Friday, April 3, 2009

The Great Virtues of the Cafe au Lait

It was in high school that I became addicted to coffee. I blame my mother, though I suspect I always harbored a latent love and appreciation for coffee which, perhaps, she only nourished.

One of my first forays into the world of coffee was at Starbucks. I loved the caramel macchiato. Regardless of your feelings about this corporate coffeehouse I do think it is a good place to introduce a budding coffee-drinker to coffee. Frappuccinos, macchiatos, mochaccinos (misnomers galore!) are quite popular among the younger set and provide a less intimidating option to the doppio espresso, let’s say.

These days, the café au lait is my drink of choice. It’s not very expensive—a medium to large café au lait usually hovers around $2, which I think is quite good, especially when we’re talking about the Upper East Side. Also, the café au lait allows for great variety in coffee drinking since you can use different daily blends as the base of the ever-versatile CAFÉ AU LAIT.

There are two coffee shops where I have found satisfactory café au laits so far. One is Corrado Bread & Pastry and the other is Oren’s Daily Roast. In the beginning, I preferred Oren’s for my morning coffee, which one should take care not to interpret as a testament to their superiority over Corrado. There is a cute boy who works at Oren’s. He also lives off the G train. Lately, though, I prefer Corrado—for a few reasons:

It’s less cramped than Oren’s.
I prefer the cups. They are white and crisp looking and do not have a logo.
It is perfectly located on the way to work and is usually the more time expedient choice when I am late. Which I often am.
The coffee is a bit stronger at Oren’s. This sometimes works in Oren’s favor.
Corrado has a much better pastry selection as it is more like a café than a coffee shop. I love their coconut macaroons.

According to the Wikipedia, café au lait is inexplicably referred to as “misto” at Starbucks. In case you were wondering.

Times Square Bagel

One of the best things about living at home and working in the city was being able to afford eating lunch out of the office most days. Although there's not tons of great, cheap food in my area, I really enjoyed getting a morning coffee some days, and falafel sandwiches other days. Sadly, all this came to an end when I became a real adult and started paying rent.

In some ways, though, it makes it all the more special when I do get prepared food at work. This morning was one of those special, luxurious times. My cousin spent the night at our house last night, and since he had to be at work at 8:15am, I ended up in front of my office at 7:45am. I don't start work until 8:30am. This was not to be borne. Today, a Friday, I made the decision to skip the free bagels and buy myself a breakfast at Times Square Bagel.

Times Square Bagel is fantastic. I've never actually had their bagels, but while Roger was vegan this summer, it was the only place in midtown we found that had not only peanut butter to top the bagels, not only tofu-cream cheese, but three types of tofu-cream cheese. That summer, he came to really appreciate being able to stop in for a vegan bagel before heading to work. Vegan-friendly means we love them.

Then, one day, I decided I needed to get lunch, and it needed to be grilled cheese (I love grilled cheese so much that I even loved my father's earliest version, which involved toasting bread and then melting cheese on it in the microwave, and once named an enormous gorilla stuffed animal Grilly, not because it was a gorilla, but because I loved grilled cheese). I can't even start to describe the buttery deliciousness that is the Times Square Bagel grilled cheese. It tastes just like the grilled cheese my grandmother used to make, and she used to fry it in a half-inch of butter. These are the grilled cheeses to which all other grilled cheeses are held, and the Times Square Bagel grilled cheese comes very, very close. Since my grandmother has passed, I would consider these the new standard.

This morning, their egg and cheese wasn't quite up to par (my standard for egg and cheese is the old Secor Deli's egg and cheese, where they put pepper into the yokes, and then broke them about half way through, rather than scrambling it into an omelet), which was unfortunate, but they were still very good. It was definitely better than free bagels, and it definitely hit the spot for me, but it wasn't as good as the grilled cheese. I felt the same way about the ham, melted-swiss, and dijon sandwhich I had there while I was still eating meat. Definitely delicious, definitely better than most other delis around here, but not as good as the grilled cheese.

Overall, if you're in need of a good deli in midtown, I'd recommend Times Square Bagel. They're at 168 Madison Avenue. The people who work there are ultra-friendly and there's a never ending supply of fresh, innovatively flavored muffins. It's basically the opposite of Au Bon Pain. (That's a really, really good thing.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Three Books

While I was away this weekend, I finished reading, read, and started reading three books. Here are my abbreviated thoughts on each.

Travels With Charley (John Steinbeck, 1962)
I've started reading this book at least once a year since I bought it at the Book Barn in my hometown the summer before I went to college. I decided that in honor of a road trip I took two weeks ago, I would start it again, and since I've been hoping to write something about masculinity and America and the open road, I decided that maybe I'd finish it this time. I did. It was good. Not as good as any of Steinbeck's fiction (I love Steinbeck's fiction), but certainly good and an interesting piece that touches upon manhood, loneliness, identity and, surprisingly for me, race. I'd set it as required reading for your next road trip.

Modern Life (Matthea Harvey, 2007)
In general, I love Harvey's poetry. However, she was writing her Robo-Boy series while I was taking her course at Sarah Lawrence, and at the time I wasn't fond of them at all. In Modern Life, however, I see them as the transition between her older, more sentimental poetry and the new, harsher pieces. Her form tends to get in the way a bit at times ("The Future of Terror" and "Terror of the Future," not actually abecedarian, but still irksome, stand out), and I think that distracts from her ideas and surprises, which I always thought was the strongest part of her work. I think I'm also moving on from her work a bit and appreciating a different sort of poetry than I used to, so that might contribute to my negative feelings.

The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2006)
I felt like there were an awful lot of connections between this book and Modern Life, but probably only because I'd read one right after the other. The Road's greatest strength is its language, which reads at times like poetry. McCarthy manages to create beauty in his language in all the places where he cannot create it in his bleak landscape. By the end, it felt like a hopeless and much less stark version of The Old Man and the Sea. The ends to each section were generally lovely and moving, and the book is a ridiculously quick read, but I think I'd rather be reading The Old Man and the Sea, which is saying a lot, because I really hated that book in high school.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Kristin wanted to review some pranks for April Fools Day, but then couldn't think of any. So she asked me to write something instead.

I like a good prank, but I am particular. I like a lot of the stunts pulled by the group Improv Everywhere. For example, does anyone remember Frozen Grand Central? Or the Cell Phone Symphony in the Strand? Also, I really like the idea of the MP3 Experiments.

To me these pranks are all about celebration by picking out some aspect of our everyday routines, and then twisting it. Also, if you visit their website, see if you can spot their version of an April Fools joke....

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

David Eyre’s Pancake

I don't know who David Eyre is and I don't remember how I found this recipe, but I have made this a bunch of times in the last month or so. It's very easy and very satisfying to see some flour, milk, eggs, and tablespoon of sugar puff up in the oven. It's basically like a skillet-shaped pop-over, though I recommend the recipe's suggestion of serving with lemon and powdered sugar.

I often halve the recipe for just on person. It only takes about two seconds to throw together and 20 minutes in the oven.

David Eyre’s Pancake

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
confectioner’s sugar (to taste)
fresh lemon juice (to taste)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the flour, sugar, milk, and eggs into a bowl and wisk until smooth. Don't over mix or pancake will be tough. Heat the butter in an ovenproof skillet (I use a saucepan actually) and pour batter in. Put the skillet in the oven uncovered and bake for 20 minutes. Pancake should puff up and brown on the top and edges.
Sprinkle with lemon juice and powdered sugar or whatever topping you would like and serve immediately.

Excellence Punta Cana

As you may know, I spent the weekend in the Dominican Republic. We stayed at the Excellence Punta Cana, a resort about an hour and a half away from the airport. I drank, ate, swam, had a spa treatment, did some yoga, and talked to a lot of the staff and none of the other guests. Other than this, I did nothing except lounge in the sun.

This could be the perfect weekend. In some ways, it really was. The food was mediocre at best (the only thing I really enjoyed was lobster at a restaurant that serves nothing but lobster), but the drinks were excellent (by excellent I mean that some had lots of alcohol and all had lots of fruit), and we definitely drank our money's worth. The ocean water was rougher than I'd seen before in the Caribbean, but we did swim in it, and made ample use of the resort's two pools, one of which had a swim-up bar. There are beds on the beach and near the pools, and lounging around in the sun was fantastic. The resort was clearly made for couples, and honeymooners got a special sash for their doors, so my two roommates and I definitely got extra attention from the staff, two of whom gave us their e-mail addresses. There was always someone walking around ready to take your drink order, and at times, just passing out drinks or food. It was lovely to partake in this bit of hedonism.

But, at the back of my mind, there was always a pushing feeling of exploitation, and at times it made it difficult to enjoy myself. The resort system is built to replicate a system of servitude, and while it can be wonderful to be waited on, it's bizarre to be staying in a hotel centered around that. (Did I say this was my first experience with an all-inclusive?) I felt badly for being there because of the food waste, because of the low wages, because of the instability of the job, because I was enjoying myself, and because I was feeling badly. Most of my vacations contribute nothing to a place, but I usually don't go about them so problematically. This, of course, led to my thinking about all the things I enjoy, which of course, led to the thought, all of my happiness is built on exploitation and the suffering of others. My bargain hunting, my traveling, my addiction to diet soda, my ceaseless use of electricity and paper, my existence means that someone somewhere is existing in a completely different way. I don't like having to think about this sort of thing while I'm on vacation, and that's a lot of what I did.

I'm not saying that I regret the trip; I don't. I got to spend time with two of my closest friends, who I haven't really spent much time with since graduation, and remember why I liked them so much. I got to rest and relax, and not go to work. I got fantastic drinks and a tan. I also got a more personal awareness of the problems with tourism. The trip was a welcome break from the mundane world I face in my cubicle everyday, and it definitely helped me learn a little bit more about myself. I'm glad that I spent the past weekend in paradise, but I don't think I'd ever go back in the same way. From now on, I think I'll be a little more careful about my priorities as I plan my trips.

Monday, March 30, 2009

This American Life

This radio show is possibly the only thing that I liked in high school that I still like just as much eight years later. This weekend, with some extra time to myself at home, I marveled at how many old episodes I still have never heard, even though I've gone through stretches of listening to at least an episode a week, for years.

It's fun to listen to old shows from 1996 and 1997 and to see how the focus of the show has evolved over time. Breaking away from interesting stories that seem to mainly come from friends of the show's producers, at some point This American Life acknowledged the political potential of its voice. They started to tackle current events and other tricky issues with a slant very different than other forms of media, such public education disparity in New York City, stories from Katrina survivors, and stories of people wrongly held at Guantanamo Bay. It's surprising how many important issues this show covers that are virtually ignored in the mainstream media or our classes in school. It's also surprising how shows totally comprised of everyday people's stories (The Inauguration Show, 24 Hours at the Golden Apple) are incredibly engaging.

Here are some other of my favorites:
All these are available to listen to online (click on the links), or you can download them for about a dollar on itunes. Recommended for long train rides or layovers in the airport.