Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in pictures: December

Farewell, 2013—you weren't exactly what I was expecting, but then again, what year ever is? We're headed to a small party at our friend's home this evening and will be opening the windows at midnight to let 2014 waft her way in. Here's to a year of adventure, and even more surprises. Happy New Year to you all!

Hello, December  |  Dec. 3, 2013  }
Thine self, quantified  |  Dec. 5, 2013  }
Rainy Fridays  |  Dec. 6, 2013  }
Feasting, seasonally  |  Dec. 9, 2013  }
According to the ancients: butter coffee + butter tea   |  Dec. 13, 2013  }
The last stitch  |  Dec. 17, 2013  }
Christmas traditions   |  Dec. 23, 2013  }
Red-eyed revelry  |  Dec. 28, 2013  }

One year ago: An unburdening & Dolphin dives

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Red-eyed revelry

Drinks @ The Mark Hotel  |  Red-eyed revelry on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blospot.com

Just like Thanksgivings past, I have no idea how my parents hosted Christmas meals year in and year out. We are utterly exhausted after babysitting and then Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities. So much so that we took our Anniversary a little easy: a long, much needed walk in the crisp air of Central Park with potent cocktails afterward at The Mark Hotel.

Aside from my own little tantrum late on Christmas Eve night, when we still had a few more hours of hosting to go and my lack of sleep was getting to me, it all went quite nicely. We ended up skipping the broccoli and my chocolate almond torte on our proposed menu, as babysitting took more time than I thought. Did you know babies eat every few hours? And every feeding comes with a proper burping and cuddling and change, meaning that each go-round takes about an hour and a half, too? Luckily he's fantastically cute and coo-y and the sweetest little thing ever. Much more worthy of our time than silly broccoli or desserts.

+ + +

On the evening of the 23rd, my brother and his wife checked into their Soho hotel and then headed downtown to our apartment, laden down with all the baby's accoutrements. After a quick primer on his likes and dislikes and schedules, we shooed them out to their fancy steak dinner and settled in for our first night with our nephew/godson.

R did a little prep for dinner and then set himself up in one corner of the couch to watch a RAI news program on his computer. I was snuggled into the other corner, my legs in a quasi-yoga-half-sparrow-'ish position, with the baby resting his head on my hipbone and cradled in my lap while I knitted. Every little while he'd make the cutest mewling sound and we'd both stop what we were doing to fawn over his milky cuteness. After an hour and a half of this we smugly said to each other, "Pffft, this baby thing is easy."

Cut to an hour later, near midnight, when we were (nay, I was) fretting over what to do since he had slept right through his feeding. Do we wake him up? Wait it out? Go to sleep and hope his cries will wake us up? While I ran through all the options and debated messaging my brother and mom, the baby woke right up and began cawing for something to fill his round little belly.

Amazingly, R was a complete natural with the baby. While I became quite frantic and anxious ahead of that first feeding—as in, rushing around and slipping and sliding across the floor in an effort to hurry the milk heating process while gathering the changing supplies and trying to quiet the baby—R told me to relax, then took the baby and gently laid his huge hand on his tummy and the baby stilled and looked up at him wide-eyed. It was a scene heart-melting-enough to make me fall in love with him all over again.

We managed the first feeding just fine, burped him, changed his diaper (whew, just wet), swaddled him up and laid him in his travel bassinet.  Then we tiptoed to bed and fell in just after 12:30AM....to be awoken promptly at 2AM for his second feeding. R and I both sprang up at the first squawk. R was on comforting duty, while I went for the milk and the heating pan. Back to bed a little after 2:30AM, and up again at 5, and then at 7.

For the 7AM feeding I closed the door behind me when I jumped up, so R could sleep in, since he still had quite a bit of cooking to do for dinner. Of course that's the feeding that took an hour and involved a VERY dirty diaper, which required me to create a fort of sorts to keep the baby immobile on the couch while I ran (again) for wipes galore to stop the fountain of goo emanating from him.

By morning, we were glad my mom was planning to come by in the afternoon. Our first night waking up every 2-3 hours had made us lethargic and red-eyed. We even brought the baby into bed with us after his 9AM feeding so we could at least get some semblance of rest for a few hours before we got up out of bed to start our Christmas Eve morning.

First to-do once we were upright again: lighting candles. Second? Turning on some Handel hymns. Third? Brewing butter tea for me, espresso for R, and warming up a slice of my satsuma-polenta-almond cake.

Christmas Eve breakfast: polenta-almond-orange cake  |  Red-eyed revelry on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blospot.com

After a little sustenance, I retired to the couch to admire the baby some more, while R started cooking. Once my mom arrived, I began setting the table and helping finish up all the dishes in the kitchen with R. We snuck in a quick nap in the afternoon, everyone prostrate on our bed and then began dressing for dinner.

By 6PM everyone was here and hungry, so we sat down to dinner together. But first, another tradition I forgot to mention: every year my mom places one present at each place setting. For the adults it was usually chocolate or some sweet, for my brother and I, it was always an ornament that had something to do with our year (like, a golden retriever the year I got one). This way, by the time we left home we each had our own set of ornaments to decorate our trees with. I always loved this ritual. This year, though, the only one to get an ornament was the baby, who received a darling Snoopy one (my brother's favorite).

Around 9PM we had a drink and I started cleaning up—also known as: the arrival of my tantrum. R came to quiet me down and help, since I was feeling quite overwhelmed and our falling-apart-kitchen wasn't making the process any easier. Then we all bundled up and headed out to the subway to go to our church in Nolita for carols and Midnight Mass. My brother's wife was using the Baby Bjorn for the first time, and would you believe, despite the singing, the frankincense, the lights, the constant standing and kneeling, that baby slept against her for the entire hour and a half? Unbelievable. I really have never seen a calmer, more tranquil baby. Almost makes me feel like I could do it, too!

We were back at our apartment by 12:30AM, opened a few presents over plates of sweets and tea, and by 1:30AM everyone was on their way home. I did another quick clean up, set up the couch for my mom—who wanted some time with the baby, so stayed over on feeding/changing duty—and we were all alseep by 2AM.

When I woke up at 7AM I helped my mom with his morning feeding and change and then tucked him into bed between R and myself for another baby-coo-soundtracked sleep. Best morning nap ever. My brother and his wife came over a little after noon and we all got into a car and headed out to Long Island for Christmas Day with my mother's side of the family. When we finally arrived back home late that night, R and I agreed we'd have a low-key anniversary, which was lovely and intimate and restful.

Today I'm relaxing at home. A bit of knitting, much drinking of tea, and a bit of Netflixing. I found a really good BBC miniseries, actually. If you're like me, and find historical dramas + a bit of sleuthing + feisty, fierce women very enjoyable to watch, you might like The Bletchley Circle, about 4 women who were code breakers in London during WWII and then apply those same techniques to a murder mystery 10 years after the war. The miniseries is only 3 episodes long, but I've heard that there will be another season next year. Very good thing to watch while gathering up one's energy reserves for another bout of babysitting, which we'll be doing again tonight (!).

One year ago: Monday meanders: 4 & Merry Christmas from Honduras

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas traditions

Decked halls  |  Christmas traditions on afeathery*nest  |  www.afeatherynest.blogspot.com

Despite my current Rage Against My Kitchen, in all its cramped, dark, grunginess, we're taking on hosting Christmas Eve dinner and post-Christmas-Eve-Midnight-Mass drinks & desserts. I've just put the last touches on our decked halls and replenished the candles in all our holders and am now about to head into the kitchen to start preparing. Luckily both R and I, despite having very different backgrounds, share the same Christmas Eve traditions, so the only melding required was our menu.

I grew up working Christmas Eve with my parents (they owned a small business), going home around 4PM to prepare the meal (usually pork based), eating around 7PM, then heading to midnight mass. We'd arrive back home a little after midnight and then go to bed for a short nap while "Santa" came, i.e., my parents set up.

Around 1AM we'd head back down to open gifts by the fireplace and before our coffee table stacked and overflowing with all the traditional Christmas sweets we'd been preparing over the last few weeks—the majority were Goan (neureos, bibinca, kulkuls), but we also always had a few dishes from other traditions that made their way into ours through family, like Linzer cookies, courtesy of the relatives that married Germans, and Panettone, from my brother's Napolitan godfather.

Decked halls  |  Christmas traditions on afeathery*nest  |  www.afeatherynest.blogspot.com

We'd finally head to bed around 3AM and sleep through until mid-day on the 25th, when we'd be up to feast on cheeses, sausages, mustards and marmalades galore, and a variety of nutty breads—a very Germanic style breakfast. Then we'd laze around with movies and playing with our gifts for the rest of the day.

R grew up doing generally the same thing—where the 24th has always held more importance to his family than the 25th.

We're doing something similar this year: hosting Christmas Eve dinner for family on the 24th, then heading up to our church in Nolita for carols and Midnight Mass, then back here for sweets and gifts (although, only the baby is getting something this year!). Then everybody shall be shooed out so we can get to bed. Although, not sure how much sleep we'll get then (or tonight) as we're babysitting our godson/nephew for the next 48 hours so my brother and his wife can get a few night's proper sleep in their hotel. On the 25th we're heading out to see family on Long Island. More feasting will be involved, naturally.

But back to tomorrow: before I get started on the cooking, perhaps y'all might like to see our (ambitious) melded menu?

Decked halls  |  Christmas traditions on afeathery*nest  |  www.afeatherynest.blogspot.com

To start, early in the evening in the "living room"—the Swedish portion of the meal
+ Smoked salmon
+ Herring
+ Hard boiled eggs
+ Caviar

Dinner—the mostly Italian portion of the meal
+ Brussels sprouts with bacon
+ Broccoli sauteed with garlic and chilies
+ Arancini (rice balls)
+ Lasagne
+ Polpette (meatballs)
+ Involtini di melanzane (Eggplant rolls)

Sweets—the gluten/sugar-free-for-J part of the meal (featuring Goan sweets + one Italian)
+ Almond tart with chocolate and pears (a variation on my "signature" dessert)
+ Coconut truffles
+ Satsuma, almond and polenta cake
+ Assorted Goan sweets that my mom is bringing
+ Panettone, which R insisted on

Now, time to get started. Merry Christmas, y'all!

Oh, and P.S., I discovered the secret to making any environment nicer, even a less-than-inviting kitchen: candles, candles everywhere (and perhaps a stiff drink...otherwise known as "chef's juice").

Japanese whisky at Christmas  |  Christmas traditions on afeathery*nest  |  www.afeatherynest.blogspot.com

One year ago: Oh the places you'll go & A bout of the sniffles & Honduran holiday

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The last stitch

Rowan Lincoln Center Sweater Pattern  |  The last stitch on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com
Whenever I start a new piece I feel a rush of excitement—whether it's something easy, hard, or new, the idea of being on the brink of creating something tangible that didn't exist before seems to release endorphins into my system. True, those endorphins are tamped down a bit when I can't understand a pattern's directions or somehow my nice and neat ball of carefully-wound yarn requires 3 hours of intense unraveling because it hit a glitch.

But still.

This sweater I was making for R, though, has been a bit of a struggle—a struggle that quickly outlasted those ready-set-go endorphins. After many (many) redos, many frustrating grumbles at the pattern that seemed to be written in not only another language, but jumbled around like a freakishly obtuse Mad Libs puzzle, I hit a wall. I had just finished the front and back pieces, but still had two sleeves to go, plus blocking, ironing and seaming the whole thing together, and then adding the collar.

So when R suggested I just make it into a vest—since he already had one similarly-styled solid navy sweater plus another white knit cardigan (with navy logo), but a navy and white speckled vest? That would be filling a gap in his wardrobe.

Needless to say, I was sold.

And I convinced myself that I wasn't copping out or giving up—something a competitive gal like me (I really am Monica—see first two minutes of this video) would make myself feel guilty over. I mean, I had actually managed to memorize the pattern and understand how it worked so I wasn't glued to the instructions by the time I got around to knitting the front piece, which was in itself a major victory. But my impatient self was just eager and ready to move on to something else new, to feel that heady rush again.

Rowan Lincoln Center Sweater Pattern  |  The last stitch on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com

So, just shy of two months after starting, I finally (finally!) tied off my last bit of yarn on this project over the weekend. And, here's where the sad part comes in:

It doesn't fit him.

My 2-D dimensions were spot on, but somehow I messed up the 3-D bit and this barely covers his midsection. That, coupled with a slightly sloppy finishing on my part as I rushed to finish the damn thing, means that not only will R never wear this, but I can't give it to anyone else either. I'm too embarrassed by the (perhaps visible only to me) mistakes on the seams and neckline.

I think this means a few things: I should probably stick to accessories for R going forward—since he's 6'4" and a broad-shouldered kinda fellow, knitting garments takes quite a bit of time (not to mention silly me took on an overly complicated pattern that was written for super advanced knitters, not beginners). Much different from the easy little sleeveless, non-patterned tops I knit for myself, or those teensy bitty goodies for the babe.

Or, if I do make something for him, a top-down, raglan-sleeved knitted piece is the way to go. Top-down just means it starts at the neckline instead of the hem, and raglan-sleeved means the sleeves are knit as you go, which solves many problems for me all at once. Not only can he try it on while it's still in progress (so I know if there's a measurement issue), but there's no complicated seaming (which leads to wonkiness when I attempt it) and much less "knitter fatigue" because there aren't all these individual pieces to take on one at a time, and that are then floating about waiting to be put together.

And while before I've completely taken something apart to redo it when I wasn't satisfied with the final piece, I just can't do that to this one. Which is going to happen sometimes with handmade things. I just need to accept that and move on.

(At least now I can do so with a new cozy nightshirt for myself in the pajama drawer).

On to the next.

One year ago: Joining the EU & Carafes, castles and clans & Monday meanders: 3

Friday, December 13, 2013

According to the ancients: butter coffee & butter tea

Butter coffee + Butter tea  |  According to the ancients on afeathery*nest  |  http://www.afeatherynest.blogspot.com

When it comes to tuning in to trendy ideas or fads in the food or "life-hacks" world, there are two filters I pass them through: is it so simply smart as to be inherently intuitive? (E.g. less-mucked-with food must be better than mega-mucked-with food). And, is this something that our ancients did without a second thought? (E.g., there's a reason our grandmothers suggested chicken soup for a cold; or hearty proteins before a day on the farm; or slept according to the sun, even in winter).

+ + +

A few years ago when R was here visiting me in the depths of winter, we were to meet another couple in the East Village at a hole-in-the-wall sushi place (might seem like a recipe for disaster as raw dishes and hole-in-the-walls don't go so well together, but it was delicious!). Being who we are, we arrived way too early. Rather than freeze outside (hole-in-the-walls don't generally have bars to wait at), we went next door to a place called Tsampa to get tea. We figured a Tibetan cafe must have tea.

But the menu only had something called Butter Tea which sounded odd, but intriguing (I'll always be the person to order the dish with the least expected combinations), so of course I had to get it. It was amazing. Tea, yes, but with an earthy creaminess you don't get from milk, plus a little froth that was lightly flecked with salt. Tibetans use salted yak butter and drink this throughout the day to withstand frigid temps and long outdoor treks.

I completely forgot about how much I enjoyed it until a few weeks ago at yet another Tibetan restaurant, Cafe Himalaya, also in the East Village. Three years ago, after realizing we live in the same city but never see each other, two friends and I made a pact to meet once a month for a meal, but we added a twist: we made it an "Around the World" game of sorts, where we'd take turns picking a country and dine at a restaurant featuring that cuisine—in alphabetical order. We haven't made it work every month (sometimes skipping many), but we were at "N" last month and the gal who picked chose Nepal.

So on the first properly cold, nay bone-chilling frigid, day of the season we shivered our way over to this itsy bitsy place in the East Village, completely chapped and what was the first thing I stiffly chattered to the waiter? "B-b-b-butter t-t-t-ea, ple-e-e-ase".

+ + +

Back to the fad thing—if you read or follow any of the paleo or primal or bulletproof or whole health-type sites, you'll see that many of them are just now starting to capitalize on the nutritional benefits of buttered drinks.

Meanwhile, the Tibetans (and Ethiopians and Singaporeans), have been drinking this for years and years, happily and warmly. Some of the new proponents have the goodness to mention the origins of this fortifying concoction, but not all do. Remember how chai and yoga became mainstream popular 15 years ago but most people didn't even associate them with India? (That could have just been my Virginia town, though).

And what are some of those benefits?

+ The combination of tea and salty fat is thought to be ideal for the high, often cold altitudes of the Himalaya (or...Manhattan)

+ The fats boost your energy and cognitive abilities (your brain runs on fat)

+ Drunk first thing in the morning, it revs up your metabolism

None of this makes any difference, of course, unless it's good. And to me? It really does taste good, which makes the involved process of preparing it worthwhile. I use a combination of butter (for creaminess) and coconut oil (for silkiness) that together create a very lovely morning brew.

Here's how I've been making mine, both with tea (a chai from Numi) and coffee:

// Butter Tea / Butter Coffee
Makes one mug

3/4 cup    tea or coffee (however you take it, mine are always with milk)
1 tsp        unsalted butter (I use Ronnybrook, the local, grass-fed farm)
1 tbsp      extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil

Stir the butter and coconut oil into your drink and then using an immersion blender, whiz it all together so the fats are emulsified into the tea/coffee and it gets nice and frothy. You don't need to use both (and could use coconut oil alone if you don't want dairy), either way works just fine.

Note: Proper Tibetan Butter Tea uses salted yak butter, so if you wanted to have that same flavor profile, add a pinch of good salt or use salted butter (for the tea though, not sure you'd want salted coffee...)

One year ago: Out of the ordinary & How to embrace a gray Sunday & Monday meanders: 2

Monday, December 9, 2013

Feasting, seasonally

Saturday wine social at Ardesia / Hell's Kitchen, NYC  |  "Feasting, seasonally" on a feathery*nest

One of the things that I'm most constantly amazed by is how very sane our bodies are. When we sleep well, we function better. When we've hurt ourselves, we feel pain. I'm still completely blown away by the fact that women can grow whole new beings from within themselves!

But, then there's the normal, more everyday ways our bodies talk to us, like when our appetite and cravings change as the seasons do. As the daylight hours diminish and I begin adding more and more layers to my workday uniform, the food my tummy asks for has been adjusting, too. I can barely keep our fridge stocked with enough crinkly-leafed greens to stay on top of my near-nightly dinner of what seems like bushels of kale or spinach or bok choy or mustard greens or broccoli rabe steamed and bathed in heavy glugs of olive oil, infused with golden garlic and generous dustings of crushed red pepper. I imagine a protective shield of antioxidants and immune system boosters close around me to keep me flu-free on NYC's subways as I gobble it down.

After dinner I snuggle up with lit candles on every surface around me and a mug of spiced tea (cardamom, ginger and clove—immune system boosters!) sipped as I pick at a bowlful of tangerine or satsuma plugs (Vitamin C to help shun the many yuckety yuck germs flying about offices this time of year).

Then of course the seasonal wonder that is a plate of roasted chestnuts (to keep us satiated during cold nights) and sprinkled with cinnamon (more antioxidants) and perhaps accompanied by a wee dollop of coconut cream or butter appear quite often.

Not to mention, all the soups and stews and braises that besides boosting our health and energy with cupfuls of good things, just makes us feel all warm and cozy and prepared inside for the frigid temps outside.

Of course, there's always room for a few glasses of wine and plates of charcuterie and cheese, as you saw in the picture above, which I took at a wine bar where I had a "business meeting" (clearly it was very Mad Men'esque, with its high level of booziness) this weekend. Those sorts of things know no seasonal bounds.

One year ago: Latte pappas & Some tweaks & Undecked halls

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rainy Fridays

I woke up this morning grumbling about the prospect of putting on my nasty weather gear for the trip up to the office, wishing like mad that today was my remote day. Sadly, the drippy city was waiting for me outside to escort me along on my commute.

So, out my door and into the hustle-y bustle I went. When the rain comes out, so do the grumpy people (myself included). With our unwieldy umbrellas and soggy socks we battle down the sidewalks and jostle each other on the subway, slyly grinding our elbow into the back of someone whose bag is thumping against our knees (oh, is that just me?).

But, before I could even descend into the hellhole that is a muggy, watery NYC subway platform, a particularly heartwarming scene made me stop in the rain and watch:

(Warning: glaring generalization ahead.)

A typical NY Wall Street Fat Cat came charging around the corner, trenchcoat billowing out behind him, half a ciggarette hanging from his mouth, white earbuds dangling down to his pocket, briefcase with the water-logged tips of the Journal peeking out from one hand, while the other madly typed on his phone. I was behind someone—don't know if it was a male or female type of someone, as s/he was completely hidden from view inside a massive black hoodie, but a tassled, cream fleece scarf hung limply off his/her shoulder, so perhaps a woman? As this person trudged along their scarf floated off of their shoulder and Mr. Fat Cat, who was coming towards us, tried to hail the scarfless person down, but they were having none of it. Maybe they thought he was a solicitor, maybe s/he didn't hear. Whatever the case, s/he kept trudging along.

Fat Cat picks up the sodden scarf and waves it around, calling to Trudger. Trudger has already reached the end of the block and turned right, meanwhile I was meant to turn left and head down into the subway, but I watched as Fat Cat ran to catch up and followed Trudger for another block! When he was finally able to convince Trudger that he was not trying to hassle him/her, Trudger snatched the scarf back and kept on. Fat Cat smiled and waved anyway, then turned back around and retraced his previous steps without any detectable trace of annoyance.

Talk about wrong assumptions. That'll teach me.

+ + +

A few more hours until the weekend arrives, which will find me cleaning the apartment, finally finishing up my opus for R (hopefully), meeting friends for wine flights, at-home pizza making, brunch on Sunday, and hopefully lots of stolen hours between spent snuggled up warm and dry and in candlelight reading and knitting on our sofa and cracking into the season's first batch of roasted chestnuts. Hope you all have a lovely one!

One year ago: Frissons & Wistfulness & Monday Meanders: 1

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thine self, quantified

Union Square Park |  "Thine self, quanitifed" on a feathery*nest
Among the many things you've learned about me here, one of the Top 10, perhaps Top 5, is that I love to walk. To stroll. To pitter-patter and meander my way to and from my daily stops. An office, a coffee shop, the flower guys and gals, to dinner, etc.

And it pleases my self-tracking, cataloging-loving heart to no end to see those individual steps of mine collated somewhere. For no other reason than if I haven't accomplished anything else that day, at least I've used my functioning feet to propel myself forward (or backward, as the case may be).

West Village |  "Thine self, quanitifed" on a feathery*nest

Enter Moves. An app that turns all those individual shuffles into a visually-appealing tally of my day—times, types of movement, distance, locations. A view of exactly when I left my house and where exactly I went. How the day is and did unfold. How long it took me today to get to work, or how much time I spent walking around outside taking care of errands or just getting a bit of fresh air. One of my favorite things to see is how long I've been sitting still in an office working—it's just enough of a tickle in my side to keep me conscious of my movement, without being obnoxiously guilt-creating.

Oh, the quantified self, how I love thee.

I'm always in competition with myself: to read more, do more, check one more thing off of my list. But I also just like to keep track of things, in a completely non-self-competitive way. I can't remember what childhood literary heroine it was, but one of them liked to collect things—bits and bobs of nonsense—for the sheer enjoyment of possession. That's how I am with my calendar and documents and notebooks and bookmarks. Running lists of the wheres and whens and whats of my life keep me sane, and more than that, just make me happy.

I like seeing how today unfolds, how yesterday did and how tomorrow will. I have lists of books I've read (and a ranking system), income, expenses, workouts, measurements, weight, knitted projects, planned dinners (vs. throw-it-all-in-the-pot dinners), holiday menus, life lists, baby names, favorite quotes, etc. I'm the type that always (always!) puts the full date on cards, letters and notes I write (even the little love ones I leave for R when I'm away from home for even just one night) just for the posterity of it.

Am I alone in my hyperactive recording? If I'm not, and you see some of yourself in the above, give Moves a little gander.

One year ago: Trekking in tights & Talisman treasures & Farewell fall

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hello, December

A bowlful of satsumas  |  "Hello, December" on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com

On the first of the month, this past Sunday, apart from opening the door for a FreshDirect delivery and a 4:30PM'ish amble to the kitchen to make dinner and then to the bathroom for a quick shower, I was rooted to the couch. A pot of golden chai from Numi brewed with lashings of creamy milk was on the table beside me, an eggshell colored fleece was tucked in all around me and my fluffy-lavender-robe-encased self, and I had two brand new library books propped up on the windowsill.

I spent the entire day sans computer, sans talking to anyone—an antidote to the back-to-back days of work over the holiday.

It was most blissful and topped off with the lighting of many candles, the serving of one hefty dirty martini and a movie*.

One year ago: Facial toils & Fondue femmes & Winter oil concoction

*Albeit, one of those somewhat foolish, typically-American movies with bombs blowing up every which way and terrorists attacking the White House...but, still.

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 in pictures: November

Last month of the year...here we go!
Easing into winter  |  Nov. 4, 2013  }
Neighborly  |  Nov. 5, 2013  }
The rosy glow of an autumn dusk  |  Nov. 7, 2013  }
Odds and ends  |  Nov. 10, 2013  }
Craving a cozy cappuccino  |  Nov. 11, 2013  }
The only derby I support: A Derby Bourbon  |  Nov. 13, 2013  }
Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago  |  Nov. 18, 2013  }
It all melts away  |  Nov. 23, 2013  }
How I travel—tweaks to make it bearable  |  Nov. 27, 2013  }
The days are long but the years are short*  |  Nov. 30, 2013  }

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The days are long, but the years are short*

Even though I had an extended Thanksgiving celebration this year, it felt a bit off. Which really saddened me, since this is my favorite time of the year—and favorite holiday.

Last weekend my girlfriends and I had our own Thanksgiving celebration, an event that I love for its companionship and irony, as the foreign-born gal of our foursome is always the one to host. And her prosecco-infused turkey is quite a treat, so us Americans are in no rush to take over.

This is the friend on the Upper West Side, so as usual, I enjoyed my trek up there, meandering around the brownstone-bedecked streets, watching families head home from brunch and errands, everyone rosy-cheeked and bundled up. So there was that.

Then on the actual holiday, R and I shared a quiet meal with my mom and her friend. She went all out with a full-on menu that contained no gluten and very little sugar. We started with Goan samosas made with her own blend of chickpea and coconut flour early in the day (this isn't usually a part of the Thanksgiving menu, but I had a craving). Later on we started the actual dinner with a carrot ginger soup, a spinach, citrus and ginger salad, then baked yams with a walnut-y tapenade, tasty little birds for each one of us (Cornish hens, as R and I don't enjoy turkey as much, prosecco-infused birdie, aside) over pumpkin risotto and finally, a pistachio-ginger-crusted pumpkin cheesecake. The entire meal was lovely—set with the fancy china (a change of flatware and plateware for each course) and wee harvest figurines dotting the center of the table.

And yet.

Something was off. I felt off kilter all week, and I'm not sure exactly why. Could be that I ended up working the entire holiday, at least 4-5 hours a day, so it didn't quite feel holidayish. Could be something else—perhaps the general uncertainty that seems to have marked this year for me.

I don't know how to fix that, but I'm hoping that putting up a few holiday decorations this weekend and hopefully (pretty please!) getting a live tree and garlands this week may help me feel festive and jolly.

Perhaps there's something else that may help, too.

About a week or so ago I began jotting down a few things a day in a non-digital notebook. I took an inky pen and on creamy paper in a small Moleskine cahier that I already had (to keep it from being too precious), wrote the title of this post at the top of a new page (to keep things in perspective), and then spent a few minutes noting the things from the day before that made me happy or were reason to be grateful.

I've tried this many times before, and it's never really stuck, but a friend has been doing it lately—someone who has the same demands of and on her time as I do—and somehow she's been able to keep it up and I've noticed an actual change in her attitude and spirit. A good one, of course, so I figured perhaps 8th time (or whatever I'm up to now), might stick. I haven't kept it up every day this time around, but at least I started. And perhaps that's more important.

* Borrowed from Gretchen Rubin

One year ago:  Thanksgiving traditions & Thanksgiving Weekend 2012

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How I travel—tweaks to make it bearable

"How I travel" on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com

Thanks so much for the sweet notes on the arrival of the newest little member of the family. I've been busy soaking up every minute that I can with him while he's here, 3-hour roundtrip transit be damned!

But speaking of transit, I was thinking about how I travel and what makes it bearable (these days transport is not nearly as enjoyable as it used to be) and wanted to share a few things I do that make being on a plane considerably gentler on my body (and mind...and general disposition). I certainly don't travel often these days for work (and can't say I ever really didthe height of business travel for me was probably a trip or two every two to three months), although I do usually manage 4-5 personal trips a year. Point being, these ideas are good for any and all situations:

+ Packing: After my bag is packed, I go do something else for a bit (check in online, reserve a car service, evaluate fridge situation to see what needs to be thrown together into a mushed up meal before I leave, etc.). Then I come back and take 3-5 things out of my bag (depending on the length of the trip). I've never once thought, "damn, I wish I had kept that second evening bag in".

+ Immunity: Before leaving home, down the hatch goes a double dose of Green Pasture's X-factor butter oil/fermented cod liver oil blend (the cinnamon one) and/or green powder (straight up chlorella and spirulina from Nuts.com; previously this). I also sneak in a double dose of magnesium. The latter to make the flight, and process of getting on said flight, more pleasant and the former three to keep me a bit protected from the free-frolicking germs.

+ Cleanliness: I slip a pair of ankle socks into the outer pocket of whatever bag I'm toting for easy access when it comes time to do the ritual disrobing for security. The thought of my bare feet or the socks I'm wearing touching the ickiness of the security lane floor fills me with horror, so a pair of socks serving as a barrier between me and the ick is my own security blanket. Before sticking them back in my bag, I fold them in on themselves so whatever lurked on the floor doesn't crawl its way into my tote.

On the plane:
+ Comfort: If you ever see me, you'll notice I have a scarf or wrap somewhere nearby—I wear it around my neck as a scarf in cooler months or around my shoulders during the evenings of warmer months, but even so, I'm especially sure that no matter what, I have one in my bag or on my person before heading to the airport. It serves multiple purposes: planes are either frigid or glacial, so a wrap equals a makeshift blanket. They're also generally full of strange odors, loud noises, and uncomfortable images, so a large wrap can be a face mask, ear muffs and eye mask, all in one.

+ Entertainment: What with the knitting and my reading of fiction, I hardly ever get around to reading the magazines that come our way weekly or monthly (the NYT Sunday Magazine, the American Express Departures we still get from a previous tenant, and Fast Company, Inc., NYMag and Time, courtesy of expiring miles on an airline I no longer have occasion to fly). They pile up in their TV stand-adjacent perch and make me feel guilty each time I pass them (sound familiar? I had to put our NYT delivery on an indefinite hold). But come flight time, into the carry-on bag they go en masse, after I've stripped them off their address label, for a massive catch up on the plane.

+ Mobility: When it's time to choose seats, I always go with the aisle, unless I'm travelling somewhere topographically spectacular and landing during daylight, or taking an overnight flight. The aisle is good for a little extra space and easy ability to stand, but not so good because annoying people put their entire weight on your seat when they get up from behind you or pass your seat as they walk down the aisle. Pick your poison, I suppose.

+ Sustenance: I never said no to airline meals before because I felt I had to eat them since I paid for them. Thankfully I've wised up and now pack my own meal. It's usually a few containers of hard boiled eggs, which are so nice and cute and portable, plus remnants of whatever produce I was leaving behind, and hopefully a wedge of cheese and some dark chocolate, too. I pack my own knit napkin and flatware and wrap it all up in an IKEA dishtowel, rinsing the containers and cutlery when I arrive, so they're ready to be refilled for the return trip.

So there you go–how I make a supremely annoying situation slightly more comfortable. If you're traveling over the holiday (my favorite and one of the things I'll miss most about America!), perhaps you could make use of some of these? Either way, be safe, have fun and eat well—Happy Thanksgiving!

One year ago: Equal play, Tension with the Times, A bit more on Aire

Sunday, November 24, 2013

It all melts away

Sunset from the Hudson River Esplanade, NYC  |  "It all melts away" on http://www.afeatherynest.blogspot.com
The only thing on my mind when the plane took off last week was: 5 more hours until I land in NYC and head straight to the apartment for a hot shower and a long, long nap. As soon as the plane hit the runway stateside, I was unbuckling my belt, reaching for my bag and waiting for my phone to turn on so I could call the car service and let them know I was ready to be picked up ASAP.

But placing an outgoing call was made impossible by the phalanx of messages descending on my phone. From one and a half hours previously, my sister-in-law, who returned from Europe a month ago, was heading to the hospital for an emergency c-section. From 30 minutes after, my nephew and godson was safely delivered a few weeks early and both he and his mother were well. And from 15 minutes after that, my brother was boarding a flight across the ocean and headed home.

When I finally got through all the messages I called my mom to ask where she was and where I should go. Then my brother called, heavily emotional and nearly out of his mind with worry and regret. He had been in an intense meeting when he got the message and rushed out and straight to the airport and was now waiting on the far end of an 8-hour flight to get home to see his wife and meet his newborn son.

As soon as I made it through customs I headed the hour and a half east to a hospital on Long Island, instead of the forty minutes west to Manhattan and home. My mom and I arrived about 4 hours after the delivery and my sister-in-law was awake and feeling fairly well, considering the turn her day took after a routine doctor's check that morning. We were alone with her until she buzzed the nurse to wheel in my brother's son and when I saw his completely full head of hair at the top of the bassinet I started shaking uncontrollably. My mom was all smiles and coos and scooped him up, but it was all I could do to grasp my hands under my chin to quell their quivering and just grin madly through happy tears at his sweet, sweet face.

True, I'm biased, but this baby is all delicious puppy-like limbs and dark, dreamy hair and huge almond eyes, that when he's awake, follow the sound of our voices, looking at once like he's slightly rolling his eyes at our gushing or perhaps just taking us all in slowly.

And in that afternoon with him, I realized what people mean when they say a baby changes everything. What's funny is that I thought it was only your own baby that changes everything, but seeing this piece of my brother murmuring and mewling to himself affected me in a way I never expected. I felt so peaceful staring at him, smoothing his winged hair back, caressing his cheek with my pinky. Being there instead of, or without, my brother perhaps made it even more remarkable. But all my wariness and exhaustion from the week before floated off and away from me. Any murky, fuzzy, less-than-happy thoughts batting about my mind evaporated. The only thing that mattered to me was holding this baby bird of an infant close to my heart and telling him how much I already loved him.

One year ago: Milkman nostalgia and Being gentle with myself and A good thing

Monday, November 18, 2013

Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago

I know it must seem like I'm always down in the Caribbean, but this time it was for work, not pleasure. And there was really very little pleasure. When these sort of trips come about, it's usually 15-hour days, non-stop, back-to-back, in conference rooms.

True, I did get to take a 5-minute walk on a beach and there were a few nice dinners, but other than those teensy pockets, it was an exhausting trip. The "touristy" highlight, though, was getting a tour of the Angostura Distillery (by now you know me and cocktails).

And then I came home to a bit of a surprise, but more on that tomorrow...maybe the day after, because honestly, at this point a nice long snooze is weighing more heavily on me than wrapping my head around the thing I want to share.

So in the meantime, a few pictures for you—don't worry, none from aforementioned conference rooms:

Stora Bay |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ Stora Bay, Trinidad & Tobago }
Stora Bay |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ Stora Bay, Trinidad & Tobago }
Stora Bay |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ Stora Bay, Trinidad & Tobago }
Stora Bay |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ Stora Bay, Trinidad & Tobago }
View from Fort King George |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ View from Fort King George, Trinidad & Tobago }
Fort King George Museum |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ Fort King George museum, Trinidad & Tobago }
Angostura Distillery |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{Angostura distillery, Laventille, Trinidad & Tobago }
Angostura Distillery |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{Angostura distillery, Laventille, Trinidad & Tobago }
Port of Spain  |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago }
Port of Spain  |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{ Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago }
View from Fort King George  |  Postcard from Trinidad & Tobago on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com/2013/11/postcard-from-trinidad-tobago.html
{View from Fort King George, Trinidad & Tobago }

One year ago: Good things right now & Milkman nostalgia

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The only derby I support: A Derby Bourbon

New rule: when the seasons change, your cocktails should too.

Any chance to play around in my cocktail lab (which covers a generous square foot of space in my apartment), is good fun for me. Know what else is fun? Saying "Derby Bourbon", which has been my after-work drink of choice lately.

While I like the idea of the Kentucky Derby, I don't know that it's quite the event for me—horses and hats and southern elegance are all things I approve of, but staying out in the heat (even with a wide-brimmed hat) for an extremely short race isn't something I imagine I'd be good at handling.

My first experience with the Kentucky Derby was about 7 years ago in D.C. when I was invited to a friend's apartment for a live TV viewing. I had my first Woodford Reserve mint julep at her table and very much enjoyed its smooth, fresh depths. But as I turned to serve myself another generous pour, the race began and finished.

Thus ended my relationship with the Derby event.*

But the Derby cocktail? It's just beginning. It's warm and spiced, but with a freshness from lime and the barest hint of sweetness from triple sec and sweet vermouth. I think you should try it sometime soon:

For 1 Derby cocktail
   1 ounce bourbon whiskey (I've been using a high-rye blend called Redemption**)
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula)
1/2 ounce triple sec (Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec)

Mix and serve over ice.

While we're on the topic of potent drinks, I should also tell you about this tasty squash dish, as it's the perfect chaser, so to speak, for bourbon's wallop. Every year I buy squash because they're so adorable and season appropriate, but I always forget how much of a pain they are to clean and prepare.

But these acorn squashes were fairly easy to turn into a hearty meal. All I did was (carefully) chop them in two, place the halves in a shallow baking pan (cut side down) with a few centimeters of water, and then bake for about an hour.

Then, I turned them right side up and filled them with a cumin and cayenne pepper-spiked mixture of sauteed mushrooms, peppers, onion, chilies, spinach and tomatoes and baked the halves for another 25 minutes or so, turning the broiler on for the last 2 minutes (but not before sprinkling a little feta on top for the always-necessary caramelized crust). 

One year ago: Happy makers

  * Even though I shunned a vital aspect of her Kentucky lineage, we've remained friends.
** Truth be told, the name was half the reason I bought it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Craving a cozy cappuccino

Toby's Estate Coffee Flatiron  |  "Craving a cozy cappuccino"  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com
{ Toby's Estate Flatiron Espresso Bar  |  NYC }
I've long enjoyed a nice cup of coffee—never black, always with milk. Sometimes hot, other times, cold. It used to be coffee + skim milk + raw sugar. Now it's pared down to just coffee + whole milk (frothed). Cafè au lait, cafè con leche, cappuccino. As long as the coffee/espresso is deep, dark, and fragrant and the milk is warm and pillowy, I'm happy.

NYC is a mecca for coffee. There was the Italian invasion years ago, the Swedish one in the last few, but more recently, it's all about local Brooklynites harvesting and roasting their own beans and creating homey, techy, Mac-happy cafès around the city in industrial spaces-turned-chic-lofty-salons or the influx of Australians and their flat whites and laid-back, "it's all good, mate" vibes.

Lately, I've made it my mission to try as many of them as I can.

The agency I worked for in Soho offered a company account at the local La Colombe, a big-windowed space overlooking Lafayette Street (which you saw here, along with your first little glimpse of me) from a Philadelphia-based coffee roaster that serves their drinks and nibblies in and on beautiful Deruta plateware (pretty, right?). Since I can't say no to coffee on the house (or on the studio, as it were), I was fairly loyal to them. The baristas there were lovely and knew that I always had a cappuccino, except for the dark cold months of winter when I was forced to seek solace in a comforting mocha.

But, there were times I strayed up the street to Gasoline Alley, a teensy, triangular (adorable) Australian spot right on the border of Soho, with a bicycle hanging from their rafters, just because. Their cappuccinos were slightly better than La Colombe's to me—I think the milk they used was richer and their espresso never seemed to go bitter (which sometimes happened at La Colombe, but perhaps I only noticed because I generally drank L.C.'s every day). It also helped that they served home-brewed kombucha (from their kitchen in Brooklyn, naturally) and Mast Bros. chocolate, making a trip up to see them the perfect treat.

Now that I'm in a new neighborhood during prime coffee drinking time, some days of the week at least, I had to find my new go-to cafè. The first obvious choice was the Swedish gents at FIKA, which I learned before can be quite pricey, but I couldn't deny the convenience since now that I'm in the Flatiron area, two locations were very close by.

After one afternoon stroll over, though, I realized that my affinity for all things Swedish didn't necessarily extend to my wallet—at least not on a daily basis. I know I'm a New Yorker and I shouldn't be shocked by outrageous prices anymore, but I just can't do $4.50 a day for a cappuccino (and mind you, these are authentic beverages, none of that venti / grande nonsense, so that's $4.50 for a few thimblefuls of goodness).

Next I tried Pushcart Coffee a few blocks away past Gramercy Park. There were some pros: a decent stroll from the office made for a proper afternoon break, there was certainly a neighborhood feel to the place, they use Perka (a digital loyalty card which pleases my efficiency / sustainability-minded heart), and the very good cappuccinos were $3.75. But, it wasn't quite pretty enough to become my usual place. When I take an afternoon pause from the computer it's for some fresh air, a chance to get the blood flowing again and something good to eat or drink. But it's also to turn my eyes from pixels to prettiness. I need to soak my vision (not just my appetite) with something elegant and delightful, too.

And then, THEN, nirvana.

Toby's Estate Coffee Flatiron  |  "Craving a cozy cappuccino"  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com
{ Toby's Estate Flatiron Espresso Bar  |  NYC }
Toby's Estate is a specialty coffee roaster from Australia that entered the US market last year with a glorious-looking space in Brooklyn (naturally) that was one part cafè, one part lounge, one part roasting facility. For their first foray into Manhattan, they partnered with Club Monaco to open a small outpost connected to the retailer's 5th Avenue location, but with a separate street entrance. You can enter the coffee shop from the street and walk through to Club Monaco, but first you pass through a pop-up type (but permanent) outshoot of the iconic Strand book store (which also features a fancypants florist).

I haven't ever shopped at Club Monaco, but their aesthetic pairs so perfectly with a sleek book store and an even sleeker coffee shop that I get why it works. This is now a thing in NYC, by the way, retailers bringing in restaurants or cafès to broaden a customer's shopping experience.

Not only is the place lovely, in shades of white and gray, with a gorgeous espresso machine (creamy porcelain and warm walnut wood, sigh, perfection), beautiful pendant lights and feathery greenery perching on the mirrored bar, but the coffee? Delicious. And, reasonably priced (at $3.50 for a cappuccino), plus they, too, do that digital loyalty program.

The evaluation phase was fun, but I think I'm done—at least for a bit. So if you're ever in town and want to meet for a coffee, now you know a place I'll never say no to.

One year ago: Cuspids & Today's trio

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Odds and ends

Kaffe 1668  |  "Odds and ends"  |  http://afeatherynest.blogspot.com
{  Gorgeous farmhouse table at Kaffe 1668  |  Tribeca  }

I've got a bit of a week coming up. Some might be inclined to call it an exciting, fun, adventurous week. I'm more inclined to call it a frazzled, stressful, energy-draining week.

Potato, po-tah-to.

I wouldn't mind sitting right here where I am, at home on the couch all warm and cozy, but the week starts this afternoon, so I'm doing my best to squeeze in a few hours of Sunday morning lollygagging before it all begins.

+ + +

So here's something odd that's been happening recently: glasses seem to spontaneously break every time I reach into the cupboard or the dishwasher. Maybe in their own sweet, inanimate way they're trying to help us with future packing headaches. It must be that and definitely not my hurried, harried, impatient ways, right?

+ + +

Last week I set out on my first attempt at working remotely / mobile all day long. Not too surprisingly, I planned out a much-too-jam-packed foot route taking me to two different coffee shops meticulously researched for WiFi, quality of coffee, and availability of seating, while also fitting in lunch in the Meatpacking District and swinging by a library in Nolita where a new stack of books were waiting for me.

Kaffe 1668 in Tribeca was my first stop and would have been perfect, had there been outlets and had there not been head-pounding music playing. I lasted there two hours (which included one conference call), before moving further up into Tribeca to FIKA (once again) to recharge my laptop and phone.

Then on the way to lunch the skies opened up and as I was sans umbrella (thanks to my mistrust of the weather forecast that morning), I got a nice soaking (of course it also happened on the first day I wore my newly-dry cleaned trenchcoat).

After lunch I had planned to head down to another cafe near the library, but all I managed was to hoof it to the library and then I hopped on a subway home for the rest of the day, much humbled and more cognizant of what being a mobile worker really means (and much more appreciative of working at home).

One year ago: Not a first