Tag Archives: Trader Joe’s

Idle Hands…

Everyone who is getting ready to start another work week tomorrow will hate me for this and they will have absolutely no sympathy for me — and I readily admit they have every right to feel that way — but…here’s the deal: I have way too much time on my hands.

And I know this is a dream scenario! This is what everyone who has to get up at 6:30 five days a week and crowd onto stuffy trains and halfheartedly sludge through 8-hour stints in proverbial cubicles dreams about…and instead of embracing all of this time that I have, I find it almost paralyzing in that these days of nothingness stretch on and on forever and I can theoretically look at the rest of my life and say, “Huh. I have nothing to do.”

And, in theory, it’s the exact opposite. It’s unending: There are countless jobs I *could* apply for and dozens of pitches I could send out and — most importantly! — a book proposal I keep swearing that I am about to finish…and yet there’s this strange thing that happened when I finished my copywriting project…even though the project didn’t take up *that* *much* time every day, it was at least something that I had to do in order to meet a deadline and something that was earning me some money…and it made me feel like I had some sort of purpose…and after that was said and done each day, I could embrace my freedom and go to (broken record) Trader Joe’s or the movies in the middle of the day while everyone else was at work and say, “This is nice! I am lucky!”

But without that project, I go to Trader Joe’s or I go to the movies…and I wonder whether I am actually living the life of a responsible adult…or if I am reverting back to some sort of woman-child. I mean, let’s face it — all that separates me from massive loserdom is that I don’t live with my parents. (Take away my Brooklyn apartment and you have yourself a cautionary tale…) Or, alternatively, I feel like if I had made *slightly* different life decisions thus far and had a husband and/or a child — some living being to take care of that didn’t, you know, meow — that my life would have some sort of purpose that it doesn’t right now.

Every day, I set my alarm and try to get up fairly early and tackle the day…and sometimes I do. But sometimes my alarm goes off and all I can think is, “I have nowhere to go today. It doesn’t matter if I get up. If I stayed in bed all day, no one would notice and it wouldn’t make any difference.” Those days are hard. And, of course, I *do* have to get up eventually…but then it’s late and I feel like a slob and it’s hard to get into a positive mindset and actually accomplish anything after that.

Many days, I feel like I’m just making up stuff to fill time: I want to get a long black cardigan; I’ve been meaning to see Where the Wild Things Are; I would like to make eggplant parmesan. These things at least get my out of my apartment…but they only take up one day. Then I have to worry about the next and the next and the next…and when I think of it like that, I can sort of feel myself sliding back into that not-so-good place that defined my summer when I wasn’t on the road. But. I’m trying to acknowledge what’s happening and maybe reverse the slide and get back to a happier spot a little sooner. For example: I won tickets to see Rock of Ages this week. I have to find a damn fax machine in order to get them…but I won tickets to Rock of Ages! I also need to overtly recognize that it really wouldn’t be better if I had a job I hate just because it’s a job. And…the ladies at the Luxury Spot are hooking me up with a makeover this week. So. Plenty to do.

The biggest thing hanging over my head these days: The book proposal. My glass-is-half-full way of looking at everything has been that the universe didn’t send me a full-time job because I’m really meant to write this book and that’s why I have all this damn time on my hands. And I’ve written a lot…but (broken record again), I need an editor to help me organize everything…and I feel like Dale Maharidge‘s advice to just contact agents who have represented authors who have written similar books is such a crapshoot. I mean, sure, maybe I’ll get lucky and one of them will be legitimately interested…but what if they aren’t? I have a list of maybe a dozen agents…and if I don’t hear back from any of them, I don’t really have a Plan B. I keep hoping that I am going to meet someone who hears about my idea and says, “Oh, man, my friend/significant other/parent/sibling/boss/neighbor is an agent! You guys should talk! I’ll make an introduction!”

And so…as sort of a means to this end, I recently wrote David Ellis Dickerson — author of House of Cards and the man behind the Greeting Card Emergency videos. I feel like he’s created a successful career for himself with words and I wanted to see if he had any advice for me about where to go from here. And he did. He sent me a lovely response about how I have an idea I can definitely sell, but I have to do the proposal just right…and as my chapter summaries alone weighed in at 15,000 words, I’m pretty sure that my proposal is not just right…and so for about a week, I was feeling like I couldn’t do anything else with it until I sat down with him and picked his brain. But…given that he just published a book, he’s obviously busy and so I think I may have to forge ahead on my own. And it’s just this huge psychological hurdle — this book is the one truly positive thing I have to cling to right now and it’s the one thing I’ve always known I’m supposed to do…but I don’t know what to do if I can’t find anyone to represent me. And so I think in part I have been stalling so I don’t have to actually answer the what-next question.

And I have Costa Rica coming up in two and a half weeks and there is SO MUCH planning to do…and even though I am a little stressed out about picking the wrong stuff to do or finding a horrible hotel or not being able to do much in the rainy season or finding ourselves the victims of bad roads, I am also super-excited about spending so much time with my oldest childhood friend and exploring a new part of the world. So. My to-do list for tomorrow will include making the final preparations for our trip…although I think I really like the Beaches, Rain Forests and Volcanoes Itinerary in my Costa Rica book…so Fodor’s may have done a lot of the heavy-lifting for me.

So, I mean, I guess it’s true that the grass is greener or that if everyone threw their problems into the middle of the room, we would all run back in and grab our own…which, though perhaps trite or jaded, is maybe not such a bad thing to remember. I don’t have a 10:00 editorial meeting tomorrow in which I have to pitch stories about operations and technology in retail asset management, but I *do* have a lot of things coming up. And those things, in the grand scheme of things, are probably better fits for me than customer relationship management software or 529 college savings plans. I just need to remember that.

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Good Eats: Or, New York with Bobby, Junior, Florence, Mario and Tina.

So…my mother was here last week, which means I got to indulge in a New York lifestyle drastically different from the norm. To wit: I got up and dressed every single day and didn’t once look for a job or do any copywriting or tinker with my book proposal. Instead, I went to restaurants under the purview of celebrity chefs and saw shows on Broadway. I would imagine I would eventually run out of shows and/or get bored if this was my regular life, but…from here, the grass looks pretty green.

Our first stop was Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. I’ve probably walked by this place a million times, but I’ve never been inside. However, I’ve been meaning to ever since I was at work (or in a class) once and my mom was exploring the city on her own and stumbled upon it and was super-excited and ended up doing a big, brave thing and eating there on her own. So…after six years, I finally ate there. I was really happy with my chile relleno — stuffed with eggplant and rolled in cornmeal! — but my mom was a little disappointed with her sweet potato ravioli…which was a shame as it is the one dish that jumped out on the menu to me, too. I’ve sort of had a complex about chile rellenos since eating at a Mexican restaurant in Wisconsin that served an extremely eggy one. As we all know, I HATE EGGS. So…it freaked me out and sort of put me off chile rellenos for a while. But my mother quoted somebody — possibly Bobby Flay — who said that you really shouldn’t be able to taste the egg in a good chile relleno…and she/he was right. (I also really enjoyed the barbed-wire tiles in the bathroom. Nice touch, BF.)

That night we went to the Grand Central Oyster House…which is another one of those places I have heard about for ages but have never actually tried. I don’t honestly remember where all of the oysters came from — although I’m pretty sure two were from the East coast and two were from the West. Either way, it came with mignonette…which is my favorite part about oysters. I had it for the first time at Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle years ago…and that was it. I was sold. I also had scallops (which I am told my father liked…which is worth mentioning solely because the whole reason my mom came out to NY was to walk with me in the Light the Night Walk in his memory/honor and so I could perhaps exorcise a demon or two) and my mom got a white fish that came with chunks of bacon on top. Both, again, were very, very good…and we were early because we had tickets to Jersey Boys (still hadn’t seen it!) and I imagine it gets pretty cozy in there as the night goes on, but it seems like it would be fun to meet up there for drinks and oysters after work someday. (Also? There is a red lip-shaped couch in the bathroom.) After the show, we hit up Junior’s for cheesecake…and my mom was very excited to see an autographed photo from Bobby Flay. So…it was like the whole day came full circle.

The next day we got lunch at Bagels by the Park and headed out for the God of Carnage matinee. (Loved it! So good! And so funny! Despite the sort of Heart-of-Darkness point of it all…) We had some time to kill afterward, so we hit up the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum in Times Square (it was either that or Madame Tussaud’s…and the guy at the door gave us $5 off each ticket)…and I guess we should have known better as it was pretty much a huge letdown. Or, rather, there was a lot of uncomfortable stuff: people with really unfortunate physical abnormalities; a room that traps you inside; torture devices; and weird medical situations. There was one breast implant display with a pair of boobs that inflated at the push of a button…otherwise, a big miss. Then I tried to take Ma to the Rainbow Room, but it’s apparently closed for awhile? (Kind of ironic that the Web site says, “Then. Now. Forever,” eh?) And so we opted instead for the revolving lounge atop the Marriott Marquis…and wouldn’t you know it? Florence Henderson was there. Small world. So…we had a drink there and tried to determine which building was which and whether Florence did anything besides the Brady Bunch and Wesson Oil (I have a “Christmas Carols” refrigerator magnet that includes Ms. Henderson, Carol Burnett, Carol Channing and Carroll O’Connor).

THEN we went to Mario Batali’s Spotted Pig as my mom really, really, REALLY likes Mario Batali. We had to wait at the bar for a bit, but it wasn’t a big deal as two seats opened up right away…almost like fate! We had oysters *again* and my mom was thinking about getting pork belly, but our server told us it was pretty fatty…so she ended up with a fish again and I got chorizo-stuffed quail with goat cheese pudding. Pretty amazing. Although the kitchen was churning out burger/fries like they were going out of style. And the guy at the table next to us could not have been any more smarmy and sort of reminded me why I’ve vowed to be the Lone Wolf for awhile. (We also finished things off with a stop by Magnolia Bakery so my mother could have one of the cupcakes made famous by you-know-what.)

On our last full day, we had a late lunch at Chevy’s and dinner after the walk (So cold! But Tina Fey was there!) at an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood that Guilia Melucci wrote about in “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.” We had tried to get in to Buttermilk Channel, which used to be a place called Cafe Scaramouche where I had brunch sort of on a regular basis with my friend Bob and ordered pancakes with caramelized orange peel that he called “pancakes in drag.” But it’s apparently quite a hot spot as the wait was an hour and we were cold, starving walkers, so we sought out the quiet Italian joint.

And then that was it. Mom went back to Tucson and I went back to reality. Still have a little linguine left over…but then it really is back to my own cookin’. Good thing I’m still really excited about my Trader-Joe’s-in-the-middle-of-the-day epiphany…

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Filed under books, Brooklyn, cheesecake, cupcake, eggs, fish, Food Network, pork

The Great Pizza Fiasco of 2009, Entirely New Apples…and Binging Throughout Manhattan (and a Little Bit of Brooklyn, Too).

I haven’t been SO focused on self-improvement lately that food has slipped *entirely* through the cracks.

I have been meaning, for example, to blog about the Great Pizza Fiasco of K’s recent(-ish) trip. You see, she had never been to Grimaldi’s before…and if you’re someone who comes to New York from time to time — as K is (or was) known to do — it seems like the kind of place you need to go once. I took my oldest childhood friend on, like, a Tuesday in the middle of the afternoon and we were able to walk right in. So…I thought maybe if we got there *right* when it opened the line wouldn’t be too bad.

So…we arrived at 11:30. There was a *bit* of a line, but the restaurant was empty and I figured we’d be okay as long as we got in during the first wave (we had tickets to Billy Elliot at 2:00!). So…we waited. There were some folks carrying in boxes and whatnot…and I thought maybe they were running behind. And then a guy came out with a clipboard and walked down the line, asking how many people were in each party. I assumed that maybe the info on the Web site was wrong or that I had misread it and the place didn’t open until 12:00. We waited patiently — it was, after all, almost noon by then — and then, what do you know? A giant tour bus pulled up right in front…and I thought, “No! This isn’t happening!” And yet it did. An entire tour bus full of people walked right in. And that was it…we only had an hour until we had to leave…so instead, on our way back to the trusty F train, we stopped in the Dumbo General Store (which I was later told is Hecho en Dumbo at night…and is totally a restaurant I have been meaning to try FOREVER).

So, it all worked out in the end and everything, but…I don’t know, Grimaldi’s. Seems like maybe we’re getting a little big for our britches, no? Especially since it isn’t exactly the ONLY place you can get good pizza in this town. So…trying to prove that very point, I tried to take K to Lucali the following night…but, dammit, there was a power outage and they were closed. So. K did not get pizza in New York. We *did*, however, have hot dogs outside the West Side Story theater, appetizers and mojitos with orange girlie doodads at Havana Central (also a tiny little nod to our mutual alma mater…), burritos at my favorite burrito place IN THE WORLD (I can’t believe some of those Yelp reviews. I love this place and I *hate* California Taqueria…so clearly Abigail S. and I find ourselves on opposite sides of the Burrito Fence…in fact, I think the guacamole there is maybe the best part…and the Gourmet burrito makes me pretty much happier than anything else. And why do you *have* to have rice and beans in your burrito, Daniel G.? I don’t get it. If I was a braver person, I’d register and write my own review. Perhaps that will come later in my quest for Sandra Bullock Clarity), and, finally — one of the places K actually wanted to go! — Tom Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft. (Another food connection? She bought me a lewd apron for my birthday. How about that?)

The following weekend I made my way to — gasp! — New Jersey to visit another K. And I was actually pretty shocked that I only had to ride New Jersey Transit for 70 minutes, but felt like I was leaving the city far, far behind. (I was also a little bit in love with the child sitting in front of me who kept calling every body of water he saw “the ocean.”) K II lives in a very bright and airy apartment on the Princeton campus (or pretty darn close) and there are lots of trees and birds and bugs. And we went apple-picking! I was not able to get my standard pie apples, but I’m not so much of a stickler that I wasn’t willing to branch out with three new varieties. I *wish* I could remember all three, but one was definitely Macoun. And…as K II took me to a charming kitchen store in the heart of Princeton (that had a revolving cake platter that plays “Happy Birthday!”) and bought mini tart pans (that’s the difference between the two of us — my tart pan is HUGE), I was totally inspired to make an apple tart of my own. (The recipe I like most on Epicurious, however, calls for cardamom and I did not see any at my local grocery store…but Trader Joe’s in the middle of the day in the middle of the week has sort of become my new favorite place to be…and Joe should have cardamom, right?) She was *also* talking about how much she likes donuts…and she was searching for a baked good to claim as her “thing” and I really, really wanted to be able to find a recipe for baked donuts that would blow her away (she was reluctant to embrace donuts because of all the frying)…but, sadly, I didn’t see anything good in any of my cookbooks (Martha has an interesting one for pumpkin cornmeal donuts…but they, like virtually every other donut in creation, are fried)…although a quick Google search pulled up *these* baked donuts…although they are also quick to note that it’s an entirely different taste sensation. If I was a more industrious blogger, I’d try these recipes out and come back with some original reporting. Which I suppose is *maybe* still a possibility, but…

…the traveling doesn’t stop there! My mother is flying in tomorrow…and we have big plans to eat a lot: Mesa Grill, Grand Central Oyster Bar, The Spotted Pig, Buttermilk Channel…and I don’t know what else. Shake Shack? Blue Smoke? Artichoke? I am sort of the proverbial kid in a candy store here as I pick out all these amazing places I would never go if it was just me.

But, wait! There’s more! Big J and I booked our tickets to Costa Rica today! We leave on November 12. And my guidebook is patiently waiting for me at the Red Hook post office. And surely there will be *something* food-related for me to blog about between now and then. (I am tempted to sign this, “Besos! LL.” But shall refrain.)

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An Old Bar, A Misinterpreted Sign & Food That Makes Me Verklempt

I met The Bartender at the beginning of the year. And he was funny. And sweet. And he worked around the corner from my apartment — at the oldest bar in Brooklyn! — and so I started spending a lot of time there. And soon I found that he was also incredibly smart…and completely genuine. And before long, I adored him.

Thus began months of what was sometimes great and sometimes terrible…and always uncertain. No one believed it would work out — we had nothing in common…except maybe our childhoods. But I continued to believe that maybe he was the Steve to my Miranda (and I sort of cringe at applying a S&tC analogy, but it’s really the most apt comparison…)…because we were so good together…(when, you know, we actually were together). (And, hey — Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat sang about basically the same thing.)

But then he’d disappear on me…and I’d be sad…and I’d call virtually everyone I know and sniffle about how I’d never love again or I’d send marathon emails that generated standard girl responses like, “He doesn’t deserve you!” and I’d try to start to figure out how I was going to get all of this out of my system. And then he’d pop up again and I’d be so, so happy…because, despite all the loosey-goosiness, I was happier with him than I’ve been in a long time…and I honestly thought we had something — *especially* when it turned out that one my best friends was the reporter for the Spanish language newspaper who interviewed him for a story about a crime in his neighborhood on her first day on the beat. The odds were infinitesimal! It *had* to be a sign! (Not unlike my very first date with the Englishman I almost married…when he was trying to come up with conversation and mentioned that he’d seen a movie  on TV over the weekend that was set in America. As he described it, I said, “Oh my gosh! A Time to Kill? They filmed that when I lived in Mississippi!” Of all the movies in the world, it was *that* one. I felt like it couldn’t *not* be the universe telling me to pay attention. And pay attention I did…and, two years later, I almost married the guy.)

But, in the end, I guess it wasn’t a sign with The Bartender. He made one final, brief return…only to disappear for good.  And now it’s hard to walk by the oldest bar in Brooklyn and know he’s right there…and it doesn’t matter.

I can’t not think about him every time I hear something about the Jets. (Lord, give me strength as football season starts…) And, whoa-ho, I will associate him with the Rangers for the rest of my life — there’s just no way around that. And I don’t really care about hockey all that much (which maybe is a sign that we *weren’t* meant to be…), so part of me was tempted to become a huge Giants fan (a giant Giants fan?) out of football spite, but…1) I don’t feel all that spiteful about The Bartender; and 2) Mark Sanchez is such a cutie! (Even though he went to USC…)

There are a lot of things I miss about The Bartender. (I actually had a dream last night that he came back…so I woke up this morning more wistful than usual…) And, yes, this is supposed to be a food-ish blog…so, dear reader, I give you some of the more culinary things I miss about him:

I can’t start with anything other than the lemon sorbet…which still sits in my freezer…and makes me think about him every time I open the door. The man actually loves his sherbet…but I couldn’t remember which one was his favorite when I popped into the bodega after a long day of playing baccarat…and the only sherbet available there had some sort of ripple in it…which seemed weird…so I opted for zesty lemon sorbet instead. And he was such a good sport about eating the sorbet even though it was the wrong one. (And…a bright side, I guess: I was actually able to eat some of it the other night without becoming a huge, sloppy mess…so maybe I’ll finally be rid of it before too long.)

That same night, I also got carded when I tried to buy him Coors Light — his beer of choice when he was poor. (When he had a little extra money to throw around, he liked Harpoon IPA or Brooklyn Lager. And…the only beer I really liked at *his* bar was Blue Moon. I can’t even tell you how many Blue Moons I had on his dime.)

I think of him whenever I order food from SeamlessWeb. We ordered food from there so many times — especially when he was hurt and wasn’t super-mobile. Plus, he was SO excited when he realized he could order food from there when he was at home, too, and his takeout options expanded exponentially.

There’s also the Thai place on Smith Street where we had our first official date…after hanging out at the oldest bar in Brooklyn for SO LONG. And he really surprised me — he was a pretty adventurous eater…which I wasn’t expecting as he was SO, SO conservative in real life that I assumed, like my father, he’d be all about meat and potatoes. Yet the man loved Thai food. And sushi. And was willing to try almost anything.

But…don’t get me wrong — he still liked meat. He was preparing to leave my apartment one Sunday afternoon to get home in time to hit up the grocery store when he said, “Boy am I tired of rice and beans. That’s all I can really afford now…so that’s all I’ve been eating for weeks.” So…I said, “You know I can cook, right?” and he said, “You’d cook for me?” to which I enthusiastically replied, “Of course I’d cook for you!”

What did he want? Meat. So…since he had just recently told me how much he liked lamb chops, I said, “Do you want me to make you lamb chops?” but he wouldn’t let me do that because he said they were too expensive…and then he remembered the Conan O’Brien Irish Beef Stew Recipe Scandal and said, “Maybe stew?”

I agreed…but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed weird to make stew in the spring — it’s a fall/winter comfort food! I wanted something more appropriate for a season of sunshine and rebirth…so I asked around. Flank steak seemed to be a big favorite…and then a friend told me that she had been at a dinner party recently with an Asian-style flank steak…and I recalled that my mother used to make an Asian-style flank steak that I liked a lot. My mom served it with rice though…and I couldn’t serve the poor man rice again, so I had to find a different side dish…and I was throwing around ideas like cucumbers with wasabi and rice vinegar

All week, I was sending him messages that went unresponded…but it wasn’t unusual for him not to write me back right away. “How do you feel about Asian-style flank steak? Will you eat that? Or is it too weird?” “If I marinate it, will you BBQ it? I am scared of BBQing.” Etc. And…as I was filling in for my old job that week, I had tentatively planned my grocery runs in between filing stories. I knew wasabi powder was going to be a long-shot at my everyday grocery store…but I figured I’d give Trader Joe’s a shot. And, bar that, I was pretty sure there was a spot on Atlantic Avenue with spices that would do the trick. And…as I planned out all of these intricate details and got more and more excited about Saturday night, I got a single message from him: “I think I’m going down to the Shore this weekend. Sorry.”

And then he disappeared for awhile. Not such a happy memory of him.

I *do* have a happy memory of his 30th birthday…which is one of the times he reappeared again. We’d gotten into a big fight about a week before…and then he hurt his foot at work…and I got a message saying he was in the emergency room…and that was it. All of my Mother Hen instincts kicked in, but there was nothing I could do. And I love birthdays! And this was such a big one! I wanted to do all sorts of crazy big things to celebrate and show him how much I cared about him. But, since he was gone, I figured I had to make plans to get far away from my apartment, or I’d spend the whole day holed up and sad about it. One of my classmates was having an annual bonanza at a farm upstate, so I decided to rent a car and make a key lime cheesecake to escape the city for a bit (with the very same Spanish language newspaper reporter who would later interview the Birthday Boy). But, alas, there was a snafu at the rental car place and the alternate route was too complicated…so I ended up staying home with the cheesecake. And then — lo and behold — he showed up on my doorstep. And I got to celebrate his 30th birthday with him after all…and I was so happy to see him again…although it was kind of morbidly ironic because he had been freaked out about turning 30 and getting old…and he needed a cane to walk with his busted foot. And then I offered to turn the Farm Cheesecake into Birthday Cheesecake…and he confessed the only cheesecake he ever liked is the one his mom makes…and I got really nervous…but, as luck would have it, he freaked out about mine. And I think he had a really good birthday.

I also think of him when I think of $2 kids’ hot dogs at Citizens Bank Park and my “Keep Drinking Until You Look Like John McCain Or Feel Like Cindy”-cup…and, of course, Coffee Talk. He did a Linda Richman impression that slayed me.

So…Mike Myers is no Bartender, but…indulge me in one last nod: Coffee Talk with Linda Richman.

Now talk amongst yourselves.

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Filed under baseball, birthdays, Brooklyn, cheesecake, football, hot dogs, ice cream, Mississippi, Palin, UCLA