Home at the Frick

There’s no place like home. It may be 85 years since the last time a member of the Frick family slept over at their mansion on East 70th, but the house still feels as much like a home as it ever did. Servants, all 27 of them, have been replaced by staff, the cedar room is no longer full of furs, and computers have replaced cots in the upstairs bedrooms. But the paintings – the Vermeers, the Whistlers and the Rembrandts – are still exactly where Mr Frick placed them more than one hundred years ago. And then there are the secret gardens, the heirloom tomatoes and the trees that were thought to be extinct.

From the rooftop looking to the west side the view over Central Park is spectacular. It is the fifth avenue view, the upper east side advantage. But on the other side of the building there is a little alcove above the famous Russell Page garden – the garden that survived the architect’s proposal of being built upon, simply by being so beautiful that people rallied from around the world to protect it. The alcove, a perfect sun trapped ledge accessible only through small forgotten french windows, is the private space of the Frick gardener. Here he grows heirloom tomatoes and herbs and occasionally permits a grateful green-thumb visitor. The tomatoes love the space and thrive, generously contributing to the salads of the staff. Well, mainly the director’s salads. But they do share the view.

On the east side of the garden is a massive Metasequoia, a red wood that was believed to have been extinct for thousands of years. Then during the American occupation of Japan after the second world war, soldiers recognized the conifer and brought seeds back to America in their pockets. One found it’s way to the Frick where it grows with a small abatement. Steel cables connect from the garden to the tree, preventing it from thwacking the building next door when the wind blows. It’s a neighborly courtesy to musical agent Mr Barbis, who not only overlooks the garden but who represents Elton John amongst others. Which goes to show you can always pick your home, but you never know who is going to live next door….

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Cinnamon Bun day

In anticipation of Cinnamon Bun Day on October 4th, exhaustive research is being undertaken to establish the best place in the city to enjoy these spicy sweets. Fortunately the Great Northern Food Hall has just opened at Grand Central – ironically on the southern side – which gives my quest a Nordic advantage. After all, cinnamon buns are to the Scandi’s what lamingtons are to Australians – native. Kanelsnurrer, sticky with cinnamon and a touch of cardamom take first place next to the feather-light crunch of sweet almond filled Frosnapper – a fabulous new discovery, while the Tebirkes pillows a filling of caramel-like remonce ( creamed butter and sugar ), which could quickly become romance – or remorse. Fortunately the pastries are much harder to pronounce than they are to eat, although the chocolate cloud puffs roll off the tongue with amazing ease.

Claus Mayer, the man behind this Nordic nirvana, who believes that good food can change lives, has built restaurants and written books, opened cafeterias in South America, initiated cooking schools in Danish prisons, and revolutionized the way people eat in Denmark – including being the co-founder of a restaurant ( Noma ) with a menu built on local ingredients, and voted the best restaurant in the world four times… He believes that deliciousness is a guiding principle of everything that we do. And when you taste his buns you also become a believer, if you weren’t already.

With my head in a cloud of cinnamon swirls it was easy to drift the short distance to Scandinavia House where a film and the appearance of Stellan Skarsgard for a post-viewing Q&A offered to make the flavours linger. The movie locations in snow-swept Norway were spectacular, and who could not be a little in awe of the Swedish superstar. But it was the title of the film – In order of disappearance – that most aptly rounded off a successful day of bun research…..

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Grammatically correct

Grammar was never my strongpoint. Even so, after 10 days of medical questionnaires and form filling to record Sean’s unscheduled shoulder realignment last week, it seems the linguistic landscape has changed. The question of ‘pronoun preference’ raised by the Orthopedic Surgeon showed just how out of touch we were. Ticking an M or F box is completely passe. Apparently some professional men now sign their correspondence with ‘he, him, his’ and staff at The New School on 14th Street wear badges stating ‘My pronoun preference is….’. That reference can include ‘Xe’, as individuals search for an alternative to ‘he’ or ‘she’ that is gender neutral ( as exists in Latin and many European languages ) and has more status than ‘it’ or ‘they’. There is always something new to be learnt, which turned my attention to adverbs, and fortunately Eataly was just around the corner.

Nutella has joined the Italian market at the Flatiron, bringing even more flavor to this perpetually tantalizing eatery. Chocolate and hazelnut brioche won over the crepes – not that you could make a bad choice – and this was after a full circuit of the cheeses, rotisserie, hot breads and salumeria. With all this edible energy no wonder Mr Batali is opening a new outlet at Gound Zero, and that his motto is eat, shop and learn. That’s two for two, so with pronouns and adverbs covered, it was time to complete the day with art and a little rest. Union Square provided the inspiration and there was complete agreement between subject and verb…

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Special K

Special K is more than just a breakfast cereal, especially when it comes with ‘milk’. At least that was part of our learning experience in the Emergency room of the Beth Israel Medical Center last Saturday night. Sean and I made an unscheduled visit to this soon-to-be-demolished hospital, after my fleet footed husband slipped down a staircase and dislocated his shoulder en route. It was an injury that cried out for immediate attention, so we joined the merry and the maimed in triage with the optimistic hope that all the pain killers had not yet been packed.

Every step of the process through X-rays and drips and analgesics was signed off, allocating responsibility and billing. Nothing new. But when Sean opted for anesthetics over au naturel to put his shoulder back together, the technician grinned, shaking a small milky bottle with the revelation that ‘this is what killed Michael Jackson!’ The ‘milk’ was to put Sean to sleep, and another drug, Ketamine, to take care of the pain. Together these drugs would knock Sean out for precisely 15 minutes, following which he would hopefully be put back together and have no memory of the squirmish. After a double dose of the cocktail that’s exactly what happened, and Sean came out grinning like a space cadet.

He wasn’t the only one. While I waited patiently in the corridor with Sean’s shoes, someone asked me if I was selling them. A colourful young woman newly acquainted with the legal drinking age danced around the room. The doctors remained cool regardless and modestly dismissed our gratitude not just for repairing Sean but for his unexpected trip to Disneyland. The King of Pop wasn’t quite so lucky. Apparently Ketamine is available on the street as Special K – it’s not manufactured but stolen from hospitals, probably theirs! Just as we were leaving, two fellows in handcuffs were escorted out of the hospital by police. They didn’t have the same glow that most of the visitors to Emergency shared – so maybe they were caught shop lifting in the breakfast aisle…

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Licorice lovers

The sign out the front is completely misleading. One hundred flavors of licorice? Impossible! There have to be at least two hundred or more. And that’s just counting the ones I like. Myzels, a little store on West 55th street is an absolute treasure trove of all things licorice, with specialty chocolates and hand made cookies. The smell as soon as you step inside is spellbinding, and when you meet Kamila you will understand why. She has an aura of aniseed, a telepathy for treats – I only had to think chocolate bullets and suddenly there they were, ‘a little something to be happy’.

No wonder Bill Cunningham was a regular. His favorite was the dark almond chocolate and he was always given more than he asked for. Sweet generosity. But there are many regulars and many favorites. Kamila has been sourcing sweets from all around the world for her clients for over 25 years. Some licorice cannot be imported directly into the USA, it has to come surreptitiously through the worldwide network of hand luggage. Chocolate bullets cannot travel complete, the licorice comes from Australia but the chocolate has to be embraced in San Francisco. Some salty licorices from the Netherlands don’t meet FDA specifications and can’t come through the front door. It was in fact a Dutch lover that introduced Kamila to licorice in the first place. She was hooked, but ultimately only on the licorice.

The long yellow boxes of mixed licorice from my childhood are quite possibly hidden in the magical jars at Myzel’s. It will probably take more than the summer to search through the stars, the rope, the truck tires and the straps, and even if I am prepared to forgo finding any choo choo bars, black teeth look to be with me for some time…

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Back to the future

Who would believe it? In downtown Manhattan there is a yogurt lab for which the milk is sourced from grass fed cows that are all called by name, the farmer delivers the milk from upstate New York in old fashioned churns, the essential accompaniments to the yogurt – Bergamot, quince and honey – are all flow in from Greece, and the Greek architect who designed this unique laboratory worked with the Miami based owners via Skype and didn’t see the business until construction was complete. What an old-fashioned, modern, hands-on international venture! The yogurt is absolutely delicious of course, which means that a global economy really can work – especially when it has a culture that speaks for itself…

Greecologies is a relatively new spot on the edge of Chinatown in Downtown Manhattan. Three times a week yogurt is made on the premises ( the ‘lab’ comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, not the City’s health inspectors, which is quite a feat for a small shop in the middle of NYC) and all the byproducts of the process become features on the menu. So the whey is blended with fresh lemon juice to create probiotic lemonade, and the butter is added to coffee to create a ‘bulletproof‘ potion that promises to keep you stimulated long after regular caffeine highs have diminished. While I can’t vouch for this first hand, I would have been perfectly happy with a little pita bread to accompany what must be the freshest, creamiest butter in the city.

The chef – or food director – of Greecologies has created a menu of ‘superfoods’ full of nutrients and antioxidants that can only be prepared in the cafe fronting the lab. A single induction burner limits the offerings of cooked food, but hey, on these glorious hot summer days when clear blue skies make you crave for sandy white beaches with aquamarine water glistening under a mediterranean sun, a terra-cotta pot of fresh cool yogurt can really take you there…

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Goodfellas

A movie set could not have created a richer more endearing atmosphere than that which tradition turned out in Brooklyn on the weekend. Italians came from all over the city, many returning to their old neighbourhood, to reenact a fourth century pageant involving 150 men lifting a four tonne tower – the Giglio – a task amplified by simultaneously shouldering the band, whose music they dance to as they lift. What a feat! This is a tradition of 125 years and doubles with the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to create a joyous and genuine celebration. The festivities last for 10 days, and on Saturday night it was a classic New York experience with families and food and a lot of fun.

Channeling Sinatra, Sal, the MC for the evening, insisted that everyone have a good time, after they paid their respects at the Church! Consecutive masses in English, Italian, Polish, Spanish and Creole meant there were no excuses, and as people streamed out post-penitent, they fell in step with ‘the best is yet to come’. Some lit up a cigar, or indulged in irresistible sausage – or both – while the children tried their luck bursting balloons with darts, or trying to throw ping pong balls into illusive bowls. One success would win one small fish and six of these would equal one whopper. All those prayers must have worked, because there were a lot of children carrying plastic bags bursting with goldfish.

By choosing Saturday night over Sunday I missed the lift of the Giglio, but I couldn’t possibly have missed the making – or the taste – of the zeppoles. The muscle of their mixing was matched only by the enthusiasm of their making, and the final shake of sugar really was the icing on the cake. Like a doughnut but denser and best eaten fresh out of the fryer, zeppoles taste like childhood and summer holidays rolled into one. And of course on a hot Saturday night, with the sound of Frankie crooning in the background, and God and the Goodfellas at one with the world, there really is no doubt these were Dee best…!

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Happy Fourth!

It’s been quite the colorful week. NYC has entertained us with parades, politics, festive food and fireworks. But the best was saved for last… one big smiley face to finish off the day. Happy Fourth!

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Printing with pride

The devil is in the detail. At the South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan, Bowne & Co is a unique commercial printer that almost exclusively uses technology from the 19th century to create hand crafted stationery. A working museum, the staff work magic with presses and heavy paint in a process that survives in only a handful of places around the country. The skill and labour intensiveness is astonishing. There are 1,800 draws of type, all different shapes and sizes, some metal, some wood, that you not only have to find but also return post printing to the right spot, polished off with a horse-hair brush. There are plates built like lego sets from a jigsaw of metal pieces, or molded from magnesium to depict city skylines, chickens or flags. Layers and layers of patience are built into every process, not to mention the pride that it can still be done.

Clipper cards, advertising shipping services between New York & San Francisco, were an early market for printers. There were ‘remember to vote’ cards, self stamped envelopes and newspapers, all requiring a distinctive look. In fact it was one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, who brought many type designs to America. And strangely, it is presidents who have continued to make type – or font – famous. Obama put his custom version of gotham on the map with ‘yes we can, his rival Mitt Romney took himself off the map by using a font for his campaign without paying for the copyright. Hillary Clinton is using unity as her main typeface this election season, and Trump is using Akzidenz-Grotesk BQ Bold Extended. Say no more!

When Hurricane Sandy blew into NYC at the end of October 2012, she left three feet of water in Browne & Co’s printing shop. All those hundreds of drawers with their thousands of tiny pieces of type were awash. With no electricity and the chaos of water and sand and salt, the printing machines and all their supporting apparatus could easily have been lost. But suddenly 300 people turned up to volunteer their help. They didn’t get a written invitation, but they certainly ensured those vintage presses could send out a thank you…

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True Devocion

Devocion is a telling title for an impressive new coffee mecca in Williamsburg. More like a cathedral than a café, with ceilings soaring into the heavens and ample space for leather chesterfields lounging below a lush vertical green garden – not to mention a congregation of computer kids in permanent residence – the shop pays homage to all things coffee. Salgado-like photographs of plantation workers hang on the exposed brick walls, stacks of green beans flown in by Fedex from Bogota are roasted in grinding distance of the expresso machine and the ensuing rich aromas accompany pour overs, aromatics and cold brews. Toby’s may have set up shop around the corner some years earlier, and Starbucks may have their own mega coffee store planned in the Meatpacking district in 2018, but for the summer of 2016, ultra fresh Columbian coffee is the hot item.

Our immediate need for a coffee escalated as we wandered past the roasting machines, where a sign proclaimed that minute by minute the flavour of the coffee beans was diminishing. It may only have been 10 days since the beans were picked, but with our host’s intention that the cup you hold in your hands still breathes the mists of the Colombian campo, it seemed wise to order with haste. Who could resist such a sensation? The options were quickly considered, and so the ‘cortado’ was discovered, a heart starting Spanish option of equal parts coffee and milk. If the gymnastics of the barista pumping oversized expresso taps just to make this elixir was any indication of the power of the coffee, we were sold. Along with a honey croissant and pain au chocolate…

Riding from Manhattan over the East River to Williamsburg just for a coffee – even a fresh one – is a little excessive. Although considering that the cost of living in Williamsburg is almost 80% higher than the national average, a four dollar, four day old coffee is an absolute gift. It’s just the lingering geek-chic atmosphere that deters a fuller appreciation of the experience. The emperor does not only have new clothes in Williamsburg, he has a whole new life style. So while the cortado was excellent, for me hipster culture is best in small doses, devotion is more for the one you’re with, and partaking in mature coffee is totally underrated….

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