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Gramercy Park, East Village, Dumpling Man, Surprise food trend— NYC

On day two of wandering in NYC, my favorite city activity, I set out for Fotografiska, the New York City outpost of the famous avant-garde photography museum I loved in Stockholm but the weather was walkable, despite a little wet snow, so I opted to neighborhood wander, this time through Gramercy Park, which I haven’t been to in years. Lovely old townhouses surrounding an elegant gated park. Reminded me of London. I ended up in the East Village where I found more empty storefronts than I’d seen in other neighborhoods, perhaps not surprising. But several little independent shops, including one full shop full of lovely Japanese paper products, have survived Covid, so far. Good to see. I had the six-piece sampler (seared) at Dumpling Man, a hole-in-the-wall spot on St. Mark’s Place, perhaps in the same spot where my London friend Anne had a gift shop, The House of Uncommons (geddit?) in the mid-1980s. (Francine, are you still reading?) My favorites were the shrimp (with corn) and the pork. The spinach-green veggie dumpling with a vague green tea flavor won the “most different” prize.

Do you know Dumpling Man?

In addition to dumplings, another perhaps more unlikely trend appears to be something familiar to Iowans or any visitor to the Iowa State Fair…

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Sona, Dominique Ansel, Nolita — NYC with Myra!

Monday was Myra Day, one of my favorite days in NYC (or anywhere else). We met at Grand Central, which looked a bit diminished without its annual holiday market and the Scandinavian food court, both presumably casualties of Covid, but the rest of the city was hopping with holiday cheer. We wandered through Soho and NoLita (north of Little Italy, east of Sogo, primo streets:Mott, Elizabeth), both pleasant backgrounds for our annual epic get-together. I returned to Dominique Ansel Bakery, this time for a light lunch (chicken salad with pistachios on a delicious croissant) and these crazy “milk shots,” little chocolate-lined “shot glasses” made of pastry dough, filled with milk. They got a bit soggy but were a delicious take on milk and cookies.

Masked at Grand Central

The holiday market was ON at Union Square, and full of good gift options, from Scandinavia hand towels to Turkish pottery to Ecuadorian scarves. Dinner was at the very chic Sona, a very different Indian restaurant on 23rd street, with different takes on traditional dishes (and much higher prices.) The butter chicken looked the most familiar and was delicious. The chicken korma was unrecognizable – three conical shaped fried dumplings in a shallow pool of creamy green -colored sauce, served with a cheese-filled naan reminiscent of a quesadilla. The best innovation was the saag paneer made with Swiss chard rather than the usual spinach. All served by attentive staff in stylish surrounds with tables that quickly filled with chic New Yorkers who apparently thought nothing of dropping considerable cash on fancy Indian food on a Monday night. I ❤️ NYC.

P.S.across the street from Sona: a popular new Italian restaurant called Rezdora.

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Train ride Up the Hudson, Salt Point, 13 Hands Equine rescue – glorious Dutchess County, NY

I’m on the Metro North Hudson Line train heading back to NYC after a quick but lovely and overdue visit with my old friends Merida and Chip. I’ve been visiting their charming 1840s farm house on a hill overlooking a rolling wooded valley for almost 40 years, lucky us.

The train trip is about 2 hours hugging the Hudson which looked stunning yesterday in the fall sunshine. I got off at the end of the line in Poughkeepsie and Merida picked me up and whisked me off to the country where we took long walks through the woods and pastures, past ponds and streams, tromping in the muddy grass in borrowed Wellies with two sweet white dogs who reminded me of my lab Millie. Chip took me over to visit the rescue horses at 13 Hands equine rescue center he volunteers at on a spectacular hillside overlooking a wooded valley with a sweet white farmhouse.

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No time for The Met when you need a Covid Test in NYC – lessons learned at MedRite Urgent Care (testing center)

Because I need proof of a negative Covid test (as well as proof of vaccination) in order to attend a family bar mitzvah here, my priority today was finding said test. Not hard but some tricks to it. The first two testing centers turned out to be private pay. One cost $250! I guess that’s to be expected in a well-heeled neighborhood (upper east side), sort of concierge Covid care. Not surprisingly, it was easy to get in, few customers.

But I opted for the much cheaper (I hope) insurance-pay option at one of many MedRite locations (mine was on Second avenue in mid 80s) although I’m not sure if my insurance will pay and like so often with health care, no one could give me an answer when I asked, “hey, what does this cost?”) I did gather it’s free for people without insurance. Damn right!

I had to fill out a few forms, wait about a half hour with about 6 other people in a spanking clean, large white-walled waiting room. The staff were pleasant and patiently answered my questions. The test took a few minutes and no long a-tip inserted way up toward my brain, just a little swirling around each nostril. I ended up getting the rapid test (a text with a negative result popped up on my phone about 15 minutes later) and the more accurate PCR test with results in 24-48 hours via a portal I had to join with a pin and password. Apparently I can check tomorrow morn. The bar mitzvah invitation stipulated that either a PCR within 72 hours of the event or a rapid antigen test within 48 hours were my options but it was tricky working it into my schedule, which included an overnight visit to see a friend in Dutchess county, which I didn’t want to spend searching for a Covid test in the countryside.) I got the PCR test results (negative) 24 hours later.

This adventure left me with no time to visit TheMet, as planned but no matter. I happily window shopped and people watched while strolling along Lexington and Madison avenues on a perfect sunny fall day. A late breakfast/lunch was had at Tal Bagels, at 81st and lex, which has a great selection of bagels, cream cheese spreads, plus tables outdoors and inside separated with plexiglas and a bathroom. My first stop, h &h bagels on 2nd had only counter service.

Celebrating my negative rapid antigen test, ny style at Tal bagels

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Dominique Ansel Bakery in soho, “flat knife noodles” in Chinatown – looking good NYC

So great to be back in NYC for the first time since the pandemic began. I expected the place to look more battered than it is given all it’s gone through but I sensed the same vitality on the streets as always. I did what I love doing best in this city (and several others with walkable successions of neighborhoods including San Francisco, New Orleans, London, Paris and Rome). I got off the subway at Prince Street (a shouting, shoeless street person in the car propelled me to depart…the city still has its problems) and wandered east and then south and then back north and a little west back to the 6 subway line at Union Square that leads back to my wonderful Aunt Shelby and her upper east side apartment where I am lucky to stay.

“Tasty hand-pulled Noodles” shop in Chinatown

I wandered up and down streets near soho (I think that’s where Elizabeth Street is), the lower east side (hello Russ and daughters deli, sadly the cafe was closed, maybe more limited hours due to the labor shortage caused by the pandemic?), Chinatown, Little Italy, soho, Greenwich village,/Washington Square (hello tons of kids in Halloween costumes) and Union square (hello Mutsu apples at the green market).

I can’t tell you which streets I walked on. A map of my movements would not look logical or like a route to anywhere. I like it that way. I chose streets that grab my attention with their potential for interesting window shopping or architecture-admiring. I did chance upon a tiny Chinatown street, Doyers street, that had almost turned into a pedestrian alley thanks to the dining huts now in the street (a pandemic feature) with tables and red plastic stools where people sat, slurping noodles, so I joined them. Reminded me of the street food stands in Vietnam but with higher tables and stools and this was Chinese noodles (I had flat “knife cut” noodles, flat and wide with sharp cut, also somewhat resembling the shape of a plastic knife…with shrimp and chicken. Very basic, fresh, starchy, filling.)

Pasties and masks in Soho, I think

At the southern end of soho, I think, on spring street, I found a bakery/cafe full of young people in a long line so I joined them, which turned out to be wise. Dominique Ansel knows her pastries. I particularly liked a crispy chewy pastry I first discovered in DC in May called kouign-amann ( “queen a-man”). Akin to a “caramelized croissant,” Kouign Amann is a Breton pastry with a crispy, caramelized crust. The bakery Aldo had pretty French macaroons,cronuts, sandwiches and fanciful creamy creations. My favorite was a pink bun (the top looked like a little beret) with a big blob of white cream in the middle dotted with big red blobs that looked like giant cut strawberries.)

A set from a Wes Anderson movie? Nope, real place in Chinatown on Doyers street.

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And the best part of Ithaca…lakeside with our friends at their cottage

“And some days, they last longer than others
But this day by the lake went too fast
And if you want me, you better speak up
I won’t wait
So you better move fast.” (Rilo Kiley)

Lest I forget to mention, it is the people and the lakes of the Finger Lakes which remain our biggest draw, especially since our dear pals have bought a cottage on Cayuga Lake, near where we used to vacation together with our young kids! On this trip, we visited new-to-me Finger Lakes to the West – Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua – all with their own charms. The shores of Seneca and Cayuga are particularly well-populated with wineries, cideries, breweries and more foodstuffs. None are more beautiful than my forever favorite lake: Cayuga.

in the garden at Ithaca Beer

Nut ridge

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Taughannock Park rim trails, South Hill Cider, Hangar Theatre/Dar Williams – Ithaca

We went to our first live music concert since the pandemic in Ithaca, where we saw the wonderful Dar Williams at Ithaca’s Hangar Theater, an intimate space where Dar was singing in what felt like our living room. But we had to show proof of vaccination (fortunately I brought our cards) and ID plus wear masks. We self-social distanced by moving to seats not next to others. Dar Williams was as charming as ever, telling long rambling funny and/or poignant stories before her songs, and her voice was in great shape. It felt like fate that we were there when she invited the audience to sing along during her last song and we people did, belting out through our masks: Iowa…(One of our favorite songs as Iowans but we didn’t know it was so well known by others.)

The last time I was at Taughannock state park 2 1/2 years ago, walking the ground-level gorge trail, I saw a few people walking high above me. Who knew? This time, we walked 3 miles up the north rim trail and back along the south rim trail, seeing the falls like I’d never seen them before, from on high and above, birdseye, and from flat rocks leading to the astonishing drop of the falls. Gorgeous. I have been to taughannock many times but never knew about these trails!

At the bottom of the South rim trail, we passed through a wrought iron gate on a dirt path leading to the Inn at Taughannock Falls, a beautiful old gingerbread mansion where I used to go as a treat with my parents when we visited Cornell. The place has been gussied up with a new events space but looks as lovely as ever. We stopped at a little wooden stand in the woods for excellent fresh squeezed lemonade. Nice touch.

Dinner was unexpectedly on the side of a hilltop south of Ithaca at sunset with a bluegrass band playing under a gazebo and diners scattered in clusters of lawn chairs and picnic tables near apple orchards. We were at South Hill Cidery, which happened to have a fried chicken benefit supper for Hurricane Ida survivors. The chicken was slow to arrive, cooked by volunteers, but surprisingly delicious. And talk about chicken with a view.

A loyal reader of the blog asked how many waterfalls/gorges we visited this trip: seven – and all beautiful in their own way. Treman is my sentimental favorite, the one I visited as a child and associate with my parents. Buttermilk is in that category too – I have fond memories of swimming in the icy water of the pool at the bottom of the falls. Taughannock is the highest, I think, and perhaps most dramatic. Watkins Glen is very tight, winding and mysterious. Cascadilla leads to Cornell, my alma mater and Fall Creek Gorge, is on the Cornell campus, with several spectacular places to view it (the suspension bridge, Thurston Avenue bridge). Letchworth was a whole other beast, with a much larger volume of water crashing down its falls, Niagara-like.

Picnic at Taughannock on Cayuga Lake
South Hill cider

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Andersonville #2 “coolest neighborhood in the world” – Chicago

Bit stunned to see the neighborhood we may move to in this article…but I did write a travel story about it in 2019 for the Minneapolis Star.

The 49 coolest neighbourhoods in the world
We polled 27,000 city-dwellers and asked local experts to rank the greatest places for food, fun, culture and community

Read in Time Out Worldwide: https://apple.news/ArShGeWW4TtGEnSbAUCufyQ

The city’s historic Swedish enclave (take note of the flag on the neighbourhood’s iconic water tower), Andersonville is now better known for its LGBTQ+ nightlife and the bars and restaurants that line the Clark Street corridor. Over the past year, the area has bounced back in a big way, welcoming new bars (Nobody’s Darling, the Bird Cage) and restaurants (Parson’s Chicken & Fish), while events like the Taste of Andersonville have done a top job of showcasing beloved local institutions. The district has always been a desirable place to live, but its proximity to beaches and coastal parks has only made it more appealing during the pandemic. Andersonville is also a community that’s looking forward, launching initiatives like Clark Street Composts – a pilot programme that could serve as a model for eco-friendly composting throughout Chicago.

The perfect day: Start off with coffee and pastries from Scandi-inspired bakery Lost Larson, before checking out the vintage knick-knacks at Woolly Mammoth or feminist literature at Women & Children First. Next, stroll along the picturesque Foster Beach, then snag a table at Hopleaf and enjoy mussels and Belgian beer. Round off your day with a drag show at the Bird Cage or a surreal performance of the Neo-Futurists’ Infinite Wrench.

Plan your trip: For Andersonville Midsommarfest, an annual street festival (June 10-12 2022) that serves as a celebration of the area’s Swedish heritage, local businesses and LGBTQ+ culture.

🗺 Take a look at our Andersonville neighbourhood guide

🏠 Discover more great neighbourhoods in Chicago

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Apple Fest, Sew Green, Ithaca Farmers Market, Collegetown Bagels downtown – Ithaca, NY (Finger Lakes)

Turns out all the cideries and apples I have been looking for in the Finger Lakes were all in one spot on the Ithaca Commons during a three-day event called Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival. It rained off and on but it was warm out so we were just fine traipsing though the intermittent rain. I had a nice chat with the young guy at The Cornell Orchards tent where I found Snap Dragons, my new favorite apple, and a Japanese variety (Shizuoka) that is akin to my old favorite, Mutsu (rebranded as Crispin.) No russet apples there but I found them later at The Ithaca Farmers Market and Green Star Co-op.

We had delicious apple crisp with vanilla ice cream although the line was longest at the cider donuts, a student favorite. The Commons looked healthy, with lots of storefronts occupied. There’s also a spanking new Collegetown Bagels, new building, same bagels and funky looking sandwich board describing old standbys. (The Collegetown bagels location in Collegetown also has new digs, hopping across the street.) Just off the Commons, I also stopped in at Sew Green to check out the used Eileen Fisher clothes. No great finds, unlike my last visit.

The Ithaca Farmers Market is unchanged, amen. Lots of alternative types playing the fiddle, fresh-faced farmers selling organic produce (and russet apples!), happy dogs.

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Letchworth State Park/Mt. Morris, Ardennes Brewery/Geneva NY

As advertised, Letchworth State Park turned out to be part Grand Canyon, with water rushing way below huge chiseled rock canyon walls, and part Niagara Falls, with high wide falls, the water at full volume after several rains, crashing down into the canyon, kicking up mist that the sunshine turned into rainbows. We came in from the Mt. Morris entrance, which seemed the closest from 390 driving up the southern route from Ithaca (slightly longer than the northern route especially if you take I-90, which we didn’t on the way back, opting instead for scenic country backroads. We had to drive about 11 miles inside the park to get to the Upper Falls where we trekked up stone steps to the top and then walked a short gorge rim trail to the middle falls. We skipped the lower falls but did stop briefly at the lovely old Glen Iris Inn. As recommended by the guy at the entrance, we picnicked at Eddy’s Tea Table, the name of one of several overlooks into the canyon and also stopped briefly to admire the view from Inspiration Point. (Never skip an inspiration point,)

At Upper Falls

On the trip back we stopped at the remarkable Ardennes Taproom and Brewery outside Geneva near the west shore of Cayuga Lake, located at a former sheep barn that looked far too fancy for sheep, made of stone, brick, wood and stucco. We sat at a picnic table, one of several dotting a long emerald green lawn with shady trees and tried a flight of Belgian beer and delicious frites. The rest of the bites menus looked great – mussels, lamb sliders.

Not your everyday Sheepbarn

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