Pumpkin bread

Too busy tonight to do a real post because I’ve been baking! Brownies from a box and two loaves of pumpkin bread.

I adapted this recipe, since I didn’t have a few of the items listed and I’ve found that it definitely needs more spices than the original calls for! Ingredients list below. Preheat oven to 350 F, mix dry ingredients (except spices) first, add wet, mix, add spices. Bake in a greased pan for about 40 minutes, but check on it. Makes one 9 inch round loaf (in a cake pan). I usually double it and make two, since a can of pumpkin puree comes to just shy of double what this recipe calls for.

  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup (240 ml) pumpkin purée*
  • 4 ounces (1 stick, 112 g) butter, melted (can sub 1/2 cup light olive oil)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup water

Quick, easy, and delicious! Any fall recipes you all love to make????????????????????????????????


October scary stories and Frankenstein


October is the time for scary stories. Halloween has a lot to do with it, all the way back to its roots in the celebration of Samhain by the Celts. But even without the spirits and specters associated with October 31, October would feel like a time for scary stories, at least here in the northeast.

There’s something about cold weather and stories – people gathering close to tell tall tales around a fire. But scary stories are too much for winter, when the cold and snow outside are dangerous. Better to tell stories with happy endings then, to keep everyone warm and cozy and save the scary ones for October, when the chill in the air is just enough to send a shiver down your spine but not enough to freeze you. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the shadows on your window might just be from the trees… or might not be.

Last night I went to see Frankenstein, the film version of the London National Theatre’s 2011 production starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s showing at a number of movie theaters and performance spaces in NYC this week, undoubtedly because of the holiday, and it’s showing in other places as well. My family went to see it last night, too, and my mom and I compared notes afterward. You can find more information, including venues and show times, here: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/16546-frankenstein.

I’ve never read Frankenstein, never seen one of the movies (except Young Frankenstein, which doesn’t quite count); I only knew the basic outline of the story. I knew, for instance, that it’s not a happy story. All does not end well. Perfect, then, for October.

In this production, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Frankenstein and his Creature each night. I saw Cumberbatch as the Creature, and it was remarkable. The popular depiction of Frankenstein’s monster is of a hulking, stuttering giant of a man, and there is stuttering, and Cumberbatch was tall and threatening. But his Creature, and apparently the Creature of the novel, can speak, by the end, as well as you or me. He stutters sometimes, but he also recites lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost and talks of his feelings of love and rage. In the end he is more monstrous and yet more human than Victor Frankenstein.

The set and the staging were stunning, the acting by both leads superb, and while some moments went on a little long and some secondary characters felt a little flat, the questions the production raised about creation and morality and love were fascinating. What is our responsibility to something — or someone — we create? What does it mean to love and be loved?

I won’t tell you more specifics, except that the final scene is heart-wrenching. While I can’t quite bring myself to go see it again this week, at some point I’d like to see the version where the roles are reversed. My friend had seen it before and felt Jonny Lee Miller’s Creature had a sweetness missing from Benedict Cumberbatch’s.

If you’re looking for a frightening but thoughtful way to celebrate Halloween and October, check if there’s a screening this week near you! If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? And if you haven’t, what’s your favorite spooky movie?

On the train home

First posted on October 15, 2013.

It’s not quite 8 A.M. on a Saturday and I’m on a train headed north along the Hudson River. I’m on the wrong side of the train for the best view, but I can look out the window between the spaciously-set seats.

The trees have just barely begun to turn; scattered among the green are tiny shocks of red or dusty yellow. But mostly the leaves are green, enough that if I weren’t looking for fall foliage I might not notice the hints of color. They’re most noticeable where the sunlight hits. The sky is turning bright blue behind white cotton wisps of clouds in the east, but in the west over the river it’s a muted blue against gray clouds that stretch along the horizon.

It’s a long train ride home to visit my family in Western New York, but a beautiful one. I usually fall asleep as we pass through the Catskills but today I’m determined to stay awake. I hope as we progress west that I’ll get to watch the leaves change, and that when I arrive home it will be fall, which it isn’t quite yet in NYC this weekend. Sometimes in the morning or late evening the air smells, just a little bit, like the crispness of Halloween from my childhood, when we’d wear layers under and over our costumes because sometimes it was cold enough for snow. But mostly even on cool nights the air still smells like late summer, or trash, or nothing at all.

I like traveling by train better than any other form of travel. Cars and buses give me motion sickness most of the time, so I spend those trips sleeping. Planes are fine, once I’m on them, but getting to and from the airports in NYC is painful. On the train, I can read, write, or just look out the window, and get up whenever I want. Sometimes I even get a seat to myself. Train stations are easy to get to and navigate. Amtrak tickets are fully refundable if you have to cancel at the last minute, and pretty cheap if you buy in advance. The ride is long, but I tell myself to consider it part of the vacation, the time I have to myself to relax, and it’s usually lovely.

We’re pulling into Croton-Harmon station and my eyelids are drooping (a 5 A.M. alarm will do that) but for a moment there was water on both sides of the train. Half an hour in there’s a little more yellow and orange along the river, and the western sky is brighter blue. There’s a pond-like body of water alongside the tracks—or does it become a marsh when it’s full of cattail reeds? I can’t remember when I last picked a cattail, and these don’t have the heavy brown heads so maybe they’re something else entirely.

The sun is now high enough (and out from behind clouds) to get in my eyes as I look out the window. It lights the river and the hills, and the houses overlooking the river seem like toys from here. One is big, red and boxy with white trim and a white porch. We pass through a town and the river disappears for a few moments behind a high sheet of rock. When it emerges again there’s a pond again beside me, open and shimmering in the sunlight that floods the train.

We pass a subdivision, all the houses a uniform beige in the sunlight as we chug by, and while I think it’d be lovely to live out here, I don’t think I could do it like that, even if it meant being less isolated. It’d feel like cheating, to live near the river and not in one of the houses perched on a hill, looking like a good push could tip it off into the water.

We’re meant to get to Albany-Rensselear station soon, where the train usually sits for twenty minutes. They say you can get off for a break then, but in the seven years I’ve ridden on this route I think I’ve gotten out once. The idea of being left behind while my stuff goes on without me isn’t appealing, somehow.

Before Albany the ride gets shaky, making walking to the bathroom more difficult and rattling the tray tables. It’s unusual, but I also don’t usually end up on this kind of train, with its extra leg room, foot rests, and oversized tray tables. I think it’s because this train goes all the way to Toronto, whereas the one I usually take stops at Niagara Falls.

On my trip to the bathroom I notice a guy in the row behind mine who looks like someone I met a few times in college. During the longer-than-usual stop in Albany I catch his attention, confirm that it’s him, and say hello. We’re from the same city, something I remember discussing once in college. The world is pretty small. Oddly I’ve yet to run into someone from high school on the train, though I think there aren’t that many of us in the city.

When the train turns west I stop paying such close attention to the scenery and alternate between chatting with my college acquaintance and chatting with my seatmate. I’ve always been good at making friends on trains and talking does make the time pass more quickly.

When we get to the last hour of the ride, I turn back to writing. The trees are more colorful here, but they’re not bright yet, just golden greens. Maybe Thanksgiving will be a better time for leaves, if we don’t have too many storms, but they may all drop by then.

I started rereading one of my favorite books this week—Tam Lin by Pamela Dean—and today I realized that subconsciously I was probably drawn to how much fall and Halloween play a part in the novel. It starts in September and covers three years, ending with a climax on Halloween, and the first fall lasts over 200 pages out of a total of about 450. I’m traveling upstate to experience fall as it should be experienced, with apple picking and cider and pumpkins, so it’s no wonder I felt like reading a book set so firmly in the season.

It’s afternoon now, and I’m almost home. But with a little ways to go, it’s time to read more, and to look out the window at a New York that’s not NYC.

The Marble Cemetery, Open House New York, and chocolate

First posted on October 11, 2013. Updated with this year’s dates.

On a Sunday in October a few years ago, I met a friend in SoHo to go to mass the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church and was the first cathedral church in the Catholic Diocese of New York. It was a gorgeous fall day and we’d heard there was some chocolate festival going on (read: free samples at all the local chocolate shops) so we decided to wander the neighborhood and check out a few.

We were meandering up Second Ave when we noticed a woman standing next to a table beside an open gate. Beyond the gate was a grassy courtyard. We stopped to ask what was going on and were handed a brochure for Open House New York, a weekend in October when interesting spots around the city that are normally closed are open to the public. The gate we were standing outside led to the Marble Cemetery.

The Marble Cemetery is apparently New York City’s oldest non-sectarian public cemetery. The 156 vaults under the ground hold all of the 2,000+ bodies, and there are plaques along the walls of the cemetery that record the names of the original owners. It’s a quiet, lovely little space hidden in the middle of a busy neighborhood, but it’s a bit creepy too, like most cemeteries.

Recently a friend recommended a book to me called Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, by Kirsten Miller. It’s the first of three books featuring smart, snarky girl adventurers in NYC, and in it they discover a passage into a “shadow city”, a network of secret tunnels and rooms, beneath New York. The main entrance to the shadow city is through the Marble Cemetery. Next time I visit, I’m totally looking for it.

The Cemetery is open on certain Saturdays of the year, but it’s open both Saturday and Sunday this weekend (October 11 and 12) as part of the 12th Annual Open House New York. Some of OHNY’s events are registration-only, but many are not, and everything is free! If you’re in NYC this weekend and want to take advantage of the nice fall weather we’re supposed to get (on Sunday, at least!), check out their schedule of events, from tours of private residences to talks about architecture to family activities. And if you’re near the Marble Cemetery, make sure to walk up to Bond Street Chocolate or over to Vosges or MarieBelle—turns out most chocolate shops always have free samples!

NYC Day Trips: New Haven, CT and Yale University

Okay, this is, I admit, a lazy post. I haven’t had a ton of time to explore in the last few weeks (though I have a fun, full weekend ahead that should merit a couple of posts!) and so this topic comes to you courtesy of “photos I’ve taken in the last year and not already used for a post”. These were taken in November 2013.


Well, this one wasn’t taken in November 2013. I didn’t have any good Old Campus pictures from then, so here’s one from 2008. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

My illustrious alma mater, located in New Haven, Connecticut, is gorgeous, especially in the fall. There are a lot of good reasons to go to Yale, but its loveliness definitely doesn’t hurt. When I was applying for college I was at first attracted to enclosed campuses where there weren’t a lot of cars (and took one look at NYU and said, “Nope.”), but after a second visit to Yale I really fell in love with its mixture of serene courtyards and somewhat busy streets. It was a taste of city living but in a very structured environment.

The walkway between Jonathan Edwards and Branford colleges

The walkway between Jonathan Edwards and Branford colleges

If you’re looking for a nice fall day trip from NYC, New Haven is a great option! A Metro North round-trip off peak ticket is about  $32 and the ride is around two hours long. If you’re ambitious, rent a car and drive up so you can take advantage of nearby farm markets like Bishop’s Orchards and go apple picking. There’s also an Ikea, but we’ve got one in Brooklyn, too, so maybe not critical.

Outside Branford college

Outside Branford college

When you get to New Haven, take a bus or taxi or use your feet and head toward the New Haven Green, right next to Yale’s Old Campus. The Green is a park and former burial ground, and Old Campus is a beautiful green space enclosed by freshman dorms. During the day, the gates to Old Campus are open and visitors can wander across it, enjoying the architecture and trees and a nice view of Harkness Tower.

Harkness Tower

Harkness Tower

Make sure to check out Sterling Memorial Library. On campus tours, the guides always mention that the architect had always wanted to build a cathedral and decided to do it with Sterling. It does resemble an altar to knowledge, and I believe some renovations were recently completed, so it’s definitely worth a visit. Make sure to also visit the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which always has interesting displays and where you can take a look at a Gutenberg Bible.

Branford College courtyard

Branford College courtyard

Take a walk down Chapel Street and check out some great shops. Book Trader Café, with its used books and lovely light-filled dining space, is a nice stop for a snack break. The two fantastic Yale art galleries, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, are both on Chapel Street and are both free admission. The YUAG was just remodeled and is stunning. I was lucky enough to see “Starry Night” there when it was touring a few years back and got to see it up close, without the crowds you see at MoMA. Seriously, make sure you stop in to these museums – they would be worth the visit to New Haven, even if the rest of campus wasn’t. Which it is.

Branford College courtyard

Branford College courtyard

There are about a million pizza places, including the renowned Sally’s and Pepe’s, over in Wooster Square, supposed to be some of the oldest pizza places in the country. Closer to the rest of campus are the popular Bar (famous for its mashed potato pizza), the after-rehearsal spot, Yorkside, and my often overlooked no frills favorite, Wall Street, formerly Naples.

I’m leaving out a ton of wonderful things about New Haven, but this is enough to get you started if you have a day to visit! Yale friends, anything to add? Other friends, what are your favorite day trips from NYC?

PS Next time I’m in New Haven with some time to take photos, I’ll get some pictures of things that are not near or in Branford College. I promise the rest of the campus is also this pretty!

Knights and ladies and pie at the Medieval Festival

First posted September 26, 2013. Updated to include photos and this year’s dates.

Crowds at the Medieval Festival

Crowds at the Medieval Festival

Doesn’t every girl dream of being a knight?

Maybe not. And to be fair, I definitely dreamed of being a princess earlier, and more often—the tally is at least five princess Halloween costumes versus only one knight costume. You can bump it up to two if you count the Pink Power Ranger, which you definitely should.

But from age eleven on, knights were cool, thanks to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series, and that meant that between my culturally sponsored love of tiaras and my new love of swords, the Renaissance Faire was a favorite summer treat. I still have, at my parents’ house, a wooden dagger and unicorn shield, along with a circlet of dried flowers with ribbons that trailed down my back when I wore it. My brother acquired at least one wooden sword (which I definitely borrowed for that knight costume…which happened to get worn in high school). We didn’t go every summer, but we went enough that I remember it: the dunking pond, the puppet shows, the dragon glider ride, and of course the jousts.

I’m also fairly certain I once rode an elephant at the faire—but even if I didn’t, there were definitely elephants there.

A booth at the Festival

A booth at the Festival

So with my deep love of all things Ren Faire, it’s unsurprising that I was thrilled to hear about the Medieval Festival that happens at the Cloisters every year. Yes—each fall, Fort Tryon Park is invaded by an idealized version of the Middle Ages, from food vendors serving turkey legs to guys in armor jousting on horseback. Sometimes you can even catch a Quidditch match.

Two knights fighting on foot

Two knights fighting on foot

While it lacks the immersive feeling of a Ren Faire—the booths here are tents, rather than wood, and the vendors in costumes are not necessarily in character—there are enough ribbon wreaths, sword fights, and characters to satisfy me. Plus, there’s pumpkin pie and hot chocolate on sale.

Knights fighting on horseback

Knights fighting on horseback

And if the faux Arthurian style is a bit too much, the Cloisters are right there, filled with actual medieval art, including the famous unicorn tapestries everyone remembers from history class. They’re worth a pay-what-you-wish visit any time of the year, but they’re especially nice as an escape from the festival crowds. The park itself is also stunning, with views of the Hudson as well as back down at the rest of Manhattan.

Knights fighting on horseback

More of knights fighting on horseback

My favorite act the two times I’ve gone to the festival was the showdown between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood’s band of merry men, though the knights on horseback were also pretty badass.

The festival this year is Sunday, September 28, from 11:30 AM to 6 PM, at Fort Tryon Park, and while I unfortunately can’t go, I highly recommend making the trek. If you do, bring me back a sword—or at least some pie.


The Hudson River from Ft. Tryon Park

Weekend people-watching

I didn't take any people-watching pictures, so have this lovely picture of clouds I took last week.

I didn’t take any people-watching pictures, so have this lovely picture of clouds I took last week.

I did some people-watching this Sunday in my neighborhood. I wanted to get out of my apartment but was too lazy to go for a walk so I took a book to a nearby coffee shop and sat in the window with a hot chocolate for a couple hours. I drink hot chocolate year-round, no shame, but it’s nice that the weather is starting to be hot chocolate-appropriate.

And apparently it’s no longer iced coffee weather, as I heard the barista tell at least three different customers during my visit. Part of the fun of sitting in the café for so long was watching the flow of customers. When I arrived there was a group of women in their late twenties or early thirties catching up happily over their drinks. After they left it was quieter, but the quiet was punctuated periodically by a dad with a small helmeted boy bearing a wheeled transportation device. No, not the same dad and kid over and over – three different ones, each with a scooter or child-sized bike.

Other customers walked up with dogs and would leave them outside while they ordered, either tied to the fence or with a friend. One white, fluffy dog was so cute I was tempted to walk outside and ask its owner to be my friend so I could play with it. This is an urge that comes on fairly often in Brooklyn, but one that I’ve so far been able to resist acting on.

This is probably a silly observation, but, the neat thing about staying put and people-watching, rather than wandering around, is the sheer number of people who pass by. Lots of couples and parents with kids – not at all surprising in my neighborhood – but also people with groceries or in exercise clothes, people ready to stop at the stoop sale just a bit over from the coffee shop. Just people, out and about living their lives on a sunny September Sunday.

In one of Madeleine L’Engle’s memoirs she talks about that first moment of awareness when she realized that other people were separate from her, that that woman over there would never know her, and she would never know her. In New York we’re surrounded by strangers at all times – a lot of people don’t know their neighbors, and even if we do, one ride on the subway exposes us to dozens of people we’ll never meet. So yeah, I’m aware that other people are separate from me and are living their lives independent of mine.

But people-watching in a coffee shop makes those faceless strangers a little more sympathetic, a little more specific. They’re not just the random guy and kid I pass on the street, they’re a father and son who had that funny little conversation before they headed out the door. They’re the two friends or coworkers of the barista who came in an hour or so apart and separately filled her in on their plans for the evening. Or the cute guy with the laptop who sat turned toward the wall, maybe in an effort to forget about the beautiful day outside and focus on his work.

Hopefully no one was paying too much attention to me sitting in the window, because I definitely started to nod off once or twice. I’m blaming the lovely party I’d been at the night before and the warm sunshine that was coming through the window. Still embarrassing? Absolutely. But probably not as bad as the many post-lunch lectures in college I couldn’t keep my eyes open in.

Did you do any people-watching on this almost autumn weekend? What were the best things you saw or overheard?

PS Looking for something to do this weekend? Bryant Park’s square dance is back on Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 9, and Sunday from 1 to 4. Check it out!

First Blogiversary

The older I get, the more I look for markers of the passage of time. When you’re in school, the rhythm of the academic calendar provides you with important dates and milestones, but when you’ve finished college and are working, you have to come up with those markers on your own. I think these are very personal for people – birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc. For me, in July I often think of the summer program I did in high school where I met one of my best friends – we’ve now known each other for nine years. In late August and early September, I think about moving to New York and starting my job. And now, in early September, I think about when I started writing this blog, just about one year (and exactly one hundred posts) ago.


I’d thought about starting it for months. I had a few blog post ideas and sample posts written, but it wasn’t until I sat in Washington Square Park and wrote about the end of summer that I was ready to start sharing my writing with the internet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started the blog in September. After seventeen years of school, it doesn’t matter that I’ve been out of school for years now – September still feels very much like a fresh start. I’m already thinking of what new project I should begin, now that summer’s almost over.

A year is a long time. I’ve learned how to be more disciplined so that turning out two posts every week doesn’t sound daunting, but I’m still learning how to craft the posts to make them more interesting. I’m still trying to make taking photos a regular part of my life so that I’ll always have something to illustrate a post. I’ve shared a lot of stories and outings, but I want to write better, to really take you with me when I walk through a park in Brooklyn or sit in a café in Manhattan or take a train along the Hudson.


A New York blog I follow called Tracy’s New York Life recently did a post on one hundred and one things she’s done or that have happened to her since moving to New York. I’ve done a number of the things on her list, and many more, since I moved to this city four years ago. I’ve written blogs posts about a lot of them. I want to keep pushing myself to explore and to take every opportunity I’m offered, because here’s the thing: New York is special. At any given time, the number of things I could be doing here is infinite. I don’t want my life to be ruled by a fear of missing out, because as I’ve said, sometimes you just need a quiet night at home. But taking advantage of things you can do or see only in New York is just smart when you live here.


So. A hundred posts in a year. The word document where I write these posts is nearing 50,000 words – I’m sure no one is surprised to learn I’m verbose. Thank you to those of you who have been reading since the beginning, and thanks to everyone who has joined along the way. Thanks to all the people I know in real life, and thanks to those of you (still small in number, I believe) who have come across my blog on Tumblr or the Toast or elsewhere and started following it. It’s a lot easier to get myself in front of the keyboard each week knowing there are people out there reading this!

There’s a couple of polls below, to give me a better picture of who you are and how you’re reading this. But please, if you’ve been lurking, take this as an opportunity to come out of hiding! Post a comment and tell me what you’ve enjoyed reading, and what you’d like more of. If there’s a place in New York you especially love or you’ve always wanted to go, tell me about it! I’d love to check it out and write about it.