4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “East Coast”

Quick Trip: (The Other) Portland (by Carmen)

Stop # 3 on our July 2015 East Coast Tour.

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Portland Head Lighthouse

A friend of ours got married and during her honeymoon landed a job that meant she and her hubby would be doing the long-distance thing for a year. Fortunately for us, that new job was in beautiful Portland, Maine and we were excited to visit. While only a quick flight from NYC, we felt much further away in this small New England city enveloped by dark green forests.

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Poutine from Duckfat

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Holey Donut!

First stop, poutine. Being near the Canadian border, why not?  But that’s not quite fatty enough so we stopped by Holey Donut afterwards for sweet potato doughnuts. I had never heard of such thing but they were some of the the moistest, most deliciously sweet fried dough on earth. I loved them.

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Old Port area

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Standard Baking Co

Another sweet find in the Old Port area – Standard Baking Co.  This lovely bakery reminded me of my beloved Acme back in Berkeley.  Abundant fresh sweet and savory pastries piled high on one another making it difficult to choose just one.  Fortunately, we were there with Bay Area friends who happened to be in town – Julia and Jonathan (who were also with us in Vietnam).

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Harbor Fish Market

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Dinner a la Nick & Justine

One cannot live on dessert alone. Really, there was one food I was truly after in Maine: lobster. And the Harbor Fish Market delivered. We gawked at the delicious looking seafood and settled on shelled lobster to slather with butter and stuff into rolls. We ate these along with the home cooked meal our hosts Justine and Nick treated us to that night. All of us went to bed extremely full.

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From the path towards Portland Head Lighthouse

Along with lobster, Maine’s other icon is the lighthouse (see top photo). And yes, the one we visited was a majestic as could be.  There’s something about lighthouses, with their lonely austerity braving the waves, that is captivating.

 

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West End architecture

The rest of the weekend went by too fast, including local beer at Lost Riot, yummy food in the West End, and good times with great friends. Thank you Justine and Nick for a lovely introduction to Portland!

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Quick Trip: Baltimore (by Carmen)

Stop # 2 on our July 2015 East Coast Tour.

As we pulled out of the parking lot at the Baltimore train station, we found ourselves in a lively art deco main street full of cozy, dim restaurants beckoning one to come in and stay for a while. Merely a few blocks later we were edging past hundreds of people marching down the street, protesting the legacy of institutionalized racism. A few blocks more and we found ourselves on the set of The Wire. Ok, not really but with the burned out buildings and loitering it certainly felt that way. It was a lot to take in within the first 10 minutes of being in a city – the highs, lows and turmoil of Baltimore are all co-mingling and butting up against one another.

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Classic American picnic fare

Baltimore hadn’t been high on my list of places to visit but a family reunion brought me, Nathan and my dad to the area.  Turns out that a good chunk of my great-great-grandparents’ descendants are now located in or around Maryland. So this past July we met up for the first time in 15 years for a grand picnic in the countryside west of Baltimore.  It was wonderful to reconnect and learn about the wonderful accomplishments of extended family – whether it’s the great-great-uncle that still plays softball in his 80s or the distant cousin doing NGO work in Botswana.  It always amazes me how strong the bonds of family are, no matter how long it has been or how distant they are.

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Railroad museum antique signals

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Sweet diorama of Ellicott City

On our way back to NYC the next day we made a stop in Ellicott City.  None of us had heard of this town before; we had merely seen a historic landmark sign marking its exit on the highway.  Our curiosity led us to discover a historic valley town that looked like it hadn’t changed much in the past 150 years. We walked down the Main Street, read about the old mill that had instigated the town, and finally ended up at a museum housed in a tiny railroad station.  By chance, we had found the oldest railroad station in America!  You can imagine this transit nerd’s excitement.  A civil war era dressed guide explained that the earliest trains carried a dozen passengers and were pulled by horses at rocking 6 miles per hour.  Much faster, apparently, than the road between Ellicott and the ports of Baltimore. Hard to imagine in this day and age where one can fly 3000 miles in 6 hours.

Back in the city, we had just enough time to visit Fells Point, a historic port area full of brick row houses and cobbled streets. We were on a mission for crabs, the seafood Maryland is famous for. Our goal took us to the Thames Street Oyster House where we loaded up on crabcake sandwiches. They were tender and savory, piled on soft buns – everything we wanted.

Thanks Baltimore for giving me new family connections, a train history lesson, and the crabcakes I’ve always dreamed of :)

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Family time in Baltimore

Quick Trip: Philadelphia (by Carmen)

In July 2015 we were able to make it to three East Coast cities: Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Portland (Maine). Here’s what I wrote two years ago about stop #1:

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Liberty bell

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Declaration Hall

To be honest, I had forgotten how much important history happened in Philly. I knew the Liberty Bell was there, but had completely forgotten about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the first halls of Congress, and all that really important foundation of the country stuff. So it was in fact perfect that we decided to do an overnight trip during the Fourth of July weekend.

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Birthday cupcakes

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Christ Church

Our hostel was right across the street from the historic Christ Church, which counted many American revolutionaries as part of their congregation including Ben Franklin. His nephew’s printing press is still located nearby and is in working order! We couldn’t resist buying a hand printed Declaration of Independence. Our time in Philadelphia was getting off to a very patriotic start.

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Reading Terminal – Carmen’s Cheesesteak

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DeNico’s

When in Philly, one has to eat Philly Cheesesteak. The only problem is… Nathan and I don’t really care for cheesesteak. It’s bland and boring. But we gave it one more shot since we were in its birthplace. Unfortunately, despite going to my namesake (namesteak?) stand, Carmen’s Cheesesteak did not change our minds.  

The good news was that we were in Reading Terminal Market, which has dozens more food stands to choose from.  We headed over to DeNico’s which had the longest line but it moved very fast. A roll piled high with roasted pork and parmesan flecked broccoli rabe was much more satisfying.

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City Hall

As we meandered the streets after lunch we were naturally guided to City Hall.  From 1890 to 1905 this was the tallest structure in the world.  It was built before steel construction so to support such a feat the brick and stone walls had to be enormously thick. Most remarkable of all, though, is the oddly outsized statue standing proudly on top of the building.  While the structure comes across as somewhat inelegant to the modern eye, its stature demonstrates how important Philadelphia was at the turn of the 20th century, when the steel industry gave it great power and before being overtaken in economic strength by NYC, Chicago, SF, etc.

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Franklin Mortgage

The area southeast of the city hall, called Rittenhouse Square, is full of picturesque cobbled streets, cool shops (I really liked Open House on 13th St for great souvenirs and gifts) and hip restaurants.  Nestled among these is the ambiguously named Franklin Mortgage & Investment, a high end cocktail bar following the popular speakeasy theme. The drinks are very well done and Nathan was so inspired by the Peanut Butter & Jelly Cocktail that he immediately began a bourbon-peanut butter infusion when we arrived home.

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Zahav

After drinks we tried Zahav, mostly on the recommendation of one of my favorite bloggers, David Lebovitz.  How can you resist if a chef you admire says they have “life changing hummus?”  I’ll give my opinion in a nutshell: the hummus is good (but I think Ottolenghi’s recipe is just as good), the salad mix plate is awesome, and the rest was tasty but overpriced. I might go back for a light meal with the salad plate, but that’s it.

The surprise food find of the trip happened by chance.  Looking for a quick breakfast, we happened to walk by High Street on Market. Turns out they make all their breads in house and even get freshly milled flour from local sources. The pudding and the pastries we tried were excellent.  I really want to go back to order one of the amazing looking breakfast sandwiches that were being delivered to neighboring tables. Fortunately, they just opened a NYC branch so now that’s even easier.

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Elferth’s Alley

I went to Philadelphia with expectations of seeing the Liberty Bell and eating cheesesteak, but not much else.  The city truly impressed me with its vibrant cobbled streets and yummy food.  There are places I didn’t even get to try while there – Federal Doughnut for fried chicken, Franklin Fountain for ice cream sundaes,…and maybe I’ll find something healthy too :)  I’ll just have to get another Philly fix.

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Revolutionaries!

Falling for Fall in the Hudson Valley (by Carmen)

Fall foliage in the Hudson Valley

Fall foliage in the Hudson Valley

Towards the end of October Nathan and I celebrated a big anniversary so I wanted to surprise him with something different than our usual nice dinner out. Instead, I developed a secret day trip to the Hudson Valley. To make it extra special, I organized our adventure around three common interests: culture, food and nature.

Path to the Chuang Yen Monastery temple

Path to the Chuang Yen Monastery temple

Buddha in the Hudson

Buddha in the Hudson

Nathan had his suspicions and was able to guess some of the day’s activities, but I really threw him off when I pulled into the Chuang Yen Monastery grounds. This was a serendipitous online discovery. The Hudson is known for artist colonies and high end antiquing more than Chinese monasteries so when I saw the name displayed on Google map I had to learn more. Not only does it have the largest Buddha statue in the Western hemisphere, it also serves a vegetarian lunch to visitors on the weekends. I knew I made the right decision as we walked into the dining hall. Plates were piled high with stir fried vegetables, stewed seitan, braised tofu, rice and chili sauce. It was as delicious as I’d hoped. The two women next to us were discussing Buddhist philosophy as well as a recent group of monastery visitors from Tibet. Based on our experience in Dali in 2012, we made sure to finish every single speck of food on our plate, down to the last grain of rice.

Lake with goddess statue

Lake with goddess statue

Japanese maple tree

Japanese maple tree

After lunch we walked around the grounds, which included a small lake and a mausoleum. The lunch, peaceful surrounds and chill in the air brought back so many memories of our time in China. Especially our trek between the monasteries of Mount Emei Shan.

Fishkill Farms barn, orchards and vegetables

Fishkill Farms barn, orchards and vegetables

Trees laden with apples made for easy picking

Trees laden with apples made for easy picking

Apples!

Apples!

We left the monastery and headed north to Fishkill Farms. What Nathan did guess right about the surprise day trip was the “food” portion of the day: apple picking! Some apple farms that let you pick your own fruit (known as PYO) are like amusement parks focused more on hayrides and corn mazes than produce. I wanted to avoid that scene and, while there were plenty of people at Fishkill Farms, there were quiet corners in the orchards and vegetable patches. The tree limbs were heavy with crisp, ripe Golden Delicious apples, the kale was in full bloom, and we walked out with our arms full of goodies.

Nathan practicing his expert juggling skill

Nathan practicing his expert juggling skill

Apple cider donuts

Apple cider donuts

Most people at the farm seemed to congregate around the apple cider donut stand. Nathan and I had heard people talk of these sweets but we weren’t sure if they were really worth the hype. As we stepped up to the counter, we could smell the fresh from the fryer donuts. Still piping hot, they were coated in cinnamon sugar that became slightly caramelized and crackly. We took our first bite and it was a revelation. Yes, apple cider donuts really are that good. Looking forward to many more of these in my life.

“Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity”

“Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity”

One last surprise, was to take a little walk on the Appalachian Trail to honor both our love of nature and of long-distance trekking. We pulled into Fahnestock Park and immediately saw a beautiful green rock jutting out from Canopus Lake. I think we were influenced by our monastery visit earlier in the day but again we were reminded of views from China. We therefore decided to name it the Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity.

Now that I’ve seen the Hudson Valley in the fall and winter, I’m thinking spring and summer trips are in order!

Hurting for a Yurting (by Carmen)

It was still a cold, blustery spring when our friend Taylor suggested a summer camping trip. As extra enticement, the campsite she had in mind came equipped with the most fun to say accommodation on earth – a yurt. The heat of summer was still just a glimmer in our eyes but we could already taste the campfire s’mores. We replied with an enthusiastic yes.

Yurt sweet yurt

Yurt sweet yurt

It was months later, in the dog days of summer that Taylor, Andrew, Nathan and I piled into our rental car for the drive to the Belleplain Forest in New Jersey. But NJ didn’t want us. Or so it seemed from the massive effort it took to get into and through the Holland Tunnel. When we finally emerged on the other side we all felt extraordinarily grateful for leading car-free lifestyles exempt from the daily traffic grind. We still had a ways to go since our destination was in the southern end of the state. We passed the time with upbeat music, good conversation and entertaining roadsigns, like the community of Cheesequake. I think NJ just wants to be made fun of sometimes. When hunger got the better of us, we made a quick pit stop for decent Chinese food in a random little town along the way. Thanks Yelp!

Building our fire

Building our fire

After a few hours on the road, we pulled into the campsite after dark and found that friend Megan and Andy had built a lovely campfire for us. What a welcome sight after a long drive.

Lake Nummy (photo source: Megan)

Lake Nummy (photo source: Megan)

Woodsy stroll (photo source: Megan)

Woodsy stroll (photo source: Megan)

The next morning I awoke to the most perfect weather ever. It was not too hot, not too cold; not too humid, not too dry; just right. To get a taste of the surrounding woods we did a quick stroll around Lake Nummy (rhymes with yummy :) before jumping in. While the lake was rather small, the designated swimming area was even smaller. And of course it was watched over by two lifeguards, just in case. Thankfully, we all survived.

Andrew after he successfully hung the hammock

Andrew after he successfully hung the hammock

Hammock views

Hammock views

Improvised hummus wrap (photo source: Taylor)

Improvised hummus wrap (photo source: Taylor)

We ate a crunchy lunch of veggie and hummus wraps and hung around until it was swim time again. While the group headed back to the lakeside, I opted to rest in Taylor and Andrew’s deliciously comfortable hammock while reading my beloved Alexander McCall Smith writing about my favorite city, London. Felt like care-free days of summer camp.

Cooking on the campfire

Cooking on the campfire

Campfire gathering

Campfire gathering

In the evening we gathered around the campfire to assemble some kabobs for dinner. Though by the end of it we were incredibly full on charred veggies and spicy rice we still had s’more room for dessert. Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret about s’mores – the best method for a perfect ooey-gooey s’more is to warm the chocolate. Because lets face it, chocolate tastes better in melted form. To do this simply place your square of chocolate on a graham cracker and place on a grate near the fire. It only takes a minute and your s’mores may forever be changed.

Sea Isle City Beach (photo source: Sea Isle City)

Sea Isle City Beach (photo source: Sea Isle City)

On our final New Jersey day we couldn’t pass up the a chance to visit the Jersey shore. Yes the shore of MTV infamy. Indeed there were the dense looking guys who spent way too much time at the gym and sunning themselves. But this simply gave the beach some NJ credibility. With good waves and decent sand even this California girl has to admit, this was a nice beach overall.

Thanks to Taylor, Andrew, Megan and Andy for a great weekend! Let’s do it again next year :)

Solstice on Fire Island (by Carmen)

Sunset on the solstice

Sunset on the solstice

Yes, the solstice was a few months ago – we’re catching up a bit. After a strenuous hike on the AT, we decided to take it easy this time and head to the beach. The summer solstice seemed like the perfect time to get to the shore and soak in as much light as possible.

Wide open expanse of beach

Wide open expanse of beach

Fire Island is a skinny spit of land spread along the south shore of Long Island. While it only has 300 year-round residents, thousands of fair-weather visitors descend in the summer. Indeed Fire Island has reputation as a party zone, which explains why I got a few puzzled looks when I told people that I was backpacking there. The general lack of knowledge about the island’s wilderness zone worked in our favor as we encountered beautiful stretches of beach to enjoy all to ourselves.

Ferry that took us across Great South Bay

Ferry that took us across Great South Bay

Wooden walkways become the “roads” of the car-free sections of Fire Island

Wooden walkways become the “roads” of the car-free sections of Fire Island

Like the Appalachian Trail we had hiked earlier, the Fire Island trails had the great benefit of being transit accessible. We boarded a Long Island Rail Road train to Patchogue (pronounced PATCH-og) and walked a little ways to the Davis Ferry landing. (If you go, note that there are two ferry landings in Patchogue. You want the one further north, closest to the station.) The 30 minute ferry across the calm Great South Bay was packed with families, coolers, barbeques, dogs, and us with our backpacks. There are no cars allowed on most of the island and the only access is by boat.

Our secluded campsite among the dunes

Our secluded campsite among the dunes

After checking in with the visitors center, we filled our water bottles to the brim. There would be no amenities once we walked into the wilderness zone, not even a water spigot. This seems to be enough of a detraction that within 20 minutes of walking the crowds dispersed. The incredibly bright sun beat down on us as we crossed wide swathes of empty sand, though because it was only June, the cool breeze meant we welcomed the suns warmth. When we felt we had lost sight of all other backpackers, we nestled our tent against a sand dune and devoured our all-time favorite hiking lunch, a PB&J.

Near the tip of Old Inlet which was breached by Hurricane Sandy

Near the tip of Old Inlet which was breached by Hurricane Sandy

There was more walking to do, however, as Nathan convinced me to join him in hiking to the Old Inlet 4 miles away. The name Old Inlet is a bit of a misnomer. While it was once a dwindling waterway connecting the bay and the ocean, Hurricane Sandy increased its size tenfold. The Reborn Inlet, as they should call it, now creates a swift tide rapidly pulling water in and out of the Great South Bay.

The man can cook

The man can cook

Mmmmmm

Mmmmmm

Nathan and I sauteed a light dinner of vegetables and couscous while perched on a large piece of driftwood. It felt so exhilarating to be in such a empty, idyllic setting, breathing the salt-scented air, absorbing the sound of waves crashing. We toasted our good fortune with a few sips from the flask, then carefully climbed a nearby dune to watch the sunset on the solstice.
Once the last bit of sun was gone, we bid a hasty retreat into the tent to escape from gigantic mosquitos that found us irresistible.

Tequila!

Tequila!

Sea shells by the sea shore

Sea shells by the sea shore

In the morning, we milked our beach time with some sun salutations and splashing around. As we headed westward, the families with coolers at the beach set again surrounded us again. While waiting for the next train, we shared a delicious meatball sandwich from Delfiore Italian Deli and marveled at the fact that such natural beauty could be found so close to NYC. In the end, we retained three souvenirs from our solstice on Fire Island: sea shells, sunburn, and a new respect for east coast beaches.

1% of the Appalachian Trail (by Carmen)

Appalachian Trail sign post

Appalachian Trail sign post

Fall is well under way here in NYC but here on the blog we’ve got some summer catching up to do. To take advantage of the warm summer, Nathan and I enjoyed three lovely camping trips in three different locations – one in the mountains, one on the beach and one in the woods. It had been almost two years since we had set up our tent so by Memorial Day we were ready to hike some of the mountains of the Appalachian Trail.

Excited to be hiking again

Excited to be hiking again

We jumped in to the first camping trip with both feet. At 20 miles in with an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet, our hike in the mountains of Harriman State Park was challenging. There were two main advantages that caused us to choose this trail. The first was that both the beginning and end were transit accessible, which made planning much easier. The second was that our route followed a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail (aka the AT). The AT stretches 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, meaning we we’re only tackling less than 1% of it. And given that it took me a month to walk the 500 miles of the Camino, I’m awestruck by this megatrail.

White AT blaze (photo source: Two Knobby Tires)

White AT blaze (photo source: Two Knobby Tires)

Trail blaze translation (source: Wikipedia)

Trail blaze translation (source: Wikipedia)

As we began the trail, we spotted one of the telltale signs of the AT – the white blaze. Just as the Camino has its yellow arrow, the AT uses patterns of white rectangles painted on trees to let you know that you are indeed on the right path.

Nathan in the Lemon Squeezer

Nathan in the Lemon Squeezer

Orange salamanders littered the trail

Orange salamanders littered the trail

A couple hours in, we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place, literally. The Lemon Squeezer is a tight squeeze for anyone and with a backpack I barely made it through! As we continued on, we marveled at the technicolor vividness of green wilderness around us. Everything glowed, especially the neon orange salamanders. The beauty of it all and the excitement to finally be backpacking again helped give us strength in our battle against the gnats and mosquito which enjoy buzzing in our ears every step of the way.

Vivid green landscape

Vivid green flora

Our campsite

Our campsite

Along our walk we encountered a few intrepid through hikers, or people walking the trail all in one go. They were light on their feet and walked with purpose. They had commandeered the stone shelters built at intervals along the AT since many did not carry tents. While all hikers are technically supposed to stay in or near the shelter, it was far too crowded for our taste. So we pushed on and found ourselves a beautiful little clearing in a nearby valley to set up camp. After setting up our tent, I collapsed inside for a quick nap. As I gazed out the window, I could see the golden light streaming through the incredibly bright green leaves. It was beautiful. Finally, we decided to start dinner. Little did we realize that green clouds were rolling in overhead and within minutes the heavens had opened and the rain began. Not just rain, though, a veritable downpour. We dove into the tent soaking wet and managed to finish our meal inside.

View from top

View from top

Bear Mountain views

Bear Mountain views

Bear Mountain from Lake Hessian

Bear Mountain from Lake Hessian

We woke to a sunny day and we trudged up and down the mountains to our destination, the Hudson River. As we came closer to the summit of Bear Mountain, the trail takes on a new atmosphere. Bear Mountain is a popular destination for day hikers from the nearby inn and picnic area. Most of the people we encountered in this area were ill equipped for such a hike – some were even in flip flops. But I admired the perseverance of those who made it to the summit. We descended the mountainside and were jolted by the loud music and huge crowds surrounding the inn and Hessian Lake. The people were incredibly diverse – Arabic-speaking groups gathering around aromatic baked chicken and rice, Latinos blasting salsa music, Asian families bbqing. We grabbed a mint chip milkshake and I lost myself in its sweet creaminess. Basically anything you eat after a big hike tastes amazing and this was no exception.

Bears are necessary at the Bear Mountain Zoo

Bears are necessary at the Bear Mountain Zoo

Hudson River from Bear Mountain Bridge

Hudson River from Bear Mountain Bridge

And yet, we weren’t quite done. There were a couple more miles to hike, past a zoo and historic buildings. Since it is along the Hudson River, this area once held strategic forts to protect such an economically important waterway. Finally, we made it to a dusty little train station by the river and were on our way home, grateful to know that an escape to nature could be so close the NYC.

Road Trip New York & Vermont (by Carmen)

New York in May has been lovely. The warmth of spring has been blissful after such a harsh, looong winter. Summer’s humid heat is just around the corner, threatening to blast my memories of numb fingers and toes into oblivion. So it is strange to think that just two months ago I was staring at a rental car that wouldn’t start, clutching my backpack and breathing fog into a crisp -8°F (-22°C) morning.

View of Poughkeepsie from the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River

View of Poughkeepsie from the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River

But let me back up a bit. Nathan and I found ourselves with a few days off around mid-March and decided to make the most of it. We toyed with the idea of hopping the pond to visit a friend in Dublin but the flight prices were just too much to bear. So we stayed local, rented a car and road tripped it along the Hudson River to Vermont. The route was the opposite of most people’s instinct to go south and escape the cold. Our goal, however, was to actually enjoy the winter. Snow and ice in a city context is a nuisance but in more rural settings winter sports become available. Skiing, cross country, snowshoeing, ice skating…the snow was beckoning us to go north.

Icy Hudson River view from the walkway

Icy Hudson River view from the walkway

We had 300 miles to plough through on our first day so we broke it up with a few stops as we drove along the Hudson River. Our first stop in Poughkeepsie found us strolling along Walkway State Park, a former rail bridge converted to pedestrian use five years ago. It offers great views of the icy Hudson River 200 feet below.

Next up was the town of Hudson, where I found the best bookstore in the world. Upon entering, you see the expected shelves of fiction and non-fiction. But look to the left and you encounter a full on bar with interesting drafts being consumed by friendly locals. Patrons are welcome to take their beer with them while browsing the books and thoughtful cup holders are provided so one can flip the pages. There should be many, many more businesses like this.

When we finally arrived in Burlington that night we were exhausted. Thankfully, our Airbnb hosts provided us with nourishing vegetable soup to take the chill off. They apologized that it was only vegetarian and not vegan, which instantly made me think of vegan-friendly Berkeley.

City Market Cooperative in Burlington

City Market Cooperative in Burlington

If I had any doubts about Burlington’s similarity to Berkeley, it was completely erased by a visit to the City Market Co-op. I dearly miss my Berkeley Bowl grocery store with its mountains of fresh produce and generous bulk section. City Market had an even bigger bulk section! And it’s a functioning co-op that provides dividends to its members. I certainly didn’t expect to go grocery shopping on this trip but that’s exactly what we did, at a fraction of the cost of markets in NYC. Take that Whole Foods.

Beautiful fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street

Beautiful fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street

Nathan, expertly snowshoeing at Shelburne Farms

Nathan, expertly snowshoeing at Shelburne Farms

Feeling at home in Burlington, we made our way down the main drag, Church Street. After a stop for a bite of rich fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates, we walked a few doors down to the local outdoor store to chat with staff about the best places to snowshoe. They directed us to Shelburne Farms, which in warmer times is a sustainable farming education center on the lake. It was designed in the 19th century by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) as a picturesque rural setting. For our visit we didn’t see the farm’s cows but the rolling landscape was covered in fresh snow for us to tromp through. At the farm shop we picked up some of the farm’s delicious cheddar for the road. Not that we had far to go – our next destination was Magic Hat Brewery five minutes up the road. The psychedelic brewery visitor center fit perfectly into Burlington, home of the band Phish. We tasted all the beers on offer and especially enjoyed the passion fruit juice infused Steven Sour.

Walking on (frozen) water!

Walking on (frozen) water!

Wind swept ice

Wind swept ice

Frozen Lake Champlain lighthouse

Frozen Lake Champlain lighthouse

Nice day for bike ride

Nice day for bike ride

At sunset we made our way to the waterfront to take Lake Champlain. The lake was an important trade route between Canada and New York and battles between Americans and British were fought in these waters. In the middle of March, though, the harbor was completely iced in so Nathan and I took a nice walk on the ice to the lighthouse. Later that night we went to the town’s Irish bar to listen to some jigs and reels in celebration of one of my favorite holiday – St. Patrick’s Day!

Cross Country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge - note the metal maple buckets

Cross Country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge – note the metal maple buckets

Our 2nd morning was frigid beyond belief and, as luck would have it, our rented car had a dead battery. Fortunately, we only needed a jump but unfortunately we couldn’t find someone to help us out. We decided to have breakfast at a nearby cafe, the Barrio Bakery. The warm egg sandwich and blueberry scone helped us feel better and one of our fellow patrons eventually gave us a start.

We bid goodbye to Burlington and drove east to Stowe for some cross country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge – yes, that Von Trapp Family. While The Sound of Music was based on a true story, the musical didn’t cover the fact that the Von Trapp’s became a touring singing group that eventually opened a ski lodge. The lodge has a framed picture of Maria Von Trapp skiing the same trails we did.

Glorious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone straight from the factory

Glorious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone straight from the factory

Working up a sweat on the ski trails meant time for a rewarding treat. And really, ice cream is an amazing thing. Even when it’s so cold outside your body aches, it’s nearly impossible to decline a waffle cone filled with rich, creamy ice cream. We had no chance resisting the pull of the Ben & Jerry’s factory, even with our snowy surroundings and cold start in the morning. I was somewhat shocked to find 20 other visitors with us on a Monday afternoon in March. Twenty more were lined up for the next tour a half hour later. We all scream for ice cream, I suppose.

Covered bridge near Woodstock, VT

Covered bridge near Woodstock, VT

After a pit stop in the state capital, our final night was spent in the tiny, incredibly cute village of Woodstock (but not that Woodstock). We were pleasantly surprised to find an excellent, casual restaurant near the village called Worthy Kitchen. After filling up on shepard’s pie, we tucked in for the night in our B&B.

On our last day we experienced more quintessential Vermont experiences – covered bridges and maple tapping. It being the start of sugaring season the maple trees were just beginning to release their sweet nectar which is boiled down to our favorite pancake topping.

The tastes and views of Vermont were everything I’d hoped for but was over far too quickly. It whet my appetite to further explore New England. Maine lobster rolls anyone?

Vermont humor (Source: Vermont Independent Clothing Co.)

Vermont humor (Source: Vermont Independent Clothing Co.)

Putting the Fork to the Pork in New York (by Nathan)

Did you hear that? Of course you didn’t, my stomach just grumbled.  And my stomach always grumbles at the thought of New York City.  If you have not eaten yet, then I suggest grabbing a snack because our recent trip to New York had the objective of FOOD.  New York has it all: wonderful international restaurants, majestic sights and an accessible urban landscape; there is everything to satisfy any insatiable appetite.

All this walking around is hard work and all this eating takes some serious coordination.  Our first trip to New York made a minor dent into a long list of places we wanted to try.  This trip we needed progress, so Carmen got to work weeks ahead to make a map of all the restaurants.  The days were planned to visit the sights nearest the places we wanted to eat, simple right?  To make this trip successful we needed to create more meals, and thus, the addition of “pre” and “li” into our vocabulary.  For example, preakfast=pre-breakfast and linner=late dinner.

Brooklyn Bridge

As a repeat of our last trip we stayed with our good friends Taylor and Andrew in Brooklyn.  Their apartment is perfectly placed between multiple subway lines and the Brooklyn Bridge is just a jog away.  They are amazing hosts are an enticing reason for Carmen and I to Move to New York after the trip.       

Court Street Bagels

The classic New York Bagel is an essential start to any day.  The bagels are pillowy and bulbous and the typical shop has an overwhelming number of spreads to choose from.  We grabbed a few for preakfast on our early morning arrival.  I am still of the opinion that Montreal has the best bagels that are baked over a fire and served to you crispy and hot. But to avoid a fist fight I held my lips tight.

Doughnut Plant’s PB&J, Banana Cream, Blueberry and Crème Brûlée

The lower east-side of Manhattan contains a plethora, yes, a plethora of restaurants.  We find ourselves in this area for meals and drinks throughout all hours of the day and night.  For breakfast we hopped over to Doughnut Plant.  We ordered up peanut butter glazed and boysenberry jam filled square monster and a few smaller delights.  A few blocks away was BabyCakes, the unmatched delicious and vegan bakery.  We had to visit it on a separate morning.

Magnolia Cupcakes

For lickfast (late-breakfast or lick-fest) a few cupcakes are essential.  Time it right and a trip to Magnolia Bakery is smooth like frosting.  Time it wrong and the packed  counter is a scene of elbow-throwing cupcake-grabbing madness.  Unscarred, we made it out with some treats to bring back to Brooklyn.

Best Street: Kati Roll, Bao-B-Q and Mamoun’s Mabrumeh + Falafel

Walk to the east and there exists the best street in Manhattan!  MacDougal between 3rd and Bleeker in Greenwich Village has everything and more so arrive hungry.  We came here on our last trip because of a recommendation from our friend Manish.  The food is so good that it was the first stop on the agenda when we arrived in New York.  First off there is Mamoun’s Falafel dishing out pita falafel sandwiches for $2.50.  A few doors down is a hopping NYC pizza joint named Artichoke; further on Kati Roll assembles phenomenal street wraps.  Across the street Bao-B-Q puts together a sweet and spicy pork sandwich on a steamed bun.  I am sure there other delicious restaurants within five steps in any direction, but we were excessively full and needed to waddle our way to another area of Manhattan.

Carmen relaxing on High Line Park

A beautiful day from High Line Park

Typically, we then walk of our large prunch from MacDougal St. at High Line Park.  I say “typically” because I have successfully accomplished this twice.  High Line Park is one of the perfect gems of New York City.  The abandoned elevated rail line was converted into a meandering vibrant pathway for strolling, people watching and enjoying the fresh air.  We walked through the flower gardens; we stopped to relax, talk and gaze out into New York’s colorful architecture.

Szechuan Gourmet

One thing that I loved about China, and a reason why I am going back, is the food.  The cuisines across China vary as much as those across Europe and Sichuan Chinese food is the cuisine that most tingles my tongue.  The food is smoky and spicy and they use small peppercorns that physically numb the tongue and mouth.  Since we were feeling snacking, our love of those flavors brought us to Szechuan Gourmet.  We ordered two classics – dan dan noodles and home-style tofu.  We left the restaurant with our mouths still sizzling and a deeper craving to travel to Asia.

BBQ Pork Belly Bun at Momufuku

An essential restaurant for every visit to New York is Momufuku.  There are three different Momofukus, try them all, but do not escape without eating in at least one.  The Korean fusion fare is succulent and bursting with flavors no matter what is ordered.  This time we went to Ssam Bar.  We ordered up an array of deliciously simple roasted pork belly buns and spicy noodles.  The juices subtly squirt out with each bite and the indulgence is completed with a sucking of the fingertips.

Statue of liberty from Staten Island ferry

Hundred year old house of my grandparents

We did see more than just restaurants.  Alongside thousands of other tourists we boarded the Staten Island ferry.  We said our “hellos” to the statue of liberty and grabbed a bus to get us into the interior part of the island.  Walking through the historic neighborhoods we found the house where my mom was born.  It is fun being in a place where my relatives played in the streets.  I imagine my grandparents, whom I never met, and their little German community sixty years ago.

Nathan enjoying a “cococone”

New York is hot in the summertime, ice cream is cold.  And what is cool is a saucy man driving around in his big gay ice cream truck.  We first heard about this truck while at a street food convention in San Francisco.  The owner described how and why he started his business and when in New York we had to try some.  He serves up basic soft serve with a twist.  He creates his own toppings, such as salted caramel then dipped in chocolate or wasabi pea dust.  We ordered a toasted curried coconut, a unique flavor combination with soft serve but it really worked.

Spaniards frolicking in the fountain

We slipped into a bar for drinks and the final match of the Euro Cup.  Hundreds of Spaniards and hispanophiles descended onto Washington Square to jump cheer and celebrate in the fountain.

$3.50 at Prosperity Dumpling

For prinner we headed to a dumpling shop in Chinatown.  At Prosperity Dumpling we ordered pork and chive pan-fried dumplings and veggie soup dumplings.  We made the mistake thinking that the dumplings would be Shanghai style, with soup inside, but in fact they arrived to us in a soup broth.  At $2 for 10, this restaurant turns out thousands of these delicious pot stickers.

Xi’an Famous Foods

Dinnertime: a few blocks away is a restaurant that we had to return to for a 2nd meal.  Xi’an Famous Foods serves Muslim Chinese food.  They hand-pull all their noodles and their cumin-rich lamb burger is exceptional.

Pudding at Rice to Riches

Everything you can imagine exists in New York.  Case in point: a restaurant that only makes rice pudding.  There are twenty-five flavors, toppings and cheeky quotes that make up a fun atmosphere. Next time you are in New York try Rice to Riches and as stated on the wall “order the large, you are fat anyway!”

Reuben at Katz’s Deli

Next we strolled over to an institution that has perfected the pastrami sandwich.  Yes, Katz’s Deli smokes and carves a meat that is really special and celebrated by the world.  This trip we ordered it as a Reuben that adds Swiss cheese and sauerkraut to an already great thing.  The sandwich is huge, bring a friend and split it.

Spicy Totto Ramen

Still hungry?  Ramen is the perfect late night supper.  Toto Ramen served up a spicy and rich broth that is some of the best we have ever had.  The wait was well over an hour, but worth it.

Typical eye-pleasing NYC street

One thing that every tourist can agree on in New York is that there is too much to do.  There are many sights and neighborhoods to explore.  A day can be filled wondering the streets and peeking around the brick and mortar buildings.  Every block has something special to see and every building has character and history to its presence.    New York is calling us, inviting us to live and explore more intimately, but now is a time for travel.  Goodbye NYC until next time.

Carmen and Nathan at Clove Lake Park

(Note: Ok, we didn’t actually consume all of these dishes in one day – it took about a week! But what an epic day that would be. Talk about food coma)

Remembering NYC 2011 (by Carmen)

Chrysler Building

I had to go back to New York City.  After having visited many of the major cities of Europe and Asia, it was a shame to have missed out on New York.  So last August, Nathan and I made time to visit friends and family there. And it was awesome.  This post is about remembering the good times we had last year and naming the reasons why we simply had to return during our year off.

Grand Central Station

Beautiful Brooklyn Bridge by night

First of all, there’s the transportation.  Most of the United States is fully reliant on their cars to get anywhere.  But NYC is one of the few places where transit takes over.  It’s wonderful to see the diversity of people on the subway and buses. Another great thing is that all of these people are unafraid to walk.  In the US people generally don’t like walking more than 5-8 minutes to get anywhere.  New Yorkers walk for miles, and quickly too. Nathan was loving the famously fast pace of New York sidewalks – which is really what he considers to be his relaxed stroll.  Together we joined the walking masses, from Lower Manhattan to Midtown, from Chelsea to Lower East Side.  One of our favorite walks, though, is across the Brooklyn Bridge.

A classic lox bagel

Awesome burger at Prune

Handmade noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods

Nathan enjoying his paleta at High Line Park

Then there’s the delicious food.  New York is known for having any cuisine you can imagine being served within its limits.  We hit just a small sampling of its restaurants and street snacks.  Some of the best eats are highlighted in these pictures: 1) a lox bagel at Russ and Daughters, which Anthony Bourdain recommended as an absolute must try in New York (we agree); 2) a perfectly cooked burger and sandwich at Prune, owned by the author of the great memoir Blood, Bones and Butter; 3) eastern Chinese style handmade noodles in a spicy beef broth at Xi’an Famous Foods; 4) Nathan relaxing with his mango and chile paleta (popsicle)  served by the La Newyorkina in High Line Park.  There were many more great things we ate but we knew we were only scratching the surface.

Times Square at dawn

Car free Park Avenue on a Summer Streets day

Flatiron Building – one of Nathan’s favorites

And, of course, the architecture was everything we hoped for.  The famous high rises stacked against one another.  This density of brick, iron and cement opens up into little breathing pockets in the vibrant plazas and parks dotted around the city.  Every other block had some interesting building to look at.

The new $10 bill

On top of all that, New York offers a ton of cultural experiences – music, theater, galleries, museums. On this trip, Nathan and I took advantage of the museums with visits to the Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of the American Indian, and even small exhibits such as that of Trinity Church on Wall Street.  At the last one, they had this ten dollar bill cut out that Nathan proudly took his portrait with.  This picture just hit my funny bone.  I could not stop laughing!  So much so that the security guard came over to check things out.  It still makes me giggle – I think it’s the ‘stache : )

Andrew and Taylor showing us Central Park

Sheep Meadow in Central Park

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

Biding time during a tough game of Settlers of Catan

But the best part about New York is the friends and family who live there and welcome us with open arms.  Andrew and Taylor showed us such a great time with a walk though Central Park, drinks at cool bars and chill nights in playing boardgames.  The trip would not have been the same without them!

Coney Island

Me and Adri on High Line Park

And my dear cousin Adri, who is teaching while getting her master’s degree (wow!) was game enough to travel all the way to Coney Island to dip our toes in the water and eat Russian dumplings.  She even shared her mango flower she bought on the boardwalk.  That’s love.

the bottom line

So what I’m really trying to say here is that last summer Nathan and I joined the millions in saying, “I ♥ NY.”  We couldn’t resist a second trip, which Nathan will cover in the next post.

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