Even in the dead of summer.

How I love NYC. Slowed to a crawl by the heat, I barely left my neighborhood this trip, but that’s okay. People travel from all over the world to visit our neighborhood, so I was content to amble up Broadway, lean toward the cooling spray of the fountains at Columbus Circle, nod at the statue of Dante gazing down from his pedestal across from Lincoln Center, tread the paths in Central Park seeking a holy alcove of cooling shade. Thank you, thank you, Central Park.

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I won’t lie. I was thinking about pillowy marine layers of coastal California fog the day it was 96 degrees here with a heat index of 110. As every New Yorker on every stoop and at every street corner and deli counter will tell you, “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.” The Bull Terrier I saw at Columbus Circle did not comment. He just went straight for the fountain:

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The days were stunningly oppressive, but summer nights in the city are languid and sultry and magical. One evening we braved a sky pouting with heavy gray clouds and sat outside for dinner. Good thing our table was under an umbrella – a thunderstorm broke right over our heads. The lightning was spectacular; the sound of brief but torrential downpour was a gift to us rain-thirsty Californians.

Another night we took the elevator up to our roof and instantly forgave our beautiful city for its daytime transgressions of heat and grime. The bridges sparkled like diamond necklaces; the moon shone full and cool. Have I mentioned that I love New York?

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Today is our last day. I watched the sun rise and thought, have at it, New York, whatever you have in store for us on this dog day of summer. You are an elegant and unruly city, posh and gritty, strutting in bright lights, serene and reposed in leafy glades, and always unapologetic. No matter how hot it gets, you are unmistakably, irrefutably cool. I’m so grateful to be, however briefly, along for the ride.

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“Who, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky”

                                                                                                  — Walt Whitman

 

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Taken Abawk: Chickens Beat The Odds.

They say the average life span of a chicken is 5-7 years. Well, except, that is, for the one on your dinner plate.

Which is why a little white hen made the news this summer. UPC (United Poultry Concerns) reported the story as told by chicken hero Kathy O’Hara. Ms. O’Hara and her husband were driving across Virginia’s 23-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge when they spotted, of all things, a chicken alongside the road. They doubled back, and several U-turns later, plucked the bird from the roadside. It is surmised that the hen fell off a truck filled with chickens on their way to becoming cacciatore  and that she had stood on the road, cars whizzing past, for at least a few hours. When O’Hara realized that the chicken had cheated death twice in one day, she decided to name the hen “Reva the Revenant”.

Here’s the just-rescued Reva:

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In another stroke of cluck, the UPC advocacy sanctuary turned out to be just up the road a piece. The O’Hara’s delivered Reva to the sanctuary, where she struggled for a few weeks and was thought to be near death a few times. However, she made an astonishing recovery after a course of anti-inflammatories and is now thriving:

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Far less newsworthy, but just as much cause for celebration to me, is the fact that our little Belgian Mille Fleur D’Uccle, Pippa, turned five this summer. Of the fifteen hens that have made up our little flock over the past seven years, Pippa is the first to achieve that “average” milestone.

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Four of our girls were lost to predators, but six others have perished far before their time due to  internal laying, ovarian cancer and “unknown causes”. I wonder if we’ve just been unlucky or if, perhaps, the average lifespan has changed over time with breeding standards that favor egg production over longevity. By the way, in case you’re wondering, the longest-lived chicken on record was a sixteen-year-old Old English game hen named “Matilda”. Her accomplishment is thought to be due in part to the fact that she never laid eggs.

Pippa stopped laying her tiny bantam eggs a few years back and now spends her days bullying Ava, Bella and Nugget, who are thrice her size but overly respectful of Pippa’s seniority in the pecking order. She may be no spring chicken, but she’s definitely queen of our coop. Long may she reign!

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…she had so many children she didn’t know what to do!

Lucky for us, we live in a nice big shoe. But all these kids – they’re faster than us, smarter than us, and worst of all – we’re now outnumbered.

Fortunately, they’re all perfectly behaved. 😬

These two California transplants arrived last weekend:

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Yay for camp!!!!!

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We’ve had some nice walks:

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And nobody starved:

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Had some fun at La Fiesta with the World’s Best Grandpa:

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And just when we thought we had it all under control, the second wave arrived!

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Happy 11th, T.S.!

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Tina and Chloe make it look easy:

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And great-Granny has it all under control:

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But I’d be lion if I told you that Shooey is not appalled:

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Although sweet Chloe is having a ball:

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The key seems to be to get them really tired out:

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So far, so good. But feel free to send in the cavalry…

 

 

 

Posted in All Things Family, Big Fun | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Take nothing for granted.

I’m going to make a confession and I hope you won’t think less of me.

Occasionally – not all the time – but sometimes, when I’m in NYC, I let the water run while I brush my teeth. I watch the water run out of the tap and over my hand and watch it swirl into the sink and then I hold the toothbrush under it and think about how plentiful the water is there, where it actually rains sometimes.

There. I admitted it. Mea culpa.

I never, ever, do that in California. Here, I brush, brush brush until the end and then reward myself (and Dodger, that orange scoundrel of a cat, who is frequently perched at the edge of the sink waiting for a drink)  just a trickle of precious water.

Because, in case you haven’t heard, we are in the midst of a multi-year drought. According to The Los Angeles Times, the National Weather Service confirmed this month that “the last five years have been the driest ever documented in downtown L.A. since official record keeping began almost 140 years ago”. I could have confirmed that by looking at our lawn. Well, what used to be our lawn. Dirt is the new grass:

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Back in the day (think way, way back…) the beginning of summer was defined by the first day warm enough to wriggle into a swimsuit and race out to the yard to run through the sprinklers. This was in the Midwest, where we were surrounded by rivers and lakes and winter blizzards and torrential summer storms that frequently sent us scurrying to the basement on tornado watch. We were too poor to have a swimming pool, but we neighborhood kids felt rich as Croesus – whole afternoons spent on the back lawn racing back and forth through the oscillating wave of droplets, skidding until our knees were stained green with the sopping wet, matted grass. We watched the summer heat rise, simmering, through the rainbow prisms spun from the backyard sprinkler. Low tech fun. We were also sometimes allowed to run wild through those summer rainstorms, complete with thunder and lightning, so it’s possible some benign neglect was involved. Angels watched over us. Great memories.

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Honestly, I never gave a second thought to water. It was on that list of things I used to take for granted, a list that seems to get shorter every year. Civil discourse got checked off a while ago. “Public safety” has become an oxymoron. A dear friend who suffers from asthma reminded me the other day she can’t justify having “breathing” on her list.

As our fifth summer of drought unfolds, “water” has long been struck from my take-for-granted list. My morning walks are dustier and dryer than ever. Fire is an ever present danger, especially in the early evenings when the Santa Ana winds kick up. We hear sirens wailing in the distance and brace for bad news.

I watched a coyote trot down the street the other day – in their quest for food and water (and for my chickens!) all semblance of their sequestration from humans has disappeared. I had to admire the way his brindle coat blended in perfectly against the dull brown landscape of our drought-parched neighborhood. He was very thin. I actually felt a momentary pang of sympathy for the predator.

The coyotes, with their camouflage and their tenacity,  will survive this tribulation. But our lawns are gone, we’ve lost at least one tree, and the CE is frantically trying to juggle the Solomonic decisions about what remains of our landscaping.

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That is the paradox of California. So bountiful: according to Slate.com, the state is responsible for the lion’s share of our national produce:  “99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots (and the list goes on and on).” And yet so thirsty. In East of Eden, John Steinbeck’s epic love letter to the Salinas Valley, he wrote about the two faces of California:

“I have spoken of the rich years, when the rainfall was plentiful. But there were dry years, too, and they put a terror on the valley.”

There is a terror now on the valley. And in the mountains. And along the coast. Our sprinklers went on a few mornings ago, that meager ration allotted just to keep a few things alive. I was momentarily transfixed; enthralled by the sound of that trickle of water spitting out to keep our box hedge alive. A sound so rare, so enchanting, I could not step away, literally drinking in the sound of water in the pre-dawn light. Joni Mitchell, in a typical stroke of genius, called it the hissing of summer lawns. How I would love to lay on a lawn of green, green grass and listen to that sound.

I daydream about rain, and about planting the dahlias and foxgloves that used to frame our entryway. Perhaps a crop of milkweed in the back for Monarch butterflies. More fuchsias for the hummingbirds. Maybe someday there will be water in our fountain again and I will hold my hands under the flowing water and sit with my eyes closed and listen to it for hours and hours. And I will take nothing for granted.

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Posted in Annoyances of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Up with the Chickens.

Sometimes it just seems like the days blur together. And other times they actually blur together, as in yesterday and today, which were linked, in my world, by only two hours of sleep. Instead of a visit from the  Sandman, I had a dreaded 1 a.m. appointment with the Arch Ghoul of Insomnia, who pulled up a chair and sat awhile…until 5 a.m., actually, when I finally had enough of parrying with that uninvited guest and excused myself to start the day. It’s a yesterday-and-today sandwich, with a very thin slice of nap in between.

I’m not complaining. I don’t really want to miss a moment of these languorous July days anyway. Summer weather finally kicks in here just as the sun begins its post-solstice retreat; we can shed our sweatshirts at long last, but dawn has already slapped on the snooze button and dusk intrudes a minute earlier each evening. I can almost hear summer holding its breath, sensing that its brief moment center stage is about to pass.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one up at 5. Little Miss Nugget is already hard at work when I arrive to open the coop door for the day. She is our first Rhode Island Red and, bless her heart, she is everything that people brag about with this breed. Gentle, alert, curious and such a great layer – up at the crack of dawn almost every day and hard at work on the nest tucking her precious golf balls beneath her for good luck.

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Did you know that egg production is directly correlated to the number of daylight hours? A hen’s endocrine system responds to the change in seasons, triggering increased egg-laying in spring (Easter eggs, anyone?) and summer and tapering off in fall and winter.  Commercial egg production hums along in the winter because those farms keep hens under artificial light to simulate a year-round summer. Talk about the days blurring together!

Nugget and Ava began laying in June, kindly bestowing their first eggs on us the weekend before we left on a trip. They must have been watching the calendar; Ava laid on her 6-month birthday and Nugget the day after. Bella, the Buff Orpington followed up a few weeks later. We are now awash in eggs!

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Ava is still working on her form, egg-wise. Some days her eggs are lighter, some days darker, some days smaller and some days larger. She’s such a beauty:

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But she does need to figure out this egg thing. Hard to believe these two eggs came from the same Australorp:

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Bella is in a class by herself. She missed the memo about Buff Orpingtons being calm and stately. Bella is less belle and more banshee when she’s on the nest:

All this egg-laying makes the girls of summer hungry (well, in Bella’s case, more hangry because she’s such a grump!). They are ravenous for treats, foraging in the underbrush for juicy bugs and bugging the humans for any juicy morsel they might offer up. The CE can never have a solitary snack with them around:

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Which reminds me to remind you that when you see a “vegetarian fed” label emblazoned on an egg carton, pass it by. Chickens are not vegetarians! They are omnivores, so in addition to grain and fruits and vegetables, they love to munch on bugs and worms and anything that flies or crawls or that can’t out-run them. Oh, and our hens particularly love cheese, as sister-in-law Jean, visiting from Florida, discovered during our chicken yard cocktail hour yesterday evening. We “baited” them with some nice aged cheddar in order to get this photo op. Yes, they are wondering who moved their cheese:

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It’s a new, if blurry, day and we’ve had two fresh-laid eggs already this morning from those hard-working hens. I say everyone has earned a mid-morning nap. Me first!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wynn-ing in Las Vegas.

Just back from five sultry summer nights at The Wynn in Las Vegas, where the most sinful thing we did was to order up our morning coffee from room service. Oh, and there was that Béarnaise sauce on our Steak Frites at Mon Ami Gabi…but otherwise it was a very tame trip by Sin City standards.

So why do we go to Vegas?

To begin with, a beautiful hotel room at dead-of-summer rates. The Wynn is quieter and less smokey than some of the other casinos, and the CE found plenty of poker action there, especially since the WSOP was in play while we were in town.

The Wynn Tower Suites lobby is nicely appointed:

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Just enough glitz for us:

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Beautiful rooms if you can score an upgrade:

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And if your husband can win enough at poker to help underwrite the stay:

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And then there is the food. We had dinner our first night at Sinatra, in the adjoining Encore Hotel. The setting is genial, the service always excellent, but we did have to arch an eyebrow at the tab this time. Not even sure Frank could justify the price of pasta at his namesake restaurant. We like sitting by the window overlooking the garden. Excellent Caesar salad; passable panna cotta:

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Our favorite Wynn restaurant is Tableau, tucked between the Tower Suites and the pool, where we enjoy lunch in the whimsically-decorated conservatory. They make a mean chicken soup and their chili-lime-avocado salad is a favorite for the CE.

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We also discovered Jardin restaurant at Encore this trip. Casual, light and airy; nice spot for lunch. I had the chicken meatballs; an appetizer portion that was more than enough for lunch:

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The Wynn is at the north end of the Strip, and is convenient to The Palazzo and The Venetian. Well, as convenient as anything is in Las Vegas – bring your walking shoes! You can easily log a mile just walking back and forth from dinner, which is a good thing if you’re going to dine at Bouchon, where the Poulet Rôti reigns supreme:

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Highlight of this trip – Britney was in town! Great, great show! We would go again tomorrow if we could. Incredible production values and so fun to watch her flip that pony tail:

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Our favorite meal in Las Vegas is always, always on the terrace at Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris hotel. It was a tough trek over there in 108 degree heat, but they keep a steady stream of mist going along the rail and a breath of cooling air blowing from the interior of the restaurant. Once the sun sets behind The Bellagio, the terrace cools off and it’s the best people-watching spot on The Strip. You can’t go wrong with their Salad Maison and Steak Frites:

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As long as you stay hydrated and sun-screened, July is as good as January in Las Vegas. We’ll be back next summer!

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Posted in Big Fun, Gastronomy, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Q: Does Dining in Brooklyn Make You Hipper?

A: Close. But with that extra whisper of an i. Not hipster, not hipper, sadly, just hippier. But, at least briefly, also happier!

We always enter Brooklyn with breath held, suspecting we may be turned back at the border for grossly exceeding the age limit. And yet, they keep letting us in! We go over the river and through the ‘hoods and find ourselves in what is, for us, mostly uncharted territory, uptowners that we are.

Last trip it was fine breakfast dining at Diner and dinner at Peter Luger, both in Williamsburg. A few visits before that was an outstanding dinner at Noodle Pudding in Brooklyn Heights. Luger’s won’t take plastic, but they’ll write your reservation down in a book that looks like it dates from the ’40’s. Possibly the 1840’s.  Noodle Pudding does everything they can to keep you away, starting with a name that belies their authentic Italian cuisine and moving right along to refusing credit cards OR reservations. And if I recall, there isn’t really even a decent sign out in front, so its easy to miss the place entirely. But if you can find it, bring cash, and are willing to wait for a table and are good-humored  about the withering up-and-down you will receive from the locals for clearly being from across the river, you will be richly rewarded with an amazing meal at a very fair price. Homemade pasta, fresh basil, a little bit of Brooklyn heaven:

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This trip we ventured anew to Brooklyn, cabbing it over on a Saturday night because the weekend subway service is just that bad. Capricious. Flyers appended to walls, fluttering in the subway breeze, impromptu notices that the M train is taking the weekend off. The suggested alternate routes add up to a misbegotten geo-caching adventure. Not sure how that contributes to justify Brooklyn’s title as the most unaffordable place to live in the country. “Can’t get from here to there or there to here. Let’s raise the rent.”

But I digress. We alighted on Old Fulton Street sweaty and jangled and smelling of ancient,  ripped Yellow Cab seats after our 45-minute ride but otherwise no worse for the wear. The river view improves every attitude, even those of unnamed persons who made the mistake of insisting the cabbie should take the West Side Highway which turned out to be a parking lot that particular evening.

Our destination was The River Café, a sweet little jewel box literally bobbing in the Hudson just beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. We were here to celebrate son Daniel’s birthday and it was our first visit since the restaurant was completely re-done after suffering the ravages of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Bless that hurricane is all I can say. The restaurant, which was looking a bit tired before Sandy rinsed it with Hudson river water, now sparkles as brightly as the lights on the bridge above. The views have always been breathtaking, but now they are properly framed. Even if you don’t want to cough up the cash for the $125 prix fixe, you can sit a bit in the verdant entry garden or step inside (jackets required for men, please) for a drink at the bar and gawk at the view. Absolutely stunning. Kind and attentive service. We had a magical evening and so will you.

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We ventured back to Brooklyn a week later on a sleepy Sunday morning. This time no traffic. We Uber’ed door to door from Columbus Circle to Williamsburg in an impressive seventeen minutes. Which was good, because everyone was starving! The occasion this time was brunch for Daniel – still milking that birthday – and the friends who had flown across the country to fête him.

The CE and I stepped into Reynard at the Wythe Hotel to claim our table, our confidence bolstered by the fact that we saw someone even older than us in the lobby. Young friends Teri and Billy had introduced us to Reynard a few years back and, if anything, the place has just gotten better. The service at this now gratuity-free restaurant was warm and welcoming; the menu fun and eclectic. Our group sat happily around the farm-style table and devoured the signature Dutch Pancake, various takes on eggs and a snappy chili-ed up version of Fried Chicken.

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Peter and Victoria made weekend guest appearances:

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All good meals must come to an end, although the wonderful memories linger. So, apparently, does the fried chicken and the Dutch Pancake, if the scale doesn’t lie. But those are all calories under the Williamsburg Bridge. I’ve embarked on a new plan. I call it the Brooklyn Diet, and it’s very simple: no bread, no dessert, and just stay the heck on the other side of the Hudson.

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Posted in All Things Family, Friends, Gastronomy, New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments