I need a wake-up call.

Morning is a relative term, I thought, as I woke today with a start and realized it was already past six and the sky was growing light.

After all, just a few days ago, we were still in Kauai, and morning began, well, right at cock-a-doodle doo. This could be at 4 a.m. or some days even earlier, depending upon the whim of the rooster residing somewhere just to the east of our hotel. “Morning” was a movable feast and entirely up to him. Chickens are as common as coconuts on the island of Kauai, where feral flocks roam without fear of predators.

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And so, I thought of Maurice. Remember him? Back in July Maurice the rooster had run “afowl” of the law on the French island of Oléron. His crime? Being a rooster!  Neighbors had claimed Maurice was a nuisance and that one way or another (a fricassee comes to mind…) he had to go. Petitions were signed, lines were drawn, and there was much crowing to be heard – mostly from politicians, since Maurice, apparently stressed out by all the commotion, had mostly ceased his “cocorico” while he awaited his fate.

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Happily, Maurice will live to crow again, according to The Washington Post, which reported earlier this month that the court ruled in Maurice’s favor, and even ordered the plaintiffs to pay $1,000 euros in damages. (I see, perhaps, a fancy new coop in Maurice’s future.)

Maurice’s cousins in Kauai face similar complaints, often from tourists who discover, like I did, that kakahiaka (the Hawaiian word for morning) can often begin in the wee hours of the night. Fortunately, the spirit of aloha seems to prevail, and after all, an early wake-up call gives one a chance to watch the spectacular Kauai sunrise. Now that’s something to crow about!

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Here in California, the sun may be out but I’m still in a time-zone fog. Where are those roosters when you need them?

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Heavenly.

I’m pretty sure that in the final moments of the Sixth Day, just before He rested, God smiled, gave a wink and dealt out the Hawaiian islands just to give us a little foretaste of heaven. And I’m just as sure that He added a little flourish at the southern tip of the northernmost island because Poipu, Kauai has to be the closest thing to heaven on this earth.

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My idea of heaven: coffee at 5:30 a.m., two-mile walk at sunrise, with requisite cats mewing greetings along the path.

This guy has shown up in his tuxedo every morning we’ve been here:

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His distant cousin is less formally dressed but no less welcoming.

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The words come back to me. The words we never say in California or New York, but which bespeak the magic of this place.

Plumeria.

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Francolin. Their sweet cooing is a hallmark of every morning, as is the crowing of the roosters that roam the island.

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Because, of course, there will be chickens in heaven.

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The food there will be healthy. Like the “summer rolls” we share for lunch every day. And the seafood “lau lau”, steamed and wrapped in a Ti leaf.

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I don’t know if God will be serving mai tai’s. He may have figured we’ve had enough of those on earth. But I suspect there will be sun showers and full moon rises and blue meteors hurtling through the sky to the ocean (the CE saw one last night!). There will be luxuriously long sleeps to the sound of waves crashing against the sand. I don’t have photos of these things because they simply don’t don’t replicate. God has copyrighted and trademarked them for the time being. You’ll just have to take it (and a lot of other things) on faith.

But I can show you the plants so garishly red they are divinely whimsical.

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Paths and places so serene I think they must have been divinely inspired.

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We are enjoying every minute of it. At the perfect pace.

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In Hawaiian, hemolele is the word for perfect. It also implies holiness. This week has been like that. Holy, and wholly perfect. Feeling very blessed.

 

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There’s a beautiful orange glow on the Rainbow Bridge.

Look carefully, you’ll see it. Because Dodger was very, very orange and on Thursday he left us and stepped onto the bridge, leaving his earthly suffering behind.

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He came to us in 2007 as a very sick little kitten. Taylor discovered him in a Lompoc shelter, christened him Dodger (after the artful Oliver Twist character, not the baseball team) and brought him home to us. One eye was completely swollen shut, his fur was strangely mottled and our vet was furious. Said such a sick cat should never have been adopted out. Said there was no guarantee he would survive.

He survived.

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He joined a crowded field of siblings and tried to make his way. Always sweet-natured, he wanted to be everyone’s friend.

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But that was, shall we say, complicated. Cody, who’d been relegated by senior feline Dizzy to second place in the cat line-up, was determined not to be in third place, and he never ever let Dodger forget it.

Dodger tried hard to be his friend.

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But Cody wasn’t having it. They got off on the wrong paw and things only went from bad to worse. There was what we will euphemistically term “acting out”. Carpets were replaced. Draperies were replaced. To be quite honest, for a long time the CE wanted Dodger to be replaced. The lines were drawn: you were either Team Dodger or Team Cody.

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I assiduously defended Dodger. Someone had to. After all, I pointed out, he was the perfect Halloween cat.

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He worked very hard every day at being orange. And oranger.

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He amused us with his fascination with all things water.

 

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And when he could make no headway with the cats, he did the reasonable thing and aligned himself happily with the dogs.

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He and Soho eventually became best buddies.

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It might not have been perfect, but it was a far cry from a precarious and highly  uncertain outcome in a Lompoc shelter. And even if he wasn’t top cat, he was not wholly uncelebrated. At one point, our friend Julia found his doppelgänger – you might say Dodger was living an artful life.

The winds shifted in April of 2018 when Cody lost his battle with chronic renal failure. Dodger was suddenly our one and only cat, but attention was focused elsewhere, as both Soho and then Chloe became ill and left us that summer. Dodger was the sole remaining household pet. He could hold his head high.

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Of course, sweet Dodger wasn’t looking to be king of the jungle.  And when we brought Lily home this May, he patiently welcomed her puppy kisses. We looked forward to a long and happy time ahead for the two of them together.

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But a few days after Lily’s homecoming, Dodger had a fateful visit to the vet. He hadn’t seemed  quite right for a bit and, in fact, we discovered that day that things were very, very wrong. A seemingly minor skin cancer he’d had removed had metastasized to his lungs. There was no cure. There was only prednisone, which our vet said might give him a month or two.

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That was in May. Thanks to the miracle of the prednisone and Dodger’s determination to be a companion to Lily, he soldiered on past the expiration date he’d been given. The CE had long since forgiven Dodger the errors of his earlier ways and stepped in heroically to nurture him, carrying him up and down the stairs and searching out every tasty morsel to be found at the grocery to entice him after even the prednisone failed to stimulate his appetite.

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Friends Tammy and Tom (who were always Team Dodger!) kindly kept up the hospice regimen while we were away on a trip in August. And, of course, Lily remained a constant inspiration. Dodger wanted to be here for her.

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In his last weeks, Dodger was showered with love. Caleigh had decided when she visited in June that he was her soul mate. She much preferred his gentle spirit to that wild, unpredictable puppy and she ferried Dodger from room to room, offering him oodles of fish cookies at every turn.

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When she and her sisters visited again last week, they all gathered around Dodger to let him know he was loved.

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Evie even made him a friendship bracelet. Green, to match his beautiful eyes.

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We watched the light go out of those eyes on Thursday afternoon. The tumors were pressing so hard against his lungs that the effort he had to make to even breathe kept him from being able to eat or drink.  He was beginning the painful process of starving to death. We could not let him suffer.

By now I would like to think he has had a joyous reunion with Soho and Chloe, and hopefully made his peace with Cody. If not, replacing the carpets and the drapes at the Rainbow Bridge will be someone else’s problem. We have only good memories of that sweet kitty and we pray that he does go gentle into that good night. Farewell, dear Dodger, you are so loved, you will be so missed.

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Two hens are better than one.

Oh what a difference a month makes: the baby chicks are almost teenagers! While we were away, Edith and Willa grew from this:

Bella and chicks July 27 2019

to this:

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Last week, Bella signaled the beginning of the end of motherhood by departing from her nightly nesting spot on the coop floor and marching the chicks up the ladder to the counter top. Sweet little tableau, isn’t it?

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Enjoy it while it lasts, little ones. Because it won’t.

Bella still currently allows them to snuggle beneath her for sleeping, but from past experience, I can tell you the clock is ticking, ominously. In a few weeks, she will hop up to a roost bar on her own at night and pretend she doesn’t know them. If they persist, she will go all Mommie Dearest and peck at them until they retreat to a corner by themselves.

Or at least that’s how it has always gone before.

We have a new wrinkle, however! Just as Bella is beginning to tire of motherhood, it turns out someone else is waiting in the “wings”, so to speak.

There is a signature cluck that a mother hen makes to her chicks, low and insistent, calling them close to her when she finds a delectable morsel to share. When I heard that cluck yesterday and turned to look, I was surprised to see that the mother hen in question was not Bella, but June!

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June is a funny one. Also raised by Bella, she was a singleton, and “only children” do not fare so well in a flock. With no siblings to provide safety in numbers, June was skittish and fearful and never quite found her way in the group. She has remained practically shunned, at the bottom of the pecking order.

June went broody in January but I doubted, given her low flock status, that she could defend chicks, so decided she would have to remain childless. Or so I thought at the time.

I’d noticed in these past few weeks that she was keeping especially close to Bella and the chicks, but now it has become clear that she’s assumed the role of “Auntie”. And Bella seems fine with it. I guess it takes a village…

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I’ve heard that non-broody hens can sometimes take to mothering but I’ve never seen it happen in my own flock. There’s always something to learn about keeping chickens…

We’ll see where this goes but I’m hoping for the best – little June, happy at last!

 

 

 

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The Calorie Count: 3 Great Meals in NYC

As if we needed any more reasons to make reservations in NYC! Our “must go” restaurant list is a long one – and just got longer, thanks to these three memorable meals.

One:

Cookshop has been popping up on my restaurant searches for a long time. Its location on 10th Avenue near the High Line is a beyond our neighborhood “walkable” zone so we haven’t been, but when I made a lunch date with a friend who lives in Chelsea, it seemed the perfect place to meet. It’s not showy but it’s got a great city vibe and a very loyal following.

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Cheerful inside, but clattery loud, we opted for the outside patio on a sunny summer NYC day. Lunch was simple, but don’t roll your eyes when I tell you I had a tuna sandwich. This was the tuna sandwich of all time! It’s all about the food here and every single bite was perfect. The luscious summer tomato, the bun that was infused with flavor rather than air, and the albacore tuna was a cut way above the usual. I’ll be back, especially for those house-made potato chips. Irresistible. I made myself walk the 40 blocks home to make up for them…

Cookshop tuna

Two:

Aria calls itself a Wine Bar but it is much more than that. I’d walked past its inviting rustic wood and glass facade before but didn’t realize that it was a clone of a West Village gem come to gentrify this humble Hell’s Kitchen (51st at 9th Ave.) neighborhood. Thank goodness son Daniel suggested it for a dinner meet-up – it was an instant favorite. It didn’t hurt that it was a perfect summer evening and we scored a prime sidewalk table.

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The basic concept is wine and small plates, but there are plenty of pasta dishes, as well. Let’s just say that none of us left hungry.

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Especially after we shared one of the best panna cottas in recent memory:

Aria panna cotta

Three:

Okay, I saved the best for last.

We were mightily disappointed when Pastis closed down precipitously a few years back. It was the Meat Packing District’s not-quite mirror image of Soho’s Balthazar – both from restaurant wunderkind Keith McNally – and was sorely missed. We were thrilled to hear it had recently re-opened a few blocks away from its original site and made a lunch reservation post-haste.

The new location is on a transitional patch of Gansevoort Street (between Washington and Greenwich Streets) and our first impression was that the new setting lacked the charm of the old one. Our remembrance of things past was that the “old” Pastis had an airy garden graciousness to it while this one feels a bit more like a bustling train station.

Silly us.

Within a few minutes, we were enveloped by the ineffable Pastis magic. Amazing food. Perfect service. Fabulous people-watching. Everyone at ease, and an appealing din, the soothing hum of table-to-table conversations. The two women sitting next to us all but helped themselves to my Paté de Campagne, which was studded with delectable little shards of roasted pistachios. It was brilliant! As was the signature Charentes Collins:

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So many wonderful choices on the menu, but for our inaugural visit there was no choice but to order the Steak Frites. Divine.

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No sooner had we decided to share a Creme Brûlée than a manager sent over an order of sorbet. We took a long walk on the High Line after lunch to repent. It was all absolutely worth it. The new Pastis instantly climbed to our “top 5” list of favorite NYC restaurants.

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Goodbye to all that for now – summer in the city is coming to an end, but we’re looking forward to a restaurant reprise when we return in the fall. Love, love, love NYC.

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Calorie Count: The Usual Suspects

“So what did you do in NYC”?

*thinks*

“Well, let’s see. We went to lunch. We went to dinner…”

*awkward silence*

Of course, that’s not all we did. There might have been a breakfast in there somewhere. Just kidding! Oh, we went to a play, to a cabaret performance, we went to a Yankees game, we went to our beloved Met, we walked the High Line, we walked Central Park, we walked and we walked and we walked.

(To and from a lot of restaurants, actually.)

In ten years of part-time New York-ing, we have assembled a list of “must-go” restaurants. We are unapologetic creatures of habit. Each trip, our official first lunch must be at Bergdorf-Goodman’s BG Restaurant and this one was especially sweet since Angie and Randy left us a Bergdorf gift card after their recent stay at the apartment. Thanks,  guys!

This visit, I sampled their Slow-Cooked Duck Dumplings with a side of Snap Peas, Haricots Verts and Roasted Toy Box Tomatoes:

Bergdorf dumplings

If it’s Sunday, we have brunch at Jean-Georges’ Nougatine. It’s a better value for lunch Monday-Friday because of the terrific three-course prix fixe  but the CE cannot be swayed from his Sunday routine: church at Redeemer UWS, walk home from 83rd Street, and then brunch. Oh well, may as well enjoy it. I had the Veal Milanese:

Nougatine Milanese

My non-negotiable is Balthazar. Maybe it’s not the best steak frites in town (we’ll get to that next week…) but it’s just my favorite restaurant in the city. We always have a great time there. Maybe because of the Pavlova:

Balthazar pavlova

Call us crazy, but we routinely walk two miles across Central Park for our Beyoglu fix. Yes, there are other Turkish restaurants nearby, but to us, the unassuming (and affordable!) Beyoglu is in a class by itself. Grub Street agrees; they include it along with restaurant Daniel and Vaucluse in their list of the Absolute Best Restaurants on the Upper East Side. Favorite secret menu item: the Mixed Grill:

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Another “affordable” (always a relative term in NYC…) mainstay is The Smith at Lincoln Square. It’s really, really loud inside, but when the weather is nice, you can dine on the patio and watch the people (and buses) go by on Broadway. My new favorite is the Salmon Tartare:

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Not usually on the “affordable” list is Café Boulud, but they turned July’s restaurant week into restaurant month and were serving a ridiculously reasonable lunch prix fixe at $26 for two courses and $32 for three. The restaurant was understandably packed the day we went and while we missed the usual sedate ambiance, we couldn’t argue with Tomato Gazpacho, Roasted Pork Loin and Watermelon Vacherin all for the price you’d pay for a decent hamburger in other UES restaurants.

An easy cab ride down Fifth Avenue after a morning at The Met is La Goulue. It wasn’t very crowded the day we went, maybe because the cognoscenti were all in the Hamptons, or maybe because nearby Barney’s has filed for bankruptcy and the ladies who shop are shopping elsewhere. Or perhaps it was the construction din on 61st Street that kept diners away from the restaurant’s charming sidewalk tables. None of these factors kept me from enjoying the Linguini Façon Carbonara et Truffes d’été:

La Goulue

We couldn’t leave the city without a last lunch at Estiatorio Milos at Hudson Yards, with its spectacular view of The Vessel. Recognizing us from previous visits, the eminently hospitable manager had the “Milos Special” delivered to our table. Caution: this is addictive! Lightly fried zucchini, eggplant, tzatziki and kefalograviera cheese — in other words, it’s heaven on a plate:

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So now you see why we must stay in the city for two weeks – otherwise there’s no opportunity to try new restaurants. Next post: a trio of new finds!

 

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Just a moment(s).

Hunting and pecking is just fine for chickens but not so great for typing, so I’ll keep it brief. Arm still very much broken, back still very much sprained. But NYC has a way of transcending such piffling annoyances.

The real New Yorkers busy themselves elsewhere during summer’s leafy denouement, but we are reveling in it. The days murmur past, rolling by in stately lassitude, but moments find a corner of memory. A few, briefly:

A cheery window table at Nougatine:

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They knocked it out of the park! Yankees swept the Red Sox:

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Dinner at Balthazar with the kiddo (and cast artfully concealed:-)

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Caught in a downpour on the UES that ebbed mercifully just as we were passing The Frick where these thirsty hydrangeas sipped and preened:

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Finally saw the sweet “Come From Away” on Broadway with Daniel and Freddy and afterwards dined ever so fashionably late. At home we’re in jammies by 9 pm; here we were just sitting down to a plate of pasta!

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A blessedly uncrowded Friday afternoon stroll on the High Line after everyone else seemed to have left town for the weekend:

Way way back when, I half contemplated a half job offer in the city but of course reality and life (and the CE!) set a different path for me. Better late than never. And there are signs that NYC was waiting for me all along 🙂

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