Saturday, January 9, 2010

Off to See the Wizard

No, it's not your eyes, the picture is blurry. But that's ok; these family-visits often seem that way in retrospect! "Didn't we just get here??"

This past week, Miss Chef and I traveled to New Jersey to visit my brother and his family. A year or two ago, I came upon the realization that, if I must travel by air to visit them, January is much better than December. Look, we've all got our pressures in December, tickets are ridiculously overpriced, flights overbooked, and everyone's fighting for days off around the holidays.

January? Half-empty planes, lower prices and a fresh helping of vacation time! I hadn't seen my nephews and niece in a year and a half, and with all the extra work I've been putting in, I finally had the money for a ticket. And not just one, but two: with the lure of seeing NYC for the first time, I convinced Miss Chef to come along for the trip.

Of course, the main focus was re-bonding with the kids. Ages 10, 7 and 3, they are growing so fast I hate to miss a minute. The two oldest boys were very excited about our visit. Here Miss Chef bonds with the 7-year old, whom I nicknamed Cuddles because of his habit of climbing into either of our laps for some touchy-feely time.

I don't know much about childhood development, but I'm frankly impressed at his reading ability--especially since he doesn't much care for reading. And I'm also very happy (and proud?) that this household is a reading household. Whether they end up devouring novels as I do, or not, these kids will understand that reading can be a pastime, not just a chore.

Since the kids were back in school, and my brother and sister-in-law still had to work, Miss Chef and I took the train into Manhattan a couple of days. The first day we did Midtown. We arrived at Penn Station, then straight to a French sandwich shop recommended by Sis-in-Law, Macaron Café. An excellent recommendation; she will now be considered a Trusted Source.

From there, we walked up to Times Square (saw a few specks of confetti left from New Year's Eve), then over to 5th Avenue at Rockefeller Center...and St. Patrick's Cathedral.

By this point, Miss Chef had come to the conclusion that she hates New York. It's the crowds; she does not do well in crowds. She says she feels "irrationally angry," like she needs to start punching people...I guess it's a personal space thing. Considering I grew up on 10 wooded acres outside a small Ohio town, I was suprised how much I enjoyed the hurly-burly electric atmosphere. Don't misunderstand me; I could never, ever be happy living in a big city, sure is a nice place to visit.

In spite of her seething anger, Miss Chef did do her best to enjoy her tour. She finally suggested we visit FAO Schwarz--we had been disappointed to learn this summer that the 3-story one in Chicago no longer exists. So we called Sis-in-Law, who mapped it, and it turned out to be only 10 (short) blocks away. In spite of the cold, breezy weather (or maybe because of it), all the walking we did was no problem at all.

FAO Schwarz turns out to be located at the southeastern corner of Central Park...right across from the famous Plaza Hotel.

From the hotel's website:

For over 100 years The Plaza Hotel has held a special place in the hearts and imaginations of people around the world. It set the standard for luxury accommodation and service the moment it opened its doors at the corner of Central Park South and Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1907 and received its first guest, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a member of the famed American industrial family.

Throughout the twentieth century it was the site of the most lavish social affairs and was the New York City pied-a-terre of business leaders, socialites, movie stars and artists. In the 1920s it was the occasional home and social playground of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their artistic and literary crowd companions.
Even with three kids back at the house, and Miss Chef's 3 nieces in mind, we managed to leave FAO Schwarz without buying a single thing. So we hoofed it back down 5th Ave, past the Empire State Building to 29th, and took a detour on the way back to Penn Station.

Miss Chef had read about a place that makes its own salamis and other cured meats, in Food and Wine. It's called Salumeria Biellese, and it was not at all what we expected. It looked more like a hole-in-the-wall Italian diner, run by a burly Hispanic guy...but when we tasted the sopressata, mortadella and whatever the heck else we ended up buying, all doubts were erased! We bought a couple pounds to stink up the train on the way back home.

Next day, my ever-so-gracious sis-in-law held the eldest nephew (whom I will code-name Daniel) out of school, and with the youngest niece, drove us all in to the City again, this time to the American Museum of Natural History. I had been there with Daniel when he was no more than 3 years old, but this is definitely a museum for multiple visits. Plus, it's now the star of a major motion picture: A Night at the Museum.

This is an overexposed shot of the dinosaur skeletons in the main entryway. As seen in the movie, they are...very large.

When I visited seven years ago, we were lucky to be there for the temporary butterfly exhibit. Imagine my surprise in learning it's still there! It was so popular, it was held over...and over.... The kids both loved it, and we spent quite a long time in there. (My SiL loved it too, for the overwhelming heat and humidity. She lived in Costa Rica for a few years, and still misses it, obviously!)

Between the lens fogging up, the constant flitting and fluttering, and harsh lighting, it was hard to get many good shots. I love digital worries about wasting film with multiple shots!

We finally moved on; it's a very difficult-to-navigate museum, and we got sidetracked in a geology exhibit for awhile...time for a portrait with...erm, some pretty rock.

(He is actually much more charming, and she less so, in person. She is adorable, though, I have to admit. Oh, and have I mentioned that everybody thinks she looks just like me?)

My favorite part of the Museum has to be the Ocean hall, with the full-sized blue whale hanging overhead. Literally awesome. I probably should have lightened this up before uploading it. Ah, well....

After returning home, Miss Chef and I, with Daniel's enthusiastic assistance, went to the grocery store and proceeded to make dinner for the family. Daniel absolutely loves to cook with us. He's always been pretty capable; he impressed me mightily with his pancake-flipping skills at age 8. Though he did get on my nerves, waving his chef's knife about...need to work on his safety skills, there.

I didn't get any pictures of any of the food we ate, but the menu for that night was: cheese & charcuterie platter (from our Salumeria selections), tossed salad, pork tenderloin stuffed with a savory apple mix, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables and apple crisp (or crumble, I'm still not sure of the difference).

Next day, everyone was off to work and school again, so Miss Chef and I hopped on the train again to Manhattan. This time we took the subway down to Little Italy.

We never did get a recommendation for a good place for lunch, so took our chances at a place called Pellegrino's. I think we did pretty well. The host was straight out of The Godfather, slicked-back hair, black bow-tie, Bronx accent and all. Again, no pictures...but Miss Chef loved her soup, called something like Pappa Fiortino. It was essentially a ball of very fresh mozarella surrounded by a warm, rich tomato ragout, garnished with toasted bread brushed with olive oil and herbs. I don't usually like any hot tomato dish not served over pasta, but this was good. (and warm...did I mention it was really cold up there?)

Miss Chef found her chicken and roasted-pepper panino disappointing after that, but I absolutely loved my pasta. It was essentially fettucine alfredo with asparagus, prosciutto and yellow bell peppers. I haven't had an alfredo that good in I can't remember how long. Neither has my digestive system, to judge by the still-lingering effects of all that cream.

It was soooooo worth it, though!

After lunch, we headed up to Grand, where I'd googled the location of some Italian food stores. There was a dairy (the picture above) with enormous wheels of parmagiano as well as an assortment of cured meats. Those are entire hams in the upper left, to give you some perspective.

And then a pasta place...heaven! All kinds and flavors of fresh and dried pastas. I had to stop and take a picture of their window display. You understand, right?

We again stocked up on some essentials to take home, as well as some fresh cheese raviolini for Cuddles, also known as the skinny one who won't eat anything. He declared "I think I just might like this," so perhaps we did some good.

Well folks, that's about all the blog-worthy action. The rest of our time was spent with the family: talking, eating, watching tv, playing on the Wii, reading to the kids at bedtime. Not notable, but no less important; certainly worth the price of two airline tickets.

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled...I have a feeling I'll be posting again soon, before my usual Friday missive.


  1. Da Nico's!! (

    Wish I had known you were looking for a great Italian place in Little Italy. Next time you're there, you MUST try Da Nico's on Mulberry.

    Your post was amazing (Love the cathedral and dinosaur and butterfly shots). I understand the irrational anger thing. But when in Rome...

    Thanks for taking us along with you to NYC. One of my favorite all time destinations. Will be going in December with my two sisters and their hubbies. Can't wait.

  2. Next time you are going, let us all do some research and make recommendations on where on eat. Mike and I were there a few months after 9/11, and we enjoyed our visit.

  3. Alix, I had actually found Da Nico's on the New York magazine's website, but Miss Chef didn't seem interested in my faint recommendation. :)

    Joanna, we though my brother knew a place...but he had nothing.

  4. Excellent post! I am suddenly very hungry! I enjoyed your trip vicariously since I haven't been to NYC myself, but sometime I will probably find my way there. Toronto is my big city home, so I am used to the city, although still love it more out here in the middle of sheepland. :-)

  5. It's like I was there! I've been to NYC only twice in my lifetime... once as a child so I don't remember much beyond seeing the Statue of Liberty. The second time when I was pregnant with Teagan and Jeff and I went to visit my BFF (who still lives there and I would love to take a Mommy Away Weekend to go see him). Ground Zero was stunning, we didn't get tix to the Broadway shows we wanted at the lotteries, FAO was fun, did a double decker bus tour... great fun and I would love to visit again.

    But I liked coming back and seeing grass and trees and wide open spaces!

    Stop by my place Monday- I've got something for you!

  6. hey Flart, Sunday 8PM I'm watching THE PLAZA on Turner Classic Movie Channel!

  7. I LOVE NY!!!!

    Thanks for the great tour. I used to work in NYC and miss it a lot. I walked by the cathedral every day.

    Your pics are the greatest-- you have a really good eye.

    I'll be watching for more posts!

  8. I loved this post! Looks like a great time was had by both of you.....'irrational crowd anger' via Miss Chef, notwithstanding. lol!

    I feel the same way in NYC, though. But I agree it is fun to visit. I think if you know that it's just a visit and you don't actually have to live there it's easier to enjoy the frenetic pace, pushy crowds, and tall buildings hemming you in.

    That museum is so cool. It was so crowded, too. On a weekday! I can't believe the FAO Schwarz is gone from Chicago. That was the first one I had ever visited. wah!

    And you made me laugh that the visiting Aunties didn't buy any toys for their neices and nephews, but the Aunties did buy some yummy stuffed ravioli for them instead. lol!

    I don't know why I was surprised. hehe!


  9. Lisa: Miss Chef and are now actually referred to as The Aunts, as in "Where are The Aunts?" when the kids got home from school & we were still in town.


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