Hop to It!

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Getting in under the wire to wish you a Happy Easter/Passover/Spring/renewal/beautiful day! E and I spent the day in the Nutmeg State with family, enjoying the lovely weather and messing with our nieces’ and nephews’ by hiding eggs in really tough places. I got kicked off the egg-hunting squad when I was 18. It seemed like an injustice at the time, but here’s the thing: hiding the eggs is kind of more fun than finding them.

Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, and whichever end of any egg hunts you’re on, I hope your weekend was happy. I’m off to an early bed in hopes that the kid germs I feel abrewing haven’t compromised me for a busy week ahead.

Czeching Off Saint Patrick’s Day

Saturday was, as most people know, St. Patrick’s Day. Nowadays, most people use the day as an excuse to “pretend they are Irish,” which apparently means wearing green and drinking beer. I do those 2 things many times throughout the year, but on St. Patrick’s Day I tend to have more company.

Since we moved to New York nearly 3 years ago, St. Patrick’s Day has also taken on its own tradition for E, myself, and our local friends: it has become the official start of beer garden season! We live around the corner from New York City’s only remaining old beer garden (The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden), and it is our go-to spot in the warmer months (and one of the few ways we can get Manhattan- and Brooklynites to come out to Queens). Two years ago, E and I went for dinner and a drink at the beer garden on a weekday St. Paddy’s day, since it was the first day it was really warm enough to stay outside – in the sun, mind you. Last year, I went with some friends on a much chillier St. Patrick’s Day, and we toughed it out in the outdoor beer garden for a couple of hours. Typically, it’s the first day of beer garden season before a short hiatus while the weather catches up with our wishes, but this year? This year that whole non-winter New York has been having allowed us to hang out in the beer garden all day.

The beer garden is a giant walled-in courtyard full of picnic tables, gravel, a stage and dance floor, and waiters and waitresses carrying pitchers of beer and trays of Czech food (except this weekend, when they also had corned beef and cabbage). Games are okay as long as you don’t get crazy, and a deck of cards is an awesome way to pass the time and make friends during leisurely afternoons of knocking back a few beers. The tables are communal, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have at least one conversation with your neighbors. This weekend, we played cards with people around us, faced off in empty-pitcher-stacking competitions with nearby tables, and taught the other folks at our table to play Thumper.

Before 9 pm, the beer garden is billed as a “restaurant,” so kids under 21 can come in with their families. On warm summer days, there are toddlers playing, parents eating kielbasa, and twenty-somethings nursing buzzes. It’s a very friendly environment (Also, Let’s Go Whalers!).

Depending on the day, there are bands or DJs (or, during the annual Czech and Slovak festival, choirs of schoolchildren singing national anthems), and dancing is encouraged. Despite my own lack of coordination and sloppy dance floor culminating in a fall and skinned knee for me during an LMFAO song, we had a really great time. I can’t wait for summer to set in, when I will peer pressure E to stop studying for the bar exam and come hang out with me at the beer garden. We’ll catch some rays, enjoy some Eastern European brews, and chat with old guys with accents and beer bellies. It will be awesome, like always.

There are few things I’ll miss about NYC if and when we leave, but the beer garden is definitely one of the biggies.

Veggie-Pot-Pi-Day-Dinner

I took the day off yesterday, and about 3/4 of the way through our day of leisurely adventuring, I looked at my work email and saw several different office-wide emails alerting people to the existence of different pies in the kitchen for Pi Day. In my head, I still think it’s basically March 1st (SERIOUSLY, THOUGH, HOW IS IT THE 15TH?!), so I sort of, kind of, totally, absolutely forgot about Pi Day. But really? Who doesn’t like an excuse to eat pie? Cyborgs and zombies, that’s who.

So, we decided to try our hand at making a vegetarian pot pie for dinner. We’ve done several versions of vegetarian shepherd’s and pot pies, usually with lackluster results. I’ve found it’s pretty tricky to vegetarian-ize standard, classic, meaty favorites, like pot pie or meatloaf, but we figured there was no better day to give it another shot. A quick Google search turned up this recipe, which we used with some adaptations.

We used a 9 inch pie plate instead of an 11 x 7 dish, so we sort of guessed at how much to reduce quantities of all the ingredients to fit our pie. Because it was a last-minute idea and we still had to go hang out in the beer garden for a while before we wanted to cook dinner (priorities!), we took a bunch of shortcuts: namely, store-bought crust, and a box each of frozen mixed veggies (corn, green beans, lima beans, peas, carrots) and of cauliflower florets. We also added more garlic than the recipe calls for, because we like to ward off vampires and coworkers just by emitting garlic through our skin.

Other modifications made based on the comments on the recipe. We only used a cup and a half of vegetable broth, and we used 4 tablespoons of cornstarch instead of 2. Probably could have stood to increase the broth or cut the cornstarch a bit, but it was moist and delicious without making the crust soggy. I was skeptical of the soy sauce, but I have to say that this was the best vegetarian pot pie I’ve had. It definitely satisfied the craving for pot pie without using any fake meat or such things.

So, ultimately, our last-minute Pi Day celebration was a success! And now I need to go wrap up the leftovers before we slowly pick away at the remaining pie until it’s gone…

In the Holiday Spirit

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Last Monday night, E and I followed the signs from the subway station to “Ditmars Forest,” the slice of sidewalk in our neighborhood that has been overtaken by fresh-cut evergreen trees available for purchase. After just a few minutes of holding trees up for inspection, we selected one: a 4-ish foot high Noble Fir that looked much fuller and more symmetrical on the sidewalk than it did once we got it home.

But get it home, we did! I spent the evening wrestling with dollar store strings of lights and ornaments from CVS and Ikea (and a few special ones we’ve picked up over the last few months, such as that zebra up there). While I worked, I listened to the Bonanza Christmas album, which was an inexplicable but integral part of the Christmases of my childhood. At the end of the evening, we had a glowing, sparkling tree in the living room, with the bald side tucked up against the TV stand.

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This is our fourth Christmas as cohabitants, and the first year we bought a tree. We’ve always talked ourselves out of the expense, and the work, because we visit family for the holiday and reckoned we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it anyway. But this year, I put my foot down (and, since E is int he throes of finals, did just about all of the related work). I’m glad I did. The tree is lovely, and it makes our tiny, stupid apartment feel more festive than my paper snowflakes ever do.

More than that, every time E walks through the living room on a study break, he grins from ear to ear and tells me he loves the tree. Usually I’m the one pushing seasonal decorating and activities; he tolerates my whining about going pumpkin picking in the fall or to see the giant trees around the city. But his excitement about the tree has been a welcome reminder that the people in our lives can and will always surprise us.

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