Throngs of visitors come to New York City every year to watch the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s such a popular event that hotel rooms along the route have the equivalent of “surge pricing” and still manage to sell out way in advance. That kind of fervor can only mean one thing: New Yorkers will stay very, very far away from it.
New Yorkers who want to enjoy a good parade will, instead, make their way out to Coney Island for the annual Mermaid Parade. There is no need to bundle up to fend off freezing temperatures. (Quite the opposite, as you’ll see.) There is no need to claim your spot along the route at 6 am. The parade starts at a reasonable hour and covers a short route. It ends on the boardwalk, where the party continues throughout the day. It oozes a fun, laid-back vibe: just show up and have fun.
If you’re conjuring up images of Disney’s wholesome The Little Mermaid, thinking this is strictly an event for little girls and tweens, you couldn’t be more wrong. The Mermaid Parade celebrates the city’s creative spirit, providing its denizens with an outlet for self-expression. There are no boundaries, and is celebrated as such. Every year a new King Neptune and Queen Mermaid is crowned to kick off the parade. The notorious list has included Judah Friedlander (30 Rock), Carole Radziwill (Real Housewives of New York City), Moby and Queen Latifah. It sets the tone for what to expect from the parade quite nicely. This year’s King and Queen were none other than Chris Stein and Debbie Harry. Yup, BLONDIE, guys. Pardon me while I scream into a pillow.
Here are some highlights from our time at the 2017 Coney Island Mermaid Parade:
All in the Family
Politics as Usual
Creatures of the Sea
Bust a Move
The best way to get to Coney Island is always using the subway. This is, in fact, one of those cases where your subway fare is a steal! Take the D, F, N or Q subway to Stillwell Avenue, which puts you right in the heart of the action. Just build in a little bit of time for the travel, it takes approximately 45-60 minutes to get there from Manhattan.
If you missed the Clamilton performance on our Instagram Stories, we’ve uploaded it to YouTube. (Excuse the quality, it was shot from a smartphone on a cloudy day!)
Our summer street art series will resume shortly, so stay tuned!
One of the side effects of starting this blog is that our days off are now few and far between. But when we do take a day to relax, we often spend some part of it in front of the television, with our feet up and our hands reaching into a tub of snacks. It feels like our natural resting state. So when an event brings together television and food, we can’t say yes fast enough. TNT Supper Club did just that, and in a big way.
A Shakespeare for today
We attended the inaugural TNT Supper Club event as part of Vulture Festival, which is an annual weekend extravaganza that brings together all things pop culture. (In case you missed it: Part One of our Vulture Festival experience involves Kevin Bacon.) To celebrate its new original series Will, TNT hosted a fabulous dinner at West Edge in the Meatpacking District. Will captures the life of a young William Shakespeare in London during the 1500s. If you’re flashing back to a boring English Lit class, or worse, Leonardo di Caprio playing Romeo, then you’re in for a surprise.
In Will, the young bard is in his twenties, and London’s theatre scene is exploding. It’s an exciting tale of fame and fortune, love and friendship, which we can all still relate to today. And a young, attractive cast doesn’t hurt. (They were among the guests at the dinner.)
Culinary poetry in motion
Speaking of dinner, the multi-course feast that evening was presented by James Beard Award-winning chef Jamie Bissonette. With 16th century London as his inspiration, he developed a veritable feast that included appetizers like a divine Roasted Beet Salad and entrees like Curried Lamb Pie. The dessert, a Chocolate Pudding with ice cream and a crumble on top, was the stuff of dreams, so much so that Justin felt compelled to approach the congenial chef, shake his hand and offer his appreciation.
Perhaps what was most unexpectedly enjoyable about the evening was that we were seated at communal tables. This can make for an unbearably awkward evening, but fortune smiled upon us and we found ourselves meeting and dining with some lovely people. As they plied us with plates of polenta and turkey (and for those non-teetotalers, unlimited beer, cocktails and glasses of wine), we chatted about life, work, and, of course, the latest television shows we were catching up on. It made for an enjoyable evening all around.
We share New York City with a lot of celebrities, which means on any given day you might run into Jonathan Groff on his way to Hamilton (which I did!). Or you might find yourself waiting in line behind Famke Janssen for your takeout (which I also did!). And you might spy Michael K Williams in your subway car (yup, totally happened). I even walked by George Lucas on his way to Starbucks. (No judgment, George.)
It might be a little silly, but I read a long time ago that John Lennon loved how New Yorkers were always so relaxed around him. He captured that sentiment in the lyrics of his song, New York City:
Well nobody came to bug us, hustle us or shove us so we decided to make it our home
So I always try to give the celebrities their privacy. I usually make crazy eyes at Justin to alert him (just so he can vouch for me when I tell the story), then furiously text all my friends. But bottling up my inner groupie is an effort. So once a year, I get pretty excited about letting my freak fangirl fly at the Vulture Festival.
We attended the Vulture Festival last year too, so you can read a little more about what it’s all about here. This year we had a couple of events lined up, the first of which was an interview with Kevin Bacon.
Kevin Bacon and New York City
Kevin Bacon’s career has spanned many years and covers the stage, the small screen and the big screen. Everyone has a favorite Kevin Bacon movie, and because his range is so wide, it’s rarely the same one. He’s a die-hard New Yorker, and I’m not saying that because he’s lived here since the age of 17. When asked about his favorite restaurants, he refused to divulge them because then they would get crowded. Classic New Yorker move.
Kevin Bacon and Fame
The interview was refreshingly conversational, and Kevin Bacon was surprisingly real. He talked honestly about fame: “There are two types of actors: the ones who want to be famous, and liars.” He confessed that when he achieved fame, he struggled with the fact that it wasn’t for what he wanted to be famous for. There was an anecdote about how he felt starring in Tremors (a favorite of Justin’s, it just so happens) wasn’t something he fully appreciated at the time. But he has since changed his opinion, so much so that he’s currently developing a television series based upon it. He’s funny too: he joked about not having enough coke to pick girls up at Studio 54, and nepotism on this latest project (it was directed by his wife, starred him and his daughter and was scored by his son).
Vulture Festival calls itself a “pop culture extravaganza”, which might come off as a little bombastic. But these kind of up close and personal experiences are pretty hard to beat, and the talent keeps getting better each year (Neil Patrick Harris! Sarah Jessica Parker!). All event attendees also had access to their lounge, which featured amazing eats, live music and DJs throughout both days.
If you’re a fan of pop culture, there’s really no event like it. Stay tuned for Part Two of our experience there later this week. And Los Angeles take note: Vulture Festival is coming to you this November for the first time!
Have you ever been in the situation where you’re walking down the aisle of a grocery store, a certain song plays over the speaker and you find yourself overcome with emotion? Maybe it triggered the memory of your first boyfriend, or it reminded you of a particular place, or the lyrics were particularly relevant to a recent event. If you’ve ever stifled sobs in the dairy aisle while deciding between skim and 1%, you’re not alone.
There’s a well-studied link between music and memory, but for many of us that extends to books, television shows and movies as well. They can evoke powerful emotions. I can distinctly remember how I felt when I finished Wuthering Heights, when Mr. Big’s real name pops up on Carrie’s phone, and definitely when I watched Reservoir Dogs.
As a self-professed movie lover, the Tribeca Film Festival is something I look forward to every year. It’s always exciting to see the festival picks, but it’s also a fun time in New York City. The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in an effort to revitalize the flailing New York City economy after 9/11. Backed by the star power of names like Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese, the inaugural festival launched in 2002 and has continued to grow exponentially each year. Now it’s a time of celebrity sightings and fan geekdom throughout the city.
There are hundreds of screenings that take place during the Tribeca Film Festival, from shorts to documentaries to features. There are also an impressive number of talks and special events. Cinephiles are like kids in a candy store. (Or Homer in a pie store. You get the gist.)
This year’s festival featured a special screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs on 35mm print in honor of its 25th anniversary. Reservoir Dogs is a movie that was well ahead of its time at its Sundance Film Festival debut in 1992, and still holds up today. The banter is still engaging. The plot is still relevant. And yes, the acting and directing are still fantastic.
(Yes, I totally geeked out in my Reservoir Dogs finest.)
The screening was followed by a talk with Quentin Tarantino himself (Mr. Brown), Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange) and Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde). It was great to hear tidbits about how Harvey Keitel had to pay for Quentin Tarantino to fly to New York City so that local actors could audition (which led to the discovery of Steve Buscemi). And it was fascinating to learn that Michael Madsen was incredibly nervous about the now-iconic dance scene, so much so that it was never rehearsed — then amazingly, shot in one take.
It’s a fan experience we were fortunate to have access to, thanks to the Tribeca Film Festival. Movie buffs, be sure to sign up for advance notice so you can pre-game ahead of the next festival. If you haven’t yet watched Reservoir Dogs, I suggest you remedy that right away. If you have, tell me your favorite line. Here’s mine:
“Yeah, but Mr. Brown, that’s a little too close to Mr. Shit.”
Pair it with:
Something from Mister Dips
Mister Dips is nowhere near Tribeca, the Beacon Theatre or any other Tribeca Film Festival location. But we’re also talking about Reservoir Dogs, and in my version, Mr. White, Mr. Brown, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde and Mr. Blue all go to Mister Dips. (Poetic license, it’s a thing.)
Mister Dips is located in an Airstream trailer at the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn. It offers a small-but-tight menu of burgers, soft-serve and floats and serves up a fantastic view on the side. Andrew Carmellini is behind the venture, so I wasn’t surprised that the burger was good. Or that the waffle fries were fantastic. What DID surprise me, though, was that the Green Label burger is probably the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. And after we downed all that? We still found room for a Jacker-Crax cone. Heck, I’d let you cut my ear off for one of those.
We love our cat. Chloe is family in every conceivable way.
And if you sense that I’m both unapologetic and unequivocal when making these two statements, let me explicitly confirm your intuition. I am. On both accounts. Full stop.
I do not have a young child, nor do I currently have elderly parents or in-laws to care for in their latter years. (I’m incredibly grateful that they are all, by God’s grace, in good health.) As for my grandparents, they have long since departed this world.
That’s not to say I don’t know something about being a caretaker. For years, I’ve had a dependent, just not one I can claim on my taxes. I’ve cleaned up her messes. I’ve prepared her meals. Even handled her 3P’s (pee, poop and puke). I’ve brushed her hair and cut her nails and attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to bathe her. I’ve transported her to checkups. (And chewed my nails through a few medical procedures.) I’ve soothed her crying on airplanes and hushed her hissing on road trips. I’ve spent untold hours doting on her, reprimanding her, worrying about her and pulling at my ever-thinning hair in frustration.
When Lynn and I heard about the first-ever Cat Camp, the feline-focused conference and adoption event at Metropolitan Pavilion, it was a given that we would attend. As the press release alluded, “The symposium will bring cat lovers together under one roof to celebrate all things cats and to discuss some of the most important and challenging problems facing cats today.” And Cat Camp didn’t disappoint. There were a tremendous number of vendors, offering wares and information on numerous cat-related products and services, scattered throughout the space.
Of all the vendors present, we were particularly taken with The Dancing Cat, where we found cards, prints and t-shirts featuring witty illustrations by artist Jamie Shelman. The Dancing Cat has had an online presence since 2008, but their cards can also be found at Paper Source and other brick-and-mortars. Jamie Shelman is a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, and you can shop her charming designs on etsy here.
Several rescue organizations were present, hoping to facilitate cat adoptions. It can be heartbreaking to see kittens orphaned at birth and older cats abandoned in their waning years, or worse, abused and broken by the worst examples of callous human nature — all, waiting in cages, for permanent homes. One’s instinct is to save these poor creatures. And certainly I feel that pull, though I cannot indulge in its gravity.
At 18 years of age (as of this month), I stand beside Chloe at the abyss of her mortality. I’ve cared for her in what was at first gradual but is now, more recently, a precipitous state of decline. And at some point in the future, near or far, I’ll have to go on in life without her. Cat Camp was a celebration of our journey, from the moment Lynn brought her home from the ASPCA, to the moment I joined what has become our family unit, to what will be a difficult end.
Pair it with:
There was a running joke at work that I was a food porn sadist. On Monday mornings, around 9:00 am, I’d assail colleagues with pics of my weekend food conquests, be it burgers, slices of pizza, or any number of delectable sweets. You would hear a collective “Dear God, you son-of-a-bitch!” when these images would pop-up unexpectedly on their screens in group chat, followed by the likes of “Well, I can’t eat this crap 0% yogurt now, can I?”
And so, there’s the segue into my weekend excursion to Danny Meyer’s new bakery and cafe, Daily Provisions, praised for his excellent crullers. And the accolades proved well-deserved. These are, without doubt, the best I’ve ever tasted. Crispy on the outside at the twists and warm egg-creamy, reminiscent of a souffle texture, at the center. They come in three flavors: glazed, maple and cinnamon and sugar — all three are excellent.
And though I’ve since moved to another department within the company, you can rest assured, my former colleagues received a group message with the images you see here, first thing Monday morning.
There were two take-aways from my trip to Venice many years ago. 1) Learn to travel light. Though the bridges are pretty, lugging suitcases up and down them gets old fast. 2) I don’t care if Venice is sinking, it can take me with it. The city that brought us tiramisu, Titian and Vivaldi was as magical as promised. Paris may hold the title City of Love, but I’d be strapped to conjure up a city more romantic than Venice. Maybe the fact that I’m a fan of a little-known rom-com called Only You starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. has a little to do with it. (Fair Venice is one of its co-stars.)
When I read about the New York Public Library’s new Library After Hours event, it was quickly penciled into our calendar. The first of its kind, the event would be held at the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, which has long been one of our favorite buildings in the city. (They offer free building tours too, which we blogged about here.) As an added bonus, the theme of its first event was Love in Venice, in conjunction with Carnegie Hall’s larger La Serenissima festival celebrating the music and arts from the Venetian Republic.
In our excitement, we’d completely missed that you could sign up for priority access. *Insert face palm here* Needless to say, the priority access spots to the Library After Hours event went quickly, so we arrived early to get in the people-who-don’t-have-their-sh*t-together line. It’s fortunate that we did: the response to the free event was so strong that both the priority access and regular lines wrapped around the block. We were allowed in with the second group of priority access holders, but we had been waiting for almost two hours at that point.
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was festively lit, and had smaller “stations” set up where event goers could partake in dance lessons and mask making, enjoy themed food and drink, or visit the special Love in Venice exhibit featuring works from the NYPL’s collections. With the balmy 60-degree daytime temps setting the tone, this would normally have ranked pretty high on our ideal-night-out meter. But the event felt heavily overbooked, with lines stretching throughout the building for each activity. It was a logistical fail, so we were only able to sample a tiny portion of what was offered.
We overheard lots of heavy sighs when people realized where the end of the line was. We even witnessed some heated conversations with event staff members. It felt like Trader Joe’s on a Saturday afternoon, except over, and over, and over á la Groundhog Day. While we’re big proponents of accessibility, we feel strongly that it shouldn’t impede enjoyment of the experience. Perhaps it would have been wise to cap the number of attendees. But it was the inaugural Library After Hours endeavor, and it’s only fair to acknowledge that. We suspect (and sincerely hope) that the next event will be better executed.
The Love in Venice exhibit will be on display through August 26. Don’t miss the Venus and Amor print designed by Titian and executed as a woodcut by Niccolo Boldrini. And allow the reproductions of Piazzetta’s portraits by Teodoro Viero to charm you.
Library After Hours returns March 31 and April 28. Visit the NYPL website here to sign up for notifications. Remember to register for priority access and show up early for the best experience!
Venice is known for its seafood, so we couldn’t ask for a better pairing for our Library After Hours event than dinner at Esca. The Italian trattoria created by the rock star team of Dave Pasternack, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich specializes in fruits of the sea and has been a theater district staple for well over a decade. (Esca actually means “bait” in Italian.)
There is an extensive crudo menu, but you can’t go wrong with the many fish offerings and classic preparations. Batali has famously said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who are Italian, and those who wish they were Italian.” We agree.
Note: As an alternative, Eataly is also running a Meet Me In Venezia event. Read more about it here.
I used to live in Cleveland and I used to smoke. Having a cigarette in downtown Cleveland in January is what one might call “peak winter”. It’s what separates the smokers from the puffers, we used to joke. (Not something we smokers should’ve been so proud of, I’ll admit.) New York City winters are mostly mild by comparison, which is probably the only reason why I would turn to Justin and say, “Let’s go to the Ice Festival! That sounds like fun!”
The Ice Festival is an annual event organized by the Central Park Conservancy. At the Naumburg Bandshell, park visitors are treated to a live, on-site carving by Okamoto Studio, a custom ice studio based out of Long Island. The studio, a design collective originally founded by father-son team Takeo and Shintaro Okamoto, is known for working its magic with crystal clear ice. Besides performing at previous festivals, Okamoto Studio has also lent its talents to Barney’s holiday windows and numerous private events.
During the Ice Festival, the ice sculptors from Okamoto Studio are tasked with creating a replica of one of Central Park’s many bronze sculptures. Last year’s event was cancelled due to inclement weather, so it was completely serendipitous that we finally made it out to the festival only to discover that this year’s replica was of the park’s Alice in Wonderland statue. The bronze statue by José de Creeft was a gift by philanthropist George Delacorte, whose wife used to read the book to their children. We obviously have our own attachment to Lewis Carroll’s tome.
We arrived towards the later part of the event, after the sculptures had already been completed. At a balmy 45 degrees, the ice was melting pretty fast. But the mild weather made the Silent Disco a hit, and we saw many getting down to the DJ’s tunes. (On a funny note, a silent disco isn’t really silent: most of its participants are singing to the music.) It was a little crowded for our liking, but it’s no wonder why. One couldn’t ask for a nicer winter evening to check out some art, sample some food truck fare, and then dance it all off in Central Park. It’s the makings of a classic New York City adventure.
Pair it with:
Now, I often wax poetic about how much I love this city, but you might be surprised to find out that I’m otherwise quite unromantic. I despise Valentine’s Day and all the standard cliches that come with it. Justin and I often laugh when my family texts to wish us Happy Anniversary because more often than not, we’ve forgotten. We believe one has to be accountable in a relationship every single day, not once or twice a year. I think volunteering to take out that really horrible, disgusting, ripe bag of trash says “I love you” more than a bouquet of roses. BUT, if I were to ask for a rose, it would be one made out of ice cream.
Ice cream roses have had their day (and then some!) on Instagram, and here it is, finally making an appearance on our blog. I was introduced to Amorino by friends in London many years ago, and was thrilled to later discover it here in New York City. It’s still one of my favorite gelato spots in the city. And if I’m dressed for an Ice Festival, it means I probably have enough layers on to tackle a cone in the cold. Winter be damned.
Justin recently replaced his umbrella and when it arrived from Amazon, he opened it up in our apartment to make sure it was what he was expecting.
“Don’t you know that’s bad luck?,” I asked.
“Is it?,” he replied, completely unfazed. #husbandsowhite
We Asians are a superstitious bunch. The number four is bad luck! You can’t buy someone a clock, it’s bad luck! Don’t clip your nails at night, it’s bad luck! I’m Malaysian, and I’m biracial. My father is of Chinese descent, while my mother is native Malay. So we grew up celebrating the Chinese New Year, and my late grandmother made sure we were all well-versed on the many traditions meant to ward off bad luck and bring good fortune as we ushered in a new year.
There’s a robust Chinese population in New York City, and there are a number of enjoyable Chinese New Year celebrations that take place. The main events happen in Chinatown, where there is a firecracker ceremony and then a large parade. While I generally enjoy an opportunity to celebrate just about anything, I’m also fairly crowd-averse. So this year we decided to attend the Madison Street to Madison Avenue Chinese New Year celebration, a joint effort coordinated by East Midtown Partnership in conjunction with Chinatown Partnership, The Grand Central Partnership, Madison Avenue Business Improvement District, and Confucius Institute for Business at SUNY.
I’m not going to lie: the event feels a little bit like “Chinese New Year for Beginners”. There were a few cultural performances scheduled, while a handful of tents set up on East 54th Street offered activities like calligraphy and face painting. But it’s okay, I was really there for one thing: the lion dance.
A lion dance troupe performs the traditional custom of “plucking the greens”, whereby the lion plucks the auspicious green vegetables either hung on a pole or placed on a table. The greens are tied together with a red envelope containing money. The lion will dance and approach like a curious cat, then eat the green and spit it out but keep the red envelope which is its reward. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business.
I have fond memories of watching lion dance performances during Chinese New Year when I was a kid back in Malaysia, which would range from basic to grandiose. As the size of the purse increased, so did the skill of the performers. Even at its simplest, the members of the troupe were talented dancers, acrobats and martial artists, and it was a sight to behold.
The lion dance troupe on Sunday was modest, but it was a joy watching all the Madison Avenue retailers embrace the tradition and join in the fun. Many of them offered refreshments and special discounts to the crowds drawn there by the event, and placed Chinese New Year decorations in the store.
If you follow us on Instagram, you might have seen this post (which we later shared to Facebook and Google+ as well):
A photo posted by Lynn and Justin (@madhattersnyc) on
As you can see, diversity isn’t just an idea for me, it’s a way of life. My parents married outside their race even though it wasn’t widely accepted, and I’m proud to say my siblings and I have muddied the water further. We’ll proudly continue to support our diverse community here in New York City. If you feel the same way, there are still many events in the upcoming weeks to partake in. Happy Chinese New Year to all, may the Year of the Rooster bring everyone good luck and good fortune!
Pair it with:
Xi’an Famous Foods
In a slight departure from our usual posts, Justin is writing the pairing portion of this one.
It was a forgone conclusion that the food pairing for this post would be Chinese cuisine. Not that Lynn and I minded that one bit.
Lynn is half Chinese, on her father’s side of the family. And, well, I’m not any part Chinese. I do, however, have a deep appreciation for the food, culture and traditions, having been generously and intimately introduced to them over the course of our many years together. Simply put, we both consider this cuisine to be one of our ultimate comfort foods.
While we weren’t keeping with all the normal traditions for Chinese New Year, we still wanted to eat something celebratory. Noodles, which signify longevity, at Xi’an’s Famous Foods seemed like a natural fit.
It’s unfortunate, but not so long ago, I would have said the story of Xi’an Famous Foods was an American story. Recent events challenge that notion. It’s a simple story, really, one I’ve heard used, rather cynically, in sound bites and anecdotes throughout my life. A family of immigrants comes to America from a foreign land. They are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges: language, culture, education, and commerce. And yet, courageously, they adapt. With an entrepreneurial mindset, they eventually launch a business. They work hard. Their children gain education. With a little luck and a lot of perseverance, their business thrives. Eventually, they prosper and continue to do so into future generations. This, in a nutshell, is the story of Xi’an Famous Foods. Change the name of the business and it’s the story of large swaths of this country. Lest you forget.
As we sat eating at one of the 11 ( that’s right, 11…so far) Xi’an Famous Food locations, I couldn’t help thinking how perfect this was, how appropriate this felt, now, with everything going on, and in relation to Chinese New Year, a time of family reunion and wishes to friends and family alike for health and happiness and prosperity in the years to come.
As far back as I can remember, there has been a special place in my heart reserved for Halloween. It’s so much more than a trivial holiday, and so much more than a fixed point on the calendar each year marking the change in seasons. Though I’ll confess: I’ve always loved the contradiction of the last gasps of a moribund summer lending to the the burgeoning intensity of a nascent fall.
For me, Halloween is a time of childlike wonder, creativity and imagination. It’s also a time for quick road trips and late evenings. There are apple orchards and pumpkin patches to visit. There are costume parties to attend. There are horror movies that I’ve added to my queue throughout the year, in anticipation of the perfectly curated scary movie marathon. And, of course, there is an overabundance of candy — at home, school, even the office. I mean, really, what’s not to like?
So it’s no surprise that The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, at the historic Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, would make our to-do list. Billed as “the tri-state area’s biggest, most electrifying Halloween event”, I’m rather appalled to confess, dear readers, that this was our maiden journey. The annual event started back in 2005 and has continued to grow every year.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze boasts attendance in the tens of thousands and regularly sells out. The cynic in me prepared for the possibility that the whole thing might simply be one giant tourist trap. And sure, without a doubt, the event has commercial aims, with foodstuff and merchandise slickly packaged and prominently displayed. But that doesn’t mean it reneges on its promise: you will see a hell of a lot of pumpkins, all elaborately staged and in a whimsical setting.
With more than seven thousand carved and illuminated pumpkins incorporated in such installations as the Jurassic Park, Pumpkin Zee Bridge, and of course, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze promises you’ll get your money’s worth. Each pumpkin you’ll see is hand-carved, and the extensive work involved for the event actually requires that they begin carving as early as June.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze runs through November 26, but remember, tickets go on sale September 1 and often sell out. They recently added new dates so pick them up while you still can!
What fall would be complete without a jug of apple cider and their glorious by-product, the cinnamon and sugar heaven of the apple cider donut? Not a one, I’ll tell you for a fact. But not to worry, various local farmers and other purveyors offer their wares at The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. The Orchards of Concklin have been pressing cider, baking pies and frying donuts for ten solid generations, and with street cred like that, you know they know what they are doing. Grab a cup of hot cider and a six pack for your drive home. I prefer to wait until I get home, wherein I heat a couple of them up in the microwave and top with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Trust me on this, you won’t be disappointed.
Like many coffee aficionados, my devotion began less as an expression of passion and more as a product of necessity. The world may run on fossil fuels, but people, well, they run on caffeine. The delivery method of choice comes in the form of seeds (commonly referred to as “beans”) from the coffea plant, a commodity so precious it is more valuable than oil. Add to that the third wave of coffee, an artisanal movement elevating this respectable staple to a gourmet foodstuff and a burgeoning national obsession (though we’re not quite to the level of Australians), and you have the groundwork for an event such the New York Coffee Festival.
Originally based on the popular programs in London and Amsterdam and now in its second year in New York City, the two-day festival is both an industry event as well as a celebration for coffee-loving enthusiasts. It boasts over 85 coffee, food and equipment suppliers, unlimited tastings, product demos, giveaways, interactive workshops and demonstrations, and live music.
As one would expect, the New York Coffee Festival afforded us the opportunity to speak to representatives of some of our favorite vendors, such as Toby’s Estate, Bluestone Lane, and Cafe Grumpy, as well as discover new vendors, such as Quills Coffee Roasters out of Louisville, Kentucky and Tom’s Lemon Coffee. Tastings were offered at everything turn, and we scored numerous sample bags of whole bean roasts to try out at home. Some established vendors took the opportunity to debut new concoctions, like Toby’s Black & White Cold Brew, which was deliciously rich and creamy. Festival-goers looking to equip a home brewing station could find options that ran the gamut. And all the while we were supporting a good cause: 50% of tickets sales from the New York Coffee Festival are donated to Project Waterfall, a New York-based charity supporting clean water access projects in coffee-producing communities.
There were some serious air conditioning issues, which should have been an obvious priority with a number of coffee vendors actually brewing coffee. Latte art workshops were available for wannabe baristas, but didn’t really impart any skills: it was mostly a seasoned hand guiding yours. And lastly, two simple words (borrowed from Anothony Bourdain): judgmental baristas.
This year’s New York Coffee Festival took place in the 69th Regiment Armory. Even though the event organizers struggled with the temperature of the event space (indeed, it was very nearly a sauna during our visit), we found the event charming and educational overall. So mark your calendars with over-caffeinated, feverish anticipation: the next one is sure to be even bigger and better. Hopefully, we’ll see you there.
Pair it with:
Pastries from Sans Bakery
Sure, Lynn and I like to indulge when we eat, but we occasionally attempt to balance that with something a little more healthy. In many cases, that’s reason enough. But we also have friends and family who have dietary requirements. I like to try vegetarian and vegan foods, because if my brother and his fiancee visit, I want to know the absolute best places to take them. And we’ve had some incredible luck on that front.
Similarly, we’ve tried gluten-free foods, but to put it mildly, success has been elusive. Enter Sans Bakery, the near solitary light breaking through a nearly impenetrable bank of clouds. Erica Fair, the proprietor of Sans Bakery, learned that she suffers from a wheat allergy. It was, I’m sure, an unpleasant discovery. But even more unpleasant, I’d venture to guess, was the discovery that most of the gluten-free baked goods available were atrocious. Lucky for all of us (and especially those with wheat allergies), Erica decided to create her own brownies, cookies, and sweet breads.
You can find an assortment of Sans’ products at numerous restaurants, coffee shops and cafes. A few of our favorites — where you can pair your eats with incredible coffee — are Cafe Grumpy, Bluestone Lane and Think Coffee. We highly recommend their banana bread, in our humble opinion one of the best in the city, gluten-free or otherwise.