Monthly Archives: July 2011

How to survive a New York Heatwave

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With temperatures soaring, and electricity suppliers reducing voltages all over the state, to avoid blackouts from air conditioning power demands, this week in New York City has been one of melting proportions.

New York City Heatwave, c.1936

Personally, I have not tried to venture out too much today despite my intrigue. What does 41 degrees Celsius actually feel like? I did however have to quickly hop, skip and a-jump over the road to fetch a lunch/brownie and so I did, at least for a few moments, feel the impact of the overwhelming, sweltering wall of heat as I stepped out of my air conditioned building. Any long term presence on the streets of the UES might, I fear, result in some sort of self-destruction maybe my head would explode under the pressure? Who knows? I didn’t care to find out. However, as the day is now dwindling I am concerned about my commute home. Sun still blistering the streets of the Big Apple, I turned to the faithful internet to give me some peace of mind on this tropical Friday afternoon.

When entering “surviving a New York heatwave” into Google, I found the following informative site (http://manhattan.about.com/od/citylife1/a/heatwavenyc.htm). I have attempted to address each point in turn:

  • Do your best to stay out of the sun and avoid strenuous activity during the sun’s peak hours of 11AM and 4PM. Plan your workout or other physically demanding activities for the day’s coolest hours between 4AM and 7AM (indoor gyms make for an easy way of avoiding outdoor training BUT do mean that leaving the gymnasium with a bit of a sweat on can result in an embarrassing situation on the tram/cable car).
  • When you’re out in the sun, be sure to wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 and a hat to protect your face and head (cowering under the beating sun’s glare while scurrying to the next air conditioned residence should do the trick?).
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible (H&M don’t give you enough material for the (admittedly) little money you pay, which satisfies this point ever so nicely).
  • Drink plenty of water even if you don’t feel thirsty (not from the water fountains on this floor. No siree). Your body needs water to keep cool.
  • Avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine (OK). They can cause dehydration.
  • Eat small, frequent meals (does ice cream count?). Avoid high-protein foods (does ice cream count?). Put that Atkins diet on hold until the temperature drops.
  • Head to a local swimming pool or beach to cool off. During heat emergencies, New York City pools and beaches are open late and often offer free or reduced admission (Right, but with my tennis tan lines am I ready to display my body to the trendy NYC crowd? I think not).
  • Find a cooling center. During heat emergencies, New York City opens air-conditioned cooling centers around the five boroughs where residents can find a break from the heat. Find the cooling center nearest you.
  • Cool down with cool baths or showers (I am having 2 and 3 cold showers a day. It is not enough but certainly takes the edge off). However, never take a shower immediately after becoming overheated. You may cool down too quickly and become nauseated or dizzy.
  • Never leave children or pets in a parked car during a heat wave (not applicable here).
  • Cool off at a fire hydrant, using only City-approved fire hydrant spray caps available free of charge at local firehouses. (Spending the afternoon with NY firemen sounds like a must! You don’t have to ask me twice!) Illegally opening a fire hydrant is wasteful and dangerous – one illegally opened hydrant wastes up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute.
  • Monitor signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. (Fingers crossed the 20 minute journey home does not become too much for my poor temperature controlling body) Contact 911 immediately if medical help is required.

In the Northeast of the US, a heatwave is defined as a period of time when temperatures exceed 90degF for 3 consecutive days. Therefore, I think hitting the 110degF mark today deserves a new special term all of its own. Something like “heat tsumani”? Give me a little time. I can think of something more punchy! In the meantime, the clock is about to strike 5pm and so my work here is done. Wish me luck?

The US Space Program: End of a Dream!

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Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times- read the full New York Times article here

Today, another monumental event happened in the Global History (other than me dining out at Restaurant Week July 2011). The US Space Shuttle Program landed for the last time after 30 years of space travel.

Named in my school year book as the “first person likely to fly in space” or “first person to become an astronaut” or some such ambitious claim, I have not been that optimistic, of late, that I could ever live up to that title, at least not in the US Program (I am not a citizen for one). However, I was still feeling wistful as these impressive images from the 19th and final landing at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center began to reawaken my long dormant aspirations of space travel. After all, I remember some key astronaut characteristics etched in my mind following years of teenage research: an astronaut needs to be at least in their late 20s. check. have a PhD. check. be physically fit or capable of becoming so with ease. check. have 20/20 vision. OH wait…. I KNEW there was something that steered me away from this career all those years ago!? However, beyond that probably the most crucial issue is one always needs a ride?

And looks like one such ride just landed for the last time. Sad face. But, as always, onwards and upwards… hopefully. Next stop, Russia?

Dining like a Viking (with money)

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This week is another exciting theme for the city. This week is one of New York’s Restaurant weeks. For one entire week, some of the most prestigious restaurants by the most renowned chefs open their doors for a prix fixe menu so that the commoner can dine on their elaborate culinary creations. Eateries you can only dream about visiting offering affordable 3 course meals so that everyone can indulge themselves in the city of food.

I first scanned “The Scoop“, a New York Times Inside Guide by their resident foodie Sam Sifton. He keeps an online and updated Top 50 interactive restaurant map of the city ideal for dipping in and out of this constantly evolving dining experience. Having narrowed down my top 4 restaurants on the “Sifty Fifty”, that were participating in the Restaurant Week fun, I approached some of my colleagues to see if they would agree to splurge with me for one night only on a feast of their choice. I say, “their choice”, as I offered them a choice of sorts, however, I had of course vetted every establishment and narrowed down my top picks.

We unanimously agreed upon a Scandanavian style restaurant called “Aquavit“. Described on it’s website as “the premier Scandinavian dining destination since 1987” who are we to argue?

Scandinavian cuisine has, over centuries, absorbed influences from cultures close by. Mostly Germanic and Eastern European flavors gave way to French influences and techniques from 1950’s and on. Still we mostly regard Scandinavian home cooking as Germanic and Scandinavian fine dining as French.

You’ll notice these subtle differences at Restaurant Aquavit when visiting our Bistro which has many rustic, Scandinavian home cooking interpretations on the menu and our dining room, where the tone is mostly French with a Scandinavian profile.

Aquavit’s design, however, is distinctly Scandinavian. Our design is open and airy saluting famous designers such as Arne Jacobsen, Paul Kjaerholm and Verner Panton. The classically modern setting compliments the cooking style of Executive Chef Marcus Jernmark. A meal at Restaurant Aquavit is a journey to Scandinavia that can be either traditional or modern, depending on your mood.

Well our mood was going to be hungry so we were very excited to get on with the 3-course banquet. Having avoided the first hurdle, of me booking us for a Saturday and us arriving on a Wednesday, we were safely seated in the main dining room of cool, open wood-panelled modernity. There was definitely a sense of log cabin surrounded by vast woodland, despite being right bang in the middle of urban Manhattan.

Ordering was easy, as we had already scoured the menu online pre-dinner, so we promptly listed our desires and confirmed with the waiter that we would like our bread before the dishes arrive, thank you. Let’s get this show on the road, I was thinking. He kindly obliged and proceeded to place a volcanic-like pumice-esque stone on our table smothered in a generous dollop of creamy butter. I would have tucked in directly but since we were in a posh place I consented to wait for the bread. As I lathered the butter lavishly on my bread mix, the starter plates arrived. First up was a herring tartar for Liz and Alissa and a smoked cedar ham with pickled vegetables and a wholegrain mustard for me. The herring tartar was quite a magnificent sight. A short tower of uncooked fish sat in the middle of the plate, bordered by small delicate additions such as a mound of finely diced beetroot, a tiny firm egg yolk and pearl onions for a flurry of wonderful colour. The chef advised the girls to fully mix everything, and therefore destroy the art, in order to get the best experience from the dish. My cedar ham was delicious and simple but my food envy for the herring creation was quite distracting.

Next up, we got a blackened perch and the duck confit between us. Both to die for, I got stuck in to everything with my fork displaced between perch and canard. However, as is usually the case with me, dinner is always simply a build up to dessert and I was not to be disappointed. Local Strawberries with almond ice cream, blueberries, blackberries and a yummy (couldn’t think of a more appropriate word) strawberry fool laid out in true Masterchef style (although less of a techno backing track). Now I am completely satisfied. My tummy is full but no overfilled and I am feeling very overwhelmed with food joy.

I will definitely have to redo Restaurant Week next time around.

South America just over the East River

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Now I have fully established myself in the tennis “scene”, i.e. I have found someone to play with me every weekend, I am trundling off to Flushing Meadows every Saturday or Sunday to hit a few balls in the stifling heat. We even miss out on weekend lie ins in order to try beat the sun. However, we always seem to fail and today again melted into a puddle at the side of the court.

By 11:30am my partner and I are both exhausted from the humidity and eager to explore this area of Queens a little more. Last week we ventured not to far from the US Open courts in the heart of Flushing. This famed tortilleria has won many awards and is snuggly located on an “esquina” (corner) of a residential hub. Flanked by wood-panelled detached and semi-detached homes, this fun red and yellow taco oasis stands proud in the sleepy neighbourhood. In fact, as I often find in Queens, one can feel very far from a bustling city life and with the suffocating sun beating down and the authentic Mexican food prepared in front of us, accompanied by imported national drinks, we really could have been in Mexico itself.

Centeotl is the Aztec Corn god

Nixtamal is an Aztec word to describe corn that has been partially cooked and treated with calcium hydroxide (otherwise known as cal or lime). Nixtamal can be used for grinding into masa (or corn dough) used for tortillas (finely ground) or tamales (coarsely ground), or can be kept in its whole form to make hominy, typically used in pozole soup.

The ancient process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica, where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date for when the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatemala’s southern coast, with equipment dating from 1200-1500BCE.

I highly recommend this restaurant. With reasonably sized portions, this deliciously fresh nourishment is not to heavy for the tummy and everything is prepared on site to make for a very authentic experience.

This week was a lunch of Colombian cuisine. Los Arrieros sits “cerca de la metro” (near the metro) and is almost always (I have heard) jam-packed with locals, which can only be a good sign. A photoshoot menu serves to detail every dish available to the customer but entirely misrepresents the size of the portions. Beans, rice, a plentiful of meat, plantain and tamal (a Columbian dish of chicken and pork cooked in a corn husk with peas and carrots and then wrapped in a plantain leaf) all tempt the reader with their portfolio, but on coming out of the kitchen, the word pequeno does not automatically spring to mind. I plumped for the tamal, it being the most typical of the dishes and I was not to be disappointed. The meat, hidden inside it’s thick polenta-like shell, fell easily off the bone. Incredibly wholesome and as such was probably more of a winter dish. Raf chose the grilled beef and he certainly got enough of that. We indulged in sides of salad, plantain and a plate of rice and beans and between the two of us did quite well, I would say, in trying to make a dent in it. However, I think next time we will have to bring a larger team of eaters!

Queens is quite the dining experience. Pity, then, there are only 3 meals in a day as I have my work cut out for me in New York City.

THIS is how much New Yorkers love their animals!

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A converted suitcase makes for a new comfy spot for this cat!

Ready for a costume party?

No, no, no, no, no! NO!!!!

This “dude” is looking seriously relaxed

A girlie dog complete with hair accessories

Well, with this droopy face you can see why his owner thought he had had enough walking for one day

Even B. Obama has his own labradoodle pet

Keeping aloof in the tourist chaos that overwhelms NYC in the summertime

Even the larger canine is accommodated

They don’t look all that interested in the grapes

Fashion is not only for homo sapiens

So you think you can dance?

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Newly discovered deal websites have recently gripped my New York life. Sites such as Groupon, Lifebooker, LivingSocial are all the rage in my endless adventure planning, with my gmail receiving regular daily hits from these tempting treats at unbeatable prices. Treats such as helicopter rides, massages and facials, clothing deals and my not-so-new obsession with dance classes.

As an avid watcher of the BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” I have long since vowed to gain some degree of celebrity status so that, one day, I will be invited as a contestant and partake in some intensive one-on-one dance training of all styles. Of course this will come complete with accompanying TV crew and made to measure flamboyant dancing attire. Simply an added bonus. As yet, however, I have not managed to achieve this lingering goal, but I am not one for sitting and watching. Indeed, I have decided that this has to be the city to quench that thirst for the rumba hip action, spicy salsa armography and the elegant rise and fall of the foxtrot. I am adamant that I will master one if not all of these dances, so it seemed that last week lifebooker heard my plea and conveniently offered up a surfeit of dance-y type enticements. 5 salsa classes for $30. Click. Booked. One month free unlimited access to tango, salsa, samba, swing and hip hop for $30. Click. Click. Booked. At this point I paused for thought. I could get carried away after all and I certainly need to consider my Wholefoods budget as some sort of priority. I think for now, what with my new spanish endeavours (que tal? estoy muy bien y tu?), I should probably stop clicking that mouse and start tapping those toes.

Salsa class number 1 went down with a bang. Louise and I arrived at the midtown high rise in good time, signed in and were directed to the 12th floor. A mecca of dance awaited us. Dance classes in every room, sweaty individuals pouring out of Broadway style choreography, belly-dancing, ballroom elegance and of course sizzling salsa. Immediately impressed by the female to male ratio in our session, we were encouraged that at least one of us was not going to have to take the lead and positioned ourselves in good view of our new master. After a terrifying warm up of fast footwork at breakneck speed I think we shared a look of fear and amusement. Of course, we are now fully prepared for this city’s offerings of professional amateurs and so were not at all surprised that we might be out of our depth. However, once the warm up was complete (I was too confused to keep up and had to be thankful that the 37 deg Celsius outside was able to keep my muscles primed), the class was split between the clueless and the able and we soon realised that, for the former, this was going to be an agreeable build up to salsa proficiency. After 30 minutes of non-stop basic step we transitioned ‘smoothly’ to partner work and even included the cross body step and an under arm turn. Salsa prides itself on being a little rough around the edges. The club number where both sweat and mojitos flow freely and hours rush by in a whirl of steamy Latin beats. By the end of the class I believed myself to be shimmying my hips, all the while my arms keeping rhythm with their synchronised swaying. I even convinced myself that an innocent passer-by could absolutely mistake me for a Cuban senorita. I was clearly lost in the music.

Dance class number 2 and we must again prove to our teacher that we have mastered the basic step so that we could proceed to spins and cross bodies. This time we were recording the basics to create muscle memory that would hold us in good stead if we ever felt brave enough to venture to a darkened club scene. I think with a little persuasion we just might muster up some such courage.

With salsa well underway I was next delighted that the UES hospital, in which I work, was offering a free introductory ballroom class. Timely no? I was directed to sign up. Needless to say they didn’t have to ask me twice.

Now, I was to learn the side, together, back, side, together of the rumba, trying to accentuate those hips all the while positioning my arms in a strong, sophisticated hold, typical of the ballroom styles. We even got to practice a little with the music. Being backed by the dulcet tones of a certain Mr Michael Bublé only served as further inspiration. We love you Bublé. Next up and it was the foxtrot. I was picturing a black and white movie, glamorous full dresses reminiscent of old Hollywood chic. I was mesmerised, but not too much that I didn’t learn the slow, slow, fast, fast steps that could afford me the skills to move ‘elegantly’ around the room. I began to grow jealous of the small glittery heels being worn by some of my peers. Looking forlornly down at my canvas plimsolls I was feeling less than dressed for the part. As I repeated the slow, slow, fast, fast again to Buble (this time his version of “Fever“) I whisked myself away, virtually albeit, to an old school studio set. Gene Kelly taking me in a graceful dancer’s hold and leading me across the non-carpeted floor ed by a full-size orchestra. Don’t ever wake me up.

I was in my element and then to add to my inconceivable joy we then proceeded to learn the jive. Oh what fun. I could soon enough imagine myself in a short highly sequined tassled skirt and sparkly heels hopping about this way and that to the upbeat tracks of swing. It was decided. I am hooked. What with my biweekly dance classes in my gym and now with the new found ability to dance here and everywhere in the city I was well positioned to take on the boogie wonderland with both feet in tune. Now for the research for even more ballroom classes not to mention the still-to-complete salsa set and the month free at that other dance school.

Who knows. I think this could be the start of a beautiful partnership between the music and me.