the year in books – february

Alas, I did not enjoy my first Year in Books read, I am one of those people who likes tidy plots and I just kept wondering what the hell was up with Miles. I fought the urge to skip ahead until I finally just put the book down. Nevertheless, I did enjoy getting back to the practice of reading in bed. As it’s been snowy in New York and the roads are icy, I’ve been off my bike and have been riding the bus and subways which gives me another good block of time to immerse myself in a book.

I’m following Laura’s (of The Circle of Pine Trees blog) lead of only purchasing books from independent bookstores, thrift stores or borrowing from the library. This month I sought my  book at the Saint Mark’s Bookshop, a neighborhood institution. The relentless gentrification and “mallification” of my neighborhood almost claimed our bookstore on at least two occasions. Each time, the community rose up and closed ranks around the beloved bookstore, circulating petitions, fundraising and volunteering labor and services. Read here and here for news stories about the battle for the bookstore. Saint Mark’s was eventually chased out by rising rents, but reopened in the neighborhood this summer. It is much smaller than the old store, but I think it is far more beautiful. The design by Clouds  Architecture Office was a donation. The existence of St. Mark’s Bookshop is a testament to the power of community.

On East 3rd St. East Village, New York

On East 3rd St. East Village, New York



In my neighborhood bookshop, I picked up a book by a neighborhood author. This month’s read is “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp”, an autobiography by Richard Hell. A cultural history of the punk rock era in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, in which Richard left an indelible mark as a musician and a writer.


snow day

It was supposed to be the storm of the century and we only got a few inches so this morning’s headlines read “New York dodges a bullet”.

My friend Katy described it in this way: “I’m looking at this now like its a flash mob, only in reverse. The Mayor has sent all the New Yorkers scampering to their lairs and now the city is quieter than it has been in a century or two… world’s biggest flash mob inversion.”

Nonetheless, we got a snow day.

tompkins square park

tompkins square park


dog run in tompkins square park

dog run in tompkins square park



tompkins square park

tompkins square park

how to find a nyc size queen bed

Forget what you see in the movies – most New York City apartments are dime-sized. We can cook full meals on kitchen counters the size of cutting boards and every inch of space is either used or is a pathway. When New Yorkers visit furniture stores, they go armed with tape measures.

For fourteen years Frank and I have slept in a full-sized bed only because we did not want to give up the floor space that a queen bed would take up. But every time I actually slept on a queen, I felt so queenly. I was tired of waking up in the middle of the night pushed to edge of the mattress by Toy Fox Terriers.

I’d heard that there was such a thing as a “short” queen mattress. They are popular for use in RVs and boats and so they are also referred to as RV mattresses. They are as wide as a queen (60 inches) but the same length as a full or twin (75 inches). We would gain six inches in width without sacrificing five inches of floor space at the foot of the bed. These five inches of floor space were a pathway to maneuver around our small bedroom. If you are not six foot tall, you don’t need those five inches in bed length.

I started the search by going to Sleepy’s because they are everywhere in Manhattan and since they call themselves the mattress professionals; I figured they would have many styles to choose from. The two salespeople I spoke with at two different locations had never even heard of a short queen. Not only that, but they showed no interest in finding out anything about it. Next I tried the Internet search. You could find them but they were made of foam or came in a compressed roll that the mattress would pop out of in a Pillsbury dough-like way. These did not seem like something you would want to sleep on every night. My next idea was, what if I went to a department store like Macys with very good customer service. Surely, they would be able order one for me if they didn’t have them in stock already. I got the same reaction – no knowledge and no interest in looking for further information.

I was hell-bent both on keeping my five inches of floor space and getting this bed and so on one of our trips to the rural homestead when I drove past an independent furniture store, I thought about small town customer service. In a wave of optimism, I parked the car and went inside the beautiful Victorian building that used to be the Hotel Augustan, which now houses the Scholet Furniture in Cobleskill New York. When I made my request, the saleswoman not only knew what I was talking about, but she told me that she could order it for me. Then she took me up the grand staircase to the bed section and pointed out the types of beds that could be ordered as a short queen. I could actually test the mattresses and choose which one I wanted to order.

Scholet Furniture in Cobleskill New York

Scholet Furniture in Cobleskill New York

Compared to the search, the rest was easy. I ordered the mattress and because they could not deliver it to Manhattan, we had to transport it on the top of the car. Frank lashed it down super securely and drove slowly. The transport had to be timed for a non-rainy non-snowy day, which took some doing in the winter. He hacked the existing full sized bed frame from Ikea by adding plywood sheets the width of a queen. Because the pillow-top mattress was much thicker than our old one, Frank lovingly sawed some inches off the feet of the frame so that the bed was not too high for the little blind dog to leap off.

The Hotel Augustan was built in 1874

The Hotel Augustan was built in 1874


the year in books

I used to be an avid reader. Then I became an avid knitter and that turned me into a slacker reader because you cannot knit while you are reading. I have become an avid knitter and TV watcher combo.

As now is the time for resolutions, I felt I should bring more books into my life. I’m a fan of Laura’s Circle of Pine Trees blog and her Year in Books project, so I thought it would be good thing for me to join in this year. The project is sort of a flexible book club where the goal is to read at least one book a month during the year and share thoughts about it.

I’m going to try to follow Laura’s example of holding to book buying from independent bookstores, thrift shops or borrowing from the library. So my start was to pick up the book Laura is going to read for January titled “There but for The” written by Ali Smith at the Strand Bookstore in lower Manhattan, a bustling jewel of a bookstore.


the strand bookstore on broadway and east 13th street

the strand bookstore on broadway and east 13th street



new year – 2015

It is a new year and it feels good. Fresh starts and a rubbing of the eyes – a time for shaking off the sort of cobwebs that don’t do us any good. From where I write (Northern US), every single day going forward, the sun will set later and later. We are on the other side of the light now. It will get sunnier. At the start of this new year, here are some words that my friend Katy Lyle wrote that I wanted to share with you. I found this passage to be all the things she said she wanted it to be.


 I want to post something encouraging, heartening, beautiful… Something to help us all lean into the wind if need be – or go with it if not – ever bolstered by hope and the presence of each other… May these days be good ones for you. May you be understood. May you be met halfway. May financial worries ease, and frictions too. May pains lessen and loss be felt less keenly. May friendships surprise you often and love undo you completely, friends – I wish you well!  

Katy Lyle, New York City, December 2014


tree trimming party 2014

The weekend before Xmas is busy with parties. We had our annual tree-trimming party on Saturday. Oona is home from college and she has a good eye for picking out a good Xmas tree. Saturday morning we set out on foot to our usual Xmas tree spot on Houston St. where the French Canadian guys will deliver the tree to your apartment for ten bucks. Oona was lamenting about how much fun it was when we used to carry the tree home ourselves on foot. We reminisced about the time we brought one of our Toy Fox Terriers with a tiny Santa hat on his head and he was so cute walking next to us while we carried the Xmas tree, that we were not only photographed multiple times but also filmed by a passing video crew.


A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat - Millie

A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat – Millie

We carried the tree home this year. I’d forgotten how much fun it is. When people in New York see you schlepping a pine tree, they smile and wish you a Merry Xmas. Random men offer to help you carry it. People sitting in restaurants smile and wave to you from the windows. It’s a jolly trek home when you are carrying a Xmas tree in New York city.


This year’s party featured cocktails made with drinking vinegars or shrubs. Shrubs were popular in colonial America as way to preserve fruit and make a refreshing drink. Oona had concocted some at school and so we decided to make wintery shrubs for our guests.

Beet Balsamic Shrub (recipe from Ashley Marti of Local Haven)
2 cups raw beets, peeled and sliced
½ cup maple syrup (I used sugar)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Put beets in a quart mason jar and cover with sugar or maple syrup and shake it up to coat the beets. Put into the refrigerator for 24 hours and shake occasionally. After 24 hours, add the two vinegars and shake it up. Put back into the fridge for another 24 hours, shaking occasionally. Then strain the liquid into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

This makes a syrupy drinking vinegar which we then added to seltzer. Make it as strong or as mild as you like. This was especially good with vodka and a slice of lemon.

Cranberry Sage Shrub (adapted from Jerry James Stone’s blog Cooking Stoned)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Champagne vinegar
2 fresh sage leaves

It is the same steps as the beet shrub, except you should roast the cranberries to soften them up first. Put them on a baking pan and roast them for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven till they are mushy. Then put them into a quart mason jar, shake with sugar, let sit, add vinegar, shake and sit in the fridge – then you’ve got the wonderful syrupy tart sweet shrub to add to your seltzer and cocktails.

The flavor combinations are endless. Now that we’ve got the hang of it, the experimentation will begin. Happy Holidays, dear readers.


how to make peppermint bark

When you bite into a piece of peppermint bark and close your eyes, you might see multi-colored Xmas lights, the diamond like sparkle of snow crystals in the moonlight and maybe even smell pine needles. It is much nicer to make your own, but in a pinch, any peppermint bark will do and you should eat it all winter because it is definitely a winter only sweet. Its cold sweet bite illuminates dark nights.


Here is my recipe for peppermint bark:

1 1/2 lb – good quality semisweet chocolate chopped into small pieces
1 1/2 lb – good quality white chocolate chopped into small pieces
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
5 or 6 candy canes



Line a 9×12 baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Using a double boiler or put one pan on top of another pan with boiling water in the bottom pan, you slowly melt the semisweet chocolate in the top pan. Stir continuously and be careful that the chocolate does not burn. When the chocolate is melted, add 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract, mixing well. Spread the chocolate out onto the lined baking pan, smooth it out with a spatula and give it a little shake so that it is even. While this is cooling, it is a good time to crush the candy canes. I used an old ice crusher – one of my very good yard sale finds, but you can wrap the candy canes in a dish towel and simply pound them with a hammer or a heavy spoon.



Once the dark chocolate is cool, you should put it in the fridge so that it hardens a bit more before you put the white chocolate layer on it. Now, melt the white chocolate the same way you did the dark. When the white chocolate is melted, add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract and stir. Then add the crushed candy canes and mix well. Spread the white chocolate on top of the dark and put it into the fridge. Once the top layer of white chocolate encrusted with peppermint candy is hardened, you can remove it from the pan and break it into pieces. Merry peppermint. Merry winter, dear readers.