenet.com or somewhere else for at least 10% less. But seriously? That’s the best they can do? Could she have given less of a shit?

And don’t even try to walk through the areas where a lighted sign says Information. It’s more Bloomingdale’s sales people who hold onto random colognes, perfumes and/or clipboards, waiting for lost and befuddled prey. I couldn’t believe how popular it was to be in there! You would think they were giving the stuff away – and I assure you – they were not.

Lastly, Cornelia and I stopped by a sunglass counter, where she tried on some pairs of aviator sunglasses. The woman raved about a particular pair, that while looked very nice on Cornelia, she and I both agreed that the fake rhinestones around the edges (just a few, strategically placed), took away from some of the refinement of them. The woman said she was going to try to find something else for her, after telling her that they were “nothing,” that there weren’t really any sparkles on the glasses. She turned to me and promised me an associate would help me find something for myself. I said, “Oh okay,” but I hadn’t taken any interest except to ask Cornelia if she thought tortoiseshell frames would look okay on me. Thanks for making that leap, but I’m aight.

Cornelia’s saleswoman turned away from her to help another demanding customer in the middle of assisting her, so we left in disgust. I was happy to have my two pieces of new makeup tucked away in my first “little brown bag” I’d ever had from actually purchasing something, but all in all, the experience rates a C-. Sorry, Bloomies. Insert “wah wah wah” sound effect.

bloomies-brown-bag

I have yet to attempt to go clothes shopping there (and let’s face it, I’d need at least a $1,000 gift card to try that) but if I’m going to go the designer route, I’ll have to try somewhere else – Saks, perhaps?

I have no idea what Bloomingdale’s was like fifty years ago, but I would hedge a guess it didn’t feel like you walked in with a bullseye on your forehead with a sign on your back that read, “Total sucker.”

Nice try but no dice. In the meantime, I will be walking around with my fabulous matching black eyeliner and eyelashes, thanks to my own personal research, and no thanks to Zsa Zsa’s piss poor sales skills.

Kringley, Jingley, Cookies and Trees, Gluttony, Family Gatherings and Obligatory Gifts: sounds like Christmas!

suicidal-snowman13Howdy and Happy Holidays, everyone!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, I’m well aware. Thanksgiving brought with it the last four weeks of getting ready for Christmas; and let’s just say I’ve been figuring out how to make Christmas work this year (read: sleeping, worrying, stress eating, sleeping, watching mindless TV, total avoidance, etc). 2008 has brought many a fiscal disaster and while my finances are far from disastrous, it’s still a small feat to crunch the numbers to find out what I can afford in cash and what’s going on ye olde credit card.

Firstly, I’d like to give a huge shoutout to the Internet (or the “World Wide Web,” as a beloved professor once called it), simply for the miracle of online shopping. I would not have been able to keep calm about everything I had to buy without this fabulous tool. If I’d actually had to go out to multiple stores to find everything I need to buy, I would have given up on the holidays long ago. The only con to online shopping when one lives in New York City is figuring out where to send the boxes. I don’t have a doorman or an apartment that delivery folks have total access to at all times. So I am forced to send things to my office and bring large bags with me to work so I can haul everything home on the subway. Fun, huh?

But still, thanks to virtual shopping, I haven’t had to stand in a huge line to get photos printed, thanks to Shutterfly. That’s my digital print shop of choice. Amazon currently sells 99% of everything under the sun (anybody try that Kindle thing yet?). Short of buying pets on Amazon.com, I’m pretty sure one can find just about anything on there. I made my giant order and was able to carry on with my daily life whilst waiting for the gifts to arrive.

Usually I get stressed out about sending out holiday cards. I’ve actually managed to do the bulk of them but I still have pending cards to write. They’ll probably sit there until December 23. Nothing says Merry Christmas like getting a holiday card on January 3. There’s always one person’s address I don’t have and then the card ultimately doesn’t get sent out. But doing the whole post office thing in NYC is….somewhat traumatic. At no time during the year is the post office ever slow. The post office is kind of like the U.S. Senate – the locations do not go by population. There are a certain amount and that’s it. So take New York – we have 9 million people here. We have a post office for the respective zip codes like everywhere else. So every single post office I’ve ever visited, without exception, is packed, the lines extensive and people impatient. There is always one New York asshole who must stand in line to mutter and curse about the long wait. It’s S.O.P. In fact, let’s just say that if I go to a drugstore or post office without hearing muttering or cursing (and I’ve been known to do it), I wonder where I am. My world doesn’t look like this (if only!): christmas-poster1

You’d think I’m not a fan of Christmas, but I really really am. I adore Christmas and Christmastime. I love Christmas songs, I love all the baking people do, the lights and decorations, the smell of pine trees, stationery and Hallmark stores, “that Christmas feeling,” new holiday coffee flavors, and particular to New York, all the street vendors and the roasted nuts guy – all of it.  

Christmas is just best when you’re a kid, though. You have absolutely none of the worries and ALL of the expectation that when you wake up on Christmas morning, you can run down to the tree and rip open presents for three hours. It’s a divine experience that we take for granted when we’re kids. Now I know all the work it takes to get those presents under the tree on time, the Christmas ham or goose or whatever to come out perfectly, and how much MONEY it takes to really have that Hallmark holiday.

Why does wrapping presents give people diarrhea? If you don’t learn how to do it properly, you give gifts that look like a car ran over them or a 4 year-old taped together. Both of my parents are excellent gift wrappers. I learned from the best. My father is extremely thorough. He’s not just wrapping, he’s making a gift presentation with lots of curly ribbon and bows. He has a wrapping timetable so he can get it all done in time. I’m pretty sure my parents spent many a Christmas Eve wrapping presents until almost dawn – and then knock knock, it’s 6am and the kids are ready to rip! But seriously, I can attest to the fatigue that wrapping brings. I finished the first half of wrapping last night (not including packing things to ship – uuuuugh) and I just wanted to curl up right there in the wrapping paper remnants and go to sleep.

As a token to one of my favorite things, I’m going to attempt to present a link attached to this photo of the Screaming Banshee, an e-card on Hallmark. Let’s try it: banshee1

Click on that shit and enjoy the hell outta it. If that’s not an accurate depiction of prepping for the holidays, I don’t know what is. (Have your sound on!)

But through it all, corny as it is, the real gift is in the giving. I love the anticipation of waiting to see what goodies I managed to find. I’m gonna toot my own horn here because I am a very good gift giver. I could be a personal shopper, I think. Except then I’d have to deal with obnoxious clients. But I use my feminine, Zoe Intuition to really hone in on something thoughtful for the people I love. I hate having to resort to a gift certificate. It happens to the best of us, though. I love when people manage to find something really Zoe-esque that I treasure for years. Otherwise, I have been the recipient of MANY cheap and expensive bath products, because that’s the Fallback Gift that all women receive when someone doesn’t know what to get her. There probably isn’t a man in a relationship that hasn’t braved Bath & Body Works at the holidays, trying to figure out “Would she like this?” and getting an entire gift basket of “Pine cone cinnamon amethyst” or “Honeyglazed lily moonstones” products – you get the point.

Besides trying to get everything done before Christmas Eve hits (and let’s face it, December is the fastest month of the entire year), if you work in an office, you are surrounded by constant offerings of food and special treats. I know I am. Thus far this month we have had popcorn tins on each floor of the office, a holiday breakfast, lavish holiday party (coming up tomorrow night – right when NYC is supposed to be slammed with snow – woo!) and one of my bosses has received a multitude of treats, including chocolate peppermint bark, a huge basket of chocolate covered pretzels, Oreos (!!!!) and graham crackers, and a bunch of us had a holiday potluck of sorts, where we all brought something festive and exchanged recipes. (I brought seasoned pecans – a big hit, not gonna lie.) The other day, in the span of 12 hours, I was offered cookies from no less than three different people. Including myself, people’s away messages are all about “No more cookies – seriously.” It’s gluttony central.

So it’s the last full business week before the holidays. Christmas is ONE WEEK FROM TODAY. I have oodles left to do but thankfully putting up and decorating the tree isn’t one of them. I have no pets or children, so I can relax without wondering if I’m going to come home to a fallen tree in my apartment. By the time January 2nd is here, I’ll be ready to swear off cookies and treats….for a little while. But even I, with my famed sweet tooth, get sweeted out at this time of year. I offered someone a “chocolate covered something or other” and he emphatically said, “NO” and gave me a shoving hand gesture.

In a TOTAL act of randomness, I read in O Magazine about the popularity of the salty/sweet combination. A reader wrote in and said she made a batch of chocolate covered bacon. I’ve had chocolate covered potato chips (which were sinfully delicious) but never thought about chocolate covered bacon. What do you think? Would you try it? I can’t say I wouldn’t try it – my voracious love for salty/sweet is too strong.

I should take the time to ask if anybody likes Christmas but hates Christmas music. My roommate and I have had music playing and had a whole Christmas movie marathon of sorts when we did our tree. We watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone and Bad Santa. Three classics. But definitely on the list to watch are A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (animated OR live-action). I have a bunch of others but there’s only so much time to watch this stuff. I’m definitely in the cult fan club of A Christmas Story. I don’t get people who don’t get it. David, am I right?

In an attempt to put an end to this huge tangent about Christmas, I hope all of you have a fantastic holiday season, peaceful and bright, with at least one fun drunken moment (but without blacking out or puking) and a celebratory New Year. Just avoid getting in front of the camera at those holiday parties. I can attest that not all drunk photos come out great.

Merry merry!

chris_41

The Acceptable Man Purse, a.k.a. The Messenger Bag

Earlier in the week, standing in a crowded subway on the way to work, I noticed several guys around me wearing messenger bags. This is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it’s pretty non-newsworthy.

A friend of mine who studied abroad with me four years ago (and probably still uses his) had one. When I first saw it, I complimented him on his anti-traditional backpack. But I really had no idea just how popular these would become.

It is my contention that dudes want to carry some kind of a purse but haven’t found the most practical, stylish or society-accepted one – until recent years. An ex-boyfriend of mine got a new laptop when he started a new job last year. He began carrying it to and from work in an over-the-shoulder laptop bag.

He later admitted to me that he had grown so accustomed to carrying the laptop bag, in which he could put all manner of items other than just the laptop et al, that he felt rather naked without it. He had nowhere to put all his little things he wanted to carry around with him if he wasn’t carrying the laptop. (What’s a boy to do without hairspray and 928 receipts?)

I’m not basing my entire theory on his desire to carry things around. The sheer popularity of messenger bags, backpacks and other types of acceptable man-sacks in New York tells me that we would see the exact same thing in the other metropolitan areas of the country, especially where people mostly use public transportation. It makes complete sense that every person who lives in New York would need to have some kind of bag with him or her at all times. Without a car, we have to have someplace to put our crap. (I know I do. I can’t clean out a purse without wondering how I ended up with so much shit in there. I end up throwing away 3lbs of stuff I was carrying around with me for months.)

It’s exceedingly rare to see someone walking around this city or standing on the subway with nothing on his person. I only say ‘his’ because I have never seen a woman who isn’t carrying something; it can be as small as a credit card but women do not walk around this city with nothing. (Which brings up the whole topic of leaving the house without stuff like identification or keys – the thought panics me.) More often than not, I see women in New York carrying two purses – one giant one as a gym bag and the other as her actual purse. Seriously, without cars we become nomads.

The bottom line is, men have finally found an acceptable way to have a purse. And I quote, “Several boys and men were actually among the first to use messenger bags to help make their load lighter.” Check out the article that goes into a brief history on messenger bags. Truth be told, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to carry your crap around with you, especially in a big city like this. But we as a society are extremely slow to change strong notions (turnover on gay marriage, anyone?) and men carrying something akin to a purse is one of them.

There are two key factors which aid its look and functionality, the first being the flat flap over the bag. As the article on About.com states, a guy can put patches or pins or what have you on it, or just leave it plain and it’s fine. Some might argue that plainer is better – that one shouldn’t have to dress it up with anything. The flat flap is easy to open, making all his junk accessible. (Hmmm that applies to another flap guys deal with everyday. Coincidence?)

The second key factor is the strap that enables a guy to sling it over one shoulder and across the body. In this way, the guy isn’t carrying it over his shoulder like a woman does with her purse (although I am perfectly aware many women prefer the across-the-body look – I am not one of those). Also, if he doesn’t want it in front of him (more purselike?), it can sit behind him – acting as a giant wallet where he can reach behind and grab what he needs. Lastly, it avoids having to carry a bulkier, heavier and sometimes hotter backpack. Why does someone need to be a student to carry crap around? He doesn’t. Enter the messenger bag.

Dudes, if you haven’t tried one, pick up a cheapy one and see if you like it. Make sure it’s comfortable – that shoulder strap across-the-body thing is really important. I saw a video on YouTube showing how to make one out of trash bags. (I mean, really….) So they range from practically free to going all out and buying one from Gucci, if you wanna get retarded serious about where to drop your dollas.

Add one to your gift wish list – see if it changes your life. I’m betting it will. And, in the process of attempting to be unique, you’ll become part of the majority.

Messenger bags define “hip” by being nearly an anti-fashion statement. They look casual and trendy all at once – and like a denim jacket or a concert t-shirt, they can actually become even cooler the older and more beat up they become.

Matthew McConaugheeeey sporting his bag.

Matthew McConaugheeeey sporting his bag.

Bottom line, these are awesome

After taking a ten day break from posting to the blog, I’m making my efforts to get back in the game with one or two posts this weekend. I checked my drafts and notes I’ve made to myself to see what sparked my interest. Some material just begs to be written, ya know?

Anyhow, one post I’ve mulled over quite a bit is giving props to some of my favorite things as of late. They don’t really run together in a thematic way, but that’s just how I roll. Even when I journal, I’ll interrupt my own thoughts to write about something completely off topic and then go back to finish writing on the first subject. Re-reading my journals definitely cracks me up and absolutely gives credence to the term “stream of consciousness.” (I don’t usually go back and reread, though. I have a weird thing about that.)

But let’s get to the awesome stuff, shall we? A couple of weeks ago, I was at my local grocery store and I came to the cereal aisle. I don’t purchase cereal too often, since I’m hardly ever home to eat it. I get to the weekends and usually want it but to me, it doesn’t make sense to run to the store to get a box for two whole days. But this time, I specifically went to the cereal aisle to see if they had something in stock that I’d been secretly wanting to try for quite some time: Chocolate Lucky Charms. Oh yeah. None of this grown-up, 20g-of-fiber-per-serving crap. “Whole grain,” chocolate and marshmallow infused, sugary goodness. I could practically hear my inner 5 year-old shrieking with delight.

I put the box in my basket, made sure I bought fresh milk, and proceeded to jam home so I could dig in. I poured a huge bowl immediately, let the cereal sit in the milk for about a minute and dug in. I love this closeup I found of the stuff:

I love the rainbows!

 

 

If you have had any remote inkling within you to try a kids’ cereal, try this one. Sure, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Frosted Flakes are all fine and dandy, but this one tops it all, guys. Trust me on this one. It’s a close race but the only other kids’ cereal I would eat with regularity (but don’t allow myself to) is Reese’s Puffs. reeses-puffs-cereal-box

OOOOOMMMMMGGGGG they are so good! But since they don’t have marshmallows, they make #2 on Zoe’s List of Awesome Cereals. Have you ever had whole milk or dare I suggest it, half ‘n half on cereal? The quality of milk is very important. Don’t even try to tell me that cereal is good with skim milk on it, because we all know it’s not. It’s blue water. Remember the movie Friday where the mom tells Ice Cube’s character, “Use water. Won’t hurt.” when there’s no milk for his cereal? Yeah. That’s disgusting. (Incidentally, I think my dad suggested that to me once when I was a kid. Water on cereal tastes like you’re eating it out of the toilet. I’m just saying.) Creamy, delicious milk on Chocolate Lucky Charms absolutely makes the weekend. Try it for yourself.

Moving on. Something else that has been at the forefront of awesomeness for me is Lancome. (Jennifer, I know you hear me on this one!) Ladies, this is not just crappy, American slop with a fancy French label. This is the real stuff from Paris and their skincare and makeup is hard to beat. If you only buy one thing ever from Lancome, make it their mascara. For a very long time, their Definicils was my favorite but then…they came out with L’Extreme. My fellow Lancome lover Jennifer told me to try it and I’ve never looked back. Does it cost $24 for a tube of mascara that, worn faithfully, will only last you three months? Yes. But is it worth every superbly lengthened eyelash? You bet.

In fact, if you go to Lancome’s website and click on Best Sellers, the first five things that grace the page are their Bi-Facil eye makeup remover (which totally rocks, I can attest) and four of their mascaras, including Definicils. Their new one is Oscillation. I don’t know a thing about “vibrating” mascara but it’s selling well, obviously. You can watch the demo video. It’s ten bucks more but if you want those fabulous eyes framed by longass lashes, it could be worth it. For those of us who live in New York, we have access to Lancome through more than one outlet: Sephora, the Lancome store and any number of department store makeup counters. I have a little of everything in Lancome, but I have also tried their Pure Focus skincare line and it’s nothing short of fabulous. For those like me who have oily skin, a MUST HAVE in your regiment is their Tonique Pure Focus. It has mattifying powders in it that keep your face from getting nasty greasy throghout the day. Worth every cent and photographs without a shiny T-zone. I won’t even get into Juicy Tubes or their eyeliners, but the point is obviously to try some Lancome. You’ll never go back. The reason I can say this so emphatically is that due to budget constraints, I bought some L’Oreal Bare Naturale mascara and I gotta say, I’m not impressed. I do like that it boasts more natural ingredients, yes. And I have tried and really love the whole natural makeup thing – I have Bare Escentuals powder foundation and it’s the only thing I’ll use. But what I don’t like about this particular mascara is that not only does it take much more time to try to get the same effect as Lancome’s L’Extreme, but my lashes harden very stiffly. I’ve also noticed that my eyes get irritated at the end of the day and so while I saved $20 by trying it out, I will not be repurchasing. That having been said, I have read reviews where women swear by this stuff, but it’s not for me. What can I say, my lashes demand more. They have expensive taste.

The last thing I’m writing in-depth about is autumn. I love this season. I really enjoy the transitional seasons more than the extremes. I was born in the spring so maybe that makes me biased. There are even parts of winter I enjoy (like Christmas) but after awhile, the extreme cold gets to me and I’m ready for warmer days. After spring, summer hits and I tire quickly of the blistering heat and sweating constantly with a million other people sweating in the NYC subway. Blech.

What I love about autumn is the transition from hot to cold, progressively, over its three months. The leaves change color and gives us these gorgeous views. My mom took some photos and sent them – I thought these two were particularly grand:

autumn-leaves-2yellow-leaves

The leaves fall, getting nice and crunchy. They coat our sidewalks, streets and homes. A chill begins to permeate the air. Is there anything better than smelling wood smoke on a crisp, autumn evening? The heaters begin to come on and at least in New York apartments, the sound and smell of steam from the radiators becomes a part of the apartment atmosphere (unless your landlord is a dick and keeps the heat at some ridiculously low temperature and you freeze).

Road trips in autumn are my favorite. Back in college, my friends and I would go up to my old roommate’s house in Lake Placid, New York, where the scenery just stole your breath. Plenty of wood smoke smell there! Listening to music and driving whilst sipping on something like pumpkin spice coffee or hot chocolate….mmmmm…..it’s like all my troubles melt away. Damn, it just reminds me I don’t own a car anymore. To Do: buy a car in the future.

Then after the road trip when you get to your destination or back home, the cold night air makes you want to curl up and watch a favorite movie under a toasty blanket. I recently purchased Good Will Hunting, a movie I’ve been wanting to add to my collection for a long time. (My book club debated on who was hotter in that movie, Matt Damon or Ben Affleck. I’m in the Matt Damon club.) There’s nothing about autumn I don’t love – Halloween, Thanksgiving, the lead-up to Christmas….mmmm. I’ll have to write about the holiday season in another post – I love it. I’m one of those annoying people who can listen to Christmas music the start of November. Uh huh.

All of this makes me want to go unwrap the new movie and give it a spin. I even have the perfect blanket in which to wrap myself. All I need now is some Chocolate Lucky Charms and extended eyelashes care of Lancome.

My primal, Sunday baking urge

Yep, this looks about right.

Yep, this looks about right.

For the life of me, I cannot get Beyonce’s song “Irreplaceable” out of my head. The only two phrases running through my mind all day have been, “To the left, to the left…” and “You must not know ’bout me, you must not know ’bout me…” I only recently downloaded it after hearing it at David’s wedding reception and I thought that maybe if I listened to it a few times the song would fade from my head. Instead, the lyrics keep cycling around up there with no end in sight. Listening to the song provides relief and insanity all at once.

The beginning of my day started three hours earlier than my Saturday. It totally escapes me why I woke up refreshed at 9am when I went to bed after 2, after having gone out and having a few drinks with a work friend the night before. Why is it that I can wake up and feel great with seven hours of sleep on a Sunday but if I get 7.5 on a weeknight I feel like a hungover zombie on any given day of the work week? It’s why I firmly believe that my body is not meant to be up before 8am. Waking up and getting out of bed before 7am goes against every aspect of my body, mind and soul on a molecular level. I can feel the protest coursing through my blood when I force myself to my feet to grab my bath towels and head to the shower. But whatever the reason today, I got up and decided to make the day as productive and yet relaxing as possible.

The weather changes absolutely affect my decision making process on what I intend to do for the day. In today’s case, it was sunny and cool in the morning and I was actually able to shut off my air conditioner that usually runs (even just on fan) to keep the air flowing. When it’s really hot and sunny, totally nasty humid, snowy, sleeting, gray or rainy, I usually find some way to lie prone and read, sleep, watch TV, play Sudoku, text people and any combination thereof as the day progresses. Today went down differently.

Intsead of laying around for the entire day watching TV and avoiding going through the rat’s nest of disorganization in my room, as has been my habit for the past six weekends, I sat at the computer and did my budget for the rest of the week (which consists of looking at the remainder of my money before my next paycheck and cringing). I then made a prudent financial decision not to order any coffee from Coffee Fool (if you haven’t tried this coffee yet, I highly encourage you to do so – amazing stuff) and just finish out the Folger’s French Roast in the freezer. With the $12 I was saving on my coffee order, I applied it to my order of groceries from Fresh Direct, a grocery/catering service native to New York and one of the biggest perks about living here.

Delivery service is what helps make NYC so unique and wonderful, and when Fresh Direct made its way into the forefront of my existence, I embraced it wholeheartedly and gratefully. Sit on my ass and choose groceries and have them delivered when I want anytime in the coming week? Sold!

I am incredibly lazy about going to the grocery store. My friends and family can attest to my personal bests of going weeks upon weeks without buying anything more than a can of soup and a jug of milk at one time.  I think my personal best thus far has been six weeks of buying absolutely nothing, and that was two years ago. I almost caught up to that record until today. So the fact that I ordered some ready-to-eat meals and produce from Fresh Direct and I went to the store up the street from me to get some staples for the day is an incredible feat for me. Put a gold medal around my neck, thank you!

One of my girlfriends who recently moved to Astoria has already explored the area enough around her to know that there’s a Costco nearby. I wouldn’t have known that if I’d lived here twenty years. I aspire to be more like her when I’m not indulging in sheer laziness on the weekends.

So having already been uber successful at waking up early, making a sound financial decision AND ordering groceries, all before having any coffee, how or why the idea of making cookies came into my head I know not. I just know that I hadn’t done anything baking-oriented in ages (mostly due to living with a batshit crazy roommate, as described in my first post) and I was craving the comfy, cozy routine of doing something homey. And you know what, it hoenstly doesn’t get any better than baking cookies. I wasn’t even craving anything dessert-ish per se, I just had an overwhelming urge to bake. Not wanting to ignore the insistent call in my head, I began researching recipes online by Googling the phrase “best chocolate chip cookies” followed by “oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.”

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are my ultimate favorite. The texture and flavor of the oats mixed with the brown sugar, butter and chocolate chips….and imagining them hot and fresh out of the oven….I kept the saliva in check and continued my research. I finally landed upon a recipe from a food blog called Smitten Kitchen. Haha, wow this whole day I thought it was Smitten Kitten and it’s actually Smitten Kitchen. I thought that was so cute, too – Smitten Kitten. Good grief. Anyway, the recipe is for Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies. It was Zoe Perfect! I loved everything about it except the orange zest, which I omitted from even being an option for my cookies. Citrus fruit + chocolate and/or cookie dough = Pointless in the Tao of Zoe. That includes cranberries or cran-raisins. (I mean seriously, what is up with that shit?)

After taking notes on all the ingredients and figuring out if I could afford to make these things, because after all, I own zero sugar, flour or any other staples except vanilla and baking soda, I threw on my flip flops and an acceptable pair of loungey pants and tee-shirt in which to walk to the store (I even put on deodorant!). It wasn’t even 11 in the morning and I was going grocery shopping. I felt like a real grown-up. My fellow Astorian girlfriend would have been proud.

I stuck to my list, a very hard thing to do for most people, and came home with all the goodies. But first I had to relax with my leftover pizza for breakfast and do some dishes before I could even think about making cookies. I took a few photos so you could see the results because if you’re any kind of normal person, you would think this looks amazing. Unless you’re my friend David, who is anti-nuts in baked goods. I’m hoping he’ll one day change his mind but since neither of us haven’t changed ours about loathing seafood (another post for another time), I’m not holding my breath.

Behold the dough in its glorious, shiny beauty!

Phenomenal, gooey,chocolatey, nutty, oatey, magical cookie dough

If you think that looks good, and trust me, it was….here’s the final product:

Oooh, ahh...

Oooh, ahh...

I got the macro function of my camera to work!

I got the macro function of my camera to work!

What really gives it a pinch of autumn lusciousness are the spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves added to the flour mixture. Picture an Italian chef kissing their fingertips with a mwah sound and saying, “Magnifico!”

Needless to say, I munched on a couple right out of the oven and then later on in the evening I ate a few watching stand-up comedy and movies. I filled a couple of plastic tupperware containers with the cookies so I am hoping that despite working in a New York City office, that I will be able to get people to consume one or two, so that I don’t have to come home every night of the week and eat these all on my own. Because 70% of the purpose and thrill of cooking and baking is having others moan and groan over the culinary success of the recipe.

I need praise.

After the exhausting process of measuring, stirring, forming and eating the cookies, it was 2:30pm and time to celebrate my 5.5 hours of productivity – with a nap. After two blissful hours of curling up in the blissful quiet of my room, I woke up at 4:30 to watch some more random movies on HBO, stand-up comedy on Comedy Central and much later on, the Colts v. Bears game. (I love those Manning guys.) My room was once again ignored and once again, I will hope that the motivation to get that done will strike me instead of cookie baking or something else really frivolous next weekend. But I did make some progress on a Moderately Difficult Sudoku puzzle and really enjoyed the fact that my subconscious is really feeling at home here in the new place; or those cookies never would have been made, and that would have been a real shame on this gorgeous pre-autumn Sunday.

(To the left, to the left…)