houseguests 2.

Jess & Mike's visit

we found this sign at Magnolia Bakery!

(Post late but better than never!)

After our first guest left we started to reset our apartment by doing laundry, cleaning, resting & shopping for a 2nd spare pillow. Seriously, Bed, Bath & Beyond is awesome but they have way too many pillow options.

Day 1: Jess & Mike were set to arrive on a Thursday so we left the key with our doorman and made plans to meet them for dinner at Carnegie Deli. They were going to drop off their bags and head straight to the MET. On their first night we went to Carnegie & then Rockefeller center followed by Magnolia Bakery and Times Square just because. Then if that wasn’t enough, once we got home we got to enjoy the insanely large quantities of Mexican pastries they brought us from both our favorite bakery in Austin and theirs (you know, so we could compare them!). They also brought a ton of Ranch Style beans and a box of Lammes Candy. I LOVE guests who bring gifts (especially food gifts)! Oh another quirky thing that they brought with them in their magical-clown-car-style luggage: a fan. YES, a fan because, like almost all Texans I know, they need to feel the and hear the fan on them as they sleep and were worried I wouldn’t have a fan or I wouldn’t have a fan loud enough. It was funny, and of course they didn’t need to use theirs since I had adequate combination of ac/fan in the apartment.

Jess & Mike's visit

Jess & Mike in Times Square

DAY 2 was hot. It was pretty ironic that the last time Jessica visited she vowed never to visit in the winter again because of how cold it was (right before the 2010 blizzard). She strategically chose May and somehow a heat wave was announced just a few days before her flight. Anyone who knows me is familiar with my distaste for the heat. I’m happiest in the 60s and have a serious fondess for the 40s so my husband decided we should spend the day in Coney Island since it would be cooler closer to the ocean water.

Here are the highlights: starbucks, train, Totono’s Pizzeria, Luna Park rides, Nathan’s hot dogs, walk on the beach and then back on the train followed by a walk through China Town, Little Italy street festival, Lombardi’s Pizza (for comparison), Ferrara Bakery (because it’s awesome) and finally home. Turns out Jessica is a ride fanatic so she peer-pressured me into the first ride but I went willingly into all the others. Neither of our husbands was interested in riding anything so they stood around and held our purses which was awesome. All the food was amazing and the beach was overcrowded and dirty (as expected) but we managed to get some nice pictures anyway.

Jess & Mike's visit

Totono’s Pizza

Jess & Mike's visit

Wonder Wheel.

Jess & Mike's visit

Lombardi’s pizza.

Jess & Mike's visit

Little Italy.

Jess & Mike's visit

Ferrara Bakery.

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Houseguests.

View from the top of the MET

View from the top of the MET.

I’ve had a very early summer full of houseguests and basketball games. I’ll split the story up into a few parts but for now here was my guest schedule:

1st guest stayed for 5 days—this was a pretty last minute decision to help her get back to normal after some big changes at home. Then we had 2 days off to reset. 2nd guests (friends from Texas) stayed for 4 days. We had another 2 day break. Then a 3rd and very last minute guest stayed for 4 days to recover from a breakup. Add the Spurs games during the NBA playoff and then the NBA Finals to that mix and I’ve basically been running a bed and breakfast. I’m exaggerating, but still.

Since I was planning for Jess & Mike’s visit to be further out before I realized Roxy was coming to town I didn’t have time to pick up some of the essentials I ordered them from soap.com. I even made sure to get some of those tub tread thingies since the last time Jess visited she nearly slipped in our shower. Luckily we actually keep our place fairly clean so although we did do extra cleaning it wasn’t too intense. We’d also been dreaming of getting some accent chairs and knew we needed new dining chairs (we only had 2 before) so we did make time to pick up some of those items in time.

Guest 1 – Roxy. It started with some truly New York City-style dreary rain the day she arrived. I met her at Penn after work and we tried to take the train home but some serious train delays led us back up to the surface and through the crowds to another train. We stopped at Macy’s on the way for some shoe oogling, needless to say Roxy’s mind was blown (have you seen the entire floor dedicated to women’s shoes at the Herald Square Macy’s?). The long weekend was in the 60s most days with lows dropping to the 40s on the rainy mornings.  In no particular order we had BBQ, went for mani/pedis in SOHO, went to the MET, had dinner on the roof of my building overlooking Manhattan, made Tex-Mex for dinner, and we went to Smorgasburg, had a celebrity sighting, crossed the Brooklyn bridge, went to brunch, baked a pie, encountered a life-size X-Wing made of legos in Times Square, spotted tons of brides (one of my favorite New York pastimes) and cheered for the Spurs. It was actually a really great time and more relaxing than I was anticipating.

Then we had just two days to wash the sheets, relax, and start over before the arrival of our friends, Jessica & Mike from Texas…

Mani/Pedi

Mani/Pedi.

Flight of ice cream at Hill Country

ice cream flight at Hill Country BBQ.

pecan pie.

Roxy made us a pie. (please disregard my dirty oven)

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Starbucks

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john brown smokehouse. 2.

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john brown smokehouse.

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reminiscent of their original decor.

I am making good on my promise and blogging about my recent visit to John Brown Smokehouse’s new location. My last review was on September 4, 2011 entitled “John Brown Smokehouse. Wow.” The sentiment still holds only now there is more space to enjoy the food in! They kept the charm of their smaller location with the red and white plaid table clothes and their “Come and take it” wall hanging against a brick wall and yet they stepped it up a few notches with more emphasis on John Brown through a wall of framed photos a nook of books and according to the certificate on the wall they even have a lock of his hair.

Unfortunately my photos are a sub-par representation of their beautiful food and ambiance but here goes.

So let’s get to the food review. I cannot emphasize enough that I am not a food reviewer and that my tastes are my own. Also, I didn’t put proper effort or attention to the photos I was snapping so they really don’t do the food justice here. Learn more about the restaurant’s famous namesake abolitionist at the PBS website. moving on…

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view of their new and improved counter with more space for the staff to work and process orders.

  • pulled pork – again, I tend not to choose this for myself ever and yet it continues to amaze with the tenderness, juicy-ness, and punch of flavor that comes from this dish.
  • burnt ends – i love that these are not overly fatty in their texture and yet the flavor that you want from the fat really comes through.
  • brisket – delicious. the meat was not too fatty, not too dry, and the portion was ridiculously large (which is never a bad thing).
  • turkey – yum. seriously, again a large portion and very tasty and savory.
  • fries – (previous review stands) “pretty conventional but tasty”
  • cole slaw – i find that every time I mention cole slaw I say that it isn’t really my thing but maybe it is my thing seeing as how I have some really strong opinions about it. This was very spicy and crunchy and I was very happy to be enjoying it.
  • bread – looked like conventional white sliced bread. but of course it was infused with the awesomeness that comes from being inside a smokehouse.
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turkey, brisket, cole slaw, bread.

burnt ends, pulled pork, fries, bread.

decor thoughts. The place is much bigger and so beautiful. I somehow have no photos of the amazing outdoor space that seats several tables and offers live music. I’m sure my husband grabbed a snap here or there.

As we enjoyed our meal a keyboardist and saxophonist were playing out there and because they were so good we couldn’t find an empty table in the patio but we chose an indoor table within good earshot. When they took a break Josh Bowen, the owner took to his Spotify account and filled the restaurant with some amazing music as well.

Aside from the name on the front awning the new restaurant is much more of an homage to John Brown than the last. With so much wall space they were able to put more attention to detail that just wouldn’t have fit in the old place. The red and white table cloths and brick walls carried over and so did the giant chalk board menu which were key elements in the original location. They clearly put a lot of sweat equity into the new space which really shows. They also added some touches that are very popular right now like using unconventional objects as lamp shades but nothing was heavy-handed or cliché. I even thought they could add tables to the space if they needed to but what do I know.

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menu.

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john brown.

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book nook.

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john brown wall.

go eat there.

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kolaches and fleas.

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sign leading into the Artists and Fleas market that we “accidentally” found.

Sometimes I think my husband sets out to see how many places we can patronize in a single day as his sole motivation for taking me on his goose-chases. Saturday we agreed to go to Smorgasburg for their ice cream celebration. Then the morning of he suggested we go to Brooklyn Kolache. I agreed. If you’ve never had a Kolache, it’s generally some type of filling baked inside an amazing roll that tastes chewy and sweet and savory and perfect. Or at least it is if you go to Brooklyn Kolache Co. The big hoopla that got us there was that they sell tacos. The nearly complete lack of decent tacos in New York will drive any Texan far and wide in search of them.

UntitledWe’ve ventured out more than a few times in our search and unfortunately these were not that amazing. The tortillas weren’t waxy and the fillings weren’t awful but they also weren’t something that I’d dream of especially when the kolaches were so amazing. We ordered a bunch of stuff to get a good idea of their menu: hash brown, egg & cheese taco, chorizo, egg & cheese taco, cherry kolache, sausage kolache and then we went back for another of the sausage kolache and tried the cherry and cream kolache. They were huge and buttery and tasted like clouds of deliciousness. Husband’s been telling me to start selling my own tacos with homemade tortillas and become the New York Queen of Tacos. Dreams for another day.

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lonestar empire brisket sandwich.

Since our entire plan for the day was to go to a food festival: Smorgasburg and we already had a huge breakfast we figured we should walk it off at the Brooklyn Flea which wasn’t too far away. The flea always yields something amazing. I found a woman and her teeny tiny daughter selling homemade headbands and hair clips which were so adorable I had to buy one. I regret not buying the unicorn horn they were selling but that’s what Etsy is for. And although our plan was to abstain from food at the flea somehow Paul found himself with a Lonestar Empire brisket sandwich.

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there was a live DJ at the Artists & Fleas market.

Paul wanted to take a different route to the waterfront from our normal walk. He suggested it out of the blue for no reason at all until we randomly came upon another market. I’m sure this was a carefully crafted accident on his part. The Artists and Fleas was inside a large open space. Every nice of that space was filled with vendors and their wares. It was a super eclectic collection of vendors selling bed sheet t-shirts, glass jewelry, vintage purses, dresses, plants and pretty much anything else you can imagine. And of course they had a live DJ spinning because why not have a live DJ at a market in the middle of the day in Brooklyn. Clearly this is the obvious decision.

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vegan ice cream.

As we left A&F Paul bought a pineapple pop which I quickly commandeered. It was literally a slice of pineapple on a stick that was dipped in chocolate then frozen. What a treat. Smorgasburg wasn’t too far away and we got there I almost couldn’t imagine eating anything else. Although when you think about it I hadn’t had too much yet.

Smorgasburg was kind of a blur. There were lots of ice creams. I loved a vegan chocolate one but couldn’t finish my scoop. I gave in and got a donut from dough because when they are near me I feel like an addict that needs a hit. They were out of my standard plain so I got the cinnamon sugar which apparently meant I was wearing cinnamon sugar all over my face and up my nose. awesome. I also got a noodle bowl which was too spicy so I only tasted it and then gave up. We stood in the ATM line at one point replenishing our pockets and at some point when I wasn’t looking Paul found La Newyorkina and her amazing paletas which he’s had before. She gave him two stamps on a rewards card because he’d been to the other location but didn’t’ have a rewards card yet. We enjoyed the waterfront with about 1 million other people on saturday. I wanted a nap so badly at this point in the day.

hipsters can’t read. (husband snapped this photo)

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grand central.

I’m sure you are thinking, “wow Clarissa, what a long day.” But wait, it isn’t yet over. After a short L train to Union Square we went to Best Buy where they too had a DJ. I don’t remember what we were looking for but it was some kind of electronic thingamajig. Then why not go to Nordstrom Rack. And somehow we also ended up at Barnes & Noble where something was bought and Forbidden Planet where a crew was filming Batman things for an episode of 48 Hours. I was nosy and asked the camera guys. Also, it was nearly their last day before they move down the block to a much “bigger and cleaner space with air conditioning” according to the guy at the door. I was tired at this point so we started for home. Just a quick stop at Grand Central for our connecting train and the Apple Store where we came out with a new iPad for my husband. He was giddy which made me happy.

Finally it was time to go home… after stopping at John Brown Smokehouse in their new and larger location. More on that later this week.

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john brown smokehouse.

I got up at 7 the next morning to meet a friend for a girls day. I need to sleep in more.

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taxi in the rain.

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We’ve been in a major heatwave… this is day 3. The cooling centers have been open. We’ve all been smelly and sweaty and gross before we even get into the train. It was so hot today that the skies parted and poured down rain and hail and lightening all over the city and beyond. It was out of the blue and pretty torrential. And worst of all it was just before 5:00 PM. No bueno. at 4:45 I received a text from my husband that read “wait to go home until it passes and then take a car.” He loves me. Also he was lucky enough to be on the inside of a cab as the hail started pouring down on Manhattan.

I went out to the window in the hall (no windows in my office suite) and confirmed that the skies were exploding overhead and decided to go ahead and wait it out. I watched the WABC live newscast streaming online for a while. Around 5:30 I finally decided to try to catch a cab home. Shockingly I was able to hail a taxi within seconds of stepping outside and it all went downhill after that.

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The rain caused bumper to bumper traffic in Harlem 125th heading toward the Triboro which is the fastest way to get to Astoria from the Upper West Side. Bumper to Bumper traffic is what upset stomachs are made of. Boredom and an upset stomach in the back of a taxi lead to a lot of Instagramed photos. Congratulations to you, the recipient of my misery and Instagramed photos.

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When I saw that we were almost to the bridge I was so happy because I know how smooth the ride can be from that point. Instead it was more of the same. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. jerk the car forward. sudden stop. After a while I could hear the sound of alarms around me then we came upon a taxi that had been rear-ended.

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Shortly after passing the taxi accident I heard the alarms again. An ambulance was trying to get through the traffic.

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A few minutes later another alarm sounded in the distance. Eventually ladder 17 was visible and slowly inched its way through the traffic to pass us by.

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Nomrally once we get to the toll booths we are home free. Not so much today.

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Eventually I was delivered safely to my front door and by then the rain had passed and I’d been in the back of a car about the same amount of time I would have been in a train only I had my own seat and the air conditioning was lovely and I had the internet the entire time and oh yes the car sickness. But let us not forget that I love New York even when it is dirty and smelly and when it upsets my stomach too.

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central park. an ode.

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raining wedding.

Central Park might not be the biggest park in the city but it definitely holds the most romance. When you think about New York City you don’t dream of visiting Flushing Meadows Corona Park or Van Cortlandt Park or Astoria Park or Prospect Park (ok maybe you dream of prospect park a little) and you likely don’t dream of Bryant Park or Madison Square Park or even Morningside Park or Riverside Park or any of the other parks in the city or the outer boroughs. But you do dream of Central Park. All 843 acres of it. The skyscraper skyline behind the trees, the vast open spaces, the Boathouse the bridges and the Ramble and the concerts and the running paths and the view from inside the MET and the playgrounds and the ball fields and the statues and the gates and the zoo and the unknown.

You picture the scene from When Harry Met Sally walking down a path littered with the Autumn leaves and Wollman Rink in all its glory where John Cusak and Kate Beckingsdale spend an romantic date in Serendipity then find themselves again at the end and you likely picture any number of Woody Allen movies or the scene from the Muppets Take Manhattan where Piggy is stalking Kermit. It should not be a surprise to anyone reading this blog that I am in love with New York City so forgive me the Central Park lovefest.

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pond flowers.

I’ll try to capture the park on my blog in a way that maybe will do it a bit of justice. It is one of my favorite places in the city because it is both finite and infinite. The square footage is fixed and yet each time I am there it is changed or I am changed or I notice something new and certainly the people are different each time.

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park fishing.

One of my favorite activities is to people watch in Central Park. It still amazes how many people there are in New York City at any given moment going about their business. Engagement and wedding photos are nearly a sure thing on any visit to the park. Seriously you can turn any corner of the park into a picturesque fantasy to keep with you forever. On a recent day we found a nice patch of grass near one of the ponds and let the people wander before us. Other people all around us were napping, picnicking and reading. There was a group of kids chasing the ducks until the ducks started chasing them which was hilarious and well deserved. There were tiny birds looking for worms in the grass and a wedding party posing in front of our pond. There was also a man fishing while a random boy walked up to him to ask about the fish he’d caught.

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who is chasing who in this picture?

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wedding party.

For those of you that might be curious, the City of New York Parks & Recreation’s FAQ page lists the top ten largest parks and their sizes:

What is your biggest park? How big is Central Park?

Top Ten Largest Parks:

  1. Pelham Bay Park Bronx 2,765 acres
  2. Greenbelt, Staten Island 1,778 acres
  3. Flushing Meadows/Corona Park, Queens 1,255 acres
  4. Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx 1,146 acres
  5. Central Park, Manhattan 843 acres
  6. Marine Park, Brooklyn 798 acres
  7. Bronx Park, Bronx 718 acres
  8. Alley Pond Park, Queens 655 acres
  9. Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk, South and Midland Beaches, Staten Island 638 acres
  10. Forest Park, Queens 544 acres

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