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Ramen, Really: Chang’s Lucky Peach

So after a couple of excellent pizzas at Vapiano, we walked over to the Strand for some book browsing. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the Strand; surely everyone who has ever set foot in NYC has been to its 55,000 square feet containing over 18 miles of books. And if you haven’t been there in some time, you should return – a recent(ish) renovation has left the store more spacious and easier to navigate than in years past.

We didn’t plan to buy any books. Famous last words, right? After our recent trip upstate, we returned with a shopping bag full of fiction, economic theory, Richard Scarry and the odd embroidery stitch dictionary. It’s not like we need any more books. But I have a weakness for the children’s section, and the last time we went I hadn’t had enough time to do any browsing for myself. As my high school math teacher often said, “You people can rationalize anything.”

We exercised restraint. Mr Apparently discovered the exact book I was planning to give him for his upcoming birthday. Apparently Jr came home with Picasso and Minou"" “>a lavishly-illustrated book about Picasso. I found Lucky Peach, a new food quarterly conceived and executed by Momofuku’s David Chang, writer Peter Meehan, and the team behind Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

And to seal the deal, the first issue is almost entirely devoted to ramen. In a previous iteration of this blog, I wrote a post outlining the Apparently family’s mid-2000′s obsession with the noodly stuff. It turns out that in NYC, we have barely scratched the surface. Japan offers no fewer than 20 regional variations – on what is originally Chinese fare – and even has a museum devoted to ramen history and lore.

I can’t think of the last time I’ve spent so much time with a magazine, and I’m only halfway through its thick, glossy pages. Did you know that the Deep South has its own variation on ramen? Or that Ruth Reichl used to toss the packets, doctor up the instant noodles and serve them to her son’s friends? Next in my queue: two articles by Harold McGee (whose classic On Food and Cooking, by the way, is illustrated by a Sunnysider). And then off to McSweeney’s for a subscription, which they wisely begin with Issue 2.

See a peek of Lucky Peach at the Huffington Post. (Steel yourself for some profane language, although in a surprise move, it’s Bourdain who comes off as the soft-spoken one in this lot.) And let me know what you think in the comments.

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Ramen

Every so often the Apparently family hops on the 7 train into Manhattan with only a vague destination in mind. Last night we found ourselves aiming for Madison Square Park, because we thought the line at Shake Shack might not be so onerous at 4:30pm. We were mistaken. Even on a Saturday afternoon, everyone wants an upscale hot dog.

Several happy discoveries were made from this false start:

photo from madisonsquarepark.org

1. Cool yet disconcerting art by Jaume Plensa in Madison Square Park.

2. The recently-opened NYC outpost of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. If ever there were a yuppie cheese shop, this is it. Everything is minimally designed yet handsomely packaged, and you can buy several kinds of frozen mac & cheese starting at $8.75 a box. But oh, the selection of their own and other’s cheeses, and oh, the farmhouse-table dark Cellar restaurant that just begs for a return visit. Those pictures don’t do The Cellar justice – for a below-ground space, it’s lovely.

3. Union Square Park Playground. We’re behind the curve on this one, but this awesome playground is far superior to the generic Luna Park restaurant that preceded it. Apparently Jr loved the real rocks to climb and the secret path through greenery to the slide entrance; his parents loved the very enclosed nature of the whole playground and its slightly hipster attitude: really steep slides, plenty of stuff to climb and weird human-sized metal cattails.

We made our way to Vapiano, a very bizarre Italian cafeteria-style bar and restaurant that is absolutely perfect for people with kids and also probably a good place to meet a large group of friends. Each adult receives a chip card upon entering, and all purchases are scanned to the card; you pay when you leave. Vapiano’s offerings include solid renditions of classic Italian staples: pizza, pastas, panini. The seating areas, full of wood tables with marble insets holding oils and pots of rosemary, has enough ambience for both adults and kids to feel they’re at an actual restaurant, but is casual enough that a fidgety preschooler can take a walk without being given the stink-eye by other patrons. Apparently Jr is generally good at restaurants, and so it’s amusing that Mr A and I like Vapiano for these particular reasons. We also like the food!

What does all this have to do with ramen, you may ask? This post is so much longer than I’d planned – you’ll have to wait until the next post to find out! But muse on this: what would happen if David Chang, Tony Bourdain and McSweeney’s had a love child? It would be a lucky little peach, wouldn’t it?

On Metamorphosis

The title of this post does not indicate that a deeply meaningful treatise on change will follow. It means that we actually grew some butterflies. In our apartment. In a cup. No kidding.

Apparently Jr’s preschool recently raised three pavilions of butterflies, and during this time some lovely friends gave the young man a Butterfly Garden of his own. Once we were confident that the weather was suitable for releasing butterflies outside, we followed the instructions in the package to order our larvae online. Three days later, the postman rang our doorbell with a little box and said curiously, “Um, this parcel says ‘Live Caterpillars.’ I didn’t want to leave it in your mailbox.”

The brilliant thing about Insect Lore‘s set up is that there’s very little one has to do (and so, very few ways to mess it up). The caterpillar larvae live in a little cup that has air holes and a quarter-inch of food at the bottom. When they arrived, they were about this long: —-.

Within two days, they looked like this (————).

Within seven days, they looked like this:

caterpillars

And then three of them climbed to the top of the cup, attached themselves to the disk of paper and turned into chrysalises. We were a little worried about the remaining two caterpillars, but the next day they followed suit. The little bit of caterpillar remaining outside each chrysalid turned out not to be their disembodied heads, as I feared, but rather just their shed skin.

I carefully removed the paper from the cup and transferred it to the mesh house. For several days we waited. And then we went away for the weekend, leaving the chrysalids in the capable hands of Bald and Effective, who must have sung little songs of encouragement to them, for when we returned, three Painted Lady butterflies were happily sucking on orange slices and flying around the mesh house.

butterfly

By the next morning, all five butterflies had emerged. We observed them for a couple of days, recorded the finer points in Apparently Jr’s field notebook and fed them sugar water and orange slices. And then last night we walked them to a nearby park and opened up the house to set them free. Much like at preschool, the butterflies were not terribly interested in leaving. But we coaxed them out and placed the most reluctant ones on a tree, and after considering the merits of our leafy neighborhood, each eventually flew away.

Mmm, Tasty: Brooklyn Flea

Every since I picked up a promotional postcard at the Renegade Craft fair two years ago, I’ve been itching to visit the Brooklyn Flea. Last month Mr. Apparently took advantage of a solo morning to check it out, despite protests that I wanted to go as well. Since he brought home a little vintage glass bell for displaying my grandmother’s watch-brooch, I forgave him, but I’ve been eager for a next trip.

brooklyn flea

This morning he planned to take Apparently Jr. to the Flea while I went to the gym. Wisely, I postponed my plans. The day was perfect for a visit to Fort Greene, the Brooklyn neighborhood we’d briefly considered several years ago. It’s way more charming there now.

And the Flea was impressive, not only for the vintage and antique vendors who actually had stuff worth perusing at the relatively late hour of 11am (eyeglass frames, anyone? multiple sellers!), but most notably for the food purveyors, who offered everything from freshly ground brewed coffee, lobster rolls and buffalo jerky to artisanal okra pickles and organic hot dogs with Japanese curry and kimchi…on the same dog.

Having recently watched a video on how hot dogs are made, I opted out of that particular delicacy, but I did indulge in a pulled pork sandwich and had a taste of an even better one made by two guys from Porchetta NYC. They don’t even have a tent, just a table with a metal bin piled with hard rolls, a roasted Niman Ranch pork loin and a big knife. At some point a smear of pesto made its way into the sandwich. It was perfect.

Mr Apparently’s bahn-mi style Asia Dog was deemed tasty, but not as delicious as his previous order of the aforementioned curry and kimchi version.

All sandwiches were, however, overshadowed by the incredibly delectable “Bonfire” caramel/ chocolate/meringue stroopwafel from The Good Batch. Described to us as “like a s’more,” it was considerably more delicate and salted-caramel-laden, and thus more delicious. I apologize for not snapping a photo of my son’s face covered in in meringue-marshmallow goodness, but my fingers were too sticky even to consider reaching for the camera. Lest you wonder what a stroopwafel looks like, here’s a shot of a different offering from The Good Batch’s web site:

stroopwafel from The Good Batch

Thank goodness for nap time. The prospect of a 45-minute train ride with an oversugared, fading toddler drove us away before we could indulge further, but not before securing macaroons and a chocolate brownie cookie (vendor unknown, but I’m guessing Choice Market) for future experimentation. Would it surprise you to learn that Apparently Jr’s first words upon waking were, “Can I have a bite of the brownie now?”

Suffice it to say, I spent nap time at the gym.

Maker Faire, Part Two: Robots and More Robots

This part is going to be brief. There were robots. And more robots. Then tacos and some amazing strawberry lemonade, and then more robots.

Makers love robots. Next to the craft pavilions were two more huge tents: one filled with adult robot enthusiasts and the other, Youth Makers, with kid robot enthusiasts. (Not Kid Robot, that’s entirely different.) OK, so perhaps a few of the exhibitors showed creations that weren’t robots, like light-up anglerfish sculptures and various plushies stuffed with lights. Maybe there was one guy making digital name tags, another scanning book pages and oh, these metal sculptures were pretty cool. Also, I enjoyed watching the little Kelvin Generator make sparks. And someone had created a pulley system that generated music. But seriously? 80% of what I saw involved robots, Arduino boards and/or remote-controlled conveyances.

LEGOSThe Young Makers tent was almost identical except for the youthful excitement and a lot of LEGOS. We had trouble getting the kid to leave the Robofun booth, because they handed him the controller to a LEGO car. I thought we were going to spend the whole morning there.

Inside the museum we found one hundred more exhibitors, most with their own special type of robot. I don’t mean to sound snarky, but I did reach a point where enough was enough. Just because you can successfully build a kit that you ordered online (or matriculated in NYU’s ITP program) does not mean you have earned your own exhibition booth. And if you have one anyway, you should be required to be able to hold an intelligent conversation about what you’ve invented. That said, I had my voice turned into a sculpture with speaker wire, turned a story into knitting and played with various RC devices. We also were able to enjoy the NY Hall of Science itself, including its blissful air conditioning, and to spend a few minutes with the best museum exhibit ever, Mathematica, which I recall fondly from many, many visits to Boston’s Museum of Science. We now return you to your Maker Faire programming:

The best low-tech spectacle I saw was undoubtedly the Egg-Bot, “an open-source art robot that can draw on spherical or egg-shaped objects.” It was incredibly mesmerizing…

Egg-Bot

What did we miss? Everything large-scale. I can’t speak to the life-size mousetrap, the MakerBot and ShopBot, the Diet Coke and Mentos fountains, anything presented by a car company or that required the signing of a waiver. But we did glimpse bicycles that emitted fire, Science Friday’s Ira Flatow and a steampunk guy on a giant tricycle who informed me I was a brave woman for crossing his path.

Did I love it? Yes. Was I the target audience? Only partially. Would I go back? Absolutely.

Maker Faire in Brief…Part One

Maker Faire

Robyn Love's Message to the Universe

Please don’t expect this to be a thorough recap of the World Maker Faire NYC experience, because it would be absolutely impossible to have seen the whole thing in 4.5 hours with a toddler. But what we did see was spectacular, and even the kid – perhaps I should say, especially the kid – had a blast. Some top-of-mind thoughts:

We went on the first day, right when it opened at 10am. I’d recommend this for most large scale events, particularly those populated by enthusiasts and semi-professionals, as everyone’s spirits are high on Day One. The sun wasn’t too strong yet and all the vendors and makers we visited were excited and high-energy. We headed first to the craft pavilions, taking a quick look at some of the vendor booths in the BUST Craftacular…but I’ll confess that I wasn’t too excited about looking at more handmade soap and silkscreened tees. You know how I feel about silkscreened tees.

The craft activities, on the other hand, were not busy yet and loads of fun. The kid and I made a bottlecap ring by fitting a spider button and some sparkly beads into a pre-assembled blank and covering the whole thing with ModPodge Dimensional Magic. AND, they gave me a little bottle of ModPodge to take with me. Yay for sponsors.

Lion Brand Yarn, Red Heart Yarns and a knitters guild (I missed the name, sorry) offered yarn and needles to anyone willing to sit down for a lesson. The knitters guild even had lovely rosewood needles from Lantern Moon, which was delightfully generous. Lots of people were learning to knit! And crochet. And cross-stitch.

Xyron encouraged people to decorate picture frames with stickers and even gave me a Magic Sticker Maker, which is a neat little device that makes stickers out of any flat paper shape, but googling reveals it to be a discontinued product. So I’m not going to get too attached to it. Did I mention it’s totally cool? We have 19 feet of stickability remaining…

Martha Stewart Living’s area encouraged you to cut out and attach to a stick one of the giant orange butterflies featured in the October issue. The big monarch butterflies people carried all around the fair lent additional color and whimsy to the day.

So yes, the craft pavilions were well worth a visit. Everyone was so friendly and generous, including my favorite BurdaStyle booth, who offered one-on-one instruction to make a drawstring bag on a sewing machine. I didn’t have time to do this, but they sent me home with fabric and ribbon to make my own. Thanks as always, BurdaStyle! (And thanks also to Lion Brand for the huge tote bag into which I put all this crafty stuff.)

Clif HatAs we left the craft areas, we ran to the Clif Kid folks, who encouraged my little one to decorate a recycled-cardboard hat with all manner of googly eyes, stick-on letters and pom-pom aliens. This was a perfect activity for kids, and they of course sent us away with samples of their new chocolate chip organic Zbar, which turns out to be pretty tasty for a packaged snack. Score another one for marketing/branding goodwill ambassadors!

Also of note was fiber artist Robyn Love’s Send a Message to the Universe, in which she yarnbombed a rocket with squares knitted and crocheted by over 100 different people. Including me and several knitters in our neighborhood. And now that the Faire is over, the piece and extra squares have gone to Lion Brand, who donated the yarn, to be made into blankets for Warm Up America. Lovely.

Oops, this was not meant to be entirely a craft recap. But I do commend the staff behind the now-online-only CRAFT Magazine for making the most of its second-tier status next to the robot enthusiasts, arduino programmers and fire-breathing-bicycle operators. Next post, the MAKE portion of Maker Faire…

Pho!

Thai Son

image from http://jackson-heights.net/

I have lived in Sunnyside for six of the past eight years, and it’s no secret that this neighborhood offers an amazing array of worldly cuisines, from Indian-inspired Chinese to Japanese-Nepalese and several varieties of South American. What I have always lamented, however, is the complete lack of Vietnamese food. We have multiple Korean joints, numerous places for both decent and cut-rate sushi, and at least half a dozen Chinese takeout storefronts, but no Vietnamese restaurant.

In an attempt to discover more of the world in our own backyard, I opened my trusty copy of Sietsma’s The Food Lover’s Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City and opted for a Malaysian restaurant just steps from the 7 train at 74th Street. Because this book is somewhat outdated, I looked up this establishment online to make sure it was still in business. The reviews were good and we set off. As you can probably guess, despite my cursory research, Malaysia Rasa Sayang is now a generic-looking Thai restaurant. But not to fear – the very same block offered a Korean BBQ, a Korean-Chinese restaurant, and a pan-Asian place advertising ramen, the mere thought of which had set off my desire for some sort of Asian meal in the first place. We sat down at Prince Hof, but between the blaring music, the tv screens at each booth playing videos, and the lackluster menu, we quickly rose and left.

Then we saw the sign: Thai Son. Don’t be fooled by the name – it’s one of the few Vietnamese-run Vietnamese restaurants in New York, and affiliated with the Thai Son on Baxter Street in Chinatown, where I’ve been several times (although not as frequently as the inimitable Nha Trang Centre, just around the corner). Without any question or even a glance at the menu, we went inside, and it was like visiting an old friend – easy, simple, familiar. In writing this post I’ve come across several lukewarm reviews, but everything we tried was delicious. The calamari was lightly fried in a flavorful batter, the cha gio stuffed with fresh pork, and Mr Apparently’s pan-fried noodles spot on. Vaguely pursuing the desire for ramen, I skipped my standard order of grilled pork over vermicelli for a bowl of chicken pho and asked for egg noodles instead of rice noodles. The bowl of soup was arguably the best pho I’ve had in New York. Perhaps I should have been eating chicken all this time (although that’s a topic for another post), or perhaps Thai Son just makes a fine bowl of noodles; regardless, it’s a quick subway ride away and we’ll be going back.

The Art Museum, Not the Grocery Store

Since Mr. Apparently had a rare Monday holiday, we left the house early and took the bus to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 10am is a perfect time for museum-going; no waiting in line, the halls are sparsely populated, and you’re ready for a snack before the lunchtime rush.


Thanks to New York, New York!: The Big Apple from A to Z, Apparently Junior was adamant that we find William the Hippo, the museum’s unofficial mascot. The Interwebs could tell us only that William resides “in the Egyptian galleries,” which is an area larger than a city block containing hundreds of thousands of items. Security Guard #1 had absolutely no idea when I was referring to when I asked the location of the little blue hippopotamus; he suggested I ask another guard. Guard #2 also had no idea, adding, “I don’t usually work in these galleries.” We did a little detective work as to little William’s age and managed to get closer before asking the next guard, who smiled kindly and pointed out the little sculpture across the room. Result: one happy toddler.

The second highlight of the trip was an indoor/alfresco lunch in the Charles Engelhard Court, an enormous atrium featuring natural light both direct and filtered through transparent panels, making it feel as if one were outside on a spring day while seated comfortably inside during a February chill. Noshing on American artisanal cheeses with the shimmering Diana and Tiffany windows nearby was an unexpected and welcome delight. (Bonus: here’s a photo set showing the restoration of this court prior to its reopening in 2009.)

On our way to the modern art wing, after a quick ride in the coolest glass elevator ever, we passed through the Apparently family’s secret favorite part of the museum: Visible Storage. Row after row of glass cabinets house settees, teaspoons, salt cellars, cigarette cases, grandfather clocks and assorted clock mechanisms, glass vessels organized by color, and an amazing array of American painting. Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington resides here, and for some unknown reason John Singer Sargent’s Madame X is currently in residence in a front-row glass case. The security guard, an older man of European descent, caught my incredulous gaze and nodded knowingly. The last time I saw Madame she was the centerpiece of a huge exhibition several years ago. Now she hangs frameless in Visible Storage.

Our destination in the modern art wing? Charles Demuth’s The Figure Number 5 in Gold, a lovely painting in its own right and appealing to Apparently, Jr for its role as the model for a watch he and his father presented to me on Valentine’s Day. Only through a strange series of gallery closings, restroom detours, and chance did we stumble upon the one open modern art gal
lery today, and there it was: Demuth’s brilliant homage to William Carlos Williams. Can you see the fire engine?

After all this excitement, A Jr. fell sound asleep on the downtown bus, and no amount of transferring or being carried home in his father’s arms could wake the exhausted little bug. I couldn’t be more pleased that art makes him happy.

 

 



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