Peace, love and cupcakes – Woodstock, N.Y.

How festive is this?

How festive is this place? Not the cupcake place, by the way.

Yesterday I headed down to Woodstock to meet the girls for a little shopping and some catch up time. Although I had been down that way just a couple of weeks ago for a show in Bearsville, it felt like far too long since I’ve simply walked around town and checked out the shops. If you’re in a similar situation, I highly recommend December as the ideal time to wander around Woodstock. It is the absolute antithesis of mall shopping.

The first order of business (ok, the second) when meeting friends midday is usually coffee. The café nearest Tinker Square was jammed so we decided to take our chances down the street a little bit and found ourselves at the adorable Peace, Love and Cupcakes. It’s a tiny little space, adorably decorated in just the right shade of pink, towards the south side of town.

Their coffee game was mediocre with the only brew coming from a Keurig, but my need for coffee was quickly overshadowed by my need for a cupcake. The display case was chock full of the prettiest little cupcakes, cheekily named for musicians, that I’ve ever seen. I only hesitated a moment before rationalizing that when your day begins with a very circuitous 15K, a cupcake prior to linner seems more than reasonable. They don’t call it Sunday Funday for nothing, friends!

Although I’ve never been all that enthusiastic about cupcakes before (I think the frosting is usually too damn sweet), I decided that the Chocolate Snowball was calling my name – and I don’t even particularly like chocolate cake. It must have been a combination of nostalgia for those Hostess snowballs from my childhood and the appeal of a thick layer of cream cheese frosting liberally dusted with coconut.

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My cupcake. Sorry the photo isn’t better – I couldn’t wait to eat it!

I sat down outside to savor my sweet treat. The frosting was perfect, retaining a bit of the tartness of the cream cheese with coconut that resisted mushiness. The chocolate cake was moist and delicious. Together, they elevated my coffee to palatable and made me one happy girl. I’ll definitely go back again for more peace, love and cupcakes. The Ginger Baker has my name all over it.

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Filed under Eating, Food, friends, Recommendations, road trips, sunday, Uncategorized, upstate New York

British Invasion

761b5062-704f-4c4a-a74d-5caf5bc09baa-8606-00000790a696a8a7_tmpOn my very first trip to Europe, in 1988, I made a new friend, A. He was wearing leather bike gear, with a scruffy face and charming English accent. The attraction was immediate. We made a connection that led to numerous transatlantic flights and were lucky enough to explore a few amazing cities together. It’s a time in my life that I recall warmly.

The last time I saw my friend, A, was almost 25 years ago, in London. He helped sort out accommodations for my brother and me and we got to spend an afternoon or two together, along with his towheaded two year-old son. He was married then and seemed contented. Again, happy memories of a lifetime ago.

We maintained a correspondence, old school, with paper, envelopes and stamps, for quite a few years after that last in person visit. Although the details are hazy after so many years, I recall receiving a letter telling me he was sick, maybe a brain tumor and the prognosis was dire. It was goodbye.

Life was wild with young children and new careers, and I accepted the news with sad resignation, too busy to immediately follow-up. Of course, I’ve wondered over the years about him, and his family, and have taken half-hearted stabs at trying to locate him in the digital age. I looked for an obituary online but never found a word about them. Until last week.

After happening upon a memento from a trip I had once taken with my departed friend, I impulsively searched Facebook for his name and came up empty. I changed my search to the name of A’s son. Immediately, a photo appeared – A’s face, but a version far younger than I ever had known A to be. His son.

I clicked on the link and found the obituary, not of A, but his son. Oh, no. The tow -headed boy had grown into a too young to die young man. Almost 7 years ago A’s son had died while serving in Afghanistan. There were photos of the funeral and I saw an older than I had ever imagined A. I struggled with sadness and relief.

Sometimes the real heartbreak comes long after the breakup.

 

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Filed under aging, Europe, friends, love, Random, travel

My home is not broken

image: sandylomedia.files.wordpress.com

image: sandylomedia.files.wordpress.com

I attended a meeting recently and was struck to hear a colleague describe a student’s home as being “broken.” Of course, my reaction is personal and I’m probably just being hypersensitive, but it really bothered me, particularly since it was offered as an explanation for all of a particular child’s academic, social and personal issues. I mean, the end of a marriage can certainly be construed as a failure belonging to a husband and wife, but to present it as the ultimate reason a child fails to thrive, just doesn’t seem fair to me. What do you think?

To me, a “broken” home is one lacking in warmth, love and affection. Fortunately, that’s not my children’s experience. A “broken” home is a place where the parental relationship has eroded, or failed to grow, to a degree that the adults in the household are actively unhappy. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a number of those types of houses, homes where a couple remains together “for the children” or due to financial reasons or for health insurance or other benefits. Is an intact, but painfully unsatisfying home life really considered to be a superior setting for raising children than two separate residences led by adults who are emotionally and personally fulfilled? I don’t think so.

Let’s stop equating ended marriages with homes that fail to provide a nurturing and healthy environment for raising children. They’re not the same thing.

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Filed under Boys, family, marriage, Rant, relationships

Gobbling it up

0bbb8e4e-6135-4907-a905-aa6a4f3d8ec2-5076-00000482afb9a836_tmpAs I extracted the flyers from today’s paper promoting Black Friday, and even Thanksgiving Day special sales, I couldn’t help but wonder which “door buster” item would cause an injury as consumers rushed in to buy one. Would it be a television? Maybe a toy of limited quantity but mass appeal?

We can read about that later, because this is thanksgiving. Today we gather to share a meal and a moment with family and friends. Or, perhaps, we don’t. Maybe the holidays have just gotten to be a little weird and you find yourself at loose ends without a real plan for the day. You’ve had invites, but nothing really appeals because the size of the gathering doesn’t feel right (you pick – too large or too small) or the drive is too far, so you’ve not committed to anything beyond a 5K. With that already under your belt, the day stretches out ahead of you with…

Some melancholia. It is impossible to not think of past holidays focusing, as is your way, on the ones which make you smile. There have been a lot of those.

The promise of possibility. The day is yours to use as you wish – a long walk with the dog, a glass of wine or two, a movie that you’re interested in seeing, some holiday baking to get a jump on…

Acceptance that this is holiday you just might need right now – one that is quiet and doesn’t require being “on.”

Appreciation that your children have a large family who will surround them, feed them and provide them with their own holiday memories to reflect upon forever.

Gratitude for the opportunity to feel thankful every single day of the year. While life is not without challenges, the gifts many of us have received are the sort that lend themselves to daily acknowledgement – health, sustenance and love.

If you find yourself alone on Thanksgiving, remind yourself that true appreciation of our blessings should not be limited to the last Thursday of November. Be thankful for the day you have been given, each day. I most certainly am.

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Filed under holidays, musings, Observations

Whole hog at The Purple Pig

img_0489One of the best parts of being a runner is the license it gives one to eat. Believe me, pushing through a ten mile run is a lot easier when you know that the evening’s meal is a reward worth working towards. My second Chicago run led me along the lake, north of the Navy Pier and then back down Michigan Avenue and finally, to my hotel. I was in no rush and genuinely enjoyed the experience, wrapping things up with some time in the sauna and a relaxing shower.

Ready to eat, I headed up town to The Purple Pig, planning to make my way to the bar in a restaurant that I imagined would be busy during prime time on a Saturday night. Once again, I got lucky and scored a prime spot (at the far left of the bar – a lefty’s dream) within minutes. The interior was a bit more casual than The Girl and the Goat and the style of ordering was also different. My server suggested ordering a single course at a time, which offered more flexibility to change my mind as I caught glimpses of dishes being served around me. Menu in hand, I consulted with the bartender about how hungry I was and for what I had a hankering.

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fullsizerender-2Breaking with expectations, I ordered a bottle of Clos Normand Brut cider from Normandy rather than wine. It was the perfect accompaniment to my meal and gave me a pleasant buzz without the fogginess that I get when I drink more than two glasses of wine. It was particularly tasty with my first course – a liver pate served with crostini and a small mound of greens on the side. The cider cut through the creamy and delicious fat and danced on my tongue with happiness as the flavors reminded me of my time in France last year. It was the ideal way to start my meal.

fullsizerender-3I followed the pate with Patatas Bravas, the Pig’s take on tater tots. These were really good, but didn’t give me the same level of joy that the potatoes at Brava in Lenox had provided a couple of months ago. I think I’d try a different veggie next time, especially if I was going to revisit the octopus which is served with fingerling potatoes and green beans. The octopus was beautifully charred, smoky and tender and matched with a salsa verde that radiated freshness. It was a stellar preparation and I absolutely housed that plate. Fantastic.

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fullsizerenderBecause a meal out is incomplete without dessert, I indulged myself with their version of a lemon bar and was thrilled with my plate. Tart and refreshing with a wonderful texture, it was truly memorable and went surprisingly well with the last of my cider. Dinner, including tip, was a $100, which I found reasonable for the quality of the meal and service. If I lived in Chicago I could see myself becoming a regular at this spot, like the man who sat next to me at the bar. Just like the city itself, there were lots of things on that menu left to explore. I can’t wait to go back.

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Filed under Chicago, Dinner, drinking, Eating, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel

Finding my rhythm in Chicago

img_0798I started this post the day I returned from a quick weekend away at the beginning of a week that ended up feeling really long. I’ve got a folder full of these aborted writings, but I decided to revisit this one after catching up on last Sunday’s New York Times. The featured magazine was about travel and the editor’s letter grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, something that doesn’t happen often enough. Her words kept kicking around in my head and joined my own thoughts with a serendipity I couldn’t ignore.

Deborah Needleman said:

“Why is it that we can’t just do nothing anymore? Somehow “nothing” equals guilt….”

“I slept as late as I wanted, exercised when I felt like it, ate alone at restaurants…”

“It certainly was a journey, in the personal sense of the word, not just to another part of the world, but to another part of my psyche.”

Now, my own words…

My body aches and I’m about as tired as I recall ever being, but it is a sweet exhaustion. It was a great weekend. I highly recommend 72 hours of alone time in a new city as a means of recharging and getting back to a rhythm that is solely your own.

Traveling solo is both an exercise in self-improvement and an acknowledgement that you’re ok. From the reaction I received each time I explained that I was going to Chicago, alone, and my plans were basically to eat, run, nap and see some new things, I don’t think enough people are comfortable, much less excited by, the prospect of a loosely defined personal escape. Not being dependent upon any one but yourself is a condition that can be interpreted as freedom or a burden and I guess it depends upon perspective. I suspect you know how I perceive it.

We have lives that are busier than ever, connected to multiple platforms and constantly within touch. Taking some time for our own pursuits shouldn’t be a luxury that is too often perceived as foreign. While this trip had originally been conceived as a trip to celebrate a number of my friends and I achieving a milestone birthday, when schedules and commitments didn’t allow that to materialize, I continued to approach the weekend with excitement. I felt remarkably fortunate* to be able to spend three days exploring a new city, but even just two hours at the mall, or in a museum or outdoors can seem like a getaway. It isn’t about how far you go, it’s more about how close you get to yourself and your personal pace. Do it.

*I can’t tell you how many times I wondered to myself how I ever got to be so lucky.

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Filed under aging, Chicago, ideas, musings, Observations, Recommendations, travel

The Girl and the Goat and I

img_0454Heading into Chicago I had only a few intentions – to run, to eat and to nap, all on my own schedule. Knowing that the city had no shortage of great restaurants, I decided to do my best to make it to a couple of them, without making reservations or arrangements in advance. I didn’t want to be pinned down to a specific time, preferring to satisfy my appetite when it demanded attention, and I was fairly confident that as a single I’d be able to belly up to the bar for a meal without too long of a wait. It worked.

I made my way uptown to the Girl and the Goat on the train, deciding my nearly 11 mile run was enough exercise for the day. Upon arriving, I was greeted and shepherded to the hopping bar area. As I prepared to order a drink, my veteran restaurant eyes assessed a soon to be open seat and I quickly swooped in to grab it. Seated in less than 5 minutes, I settled in with menus and consulted with a bartender to come up with an order. alsace

After determining that I was free to take any remaining wine with me, I selected an Alsatian Gewürztraminer, a wine that I enjoy and find to be food friendly. With my server’s guidance, I selected a number of items from the menu, ordering everything at once as is the preference in the restaurant.

sweetFirst up were the blue cheese sweet potato pierogis accompanied with a mushroom ragout, mushroom crema and fried capers and finished with microgreens. The flavors were beautifully balanced – earthy, pungent, salty and sweet and the texture of the pierogi was firm in a way that reminded me of samosa more than pasta. Delicious.

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I followed with some vegetables – green beans with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. I’d say these were the most perfectly cooked green beans I’ve ever had in my life – firm, yet with an easy give, the bowl disappeared into my mouth with barely restrained haste. Again, the textures were spot on and the portion size was generous.

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My final savory course was the crispy pork shank, which was served on an individual cutting board along with a buttermilk dressing, grilled spring onion kimchee and naan. There was also a hot sauce and pickled carrot ribbons rounding out the plate in a cheeky nod to Buffalo style chicken wings. As I was still finishing up the green beans (I’m a slow eater!), the pork was placed slightly to the left of my bar space and after a few moments a server came by and “cracked” my shank open to reveal the moist and tender insides of my meat course. I was starting to slow down a little, but managed to eat nearly all of the pork appreciating the server’s instructions to use the naan to make mini sandwiches. I think I scarfed down 3 or 4 before deciding I really needed and deserved dessert.

dessertThe caramel corn and malt balls – vanilla malt gelato, popcorn caramel and chocolate magic shell, was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. There was crunch in abundance along with sweet and buttery sensations which had my mouth popping – fantastic!

Service was attentive without being invasive and my wine was kept chilled with my glass never empty. The view of the kitchen added to the meal and I enjoyed watching the kitchen crew working through what appeared to be a perennial slam. Satiated, without being stuffed,  my remaining wine (nearly a half bottle) was bagged and I happily paid my check ($120 with tip and a $44 bottle of wine) and called for an Uber. Well done, Chicago.

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Filed under Chicago, drinking, Eating, Food, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel, Wine