20 May, 2011

There are flies in paradise.

I can't get my heart to stay put. 

I'm very much here, in my garden (update to follow, bien sur), but theres a shadow part of me off revisiting things, six time zones away.  Because after the pleasures of Washington, D.C., you see, came a few truly big-city thrills: we took the train to New York City.

And I promise, New York City--for my purposes Manhattan--is an awful lot of fun with young-ish children.  You too, can bring your tykes, have a reasonably cultural experience, and not lose your mind.  Ladies and gentlemen, mothers and fathers, here are eight winning strategies:

1. Ride the Staten Island Ferry.  Yes, Virginia, some things in NYC are still free.  The kids have room to move, things to see--like a certain famous lady that was an outsized gift from France.  And, hey, the kids're on a big boat.  Each ride is a half-hour long, leaves from Battery Park (so the view of Lower Manhattan's top-notch).  Once you get to Staten Island, you walk off, and then get back on again.  Windbreakers are a pretty good idea.
2. Enjoy the view from the Empire State Building's 86th floor observatory.  Having been before, I didn't actually go up; my daughter took the panoramic photo.  Buy tickets ahead of time online (even day-of is fine), it'll reduce your time in queues.  Prepare your children for time in queues.  Bring pencil and paper to play tic-tac-toe while in queues.  But do it in spite of the queues, because it's just plain cool to be up that high--metaphorically and in fact: again, bring a windbreaker.
3. Go native, take a break. If the weather's fine, grab some picnic fixings and head to a nearby park, where the tots can let off some steam and won't have to look both ways before springing forward.  As of this printing, parks are still free.  And there's a lot more on offer than 'just' Central Park if you find that too far away or too full.  Some of them, like Fort Tryon Park (which contains the lovely Cloisters Museum) in upper Manhattan or Hudson River Park (midtown to lower), are a day's outing in and of themselves.  These are parks with some jaw-droppingly gorgeous views.
4. Alright, I am so not a zoo kind of girl, so it feels odd to suggest this, but spend some time at the zoo.  Not necessarily the well-regarded Bronx Zoo, but the (perhaps) more conveniently situated Central Park Zoo.  Stroll through the park to reach the zoo if you have the time. 
It's a small zoo (a plus for little ones and parents with limited patience), well-curated, with poetry and science sprinkled liberally throughout, and the animals still have room enough to hid away in their spaces. The polar bears and (reclusive) snow leopard were a particular hit, as were the exhibitionist seals... 
5. Go to the MOMA.  Yes, there is the Children's Museum of Manhattan and the Children's Museum of the Arts, but this is an art museum that will knock the socks off both the big and little people in your bunch.  At the MOMA, there are made-for-kids gallery talks.  There are workshops for four to eleven year olds that explore art techniques and ideas through hands-on practice.  Remember to register in advance. And don't skip a browsing kind of wander through the museum shop, where kids can see and touch sublime (sometimes sublimely funny) design objects.  Doing so was one of our highlights and prompted an interesting discussion about how objects are used and how they can be better designed...

6. Take them to an afternoon show. If you're ready and willing to splurge, a Broadway musical is a truly thrilling way to introduce them to live theater.

7. Take the subway.  If you've the time and they're not too tired yet, take that (subway) train to Coney Island.  Quick, before they tear down all the good old tat in the name of bland-ification. If you don't have the time, take that train to to the High Line instead.  Section Two's nearly ready to open...

8. Stay with family.  See, this makes everything else easy-peasy.  If you've neither friend nor family in Manhattan, consider an apartment rental (they come in different price brackets!) for a decidedly more cosy, relaxed experience.  Shopping at the local grocery, you'll get to pretend you're actually a local, and the kids can feel more grounded.
Just writing all those possibilities out makes me feel giddy, but the garden here in France is doing everything it can to seduce me.  Balmy breezes, saturated color, birds all a'twitter (and woodpeckers a'knocking), the bullfrogs in chorus, the works.
With every year, I'm loving roses more (and resenting them less for their high-maintenance aphid and disease magnet tendencies).  Aren't these ones lovely?  They're now blossoming in the garden of my 78 year old friend and fellow choir member, an unreconstructed bundle of sass, wit and wisdom.  She has a lovely little space she putters in every day, kept company by her donkey...I'll put up some pictures of my own roses in the coming days.
And--news flash--this just in at our place: strawberries.  In bloom.
And in fruit.  Sweet Jesus, are these good.  Little, and all the more succulent for it.
We're already eating garden salads.
And the tomatoes are under construction.
A certain kind of heaven, yes?  But there's always something, and in our case right now it's flies.  An unreasonable, crazy-making amount of the buggers.  Glomming onto any warm surface--window, car seat et al. They are everywhere, and it embarasses me.  It makes me do ugly desperate things, like hang sticky tape in my otherwise pleasant kitchen, where I stand around with friends and pretend I don't hear the periodic buzzing from stuck-fast flies.
Lacking a definitive solution, the most effective distraction technique/escape for me is to mull over recipes.  And I have just the one in mind for if you have unsolvable issues of your own, because while in Manhattan, we happened to have a most delicious Venezuelan meal while staying with family...

According to my brother-in-law, absolutely everybody knows how to make arepas in Venezuela.  He learned how from his grandmother. Photo caveat: Venezuelans normally only use HAN brand fine-ground white cornflour, but he had to use a blend of white and yellow, which resulted in somewhat denser cakes. He sliced the finished hot little corn cakes like a pita and stuffed them with shredded beef which had been slow-cooking much of the day, then blended with chopped red peppers, onions and super-secret spices. So. Good. 

Almost makes me forget about the flies.

Venezuelan-style Arepas
 Makes six arepas, to be filled with shredded meats, scrambled eggs and cheese, black beans...

2 cups white, fine-ground corn flour (Harina PAN brand flour if possible)
2 cups of water
pinch of salt

Pour flour and pinch salt into a medium sized bowl and mix with hands. Add water and combine with your hands until mixture is thoroughly and evenly blended, adding more flour or water as necessary. The dough should form a ball easily, with no major cracks.

Take a small handful of dough and form a ball. Patting and turning it, like a kid busy with Playdough. The smooth, finished disk should be about one centimeter (half an inch) thick and about six to eight centimeters in diameter (3-4 inches).  Continue to make disks with the remaining dough until there is none left.

You can keep any leftover dough wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for three to four days.

Preheat oven 110C (225F). Heat  a teaspoon of oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat. Place several arepas in the pan. For the desired crunchy crust, keep the heat at medium. Once browned, about five minutes, turn them over and cook the other side until browned as well.

Once arepas are nicely browned,  slide them into the oven, near the top, for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the oven. You'll know they're ready by tapping them with a knife: they should sound hollow.

Best when eaten right from the oven, the arepas should be sliced and filled with the toppings of your choice.


  1. The pink roses are gorgeous and probably smell very good too. I have never eaten arepas but
    will look for them. That is the best thing living in SoCal where I can find any kind of ethnic food.
    It must have rained for your lettuce and tomatoes to grow so well or did you have someone take care of your garden while you were in the States?

  2. Yes, roses are everywhere and beautiful now. I took such pretty photos, and had to resist putting loads of them up! And yes, SoCal is brilliant that way, you'll no doubt find some tasty arepas, probably just down the street. As for the garden, it grew insanely while we were gone! Small rainshowers just enough to feed the plants every couple of days or so, then blinding bright warm sun afterward...

  3. P.S. Maybe the rain helped grow the fly population as well.

  4. I'm picking a kilo of strawberries every couple of days now - one of the few things the garden is delivering in the drought. Gelato, jam, coulis...

    In NYC my recommendation would be the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. The Guggenheim is on my 'not recommended' list.

  5. Hi Susan,
    I can't remember ever being impressed by a Guggenheim exhibition, but I remain impressed by the building itself, certainly considering how long ago Frank Lloyd Wright created it. Then again, his buildings, while visionary, haven't aged very well (cracks, etc.).

    A kilo every few days--what riches! Hope they're sweet...Oh, the possibilities.


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