In the most urban of cities, I look out my window and see a meadow. The meadow is there because of urban blight gone good. From the empty lots sprung the meadows. We call it the garden and it is one of the many community gardens in Loisaida.
The past weekend’s snowstorm brought out the neighborhood children in droves on a sunny Saturday morning when the garden was a winter wonderland of fluffy new snow – the kind that’s perfect for snowmen, the building of forts and snowball fights. It was lovely to hear the children’s laughter all day long until the snow turned blue as dusk fell. I was reminded of my girls when they were little and played in the garden in winter.
I can smell the cold when I step outside. The clean and brittle smell carries the smoke of the wood fire that heats a church on my block. The winter scent wakes me up more than the cold itself. I touch the cold metal of locks and free my bike.
I only started riding a bike in New York City a year and a half ago. I’d always been too chicken to ride in the street before. With the proliferation of bike lanes, I bought a bike from my neighborhood shop Recyle-a-Bicycle and started bike commuting to my office. Now you can’t get me off it. Only a downpour will get me back onto the slow and jammed-packed crosstown bus.
I’ve discovered the trick to being comfortable is to keep the feet, neck and especially the hands warm. I wear an ample wool cowl that I knit myself that you can pull up to cover your face in the biting wind. You can get the free pattern here in the post Winter Knits for Biking.
Oona modeling the super warm knitted bike cowl
I wear double gloves, but in the warm hands department, these win. The food delivery guys have developed an ingenious system of using plastic bottles and bags to block the wind from the handlebars. Maybe soon we will see fancy versions of these contraptions for sale in the high-end bike shops.
delivery bikes outfitted with plastic bag windbreakers
It’s always much more fun to put up the Xmas tree than take it down. It is one of those January chores that I tend to put off. This year I had an official excuse to extend the stay of our beautiful Xmas tree until last weekend when the city held its annual Mulchfest. Xmas trees are collected in parks and chippers are brought in. The trees are churned into mulch for the parks. They also hand out bags of mulch to New Yorkers for their gardens and window boxes and the street trees that so many folks tend to.
heading to the park
Oona’s friend Jackson helped me out with this January project and we walked our tree over to Tompkins Square Park. The smell of Xmas trees engulfed the park and wafted out to the avenues. What a happy smell! We were also treated to a sighting of the resident red-tailed hawk swooping in and around the ancient trees.
the chipper and the trees
fragrant pine mulch
I picked this forlorn little street tree for our mulch.
We said hello to 2013 at our off-the grid getaway in New York’s Schoharie Valley. We arrived to over a foot of newly fallen snow and a clear starry night illuminated by the full moon. Ice crystals sparkled like diamonds in the moonlit blue snow. The silhouette of tall pines and naked hardwood trees were black against the blue ice.
It was warming and invigorating to shovel the heavy snow into a lacework of paths that allowed us to access the firewood pile for heat and the hand pump well for water. Since I’d left the charcoal grill out from last summer, I decided to use it to cook our New Year’s Eve dinner. I made a little path all around it, pushed the snow off the picnic table with my shovel and got ready to grill.
Marinated and Grilled Filet Mignon
4 pieces of filet mignon
¼ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of red wine
1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika – I like the Chiquilin brand.
1 tsp Dominican or Mexican dried oregano (or fresh oregano or thyme is great too)
salt & black pepper
Whisk all ingredients together and marinate the meat for at least 2 hours. Grill it to your desired doneness.
I also made grilled garlicky zucchini that reminded us of summer.
Garlicky grilled summer squash
Slice the squash length-wise as thinly as possible. Add finely chopped garlic, salt & black pepper and enough olive oil that the pieces of squash are coated all around. Let them sit while you fire up the grill to absorb the seasoning. Grill them until they are soft and have grill marks.
One recent morning as I walked the dogs down my block, a man smiled at me and said “Is that the sleeping beauty?” I was taken by surprise, but then I recognized him as a gentleman from the neighborhood that had asked after Millie in the summer just after her operation. He was concerned then and now he asked me tenderly “How’s she doing?”. Many people have written me and asked “How’s she doing?” So here is the update. For those of you who don’t know her, Millie is a three year old Toy Fox Terrier weighing 6 pounds. Last spring she suffered a detachment of the lens of her eyes, which caused glaucoma. The pain of the glaucoma could not be controlled with medication and so three weeks after her sudden blindness, the decision was made to remove both of her eyes. I wrote her story here: The Sleeping Beauty.
Now you can see how she’s doing in this video I titled Blind Dog Fetching.
Last Saturday was a beautiful day for a neighborhood party. A celebration much deserved. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) finally opened its doors on Loisaida Avenue. They suffered a setback because of Hurricane Sandy’s flooding. But even while managing their own clean-up during the blackout, they were still serving food and providing bike-powered cellphone charging to the community. This is the spirit of Loisaida, a coming together to make impossible things happen – our history. Good news.
lovely hardworking volunteers
Founder Laurie Mittelmann with Adam Purple
Artist Marlis Momber with Millie
Founder Bill DiPaola
Visit the MoRUS facebook page to see more photos and other blogs posts.
I got the fever to make xmas crafts right after Thanksgiving as usual. As there is now an empty nest and no little hands to engage in the work, it had to be something that did not require an assembly line or extensive cleanup and could be done after work as part of my relax mode. This ruled out projects involving glitter and clay. Since I like the feel of wool in my hands, I settled on pom-poms. You can make pom-poms very easily using cut-out circles of cardboard, which was what I was planning to do. However, when I walked into Downtown Yarns, my local yarn store in the City of Alphabet (otherwise known as Loisaida), they showed me the Lamborghini of pom-pom makers made by Clover. “Ok”, I said, “I’ll take that too” and I was in the 21st century of pom-pom making. It was a relaxing and satisfying project that I engaged in mindlessly, twirling the soft yarn, as I was riveted to the TV watching the last episodes of “24″ on Netflix.
Clover pom-pom maker
Since I’m an xmas ornament hoarder, and have plenty of decorations, I decided to make this as a gift. My dear friend Maria Victoria has a lovely house in the country where she spends the holidays that she needs to fill up. Some red and green pom-poms strung around will look nice there.
the view from Maria Victoria’s deck
I used Lamb’s Pride yarn. 2 skeins yielded about 50 pom-poms
You can walk down a street in New York for years and be familiar with every bump in the sidewalk, when all of the sudden, you will glance up and spot an elaborate cornice on a building that you pass by every day. A little piece of something that you’ve never ever seen before and you will be enchanted by its beauty.
I’ve been taking photos with my phone of doorways in Loisaida and this will be the first post of an ongoing series because the doorways change. Graffiti comes and graffiti goes. People are big on the embelishment of doorways in this neighborhood. Like the storefront gate murals, many doorways are a canvas.
One week and one day after Hurricane Sandy, I opened the door to my neighborhood health food store. The smell of tea, herbal things and good salt hits my nose like a balmy punch. As I look over the newly delivered vegetables, a small elfin woman next to me looks up with her eyes bright and exclaims “Isn’t it exciting? FOOD!”
My pantry was pretty bare after the storm. I was not affected compared to the suffering endured by fellow New Yorkers. But a few days of darkness and silence in Manhattan has an effect nonetheless. One of them was the necessity of throwing out everything that was left in the fridge and freezer that had not been consumed. The now fermented unfrozen berries for smoothies that could not be made during the blackout and the packages of overlooked baby peas. We had foraged deep into the freezer and the pantry since food was scarce in our part of town. I used the rapidly defrosting bags of mushy and watery pearl onions from Trader Joes as seasoning. Now, when I see a pearl onion, from the pickled pearl onions for martinis in my bar cupboard to the fresh pearl onions at the Greenmarket, I feel a little bit of revulsion.
The cleaning fervor hit me the minute the lights, heat and hot water came back. First, the fridge and freezer got attacked. I moved on to the cupboard and threw out a slew of dried up and flavorless crap. The only survivors from the purge were the condiment jars whose contents had spoiled. These got soaked to remove the labels. Holiday entertaining would require a well-stocked pantry. My little notebook in hand, I made myself a list.
Then I rode my bike over to Kalustyans Spices and Sweets. I’d never been there before despite it being a famous place in New York visited by tourists and natives alike. When you walk in, the first grouping of provisions you see are for cocktails and my first thought was “Holy shit, they have dirty martini brine”. I had never seen that outside of an olive farmer’s stand at the Santa Monica farmer’s market. They have everything from everywhere. It was hard to keep to my shopping list.
I’m now all set for the start of holiday cooking. My freezer and fridge are pristine, having been scrubbed with detergent and baking soda. Ancient bottles of green goddess dressing and cocktail sauce have been jettisoned and I will not set eyes on a pearl onion for a long time.
Here is my list for a well-stocked spice cabinet for holiday cooking:
- Cinammon sticks & ground
- Vanilla bean – slice down the middle and put in a dark glass bottle filled with vodka. cure for a month for vanilla extract. Keep adding vodka to replenish
- Peppermint extract
- Cream of Tartar
- Baking Soda & Powder (without aluminum)
- Ground clove
- Oregano (Mexican or Dominican)
- Black Peppercorns
- Crushed Red Pepper
- Cayenne Pepper
- Ancho Chile Powder
- Dirty Martini brine
I have known Marlis since I started working on the homestead. Her building which is across the street from ours, was the first homestead building to be completed and occupied on our block. They were all moved in when we were just getting started pulling out the burnt beams. Their building was the proof that it could be done and it shone like a beacon for us. They gave us electricity and smiles of encouragement. I watched Marlis’s son grow up and she saw my daughters born and raised. It is unusual in New York to be so rooted to a place, to a particular block and also to be surrounded by people who are just as rooted. Long-time neighbors. Most New Yorkers move around. It is as though we are living the small village life even though we are in the middle of a giant metropolis – the so-called concrete jungle.
Marlis was born in the bombed out city of Berlin WWII so when she came to Loisaida in the 1970′s this was a familiar landscape. Marlis Momber’s photographs are full of soul. Yes, they have good composition and are well-crafted and her prints are exquisite. But aside from being an artful photograph, they reek of the soul. She is not a mere documentarian or onlooker – Marlis captures her subjects down to the essence. We are hers and Marlis is ours.