Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On My Mind: Grocery Day

Today was grocery day. It's always, and I mean always, an ordeal. Even when I go at 10:30 in the morning when they're still stocking the shelves and your few fellow shoppers are little old ladies with pushcarts and women blocking the aisles with strollers. I used to hand-carry all my stuff home, lugging a couple bags in my backpack and grabbing a couple bags in each hand, but now I have this ugly, but functional, folding cloth grocery cart. I console myself with the thought that I'm saving at least 10 paper bags each time. Lugging it up and down subway stairs sucks and I'm never able to buy everything on my shopping list b/c I run out of cart space and arm strength. Today, cauliflower, yogurt, oj, milk, eggs, brie, mozzerella, and chocolate were casualties. I always feel like such a pack mule. I remember the days I just loaded up my trunk and drove home. Anyway....!

Today, I did something different. In my effort to eat more locally, I stopped at the Union Square Greenmarket before heading to Whole Foods. In all these years of walking through the Union Square Greenmarket, I never really stopped to notice the variety of foods you can get here--beef, seafood, turkey, honey, flowering plants, baked goods, apple cider, bread. The honey guys actually bring their bees with them. I sucked on a small spoon of honey the guy gave me as a sample while eyeing the bees-- they were eyeing me back resentfully. "Hey lady! Where you going with our honey!"

I don't know why I have such a hard time buying food at the Greenmarket. It's the prices, I think. There was an article about the high price of organic food in the NYT recently.

In the end, I did buy a pound of cod from the fish guy, figuring it'd be fresher and tastier for tonight's dinner than the frozen stuff at WF. I also picked up some organic portobello mushrooms for $7.00/lb. I couldn't believe the price. I felt pressured to buy b/c I was the only person in the guy's stall and he'd been watching me mumbling to myself about the expense. He wasn't very nice, actually. Charged me $7.14 for a pound of mushrooms - you would think he could have rounded down at least. Oh well. Farmer's lives are hard, I reminded myself. But then I got to WF's produce dept and saw that portobello caps were $3.49 a package. I felt a little screwed. A dollar difference, maybe two, I wouldn't have felt so bad.

Which got me thinking about this constant problem I face grocery shopping in NY--not knowing what's a good deal. How can you tell when everything is overpriced? To solve this problem, I've started a spreadsheet where I record prices of items I regularly purchase from the different markets I most frequent--Whole Foods, Gristedes, Zaytuna, Fresh Direct and deli downstairs and this is what I've noticed.
  • There's a reason WF is my all-around favorite--their 365 private label is often cheaper than the equivalent at the other stores and unless you want to trek to Chinatown for produce, there's no more convenient source produce. Yes, there's Manhattan Fruit Exchange and the Greenmarkets, but I'm talking about one-stop shopping here. It also beats Gristedes, whose quality and prices are iffy. What I buy at WF: meat, produce, bread, cheeses, cereal, specialty items, like capers and sun-dried tomatoes, snacks
  • Zaytuna is very competitively priced, and being right around the corner from me, a great convenience. What I buy here: herbs (basil, tarragon, etc), mid-week replenishment of fruits and veggies, pasta, yogurt, cheese, milk & OJ (b/c it's easier to carrier from here)
  • Gristedes depresses me, but I go there b/c on a few items, I'm very brand loyal, as you can see from what I buy here: Quaker Oats oatmeal, Hellman's mayo, Shake and Bake, Skippy peanut butter.
  • My deli well, downstairs. I don't even have to change out of my slippers to go there, but I was surprised at how decent their prices can be. What I buy here: beverages, milk, eggs, snacks
So there you have it. I'm still learning. Soon, I'll be reciting prices to you like my mother - "Ack! 3.99 for grapes. I can get them for 2.99 at blah blah blah." One day, when I have kids, they'll thank me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Little Walk In The Rain

It's gloomy and wet today, payback for the glimpse of summer we had last week. I went to Minas Shoe Repair to pick up my shoes during my lunch hour. I really do love that place. Chatted Minas up today and discovered a few facts: he started his apprentice in shoe-repair when he was 12 in Greece. He's 67 now. The shoes were beautifully, perfectly done, of course.

I decided to swing by the Bowling Green Greenmarket on the way home, but got distracted by the news Ruben's Empanadas on Bridge St. Those plump little turnovers stuffed with meat were calling my name. I picked up an Argentinean Sausage empanada with a side of hot sauce and wolfed it down for lunch. Yum.

But I digress. I figured the Greenmarket, which is open on Tuesday and Thursdays right outside the Bowling Green 4/5 stop, would be anemic today b/c of the weather. Sure enough, there were only two vendors--both selling baked goods and potted plants.

Funny thing though. In recent weeks, I'd been talking about getting a plant for the house. We have no plant or animal life, other than ourselves, in this apartment. So, I ask the guy running the booth from the Orchards of Concklin for some recommendations on house plants. The guy was just so nice and helpful. I think he got a kick out of my confession that I've killed every plant I've ever owned (with one exception, which I beqeathed to my aunt when I left LA).

So, I brought a little red begonia home. Isn't she sweet? Also, brought home some banana muffins and honey harvested from bees on the Orchard. It felt good buying local. I know local's all the rage, but I confess, I'm so addicted to the Whole Foods experience. But that's b/c New York City is a tough city for grocery shoppers, and WF makes it easy for me. Still, when I lived in LA (you're going to hear this phrase a lot), I went to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market every Saturday. I loved it. Maybe I'll start getting out the Greenmarkets more regularly. I wonder...can a house plant make a difference in my life? Can a bottle of honey from a nearby farm?

Stay dry until next time...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

On My Mind: Real Estate

City Guy and I are seriously thinking of buying a place this year. Actually, we've been talking about it for a while. So what's holding us back besides economic uncertainty and laziness? The truth is I can't get those California houses out of my head. I've had this bad habit of saying to myself, "Do you know what that money can get us in California?" It's hard to commit to a 1000 sq-foot apartment when you can get a bi-level with a pool out back. Yes, I know I'm always talking about California, but before someone writes in and tells me to leave NYC if I don't like it, give me credit for trying.

Today, I went to see a couple condos in the Financial District. City Guy and I like FiDi, as they call it, for a number of reasons, which I can get into later. They were both gorgeous loft-style apartments in the Phillip Starck-designed building (just check out that lobby) at 15 Broad St, with amenities that would put many New York hotels to shame. Seriously, what hotel do you know that has an indoor lap pool, bowling alley, jacuzzi, basketball court, private theater, private terrace, state of the art gym and dance studio...Whew! Truthfully, I think we might be dreaming with this one. I don't know if we can afford to live in a building like this, with its common charges, but I was dazzled and if I had the kind of cash that allows you to make rash decisions, I'd have gone for it!

But I know next to nothing about real estate and being a complete-ist (does anyone else use this word - I find it handy), I know I won't be comfortable buying until I've explored the market more. We've been putting off this house-hunting process for a while, just dipping our toe into the water with a few open houses last fall, but now that the weather's warming, we have no excuse.

And of the two of us, I'm the one who's got the time to do our real estate homework. So I guess I've got a lot of these open houses ahead of me before this journey is done. I'll keep you posted. So far, these are some of my favorite real estate sites:
What are your favorites?Anyone have any good advice on how best to go about looking for a home in NYC?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Great Find: Minas Shoe Repair

Finding a great shoe repair guy is like finding a great doctor...for your shoes. You trust the guy, believe he cares and hope he doesn't retire. I feel lucky to have one of these: Minas at Minas Shoe Repair at 67 Wall Street.

I love the old guy, who must have been trained by a real cobbler, because his work makes me want to weep. I never think twice when I hand over my beloved boots or heels or City Guy's favorite work shoes because I know they'll come back looking like new and in most cases, the replacement heel or sole will last longer and look better than the original.

His daughter works the front desk and is such a pleasure to deal with. Really sweet and patient. She always seems remember me even when I haven't been back for months. I tried a handful of other shoe repairs when I first moved to NYC, and I was always disappointed in the quality and craftsmanship of the product (and my uncle used to have a shoe repair store when I was a kid, so I know the difference). I couldn't believe what people charged for their shoddy work! Really made me feel I was getting taken for a ride.

Minas just takes you back to a time when people cared for their things--didn't just toss their shoes out and replace them with cheap shoes made of plastic. They invested in high quality leather shoes, and got them repaired. This place doesn't miss a beat. You and your buddy can get an old school shoe shine in minutes and you can drop off five pairs of shoes on a Friday (which I did today) and get them back by Monday.

So, there you have it. Minas Shoe Repair gets beaucoup Home Sweet NYC love. I just hope they don't get priced out of the neighborhood--in the last year, a Tumi and a Pink have opened next door and a Tiffany a block down.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Happenings: Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival began yesterday--yet another example of a New York institution I've consistently avoided. I guess I always figured I wouldn't be able to get tix to the good stuff and would be stuck watching some lame movie, just to be able to say I went. And the film guide, with it's mucho offerings always scared me a bit.

But, today, inspired by a couple true blue film buff friends, I finally managed to wade through the hundreds of films in the Festival's Film Guide and found that tix were still available to a number of interesting movies...well, weekday matinee tix, at least.

So I'm going to watch "Playing (Jogo de Cena)," a documentary by Brazillian filmmaker that plays with the question of what's true and what's fiction by interspersing interviews with real life women with actresses "playing" these women.

I'm also watching "Sita Sings the Blues," an animated version of the Indian legend, Ramayana, interlaced with a modern love-on-the-rocks tale. It's by comic strip artist, Nina Paley. Isn't the animation fun?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nature in the City: Signs of Spring

It's perfect in New York right now. In a few weeks, it'll be hot and muggy, and we'll deal with that then, but right now, at 70-80 degrees, I'm right in my element (I'm from sunnier lands) and in the mood to stop and smell the roses...tulips in this case.

I love that the City has put massive red pots planted full of tulips right outside the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Yes, those vehicles whizzing past the red steel railing have just survived the underwater trek from Brooklyn. Apparently this is part of a NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation effort called PlaNYC, which "includes a number of groundbreaking greening initiatives, including planting street trees in all possible locations, creating 800 new greenstreets."

P.S. I was wondering why the city chose such gargantuan planters (might not come through in the picture, but they really are massive) for this little area outside the Rector Street stop, and City Guy says he's noticed that for years, the city tried to beautify the place with sculptures or other kinds of wimpy vegetation, but these decorative items would get blown away by the massive winds this area seems to funnel. Can you imagine? You're a tourist just minding your biz and get hit by an airblown pot of tulips. So, I guess someone figured massive concrete planters were the way to go.

New Perspective: Macy's Herald Square

I work from home, so theoretically I have the luxury of stepping away from my desk and exploring the city any day of the week. In reality, I find myself scheduling all my social activities, errands, grocery shopping, lunch meetings on the same day so I don't have to leave the house for the rest of the week. Why change out of your house clothes and get dolled up when you don't have to? It's really unhealthy, I know. I'm trying not to be a hermit.

So I've been putting off returning something to Macy's for days. City Guy and I made a purchase this past weekend on maybe my fifth trip to the store in all my years living here. I guess you could say I dread going to Macy's--Macy's and Times Square are two places where New Yorkers are always outnumbered by tourists, and tourists, bless their hearts, are there to enjoy themselves, not move efficiently, and New Yorkers value efficient movement.

So I thought I'd avoid the crowds and get there a before 11 am, and you know what? It was nice. The floor staff is helpful, smiling and pleasant. You can take your time browsing without feeling like you're in a medieval market.

It's lovely on a weekday before noon. Try it sometime.

  • The old-school elevators. They're wooden and so rickety you feel like some part of you is going to get caught and pull you under, but that's the fun.
  • The shoe department on the 5th floor. Even at 11 am on a Weds, as you can see, women love their shoes.
  • In a city where everyone feels the pressure to pay way too much for designer goods (myself included), it's nice to just walk the floors on an uncrowded day, not paying attention to the labels. You might find yourself stopped by a cute spring dress that's really well made, looks great on you...and then you won't care what it says on the label, except the price.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Can New York City Feel Like Home?

I've been living in the City for four-plus years now, and I'm about to tell you something that will make the skin of real New Yorker crawl--I moved here from Los Angeles...and I still miss California. You have to understand. I loved the visiting New York before I actually moved here. It's an energizing, alive, exciting place, but once I had an address here, it never quite became "home."

My husband--let's call him "City Guy"--loves New York. He's lived here forever, and he can't imagine living anywhere else. We met in NYC, so thank the city for that, but like a lot of newlyweds, we're at that point in our lives where we're wondering if NYC is the kind of place we want to settle down in. Do we really want to pay a million for 800 sq-foot box in Manhattan or move somewhere, like Texas, where we could get our very own McMansion with a pool for that money? Just kidding about Texas, but anyhow...a lot of the friends I've met since moving here have themselves moved away from NY over the years. So I wonder: do most people eventually leave?

I was thinking about this during a bout of insomnia last night, and realized I hated LA when I first moved there, and it took me about four years to "conquer" the city, learn how to navigate the city like a native, find my favorite little shops and restaurants, the quirky little neighborhoods, the doctor and dentist I adored, the friends and neighborhood that felt like "mine"--in effect, to accumulate all the experiences, places and people that made me feel homesick for LA when I left.

So I came to thinking that maybe the same principle works for NYC. Maybe it's time for me to stop kicking and screaming, stop bemoaning my lack of sunshine and warmth (though, yes, spring has sprung in NYC, and I can just feel my brain coming alive again), my lack of swimmable beaches and hikable mountains, my lack of four-wheeled transportation with which to transport my groceries from the supermarket, which I also lack, and really set out to find the New York places, people, experiences, treasures that will make this city feel like home and not just a big, bad indifferent city full of strangers.

So, that's why I'm here. I'm going to give it a real shot. I'm going to walk the streets in search of a sense of "home." Yeah - I should have done this years ago, but there was grad school and work and my nose was so close to the grindstone I couldn't see much. But there's a time and place for everything. Come along and see what I find...