Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oh what a beautiful morning

As I've stated elsewhere, it enrages me that major news outlets have begun harping on the MTA for not reimbursing unlimited-ride MetroCard users for the, oh, 40 hours or so of suspended service this weekend. What would that refund constitute exactly? $4.50 at most? Generally I am all in favor of commuters/New Yorkers/people in general not being ripped off by the services they pay for, but I can't imagine that $4.50 (or perhaps $9 at the absolute most, if you're commuting to and from work both Saturday and Sunday, and that is a carefully calculated exactly-used portion of your $104/month MetroCard) is really going to put that much of a dent in people's finances. I would rather have the MTA work toward keeping the system maintained, not kicking off a new spate of fare hikes or service reductions, completing the 2nd Avenue line, possibly restoring old lines, yadda yadda yadda, than figure out how to repay many of its commuters a small sum which they probably didn't spend anyway, since nobody was getting out much in the middle of a hurricane alert. Even my You with me, anyone?

But I digress. I was going to tell you about waking up accidentally extra early this morning, taking a look at the blue blue sky, and deciding to hit up Brooklyn Roasting Company in DUMBO, which I'd been meaning to try for a while. Alas, I had my own MetroCard woes, attempting to board the shortcut bus to Prospect Park West and its convenient F station, only to discover my monthly card had expired. One MetroCard gripe I do have--which is not the fault of the MTA--is that we formerly had yearly cards at work; now, we have a sort of special-use debit card with which we have to buy cards every 30 days. I am forever forgetting when exactly my previous card will run out, and it's a small yet bothersome environmental tic of the system that you have to replace your card each month, rather than refill it. So, booted off the bus in ignominy, I walked to the F at Church, worrying all the while that I'd be late for work but trying to focus on the trees and houses in all their morning glory.

Of course, once I purchased my card, I'd just missed an F, but hopped on the next train, a G, and luxuriated in the symphony of open seats around me. A quick hop skip and a jump to the incoming F at Bergen, down a few streets, and I reached Brooklyn Roasting Company. To my pleasant surprise (and these things should be givens, but they're shocks these days), the guy behind the counter was extremely friendly and helpful (surely more so than any real human can be around 8 in the morning) and my iced coffee was a mouthwatering $2 for 16 ounces. Of course, I am mostly off coffee these days because of the headaches, but have discovered through slow experimentation that half a cup every once in a while isn't going to kill me.

To my delight, it was only just rounding 8:15 by the time I left the Roasting Co, so I got to walk across the bridge to work, something I have not done for some time. Just like I remembered, Metric provides the right propulsive rhythm for purposeful walking (thanks again, M.--!), and so I found myself at work 15 minutes early, ready to take on this beautiful Wednesday.

I will also add, as the last third of this haphazard post, that I've been thinking a lot about how all too soon it will be dark once I leave work, and also about a variety of life-bettering things I really would like to be doing. So my tentative goal is to take five of them and do one each weekday, starting when the clocks change if not before. This will include biking, jogging, cooking, and picking up the piano again, as well as the above-mentioned bridge walks. Let's hope that telling you about it will give me extra incentive to follow through.

Monday, August 29, 2011

To infinity and beyond

I've finally thrown myself into reading Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City, a "San Francisco atlas" that contains maps and their accompanying cultural histories of every juxtaposition from gay men and butterflies to gourmet stores and toxic waste. It's a beautiful and thought-provoking book--some of the historical anecdotes, and the way they map onto the larger city, are truly unexpected and remarkable. Something that's always on my mind, though, is the evolution of reading from page to screen. In a recent development, a publisher I work for has launched a sort of digital extras program, where purchasing a physical book grants you access to a range of additional material on your computer (essays about historical context and the like). I have nothing but respect for the way my employer is constantly redefining the face of literary publishing, and I hope they succeed in this venture. But when my mother told me she'd read about it in the paper, my first response was, I don't want my book to come with digital extras.

That this is my perspective will come as no surprise to any of you who've read this blog, or talked to me, before. But I see it coming up again and again. Take Paul La Farge, who I just heard about through McSweeney's and whose novels I'd like to read. But his newest is set to contain all sorts of hypertextual branchings and careenings. As with my employer, I think it's admirable to pursue new literary directions, but when I sit down with a book, I just want to READ it.

And so I have a bit of trouble with Infinite City, even though I understand that what I'm calling a drawback is also a selling point. Solnit and her contributors refer to so many places, people, and historical events that I feel like I can't fully enjoy the atlas without a search engine at my beck and call. It's a book I'll read by the computer, not one I will carry around and love on the subway, in a crowded cafe, or walking down the street. I think it's great that my eyes have been opened to so many new things. But--and you can tell me I'm just being lazy here--I wish the book itself provided a little bit of background for me. For every allusion I delved into deep (like Clover Stornetta's brilliant labels), five others could've been cleared up with a quick biographical aside, which would enable me to enjoy the book in its own right, not as a portal to filling my head with wikipediaed information about San Francisco.

Of course, that's what I deserve for picking a book with a name like Infinite City.

What do you think, reader? Do you like your books to be integrated with a set of material not contained within them, or with the wider world?

As a postscript, I should add that two recent examples of interwoven works that I do feel were worth the investment of page sifting and computer access (though they daunted me for a long time) are David Foster Wallace's befootnoted Infinite Jest and Alex Ross's 20th-century musical history The Rest Is Noise with its invaluable listening excerpts on the author's website. But this isn't what I look for in most of my (escapist?) reading material.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Usually I don't think much about marshmallows. I can't even remember the last time I had one in hot chocolate. (I prefer the excessively-cream-filled Italian version at Max Brenner, and the marshmallow at City Bakery costs $1 extra or something like that and is a bit overly rich anyway. Have I mentioned that when I got a hot chocolate there, I didn't want to eat anything else for the next 24 hours?) But yesterday I had a banana fluffernut from Kitty Lee Thomas Sweets, via Robicellis' store in the oh-so-conveniently-located Dekalb Market, and I was forced to reconceptualize my view of the dessert I'd previously disdained.

I was definitely skeptical about paying $2 for a marshmallow, but I've had peanut butter on the brain lately for some reason (as you may've noticed in the Elvis sequence of posts), and it looked so enticing there in the case, next to its larger cupcake brethren, all covered in banana flakes and chocolate. And $2 is costly for a marshmallow but would not exactly break the bank if I only did it once...

And what a marshmallow it was! It was great in stature and took just as much time to eat and appreciate as a cupcake, if not even more, no doubt eliciting grumpy looks from my fellow train waiters. The combination of the crunchy peanut buttery outside and the squishy marshmallow interior was a refreshing blend of textures. The banana chips especially enhanced the overall experience. This isn't something you'd toss into a hot chocolate as an afterthought; it's a dessert in its own right, like a tiny cake, maybe one of the round ones from Black Hound Bakery that I enjoyed so much in high school. I'm sure I don't need to be adding any more sweets to my diet (there's not enough time and stomach space as it is) but it sure is tempting to walk myself across the Brooklyn Bridge and get another...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Triple play

And let's not forget the third Elvis, from Stellina--a gelato joint just close enough to make a round trip on lunch break. This Elvis isn't as banana-bacony; instead, it's a honey-based gelato with peanut brittle. Probably the most refreshing of the bunch. Doesn't go half bad with the chunky Stellina (raspberry ice cream, raspberry jam, and white-chocolate-covered waffle cone pieces) either.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The world is alive with the taste of...Elvis?

I'm not a big fan of the music of the King like my dad. But I have enjoyed the proliferation of Elvis flavors at sweet spots boroughwide. This week I in fact partook of two Elvissy treats, in the form of cupcake and ice cream. The first, from perennial favorite Robicellis, is a banana cupcake with peanut butter icing and little bits of bacon on top. Robicellis' peanut butter icing is divine, melting and delicious--probably my favorite flavor, despite the fact that I don't usually like peanut butter baked goods. The banana cake is good, too, dense and muffinlike, more complex than mere vanilla or chocolate. The bacon is just a hint, and mixes well with the more sweet components--whoever said bacon is the candy of meats is right on the money.

More distinctive, if slightly less sublime in my opinion, is Ample Hills' Elvis ice cream. At a Sufjan Stevens concert in Prospect Park, between waving my venue-offered glowstick around and watching the bewinged, beneoned Mr. Stevens and his array of musician, dancer, and blow-up-balloon friends, I made my way over to the AH ice cream cart. I had been to their store twice before (the first for strangely bitter salted caramel ice cream; the second to discover with dismay that they were sold clean out) and was pleased to see the cart in the park alongside hometown favorite The Farm on Adderley's savory options. The Elvis ice cream is intense--the richness of peanut butter followed instantaneously by the creamy banana with (perhaps too large) a heap of bacon bits layered in for crunch.

I don't know about ghosts and Graceland but I'm pretty sure the spirit of Elvis is alive and well in Brooklyn.