Monday, October 31, 2011

Hometown Tourist - Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island...what can I say? It's often considered New York City's (forgotten) fifth borough. It is rather different from the rest of the city in that it has a very suburban feel. There are beaches and even farms, but little in the way of public transportation that we're used to here (the subway does not go into Staten Island. There is a separate Staten Island Railway that operates only within Staten Island). In the past, some residents of Staten Island have wanted to secede from New York City claiming that it's got more in common with neighboring New Jersey (I doubt that's happening any time soon).

As for me, I can say that I have been to Staten Island about a handful of times. I think that's in part because the commute between Staten Island and the rest of the city can be a bit of a trek, even with our great public transportation system.

However, I will say that Staten Islanders do have one great transportation resource that I think benefits both locals and visitors to NYC alike: the Staten Island Ferry. It takes people from Lower Manhattan to the northern tip of Staten Island for FREE. If something is free in NYC, I advise you take advantage of it. :) As practically a life-long New Yorker, I'd never taken the ferry and decided to make the trip during one of our heat waves this past summer.

On the Manhattan side, there is a brand new terminal that opened in 2010.

After entering the terminal, you'll go upstairs and see a waiting area with electronic signs showing the next ferry's departure. People tend to start lining up about 10-15 minutes before the doors open allowing you to board. With it being free, you'll see both visitors and commuters, so be aware that it will be fairly crowded even in the middle of the day and/or in the middle of the week.

The crowds can get pretty thick.


The ferry leaves its Manhattan terminal

As a visitor what you're really taking the ferry for are the views of Lower Manhattan and everything in between.

Battery Park (I got married here :)) and lower Manhattan

The Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge to the north

The New York City Water Taxi (another great way to see NYC from the water)

You might recognize this as you make your way to Staten Island....
Happy Belated 125th Birthday to Lady Liberty (it was last week)!

With so much to see, you actually can forget that you are crossing a working harbor.

Soon Manhattan starts to fade away, and Staten Island comes into view.

Another ferry waiting on the Staten Island side. I like that the ferries are painted a happy orange color.

I guess you might be thinking that you should just turn around and go right back to Manhattan, but I would urge you to take a few minutes to walk around the area right outside of the ferry terminal on the Staten Island side, which lets you off in the St. George neighborhood.

The terminal does provides transfers for the Staten Island Railway and buses that travel south into the rest of the borough, but you can still see some nice views here as you walk on the esplanade. I will warn you that it is a little industrial though (but, hey, you're in New York City).

As you continue to walk on the esplanade, you'll come to the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial. I have to admit that I was not aware that this existed, but I am glad that I found it.

Once you enter between the pillars, you will see the names of those who died on 9/11/01 who were Staten Island residents. I think the memorial is moving in its simplicity.

Practically across the street from the memorial and the ferry terminal is the baseball stadium for the Staten Island Yankees, a minor league team that feeds into the New York Yankees and one of two minor league teams that play in the city (the other is the Brooklyn Cyclones based at Coney Island in Brooklyn).

That's really it for things to see that are a short walking distance from the terminal, but even for someone like me who's never been on the ferry, I thoroughly enjoyed my ride. If you're ever in New York City and looking for a quick, pleasant excursion through New York Harbor, hop on over to Staten Island.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Food Porn Friday /In My 'Hood - Smashburger

Midwesterners, you've been holding out on me. You didn't tell me that I'd fall in love with Smashburger. I feel somewhat cheated, but also quite lucky, that the only branch in New York City is a quick walk away from my home. Five Guys, based out of the DC/Maryland/VA area, has also opened two shops relatively close to me; AND Brooklyn's first Shake Shack, with its perpetually long lines in Manhattan and elsewhere, will be opening close by, too. We're about to have one big burger glut here in Brooklyn. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. :)

I can say that I appreciate Smashburger for the fact that it's a clean and simple burger. I tend to order the Classic, which comes with lettuce, tomato and onion with melted cheese on the burger. Sometimes when there are too many toppings on a burger I feel as if someone is trying to hide something.

The accompanying Smash Fries are worth it. In general, I wish these fries were tad less oily and had even more of the rosemary that gets sprinkled on top. Please be healthier than me, and just get the sweet potato fries.

Have any new fast-casual restaurants or food shops from other regions of the country (or even parts of the world) opened up near you lately?

80 DeKalb Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back Trackin' - Fall in Napa Valley

Late November will make three years since Husband J and I went to Napa Valley, but we STILL talk about our trip there...a lot. It's such a beautiful place with so much great food and even better wines, which essentially means that we were in total heaven. We were there a week after Thanksgiving, and it wasn't particularly cold (As someone who hates the cold, you know you can trust me on this one). It was actually nice, nippy fall weather with sun pretty much every day we were there. I believe that Napa really is an all-year destination. Don't feel like you need to go there in spring or summer to enjoy yourself.

I am sure that it must be enchanting to see the vineyards bursting with grapes, but I loved the fact that so much of the greenery and vineyards seemed to say fall. :)

On the grounds at Duckhorn Vineyards

Husband J on the grounds of Frog's Leap

The view from our balcony at the Wine Country Inn

What I liked most about being in Napa in the "off season" was the fact that no one else was really around. Most visitors aren't coming to Napa in late November/early December. We got to really hang with and talk to all of the folks at the wineries as if we were shooting the breeze like old friends. They weren't rushed, so neither were we. I think we really got to ask all of our questions and learn more about the folks that work at the wineries and how they got involved in the wine industry. A big shout out to the folks at Arger-Martucci and Cakebread Cellars for being especially nice.

Are you a fan of off-season travel? Where was your most enjoyable off-season trip?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Antiguan Food 101 (Part 1)

I often get asked, "What is Antiguan food like?" I can only speak about Antigua because that's the island that I know best, but the short and simple answer is that it's a little complicated.

I also can't say that there are too many things that are completely and totally Antiguan. Due to proximity to other islands and immigration, Antiguans eat many of the same dishes that people in other English-speaking Caribbean islands do. Often you'll have dishes that are eaten on a different island, but there are small variations to the recipe; OR, even more confusing, they just have different names. For example, what some in Barbados call cou cou (or sometimes spelled coo coo), a boiled cornmeal dish that is a personal favorite of mine, Antiguans call fungee (pronounced fuhn-jee). Saying that there is a distinct Antiguan cuisine can be a little tricky.

My Mom's fungee (the big yellow ball) with spinach, eggplant, okra and saltfish (more on that below)

After walking around Nelson's Dockyard, Husband J, Cousin C and I were super hungry. Cousin C had mentioned that he knew the proprietor of a roadside food stall we'd passed. I was ready to have my first Antiguan food since I'd arrived. A big shout and thank you to Miss Brenda!

Miss Brenda's stall

When I saw the menu, I marveled at how extensive it was. Miss Brenda was offering all of Antigua's greatest hits on one menu.

Starting reading the menu with me from the top, and I'll describe some things for you.

Macaroni pie - That's essentially baked macaroni and cheese. I have to admit it was new for me to hear it described that way. We just called it macaroni and cheese growing up.

Here's my Mom's mac and cheese from last year's Thanksgiving:

Rice and peas - I think I've mentioned before that I barely ever ate plain, white rice growing up. There was always some type of bean or peas, as we'd called them, thrown into the mix. Usually the beans were red kidney beans or pigeon peas (aka gandules). I don't make rice and peas as much as I should now. I am bad at making rice. :( **hanging head in shame and handing over my Caribbean Person Card for repossession**

Pepper Pot is a stew that is found in other parts of the Caribbean (Anguilla and Guyana come to mind). I can say that it's a hodgpodge of ingredients like spinach, okra, bits of beef, callaloo leaves, pork, eggplant and others elements. I haven't had pepper pot in years. Mom? :)

Here's some pepperpot stewing.

Pepper pot and fungee are actually the national dish of Antigua. That's funny to me since I've never had these both together. :)

My lunch for the day was ducuna and ling fish with veggies.
Ducuna, ling fish,eggplant, boiled green banana (we don't fry these), boiled ripe plantain

If you'd like to hear me describe my lunch, check out this video. For some reason I'm having problems embedding video right now. :(

The sweetness of the ducuna (which is made of grated sweet potato, sugar, coconut, spice with optional raisins) is a really great counterpoint to the saltiness of the fish. Salted fish, which is often cod or sometimes pollock, is a fairly common part of meals. You may have heard it referred to as bacalao as well. Hearing about ling fish was new to me. It's in the same family as cod but just fleshier and thicker. It's often eaten with fungee or with a mix of veggies like eggplant and spinach with bread. The latter is considered a traditional Antiguan Sunday morning breakfast. Ducuna is not exclusive to Antigua either. I believe that this is native to at least St. Kitts and Anguilla and a few other islands.

Husband J likes much of the Antiguan food that he's tried, but I wasn't sure if he was ready for some of these dishes. :) I ordered him some stewed lamb with sides.

Again, not uniquely Antiguan but fairly common. Caribbean stews like this one are made by marinating the protein in onion, garlic, occasionally tomatoes and other spices. It's lightly fried, stock is added and then simmered. Good stuff.

So there is a brief introduction to Antiguan food, and there is more to come.

Notice how Miss Brenda doesn't give small portions. I think it helped that Cousin C knows her grandson and son-in-law well. :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fantasy Travel Friday - Cruising Through Patagonia

For those of you who are long time readers, you know that I am not a big fan of cold weather. Winter is coming, and I am going to spend at least four months complaining about how I am barely warm. However, I will be the first to say that I will shut my mouth regarding any temperature, if I get to experience some adventure.

Holding my tongue will be more than worth it to experience the awe of this:

A glacier! The Patagonia region of southern Argentina is full of them, and I have to admit that I think I could push myself to throw on a parka in order to see a natural wonder in person. Mar Patag is a company that provides day or two night cruises through Los Glaciares National Park so that you can get up close and personal with these monstrous blocks of ice. There is supposedly excellent food and wine served on the cruise (it is in Argentina, so good wine should be expected, right?), so you don't need to sacrifice having good cuisine in the name of adventure.

There would be some moments during this cruise where I would feel a little guilty though. Is this a "green"/environmentally responsible form of travel? Yet, I am sure I'd be in a completely serene state looking at the scenery.

Cruisers get the opportunity to get off the ship and experience the mountains as well.

I am all for the fact that you don't have to sacrifice being comfortable. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like waking up and seeing a glacier while lying in bed.

Along with my fellow travelers and glacier seekers, I will say a "Cheers and a Happy Weekend" to you all.

Any sun worshippers like me willing to give up warmth for seeing natural beauty? What are some of your dream cold weather destinations? Antarctica is one of mine!

* I got no money for these links, but maybe I need to start charging? ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Return to Wadadli - Tropical Fruit Review

I am writing a whole post about fruit, BUT are you familiar with many of these fruits? In New York, if I want to find some of my favorites from the Caribbean, I try to go to small markets catering to Caribbean folks. Unfortunately, I don't live near any of them, so I enjoy going to Antigua and eating local stuff there.

We got a really great fruit plate from the Sugar Club, Sugar Ridge's main restaurant. By the way, I thought that the food at the Sugar Club was very good for resort food. You should get the daily fruit plate they offer with breakfast as it includes many local favorites.

I'm sure you are familiar with watermelon, mangoes and pineapple, but what about those little green balls? They are called guineps (or quinepas in Spanish).

When you crack open the guinep, you see that it's essentially one large seed covered with a soft fleshy orange fruit. It's a nice mix of citrusy sweet and tart flavors. I used to devour these as a kid. I can sometimes find them in the summer in New York, if I go to the right markets or to the corner fruit sellers.

Also on our fruit plate was guava. I wish I could describe what guava tastes like (when it's good, it has the same tangy mix of sour and sweet with a fleshy texture as a guinep), but I do know that it's super healthy and a great source of fiber, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Eat your fruit!!

My family's yard is actually its own little fruit orchard. My uncle likes to eat local fruit fresh off the tree, and I don't blame him. I wish I could walk outside and pick fruit off of trees.

One of the more local fruits he has on hand is the sugar apple also known as the sweetsop. I have to admit that I've never tasted this one (or at least I don't remember tasting one when I was younger). It's VERY sweet and a great source of iron.

Here's what it looks like when it's opened.

My uncle and cousins have a fair amount of the usual tropical fruit subjects in their yard.

A papaya tree

Some sugar cane, although it wasn't in the best of shape. It wasn't the season for it when we visited anyway. If you ever have a chance to eat fresh sugar cane, I highly recommend it. It's like sugar juice. :)

They've got a coconut tree, too. I go back and forth about how I feel about the fresh coconut, but I do love the juice or coconut water as it's called.

I didn't get any pics of my cousin scampering up this tree to get us fresh coconut.

Husband J had never had one fresh off the the tree before.

Yes, we both enjoyed it.

After we drank all of the juice, which was way more than a serving of Zico or VitaCoco that you can get in the supermarket, we ate the coconut jelly (Is it called something else? This is what I am used to calling it).

The final tree I'll show you is the cassie tree. I guess you could say that this is in the cactus family. I don't know why Antiguans call it cassie, but they do.

My Uncle cuts off the prickly parts so that he can eat it later.

He usually boils it, adds seasonings and has it for breakfast.

I can't believe I just wrote a whole post on tropical fruit, but I hope you've learned a little something new.

Have you tried any of these fruits? What's your favorite tropical fruit?

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