Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Buffalo is More than Just Wings!

Hi, all!

I'm back from a great weekend in Western New York, and all I can say is: "What a great start to the summer!" According to our friends, The Profs, we must have brought some great weather with us and that allowed us to see a large swath of Buffalo and neighboring Niagara Falls. We actually joked that it must have been fate for us to come this weekend because the New York Times had a 36 Hours in Niagara Falls feature this past weekend. Perfect timing! In addition to seeing quite a bit of Buffalo itself, we also indulged in a lot of eating (A LOT). The Profs also have a lovely community of friends, and we were able to meet some of them.

Here are some highlights from the weekend, and I'll be sure to share my thoughts about Buffalo in the coming week(s):

Fabulous modern art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Buffalo is chock full of gorgeous architecture.

Soo many wings this weekend! These are from Anchor Bar.

Niagara Falls (the US side)

By the way, we didn't get a chance to go to Toronto :( , but that's for another post.

How was your weekend?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where to Next? - Wings, Waterfalls & Family

Hey, all!

For those of you who are new to the blog (HHHHHIIIIIII + Thank you!), Where to Next? features where I'll be going next. With the Memorial Day holiday weekend coming up here in the U.S., I'll be heading off to Buffalo, New York! Yes, y'all Buffalo!

I know some of you are like "What?!", but I'm going to find a way to make sure that I learn as much about Buffalo as humanly possible. I can't believe that I'm going to be getting on a plane and flying for an hour, and I'll STILL be in my home state. I know Californians are probably used to that, but we NYers are not. Given the geography of the Tri-State area (i.e., New York City + suburbs, New Jersey and Connecticut), if you even drive an hour you've most likely reached another state. Many (not all, but many) people from New York City do not venture to see the northern parts of New York State ("upstate" as well call it here) much less know much about it. I know before my last job, which required some knowledge of New York State politics and geography, that I was pretty ignorant of the rest of the state. True confession. :(

This will be a new adventure for me. I'll be visiting a friend in Buffalo and her husband, who for the sake of this blog, I'll call The Profs. I'm very excited to see their beautiful home.

What else do I want to see in Buffalo?

Wings, baby!!

Did you think that I would travel all the way to the birthplace of the BUFFALO wing and not try some?

We'll be making a stop by Niagra Falls. I went there last when I was about 4 years old (i.e, I don't remember it), so this will be totally fun for me.

After a visit to the falls, Husband J and I will be driving up to Toronto for a very quick overnight stay. We'll do some wandering, but most importantly we will see some of my family. For those of you who don't know, if you are a member of the English-speaking Caribbean diaspora, you will mostly likely have family in one of several places:

New York City (ding, ding, ding!)
London, and.....

I've been to Toronto twice, but both times I was very young. I actually have two aunts and several first cousins there. I haven't seen some of them in 20 years. That's right...20 YEARS! That's bad. Part of this has to do with the fact, that this is my father's side of the family. I'm not very close to my dad, so unfortunately that's affected my relationships with his side. It's too bad because I look like my father's family. Apparently, I am related to half of the Black people in London, so if you see someone walking around there that looks like me, it's probably one of my many cousins (I haven't met most of them either). :)

Either way, I am totally excited to get out of New York City, see another part of my state and reconnect with my family for a bit. Also this is Husband J's first time to Canada...EVER! We both get a kick of the fact that I've dragged him half way around the world, and he's never been to our neighbor up north. :)

Does anyone have any recommendations for Buffalo OR Toronto, especially for lunch or breakfast in downtown Toronto? The recs can be for sights to see as well. I'll be spending most of my time right in downtown Toronto, so recs in that area would be great. THANKS!

U.S. residents, are you doing anything fun this upcoming holiday weekend?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Touring Turkey - Selime Cathedral

Hmm...I really don't know what to say about Selime Cathedral. It's similar to much of what we had already seen in Cappadocia. It was just as quietly and powerfully beautiful as everything else...if not more.

When we got there, I thought, "Are we going up there?! Really?" While our group day tour with Heritage Travel had been quite cool so far, what I think they don't tell you on the website is that you do need some level of passable physical conditioning to be able to see much of sites on the tour. A hike (albeit easy), the underground city and now this? Geesh.

We had to walk up THAT.

It looks easy at this point, right?

Then it just starts to incline just a bit...

Of course our hike up eventually turns into this...Don't ask me how I made it up 'cause I don't even know.
The narrowest path I have walked up ever...ever!

When you get to the top and see the view, it seems totally worth it. I stopped complaining in my mind (and feeling slightly embarrassed at my lack of cardio endurance).
Do you see me?

When I saw rock formations like this, I knew that the trip up was totally worth it.

Again, you're not going to go up a hill almost anywhere in Cappadocia without seeing a religious monument. I present the "cathedral." At this point in the trip, I knew I wasn't supposed to be surprised or amazed by another church carved into rock, but I was anyway.

One my fellow visitors decided to do some climbing. I kept my feet on the ground, KWIM?

A close-up of one of the cathedral's columns. I believe that's Jesus, but I could be wrong.

I think everyone on our tour admired the cathedral, but we were much more taken with all of the opportunities to explore the rocks and take in some views.

See the pic above this one? A very serious looking Husband J made it inside there.

One thing that Cappadocia did teach me is that you've sometimes got to work to see some of the more beautiful parts of a place. Okay, hikers. I understand now.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Back Trackin', Ireland Edition - On the Way to Galway

While our drive from Dublin and to Galway was the equivalent of a coast to coast trip in the U.S., this drive only took four hours...with stops. The drive took us through some of the more remote and striking portions of the Irish countryside. Take a look!

Sheep! Quintessentially Irish, don't you think?

Ireland is the last place that I thought we'd see palm trees.

In the short time Husband J and I were there, I think my favorite activity was just driving around and admiring the beautiful scenery. Ireland has no shortage of that.

Where were some of your more scenic road trips?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Food Porn Friday - Miss Lily's

I'm hard on Caribbean restaurants, especially when I think they are not going to produce food that resembles the down-home Caribbean food that I'm used to. Haute Italian, French, etc., I'll give you a pass; but if you're going to serve Caribbean food, it better be good. Period.

When I heard about Miss Lily's opening in SoHo, I was a little wary. I'm not going to lie. I'd been to other wanna-be Caribbean restaurants and was a little disappointed. If you want good down-home Caribbean food, you go to the Flatbush area in Brooklyn or parts of the Bronx. Not SoHo. Yes, I am a little biased. :(

I stopped by Miss Lily's, and at the very least, I loved the vibe and decor as soon as I stepped in. Instead of the endless Rain-pocalypse we've been having the past several days in New York, it was actually a gorgeous day.

The Grace Jones poster. Love it!

I felt a little better when I saw my favorite drink on the menu. I love Ting (a Jamaican grapefruit soda). I practically live off it when I visit my family in Antigua. I can actually get it in markets here in New York City, but it reminds me of the Caribbean.

I looked up and saw that Miss Lily's was offering a pretty good selection of Caribbean drinks that my biased self didn't think it would.
Coconut water - essentially the clear juice from a coconut.

Irish Moss - WHAT?! Okay, Miss Lily's, I get it. I'm not a fan of Irish Moss drink. It's a mix of an algae called Chondrus Crispus (yes, we keep it real interesting herb-wise in the Caribbean), milk/condensed milk and most commonly vanilla flavoring.

Ginger Beer - It's a non-alcoholic ginger drink usually made of a mix of strained, mashed ginger, water, vanilla extract and sugar. The homestyle Caribbean way is not to have it carbonated (it's usually carbonated when mass produced). I think I'll get that next time.

Also they had pineapple soda. Remember when I went crazy for pineapple soda?

After noticing all of those drinks, I realized that Miss Lily's was serious. Bring on the Jerk Chicken then!

Clockwise from the top: rice and beans, jerk chicken, mango chutney, cabbage salad

As I've mentioned before, it's hard to have a meal in a Caribbean home without some kind of rice and beans. Usually it's red beans (habichuelas or kidney beans, if you want to call them that). I know that in Jamaica, rice and beans are often cooked in coconut milk. Miss Lily's got that right. While the rice didn't look all that great, it tasted great.

The cabbage salad was blah. Just some raw cabbage thrown on a plate. The chutney was new. Jamaican friends, is this common?

The star of the plate is the jerk chicken. I will say that the cooks at Miss Lily's know how to cook chicken. This piece was so ridiculously fresh and juicy. I'm docking a point for the jerk sauce being in a squeeze bottle though, and I guess this is where the authenticity gets lost. Jerk chicken is supposed to make your lips want to fall off from the spice, and I think it's best when the sauce is actually rubbed on the skin before cooking. That being said, for people with spice handicaps, then I guess it's good that they can control the heat. The jerk sauce was a good level of spice, but I had to slather it on for my tastes.

I'll be back to Miss Lily's. Any place that does Caribbean food well can get my business. Apparently it's a good place for some celebrity sightings, too.

Miss Lily's
132 West Houston Street
New York, New York

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gabrielle Hamilton: I Read Her Book & Ate Her Food

Who's Gabrielle Hamilton? She's a chef and the owner of Prune, a small restaurant in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. I'd heard of Prune for years, but I hadn't had a chance to venture out to her restaurant. I knew that it was known as being a small, unpretentious spot for eating simple but well-made dishes. She's also one of a small group of female chefs to really get major acclaim and attention in a very crowded and competitive NYC dining scene that seems to favor men (just my observation).

Then she came out with her memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter. I've started to read a lot of culinary writing in the past year, so I figured that a Kindle sample wouldn't be too much of a sacrifice on my part. I couldn't stop reading the sample. She roped me about page 5 (or whatever percentage that is in Kindle terms). Let me start out by saying that this woman can WRITE...well...very well. She does have a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), so I shouldn't be surprised. Hamilton's life story and the way food has weaved itself into how she views her past is only aided by her wonderful way she uses words.

In this TV clip, she talks about how she feels about being a chef and her own writing on the Charlie Rose show. Plus, I think GH, Charlie Rose and I feel the same way about cleaning. :)

I'll be honest though. Gabrielle Hamilton is complicated. While I'm not sure I would have made some of the decisions she did in her life, I relish her honesty and rawness. I'm inspired and by the fact that she was an untrained chef with little money and name recognition, and she opened a successful restaurant that's still open today. Gabrielle Hamilton is upfront about who she is and seems to be able to easily share the icky and the beautiful aspects of her and her personality with us. I think she welcomes our judgment, for lack of a better word, and doesn't really care. I respect that in people (especially women).

I guess the best example of her openness is her discussion of her marriage. Without giving anything away, I can say as someone who has been doing this marriage thing :) for a little under two years that it's hard. I feel like I've gotten a wonderful life partner and friend in Husband J. I can only imagine how much harder marriage can be when you don' t feel that you get what you need from your partner.

After finishing the book, I felt like I just had to go to Prune. Here's a look at my lunch there:

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are just not regular old deviled eggs at Prune. There was so much horseradish-esque kick with herbs and spices and perfectly smooth eggs. Gabrielle Hamilton agrees with most chefs that a true mark of culinary skill is what you can do with an egg. If that's so, this is genius.

Skate Wing with Lemon Caper Sauce & Artichoke Barigoule
"Barigoule is a Provencal dish that is braised artichokes in a warm, tangy white wine broth"
Food & Wine Magazine

Gabrielle Hamilton's all about keeping it simple and delicious, and this dish is. There's nothing much to it, and I think that's the point. Although I suspect it's hard not to like anything with capers and butter.

Feel free to check out Gabrielle Hamilton's book, Blood, Bones and Butter, or her restaurant. I think you'll enjoy the quality and authenticity of both.

54 East 1st Street (between 1st & 2nd Avenue)
New York, NY

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Touring Turkey - The Goreme Open Air Museum

I've already shown you what we encountered on the way TO the museum, so here's the actual Goreme Open Air Museum itself. I know that I've been saying that people actually lived in these gorgeous rocks, but I am sure that you're wondering HOW they lived there. The Goreme Open Air Museum is one of the best preserved cave dwelling areas and during its height also served as a monastery and church area for early Christians.

The first glimpses of the caves from the museum's entrance

Yes, people lived in here.

The "museum" site is open for visitors to explore its walkways and caves.
This tunnel right outside the Elmali Kilise (Apple Church) leads to this....

Imagine walking through that every morning..

The Apple Church's frescoes are the best preserved in the entire museum, but you're not allowed to take pictures of it (I found a pic online). It's amazing to me that these paintings have survived for so long.

Elmali Kilise ceiling frescoe

The Elmali Kilise is definitely not the only church onsite. I can tell that the folks who lived here were very pious.

The altar of the Pantokrator Kilise (Church of the Pantokrator)

Columns in the Yilanli Kilise (Snake Church)

Even with a lot of prayer and reflection going on, the residents here also needed to live everyday lives, too.

The Kitchen! All of the black stuff is soot from baking.

I like to call this the cafeteria. Everyone congregated here for meals. Those benches look a little hard. :(

Besides eating and praying, I think the early Christian monks and worshippers picked this spot in Goreme for the views.

There's so much more to be said about this place, but I just wanted to give you a taste of how important and utterly impressive this is. My three days in Cappadocia were truly about learning how others used to live and to some degree often admiring the perseverance they had to find ways to worship in the manner they wanted. It also made me happy to live in the 21st Century (Did I even mention sanitation? Okay then...)

Touring Turkey - The Kayamkli Underground City

Have you ever spent a few moments thinking, "No way! How did they do THAT?" Well, that was me for about three days in Cappadocia, and I think it was repeating this phrase the most when we visited the Kaymakli Underground City, essentially a labryinth of underground livable spaces.

There are over 100 underground tunnels that were constructed on a relatively steep incline. If you have any issues walking or are claustrophobic, I'd suggest passing on this part of a trip to Cappadocia. You'll see what I'm talking about below.

Apparently up to 2,000 people could live there for almost 2 months without having to come above ground. They and their horses (There were STABLES!) had all of the amenities possible with them and found ways to survive invasions that forced them underground. My dearest early Cappadocians, you are no joke. PROPS!!!

I have no idea how the early Cappadocians actually constructed these spaces. Adem, our guide from Heritage Travel, said that there were no engineers, no planning, no nothing (maybe he was being dramatic?). Half the time I can barely figure out how to put together a piece of Ikea furniture (or HTML, but that's another topic) much less just figure out how to make an entire underground world.

Wanna see?

Adem, our guide from Heritage Travel, giving us some basic facts. He was a great guide: super funny and taught us a lot about Turkish culture. We had a great conversation about the NBA. The Turks love basketball.

I have to admit that I forget if this was a living room or what. Nice built-in shelves though.

I don't remember what this is exactly, but many of these rooms were used for storage. Could you use a stone basket?

The Cappadocians were smart and didn't make it particular easy to get around the caves. Many of the passageways are narrow, and sometimes it required moving stones like these to even get into the next room (makes me appreciative of my door, Thankyouverymuch!!)
A door...more like a big 'ol rock!

The Cappadocians made sure to build just what they needed for short term living.

A makeshift huge mortar + pestle in the kitchen. It has been darkened by smoke.

Like I said above, the passageways here are narrow and sometimes steep. Plus, the rooms themselves are quite...snug.

Walking down to the lower floor. Close quarters!

Husband J had to bend down to take this pic. If you're over 6 feet, I suspect that you would be keeled over.

No room to even extend your arms upward! Please excuse the crazy eyes! ;)

So are you scratching your head, too? Could you, your family, and your HORSE live underground for a month? :)

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