Date Night: Carroll Gardens Edition

With our apartment morphing into The Dandridge B&B over the next two weeks (6 house-guests in 10 days!), we decided to take advantage of a lack in plans and declare Friday Date Night.  We were long overdue for some alone time and had yet to visit our favorite Brooklyn restaurant, Frankie’s, since they released the summer menu. Braving a light rain, we started on our way when the evening took a fortuitous turn. There, on the side of Smith Street, we ran into a man selling used bikes out of a truck. Stolen? Possibly. But cheap and available nonetheless. Between the rain, the late hour and his impatient 4 year old daughter, he was clearly ready to call it a day so we took the opportunity to haggle two bikes for the price of one.

deep in negotiation

Dinner was expectedly delicious, but we were too excited for all of our biking plans on Saturday to go out afterwards. We walked home hand in hand, eagerly mapping out routes to try the next morning. We couldn’t wait to ride.

And ride we did…all day Saturday. We first rode to Ride Brooklyn in Prospect Heights. A little brunch at Melt while we awaited new brakes and we were back on the road, cruising around Prospect Park in the fun summer heat. From there, we coasted over to Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene, a decent flea market with an unparalleled selection of food trucks.  Drenched and exhausted, we finally made it home with a few hours to rest to before meeting our favorite Aussie/American couple out for a wild night in the city. Eating pizza at 3am seems much less scandalous when you’ve been sweating for 6 hours.

rooftop beers to kick off the evening. so brooklyn.

With that thought in mind, we headed out again on Sunday morning to sweat out some of the lovely toxins involved with a boozy night on the town. We rode down to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which leads to a path along the river all the way up to the bridge. My real workout came after my tire exploded and I was forced to muscle the bike home on one wheel. Legs aching and shirt dripping in sweat, I was still smiling when we arrived home 30 minutes later. That’s the thing about bikes.

Spanish Coastal Escape

Last winter, Austin and I escaped one of New York’s nastier blizzards for a long weekend in Puerto Rico for a belated one-year anniversary celebration.  I was ecstatic that the snow had caused Equinox to shut down for a few days; Austin was thrilled because he was bringing a friend.

Many wives might not see the benefit of bringing a third-wheel to a romantic anniversary vacation, but I’ve been on enough surf trips (there really is no other way to describe our honeymoon) to know better. For four blissful days, I awoke with the sun for vinyasa yoga at the open air studio next to our inn. I sipped coffee pool-side and caught up on my reading. I napped in the sand to the lapping of waves and survived on bloody marys and tostones, all the while content with the knowledge that Austin was out surfing and that someone else was responsible for his safety. The buddy-system never felt so reassuring. At night we all went out to amazing dinners and slept like babies. At one point during my daily yoga session, I was balancing in Boat Pose and happened to look ahead at the exact moment when Austin caught a beautiful wave directly in front of me (did I mention the studio was ocean-front?).  It was a vacation designed perfectly for our marriage that I thought would remain unrivaled forever. Until San Sebastian.

Anyone who knows me well is keenly aware that the fastest way to get me into any institution is to drop the words “lounge-y,” “tapas” or “wine bar.” Attempting to convince me to leave Paris for a surf-town?

“It’s near the Rioja region and is the birth-place of tapas.” Sold.

Just past the French border, San Sebastian lies in the Basque region of Spain. It boasts two gorgeous beaches, breath-taking views, an authentic Puerto Viejo (Old Town)…and tapas, locally known as pintxos.  And the Basque don’t mess around with their pintxos. Each bar makes their own bite-sizes dishes and either lists them on a chalkboard or displays them on the counter. The tradition is to pop into one spot for a bite or two and half-glass of red wine or beer, and then move on to the next place. Snack-hopping. As a Libra and diagnosed indecisive eater, I have mad respect for a province whose culture is based on the concept of food sharing. Life would be much easier if the US would embrace this philosophy as whole-heartedly. The time I’ve wasted contemplating menus and negotiating trades with other diners could have been spent in much more productive ways.

I credit Reval, a now defunct Charleston wine bar, for my love of Rioja. Before moving to Sydney, we had a weekly tradition of Rioja and small plates at the bar after particularly grueling days of work.  And apparently it’s pretty damn good when mixed with Spanish coca cola.  Another Basque specialty, kalimotxos are served in the evening, over ice. Surprisingly refreshing.

When the waves got too big (yes, even this can be a problem) or Austin tired of the ocean, we explored the city. One particularly overcast morning saw us burning off all those pintxos with a hike to the statue of Christ overlooking the city. It was an odd park with hidden cemeteries, battle fort remains and an eerie museum at the top of the hill. Everything was written in Spanish so we couldn’t quite grasp the point of the museum, but every now and then you’d pass a tiny door leading to an empty cavern with just a slideshow playing images of the running with the bulls in Pamplona or video reels of some disastrous fire that apparently engulfed the city.

The excursion was a spectacular success and completely worth 18hrs of train travel.

Midnight in Paris

After two Parisian nights spent close to home (home being our apartment on Place des Vosges), we were ready to take our high-school francaise on the town and mingle with the locals. We had spent the day on a bike tour of the city during which we learned more about the tour guide and his bitter feelings towards his wife than of Paris, and we were all in need of some heavily poured vino.  After days of exploring wine shops and playing “how amazing is this $4 bottle going to taste?” we decided that a little education might be in order, so we headed over to O Chateau for a lesson in French wine. It was highly educational, and unfortunately highly delicious so everything I learned was promptly forgotten.

wine tasting at O Chateau

With an early evening buzz, we hopped the metro to the suburb Oberkampf for beers and cheese at Aux Deux Amis, a tiny hipster wine-bar (if such a thing exists).  The food looked amazing, but our night was just getting started so we bid adieu to the friendly (after initially mocking us) bartender and wandered down to a restaurant recommended by our tormented tour guide for dinner. Dorado ceviche, asparagus salad and beef tartar, washed down with some fruity cocktails, and we were back on the streets.

Aux Deux Amis

Our next stop was at two neighboring bistros for after-dinner drinks. Because both bistros were relatively full, we had to sit at a 2-top from each, so even though we were essentially at the same table, the boys had one waitress and menu, and we had another. It seemed particularly hilarious at the time.

neighboring bistros and tipsy patrons

A few more stops and we capped off the night with some sweaty dancing at a discothèque, where we practiced broken French on locals and rekindled past love-affairs with Red Bull-Vodkas. Needless the say, the long walk home was an adventurous one.

Une Semaine à Paris

When one of my oldest friends and her husband called us last year after a bottle of Bordeaux and giddily invited us to share a week in Paris with them, explaining that they went through a list of possible candidates and we were the only couple not currently preparing for a wedding or having a baby, I thought we’d won the life-planning lottery.

Les Deux Magots

Sitting across the dinner table from them at a tiny bistro in the Marais last week, eyes glazed from French wine and belly full of savory fish, I realized we’d hit the jackpot. Traveling with friends is a risky game, but I knew we’d chosen wisely for our first doubles vacay when we came upon a colossal museum line and, without debate, unanimously voted to bail and use the extra time for some afternoon shopping. Musee D’Orsay will be there the next time we visit, the insane summer sales may not.

Yes, there may have been one google-document itinerary floating around the iPads, but in general our mutual goals consisted of consuming massive amount of red wine, croissants and fromage while living the Parisan life, with a bit of culture and education thrown in when convenient.

You know you’re on the right vacation when the to-do list includes items such as “read in the park” and “eat mussels” and “discothèque.”  Between the many pastry breakfasts, boozy lunches and rich dinners, we took in the City of Lights via bicycle.  After one group-tour we were hooked, renting bikes by the hour from stations throughout the city.

After days of leisurely rides along the Seine and tourist-dodging treks through the courtyard of the Louvre, our two-wheeled adventure culminated in an attack on Montmartre, the highest point in the city. No amount of Flywheelin’ could have prepared me for the steep, winding streets that make San Francisco look like a parking lot. The assault on my legs was worth the effort, though, once we reached the summit and continued upward, climbing the stairs to the top of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur for an exquisite view of the city and beyond. And a little ham* and manchago crepe didn’t hurt.

More to come….

* note to other fair-weather vegetarians and lactose intolerant victims: pack some lactaid, check your values at the border and indulge….it’s freaking Paris

Date Night: Meatpacking District Edition

I’ve likened summers in New York to childhood recess, and I’m thinking I need to upgrade that analogy to summer vacations in college. In the past two weeks, I have taken tequila shots on a Wednesday, rocked an alfresco Saturday afternoon buzz and shamelessly made-out with my husband in the back of a taxi-cab. There have been wine-soaked rooftop dinners, Saturday night strolls and Sunday morning art-walks.  We went to a fundraiser at Brooklyn Bowl, ate the best neapolitan pizza I’ve tasted on the back patio of Franny’s and won second place in a guacamole contest.

Planters Punch and backgammon at Zombie Hut

happy hour in the lower east

All the Brooklyn-mayhem aside, our most recent date-night into Manhattan might take the cake. We had a gift card to Morimoto burning a hole in our pockets and a completely free Friday night ahead of us, so we decided to put away the flip-flops for one evening. We started the date at the Standard Hotel, but when the outside biergarten was packed, we took the elevator up to the 18th floor’s Boom Boom Room. While initially put off by the over-priced drinks and sea of tourists and antsy singles, we calmed down the minute the band started to play.  Now I don’t know much about jazz, but Austin sure does, and he claims this was one of the best jazz performances he has heard live.  They played in front of one of the many floor to ceiling windows, a sweeping view of the city as their backdrop.  Nobody else seemed to notice the music so we had a private show, watching the city move from day to twilight to night….the sky getting darker as lights began to turn on in each building almost in sync with the beat. It was magical.

As if the night couldn’t get any better, we still had a dinner reservation to get to so we scurried up 10th Avenue and into Morimoto just in time.  Everything in the Iron Chef’s restaurant was pristine and white. The bathroom was futuristic-chic, with a heated toilet seat and a panel of 10 buttons (bidet options). And the food……

We ordered the Omakase, a chef’s tasting menu- something only a few strong cocktails and a hefty gift-card could make us do. 6 courses of heaven along with some crispy rock shrimp done two ways and a delicious calamari salad. For a lactose-intolerant-vegetarian-food-lover, first rate sushi is as good as it gets. Every mouth-watering morsel was devoured until we were full and drunk (all those courses needed something to wash them down), and we headed back to our borough. Austin felt that the night would have been complete with at least one celeb-spotting (his secret motivation for picking such high-profile destinations), but I thought the night was pretty darn perfect.

*Maybe it’s the fact that I’m once again on the BluePrintCleanse and am having more cravings than a Biggest Loser contestant, but this blog is turning into my food diary.  Apologies.

Duckie’s Does It Better

Like it or not, we each have that one thing in life that brings out the total and utter geek in us. For some people, it’s electronics. Others, jam bands. Cars, gardening, George Cloony movies. While anyone privy to my recent discovery of Glee might think they know mine, I’m here to tell you that the Brooklyn Dandridges are food-dorks.

Growing up, my sisters and I found more pleasure in reading aloud restaurant menus to one another than should be legal.  One of my best friends from college often asks me to tell her “the story of my thanksgiving dinner.” Yes, she is Bahamian and may simply be inquiring after the tradition of the holiday, but I know what she means. “We start with appetizers: raw oysters, smoked salmon…..” She could probably recite our annual meal at this point. I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with other foodies throughout my life, thus minimizing my passion to the norm, but I really hit the jackpot in marrying Austin. Not only does he like to talk about food, seek out new cuisines, taste everything on the menu…but he’s an excellent, professionally trained, cook. Score.

One of our favorite activities in Charleston was cooking for friends. We were members of a local CSA and received a bag of farm-fresh produce from Wadmalaw Island each week- another couple did the same and we would invite each other for weekly dinners, seeing who could create the best meal out of the fresh veggies. We’d spend the night discussing what we’d done differently with the beets, how the kale was looking greener or lamenting the lack of tomatoes compared to the previous week. Food-dorks.

While there are a few Brooklyn CSAs, it doesn’t feel as fresh when you can’t actually visit the farm. Not to mention, carrying a veggie-loaded bag the 15 blocks from the pick-up point on foot would be a trying weekly task. So I rely on our Pacific Street bodega for our produce and have yet to be disappointed. Lots of organic options, new and exotic fruit (had my first ambrosia melon last week!). But nothing beats local loot, and I’ve been counting down the days (months?) until we could get back to Cape May for one very alluring reason: Duckie’s Farm Market. This roadside stand boasts seasonal fruits and vegetables, homemade pies and the best jams, dressings, relishes and marinades around. Come August, my stepfather stocks up on enough Green Tomato Relish to last until the following June. He has the rationing down to a science: you’re welcome to try some, but don’t be greedy.  So when my sister Mimi invited us to crash her Memorial Day weekend with friends at the shore, we happily (some of us more happily than others) sat through the 4.5 hours of vacation traffic with the promise of salt air, beach bars and sweet jersey corn keeping our spirits high.

And it was well worth the trip: lobsters right off the boat, shrimp tacos, fish sandwiches….and all the fresh produce we could fit in the car. What is it about bikini season that makes me crave margaritas and hot sauce? Hello, summer!

wouldn't be cape may without a little boardwalk photo-booth action

or some serious chilling on the greatest porch on earth

shake it up shake it up, now

One of the greatest elements of New York is the surprises. Last week, Austin walked to lunch and found himself on the set of an HBO show. I’ve been late to work because of impromptu parades and rallys on Atlantic Avenue. I’ve called the police to report a hit and run in Brooklyn Heights, witnessed al freso breakups and sat next to strangers in costumes on the subway. Anything can happen when you leave the security of your apartment, and little of it shocks me anymore. It’s the little deviations from the mundane that make life extraordinary.

I thought I had finally found my groove at work, nodding to Oscar at the juice bar on my way in as he winks in understanding (I like my daily Green Machine made early and then refrigerated until lunch so it’s cold). I jog up the 4 flights of stairs, waving over my shoulder to Arthur at the front desk as I round the corner and bound into the pilates studio just in time for my first client.  The best part of teaching in a facility as large as Equinox is that you’re pretty much shamed into exercising during your breaks. The studio is a meager 100 square feet with 10 pieces of pilates apparatus crammed in, so in the event of a lapse in clients, there is nowhere to escape to except the gym. And so I spend my hour break on Tuesdays in the same spinning class with the same playlist and same 3 hill routine. It’s not tired, but maybe I am.

I felt like I was sleepwalking yesterday, wearily pedaling off the excesses of an especially fun holiday weekend when in walked the substitute instructor. Gaunt, covered in tattoos and wrapping his shaved head with a Rambo-style bandana, he snapped me out of my haze and catapulted the class into into high gear. Sometimes, a grown-man break-dancing to Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” between rows of stationary bikes while shouting “chase the beat” will do that to you.

And on a completely random note….

When your job is active and away from a computer, it’s easy to lose track of the date. But I will never miss the first of any month. The U-Hauls, movers, and stacks of broken down boxes invade streets and sidewalks at every turn. Each time I look up to see a big yellow Penske truck, I immediately being humming a popular little number from 9th grade…..happy June 1!