A Last Look at New York.

Let’s see. Before I interrupted myself with that bit of shameless self-promotion last week we were re-capping the New York trip…

It was even harder than usual to leave this time. Fall is (despite UN General Assembly Week, despite whatever is going on with that ongoing subway nightmare – HELLO powers that be???!!!) my favorite time to be in NYC. It’s as if the city tried to be even more alive, more beautiful than usual before the temperatures drop and the skies turn leaden.

So many things I loved this trip:

This building on Columbus Avenue at 70th just wanted to be noticed.

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Always, the chandeliers at the Metropolitan Opera House.

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Chrysanthemums on Park Avenue. At every intersection!

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Dinner at Balthazar with a few of my favorite people.

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Street flowers for sale. They look suspiciously like milkweed! Do New Yorkers pay good money for milkweed?

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We may have found the ultimate hamburger at The Ribbon.

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Bergdorf windows. Love the fall forest theme.

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Yes it is egregiously overpriced, but a drink with a friend at the Plaza’s Palm Court is hard to resist.

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Passionfruit Pavlova for the CE at Nougatine.

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Possibly the best dressing room decor – yes, this is a dressing room – I’ve ever seen – Ted Baker at Time-Warner Center.

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The endowed flowers in the Grand Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are refreshed weekly and never disappoint.

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A lovely Monet:

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and some enthusiastic art lovers:

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How lucky we were to be there while the weather pretended that summer would never end. Alas, we know what’s coming next. The trees don’t tell lies. Those leaves are starting to turn.

Sigh. Get out those puffers, everyone…

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A Chicken in Every Plot.

Okay, so I didn’t get the cover story. That honor went to “Raising Meat Birds”, with an arresting photo of a turkey whose neck wattle gives mine a run for its money. Fair enough.

But if you go to page 38 of the current issue of Backyard Poultry magazine you’ll find this little gem about my twin passions, chickens and literature. Chicken lit, I guess you could say.

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Complete with byline, pull quotes and a photo of the handsome CE with his sidekick,  Pippa.

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Ever since we embarked on the chicken project back in 2009, it has seemed that chickens are everywhere, especially in my reading. They warm the plots of some of my favorite books, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley and – especially timely, given last week’s Nobel Prize award – Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Different books, different authors, different settings and different centuries, yet in each the humble chicken helps enliven the story, just as my little flock enlivens my daily life.

Write what you know, they say. So I did.

And now I need to go read up on Raising Meat Birds…

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The Un-High Line.

I guess you could say it’s been spoiled by success. Strolling the enormously popular High Line of late has not exactly been a walk in the park. So slow. So crowded. And it is having the very breath squeezed out of it by the ever encroaching Hudson Yards project, which, for better or worse, is changing the landscape of far west Manhattan.

So we took a different route the other day. “Head west, old people!” And just a little north.

We slipped beneath the West Side Highway at 70th and Riverside Park South last Saturday morning and discovered Pier i Cafe, which is sort of a cross between a restaurant and a backyard picnic. The vibe is a cheerful tableau of brightly-colored umbrellas, lawn chairs, paper plates and a joyous assembly of baby strollers and dogs amid views of the Hudson River.

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The menu is promising: lots and lots of food options and on the drinks side, a beer-lover’s paradise plus plenty of rosé and wine coolers all exuberantly chalk-drawn on blackboards. Although I must admit that once you put a Caesar salad on a paper plate, it loses a bit of its mojo. As Shakespeare might say, you come here not to praise Caesar, just to get a bite to eat.

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But who cares about the food when this is your dining companion at the next table:

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And while you might come for the snack, you stay for the walk. That giant among men, Central Park visionary Frederick Law Olmsted, designed Riverside Park’s in the 1870’s when it looked like this:

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It looks a bit different today, but no less charming, and, at least when we visited last weekend, no crowds!

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We saw lots of willows, a few stone cairns and vestiges of a bygone railroad yard – but very few people. It was lovely.

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Last Saturday there were girls in bikinis sunning themselves lazily along the walkway, but the weather has changed. A twenty-degree temperature drop tells me that summer has exited stage left and autumn is on the way. I hear it gets a bit brisk over on Riverside in the bitter months, so if you’re planning a walk, you might want to do it sooner than later. Pat a dog on the head and say hi to the Hudson for me.

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NYBG Day Trip: Glass Menagerie

If you haven’t yet made the trek up to the New York Botanical Garden to see the glorious Chihuly installation, it’s not too late: the exhibit continues through October 29. And it is so worth the trip!

We began our tour at the Mertz Library, beckoned by the Blue Polyvitro Crystals in the fountain. Made of resin rather than glass, they are a departure from Chihuly’s usual medium, but still worth a gander:

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The Library presents an up-and-down-the-stairs treasure hunt to view Chihuly’s older works. There is an elevator – it appears to have been designed for Munchkins – but either way the flow is a bit complicated, although you do get to see some stunners:

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Fortunately, there is a dazzling pay-off as you descend the stairs to the fourth floor: Chihuly’s brilliant ten-foot-tall Palazzo Ducale Tower is a must-see:

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The real whimsy and grandeur of the installation comes alive as you walk up Garden Way and encounter the Sapphire Star

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and then Red Reeds on Logs at the Reflecting Pool:

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Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, or, well, the coreopsis? This one had a bee in its bonnet:

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First glimpse of the magnificent Haupt Conservatory: I would (and did) ride three trains just to step inside this lovely building.

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And then the dazzling Sol de Citrón at the entrance! I couldn’t get a good photo of it so I borrowed this one from the NYBG site:

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Chihuly’s glass is set perfectly – like jewels – among the Garden’s plants. These are titled Glasshouse Fiori:

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the stately White Belugas:

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the Macchia Forest:

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and White Tower with Fiori:

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At the end of our tour we were rewarded with a view of one perfect Sacred Lotus. I’d love to see a Chihuly interpretation of this:

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If you go (and you should!): you can reach the NYBG via subway or Metro-North train, but there’s either a bus ride or a 20-minute hike from the subway station, so we took the Metro-North from GCT which takes you right to the NYBG Mosholu Gate entrance. You can take a tram ride through the Garden if you aren’t up to walking, although even on a drowsy Friday afternoon the lines for the tram were somewhat daunting. Another way to see the exhibit is at night although be advised that these evenings sell out quickly. Oh, and for the love of God, whenever you go, wear comfortable walking shoes!

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In which I howl about coyotes.

I heard them again the other night. Yip-yip-yipping somewhere behind our property. It’s an almost nightly serenade, a pack of coyotes, celebrating their latest kill; maybe a gopher or a squirrel, but more likely a bunny rabbit or some careless neighbor’s unfortunate pet.

Whether you hear them or see them or pass your day blissfully unaware of them, coyotes are always nearby. According to Dan Flores, author of Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History (288 pages, published by Basic Books, 2016) if you live in the continental United States, you are never more than one mile away from a coyote. Yes, even in New York City, where they are seen in Queens and rumored to roam Central Park, as evidenced by this New York Daily News photo:

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In California, I encountered a pair of them a few months ago on my morning walk. Brazen and brindle-coated, they regarded me absolutely without fear. They conveyed with a muscular clarity that it was I who intruded upon their morning rounds, not they upon mine. They did not move toward me, but neither did they back away, and I passed them uneasily, with many backward glances to be sure they did not follow.  That’s when I decided to read up on them: Know thy enemy, and all that.

Everyone has an opinion about coyotes. My California neighbors are divided right down the middle on them. Half harbor a notion to flout the rules and impose some vigilante justice; the other half vociferously vow to protect them, their packs and their pups at all costs. I’d say the split roughly reflects those of us who have cats, small dogs and poultry, versus those who don’t. Author Flores is an admirer, nay, a veritable acolyte of the coyote and thus his book is a paean to the beast, which didn’t sit so well with me after my close encounter, but I must admit a grudging fascination with the creature.

The American coyote, then popularly regarded as a “prairie wolf” was depicted as early as 1819 by artist Titian Ramsay Peale but first scientifically catalogued by Thomas Say in 1823 as canis latrans.

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John James Audubon documented the “prairie fox” in 1843:

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My coyote-loving neighbors invariably sing the chorus of “they were here before we were”, and according to Flores, they’re right. The ancient coyote line began in the American Southwest 5.3 million years ago, he says. Los Angeles has long been a favorite urban mecca for them, where the coyote population is estimated to be 5,000, so it’s no surprise that so many of them have migrated up the coast to Santa Barbara. The proliferation of coyotes to urban U.S. settings is a testament to their adaptive genius. Perpetual outcast that the coyote may be, he has learned to shadow the human. For where people go, vermin go, and there goest the coyote.

If only the coyote diet was limited to vermin. Flores insists that their primary prey are mice and rats. “Pets compose only 1-2% of an average coyote’s diet”, he says, and he labors to convince the reader that most coyote attacks on dogs and cats are motivated not by the dinner bell but by territorial issues and competition for food. I remain unconvinced, as I am pretty sure neither of the sweet little kitties or any of the hens we’ve lost to coyotes were competing with them for land or food.

Flores rigorously defends against attempts to control the coyote population, asserting that despite repeated governmental programs to extirpate them via trapping and poison, the coyote population remains resiliently constant. Litter sizes correspond brilliantly to both available resources and attrition; the coyote is all about tenacity.

Flores glories in the predator’s elevation to god-like status by the Aztecs and Native Americans, but he rather glosses over the 1981 coyote killing of a toddler in a Glendale driveway. In 2011, nineteen-year-old aspiring musician Taylor Mitchell was killed by coyotes during a hike in Nova Scotia. According to Wikipedia, USDA and California State University researchers have confirmed at least thirty-five attacks on children in the state in which “the possibility of serious or fatal injury seems likely if the child had not been rescued”.

More recently, the conversation has turned to coywolves and coydogs, hybrids that pose an uptick in alarm. Combining the pack mentalities of wolves and the fearlessness of coyotes, these breed mutations are reputed to have spread throughout the Northeast and to possibly be the source of recent attacks in Toronto and New Jersey.

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Coywolf (wikipedia image)

Conventional wisdom states that coyotes “almost never” attack humans, a mantra I repeated to myself as I made my way past the pair I encountered on my morning walk. But then a friend related her experience of having been stalked by a pair of coyotes in our neighborhood a few years back. She was walking with her dogs and noticed the coyotes tailing her. She changed her route, but they continued to follow. Unnerved, she finally entered a stranger’s driveway, knocked on their door and called for a ride home.

As fall approaches, what I call “coyote season” is soon to be upon us. I tend to see them on my street more frequently in fall and winter; January and February have been the unluckiest months for my hens. I’m still unsure just how worried I should be about wily coyote, but, conventional wisdom aside, I’m a little concerned that the wolf is at the door.

“The only thing smarter than a coyote is God” – Hispanic folk saying

 

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There’s a storm coming.

All our thoughts are with Florida today, as Irma plows forward with the Keys in her crosshairs. I’m so grateful that folks there have their priorities straight – shelter, safety, and chickens.

Hundreds of feral chickens roam the streets of Key West – we had brunch with a number of them underfoot a few years back at the Blue Heaven restaurant – and thankfully someone is looking out for their welfare ahead of the storm. Saw this on Twitter as I tracked the hurricane last night, photo credit to @producerken:

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Some enterprising soul managed to capture a flock of the “gypsy chickens” – and if you’ve ever chased a chicken you know the near impossibility of that feat – then wrapped them in newspaper, wings down to keep them calm, and transported them to safety. A different kind of chicken burrito than you’re used to seeing, for sure.

Also in the good news department, I read that the staff at Hemingway House in Key West have opted to ride out the storm there to care for the fifty-five six-toed cats that live on the property. They are the descendants of Hemingway’s beloved felines “Marilyn Monroe” and “Kim Novak”.  Hemingway, who once aptly quipped “One cat just leads to another” would undoubtedly nod his approval.

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More seriously, we have family members hunkered down in Sarasota, where Irma currently seems determined to beat a path to their door. We’ll be praying for you all!

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End of an Era: Farewell to Downey’s

It was everyone’s favorite restaurant that they never went to. People saved up the prospect of dining at Downey’s as they would lock away a gold coin – something shiny and wonderful to enjoy in the future. But, alas, they waited too long because after thirty-five years as a beacon to fine dining on Santa Barbara’s State Street, chef John Downey and his wife, Liz, have served their last slice of Millefeuille.

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I rhapsodize often about restaurants in Manhattan or wherever else we happen to alight, but there’s nary a peep in these pages about hometown dining. Because, truth be told – with a few happy exceptions – the restaurant scene in Santa Barbara is mostly meh. Blah. Sometimes really awful.

Downey’s, though, was different. Gabe Saglia lovingly detailed the restaurant’s history in this swan song recently published in the Santa Barbara News-Press but I’m just here to talk about the duck. Twice a year we would make a pilgrimage all the way downtown (about a ten minute drive…) so that I could order the Mary’s Farm Duck served with Exotic Grains.

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Baby turnips were the traditional accompaniment, although by the time we enjoyed our “last supper” as things wound down last week, the turnip truck had apparently stopped delivering so instead there were, disappointingly, a few slices of pluots on the plate where the turnips would have, should have been.

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And there were no more half bottles of  the excellent Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to savor along with the duck.  Cue Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”

Most else was as it should be, however. There was the incredible fresh-baked Irish soda bread in its homely little basket:

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And there was the Santa Rosa Island Crab and Papaya Salad with Fresh Ginger-Lime Dressing. You could set your watch by the two tiny, tart lime segments on the edge of the plate – how will we go on without them?

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After the duck, the ritual demanded a taste of the Stilton with fig and tomato jam:

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And the finale, from which we never wavered (despite the allure of a Chocolate Marquise and a Peach Melba) was the aforementioned Millefeuille. Lusciously thick white chocolate buttercream studded with fresh raspberries and encased in divinely crisp layers of puff pastry. Luckily, the recipe has been preserved for posterity at thetrailofcrumbs.com.

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A new restaurant is slated to open soon at the Downey’s address and we can only hope they might include a few legacy items on their menu. Like all of them, maybe?

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