Sunday, November 23, 2008

Doilie Fest 2008

When we went to NYC yesterday, I did have the express goal of buying some stocking stuffers. Somehow, however, I found everything but, and returned after having purchased exactly 1 used book (for myself) and a couple of crispin apples (for the bus ride home).

Never fear, any readers who might also be on my Christmas list: Binghamton came through with a big dose of DOILIE, brought to you complements of St. Patrick's Catholic Church (I would have linked to the church's website, but regular readers will understand that such new-fangled things are not so common in Binghamton.) I spent less than $30 and came back with three bags full of delights, including homemade (that goes without saying, since 100% of the goods for sale were handmade) fudge, a $0.50 hand-painted Christmas ornament, blankets (yes, plural), a scarf, pumpkin bread, . . . the list goes on. I am hopeful that I was able to navigate through this sea of awful granny stuff and pluck out the handful of cool items, but who knows- my Binghamton goggles are probably pretty thick these days!

NYC: the literary city

One of the things that always impresses me about NYC is how literate everyone is. Not only does that city of 8 million people sustain the very smartly written New York Times, overflowing with feature-length articles, but it has readership to spare, for the New York Post and others. My theory is that the huge percentage of people who take public transportation to work have extra time- time that Angelenos spend frustrated in their cars- to take in the day's news.

But that theory does not go far enough to explain these two photos. The first is people lined up outside the famous Strand Bookstore and its "18 miles of books." This is in sub-30 degree weather, mind you. Granted, they are there to sell their used books, but the point is that there is a demand for these books, such that they are getting decent money for them. No one in LA cares about books enough to make such a big market for the used ones, that's for sure.

But the best observation I had all day was when we were parked in a (mercifully warm) coffee shop in the West Village, taking in the bohemian surroundings. That's where I spied these two guys, trying their hardest to be low profile, but they could not escape my eagle eye: they were hobos.

OK, maybe they did not arrive at the coffee shop by train, or even NYC by train, but they otherwise fit the hobo profile: borderline homeless looking, but with enough mainstream trappings (e.g., cell phone, ring, relatively clean clothes) to imply that they did not actually live on the streets.

I admit I was actively observing them. I especially liked it when one of them got up and returned with a glass of water that sported a hearty slice of fancy lemon wedge in it. The guy sucked down that healthy bit of fruit straight away. I mean, how often do hobos get access to citrus? Smart man. A savvy "gentleman of the rails," if you ask me.

But nothing could have prepared me for when one of them opened up his suitcase-style drag bag and pulled out . . . a stack of BOOKS. I'm not talking about road maps or girlie magazines, either. These thing were hard-cover. Literature, even.

So, there you have it: NYC, where even the hobos are bibliophiles.

Icelandic Schmaltz Fillets and Boneless Chicken Feet

Yesterday we went to NYC, with no particular agenda. A couple of themes did emerge, however. One of them was that New York really does have the craziest variety of food on the planet.

We stopped into a pretty famous Jewish deli on the Lower East Side, with the very cool name of Russ & Daughters. It offered seemingly every kind of Jewish comfort food, from egg salad to pickled salmon to caviar to blintzes and beyond. Unlike lots of old school delis, this place has made the transition into the 21st century quite gracefully. (I am going to attribute that to the presence of the "daughters.")

I can understand why real New Yorkers get wistful for their favorite comfort foods when they move away. Witness this photo: Not even in Beverly Hills/West Hollywood have I seen "Icelandic schmaltz fillets." And I had been craving those babies all day, let me tell you.

We ended up eating at a kitschy Cantonese place that I'd been reading about, called Congee Village, also in the Lower East Side. Thank god the menu had clear English translations, because the "special plates" were 16 of the most gut-wrenching items I've ever seen in one place, hands down. I will list them here, in their full glory (and including any typos):

#301. Duck's blood with ginger and scallion.
#302. Duck's blood with chives.
#303. Baked fish intestine in clay pot.
#304. Goose intestine with soy sauce.
#305. Goose intestine with black bean sauce.
#306. Boiled goose intestine with bean sprouts.
#307. Fried intestine.
#308. Pickle vegetable with intestine.
#309. Soy bean sprouts with intestine.
#310. Cold jelly fish.
#311. Boneless chicken feet with Thai sauce.
#312. Duck tongue & sugar peas with XO sauce.
#313. Cold preserve egg mix pickle.
#314. Wasabi mix three kinds sea foods.
#315. Sun dried dace fish steamed with preserved pig's belly.
#316. Steamed silver fish & dried squid with soy sauce.

Is this a joke list? It sounds more like something out of a haunted house horror chamber. I think the worst one is the #312- how many ducks' tongues can you really eat?- but then I think about #311 and picture the puddle of skin that must be . . . boneless chicken feet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Welcome to Hunting Season

It's a good thing I read the local paper once in a while, or I might have missed the fact that the Venison Donation Coalition, Inc. is looking for donations of "field dressed deer" to local food banks. A good cause, I'm sure, but it begged the question: What, pray tell, is "field dressed deer?" Here's the Idiot's Guide to Field Dressing your kill, for handy reference. If you can get past the "False Hoods" (the misspelling makes it sound like a KKK reference?) section, through the bit about "tarsal glands," more power to you. I couldn't.

What the newspaper bit really announced is that Hunting Season is upon us. How I could have missed this, just by looking around, I don't know. The observant local will start to notice an increase in hunting-themed . . . dare I call it "sportswear"?

There are basically two kinds of wilderness t-shirt that I have learned to distinguish: the first I will call The Napoleon Dynamite, or the Lone Wolf style. These shirts are more for the urban hunting-enthusiast, or a frustrated hunter, but not necessarily someone who actually hunts. For example, I've seen older women in the Lone Wolf style, featured below. Also, teenage boys.

Then there are the kind favored by the real hunters. These are more "work shirts" but they can still be in t-shirt style. These cost more, which presumably explains why they do double and triple duty as hunting attire, mall wear and Sunday best. I've spotted the button-down collar kind paired with light-acid-wash blue jeans and work boots on what looked like a date, recently. Fancy.

We are taking our semi-annual trip to the dreaded Mall today. I have high hopes that my own hunting- for these sweet shirts- will be fruitful. I'll be sure to report back with any that I'm able to "bag" with my handy pink cell phone camera.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Word of the Day: "Pomace"

Continuing on with our celebration of the Harvest (or something like that), today we visited a local-favorite called The Cider Mill in Endicott, NY.

I was specifically on a hunt for these TREMENDOUSLY tasty apples we recently discovered, then could not locate again. They are called Crispin apples (note typo on sign) and they rocked my world. After I ate all 20 from the big bag we bought here a couple weeks ago, I went into withdrawals- I dreamed of these things, not kidding, all crisp and firm and sweet and tart and juicy, they are. So today I bought- ready? - FIFTEEN POUNDS of them. I think that's only(??) like 30 apples. Whatever. I can replenish next week, now that I know where to find them.

The Cider Mill is a local fave, in no small part, because people like to bring their kids there to watch the apples being "pressed" in this room full of big machines. It is mildly cool to see how they start out with whole apples, then put those into a grinder/mulcher type of machine, then those get pressed and pressed and pressed and pressed until all the juice comes out.

And that is where we get THIS nastiness. It's called "pomace" and it's just wrong, wrong, wrong.
The apples looked so beautiful going into the process, but this pomace shizzle that comes out the other end? YUK. I don't know which is better: the fact that the informational signs said that pomace is used for "feeding livestock and also for fertilizer," or the fact that some school kids wrote a Thank You note to the Cider Mill, and noted that the girls thought the cider press was "sick."

Saturday, November 08, 2008

In life and in Binghamton, you have . . . "Choice's"

Binghamton has so many "dive bars" that I really don't notice them anymore. I mean, these are bars that I drive by and think are out of business, but then I notice . . . a hov-a-round or something outside, and see a bit of neon creeping out of a dirty window.

But this one, directly across from the main post office, and right near the busy, family-oriented minor league baseball stadium, really takes the cake.

You see, in life, you have choices. Or "Choice's," as some people call them. And kids, if you make BAD Choice's, you might end up drinking your days away in this dump, conveniently located adjacent to the local sex-offender/prostitute-row.

I am almost positive it is long-closed, but that pile of rubbish at the base of the dilapidated sign is making me think twice about that assessment. I've seen worse . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day: New York State-Style

The good news is that I waited in line exactly ZERO seconds to vote this morning (shocker- there are no lines anywhere in Broome County- you have to have PEOPLE to have lines!)

These voting machines are circa-I-don't-know-when but judging by the sweet wool plaid fabric of the curtains- maybe 1950s? 1960s? Once you are inside, there is a huge lever you have to pull a few times and it feels like you're driving a tractor or something. Crazy.

Apparently they are retiring these machines after this year- aw come on, they've got at least a couple decades left in them! Seriously, though, the layout of the voting card was so confusing- I had to have the poll worker talk me through it. I stuck my hand through the curtains and was talking to him and giving hand signs, counting off the number of races I was voting on, as I read them off to him, just to make sure I was voting in the proper number of places. It took me so long that a small (3 people) line formed behind me. John was trying to busy himself with his iPhone, and pretend he didn't know me!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday's auction

We made it to the monthly "estate" auction in Candor, NY on Sunday. Sometimes, a picture truly IS worth a thousand words.

(This reminded me of a great t-shirt we often see in NYC, one that reads "Welcome to the gun show" but is referring to the wearer's massive biceps, of course.)

Perhaps even freakier was the fact that, in addition to a tremendous amount of guns, the OTHER much- publicized thing was a collection of old dolls.

I don't know which scares me more, the guns (and their fans) or the dolls.

The Earth Room (SoHo)

Amidst a busy shopping trip to SoHo on Saturday, I dragged my two girlfriends just a block off crazy-crowded Prince Street to a slightly less-teaming, but still swanky and commercial section of Wooster Street. I thought I had the address, but wasn't feeling so confident about finding the place, so I asked a few shopkeepers if they knew where The Earth Room is. "Huh?" their blank stares said back to me. I started to get worried when I inquired with the store directly below The Earth Room and still had not received a trace of confirmation that I was not, in fact, nuts.

My two friends already know I'm a bit odd, so they weren't actually that surprised when we arrived at the nondescript gray door to the right in this image. On the building directory, amidst the Joneses in 6A and the Levys in 3B, we found the listing for "Earth Room- 2B." SUCCESS!!! We buzzed and were let in. As we walked up a narrow staircase, the air got cooler and the smell of dirt became stronger. You can imagine how much crap my friends were giving me as we ascended the stairs. They were loving it, though: "We came all the way from rural Binghamton to NYC to see . . . dirt? Wait until we tell the other girls where you took us!"

Just when I thought I'd seen the most random things possible in NYC- I mean, I have dug DEEP: under bridges, through abandoned ship yards, out to islands- I find THIS.

And THIS, my friends, is The Earth Room. It is essentially 22 inches of dirt plopped into a 3,600 square foot loft space on the second floor of a residential building. But not just some dumpy building: A unit upstairs is selling for $2,650,000. I wonder if the neighbors despise having this freaky thing in their building, or love it because it doesn't throw loud parties?

You still aren't getting this, because it makes no sense. WHAT is The Earth Room? I guess it would technically be called art. It was installed in 1977- that's right, this dirt carpet has been there for over 30 years! - in a long-gone gallery. It was supposed to be up for just 3 months, but the gallery owner decided not to dismantle it, custodianship has been passed off, and here it still sits. The artist did two other similar installations- both in Germany- but this is the only one remaining.

We didn't pause long, actually. There's only so long you can stand in a darkened room full of white walls and dirt. So I went over to talk to the attendant. "After hours, do you ever go in there and roll around in the dirt?" Turns out, he actually tends to the dirt. That's right - cares for the dirt. Each week he waters it and plows it under or something (I don't know the terms, here, as I'm a city girl.) He said something about it being unadulterated earth - free of outside forces and the elements.

The smart-ass in me quickly asked, "What if I came in with a handful of birdseed and threw it on there? What then, huh?" "It's already been done." Wait, I thought this dirt was pristine? At least, as pristine as something that is thousands of years old can be (dirt IS ancient, by definition, right? Or am I being really ignorant here?)

I don't know. I can't find out much about this Earth Room. Except that, with all those thousands and thousands of shoppers passing by outside every day, it only gets about 30 visitors a day. Which is kind of a bummer because I bet there are a ton of NYC kids who have never seen such a vast amount of fresh earth, even if they can't touch it!