Winter Winery Visits in Connecticut

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This past weekend, E and I had plans to visit friends in Connecticut for dinner on Saturday. E likes to escape from the city — to “decitify,” as he says — regularly, and since we hadn’t disappeared since Christmas, we booked a hotel room and hopped in the car.

To kill time before we were due for dinner on Saturday, we decided to punctuate our drive north with visits to two wineries. For such a tiny state famous for its crappy soil, Connecticut has an unexpectedly robust wine industry. For my bachelerotte party, I was lucky enough to spend a day in a limo touring wineries with friends, and since then I’ve visited a bunch of other vineyards. This Saturday, we tried one new-to-us winery and revisited another.

The first place we stopped was McLaughlin Vineyards in Newtown. The property is a few miles off the highway in the middle of a residential area, but we found it pretty easily. We did a tasting ($10, with souvenir glass) and sampled 5 different wines, all good. The woman conducting the tastings told us about all of the classes, concerts, and programs at the winery. On Sundays in the summer they have live music under a tent in the fields, and people bring picnics and drink wine, which sounds like a pretty awesome use of a Sunday to me. She was very excited to support other Connecticut businesses (she served one of the reds we tried with a Connecticut-made chocolate, and had soda from a tiny soda company based in my hometown for sale in the shop). We also got to meet Misha, the winery dog, who seemed to have a pretty awesome life: sleeping by the fireplace, following her owner around, and making lots of [tipsy] new friends.

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Unfortunately they were out of the Chardonnay we both liked until March. We took home a bottle of Vista Muse, a Seyval Blanc, instead, which I am pretty excited to enjoy with some seafood once the days are a little longer.

Our second stop was a return visit for me. We popped into the bustling tasting room at Haight-Brown Vineyards in Litchfield. We opted for the basic tasting ($9, no glass), since my companion can eat neither cheese nor chocolate, and grabbed a seat at the bar on the second floor. The servers here were a bit overwhelmed, and we had to wait a long time between samples. Everything we tried was good, we just ran out of time before we got to the end (and we weren’t super excited about the fruit wines, anyway). They felt bad that we didn’t have time to try everything and didn’t charge us for one of the tastings, which was nice.

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We left with two bottles of the Picnic Red, which folks at dinner enjoyed, and a few bars of decent dark chocolate, because why not?

The rest of our weekend in Connecticut was spent hanging out with friends and their families, wandering through very old graveyards, and sleeping in at The Litchfield Inn, which had most of the charm of a New England bed and breakfast, but with private bathrooms and no forced communal meals (so it was great for me).

I’d like to turn more of our trips north into mini-vacations, and this was a good start to that. Next time we go to a winery, though, I’d rather have a picnic outside than have to huddle inside by a fireplace. Soon enough!

A Weekend Trip to the Twenties

Last weekend, E and I suited up and headed out to Governors Island for the  Jazz Age Lawn Party.

It was our second year attending, so we knew what to expect. However, we went to the smaller, quieter, (hotter) August version last summer, so the sheer number of people, of entertainers, of vendors was a fun surprise.

The Jazz Age Lawn Party is less historical reenactment than it is a chance for New Yorkers to get a little whimsical with their wardrobe, break out the nostalgia, and picnic for hours surrounded by grass and trees and bikes and champagne cocktails.

The costumes this year were fantastic. A lot of people who made it work with modern stuff, and also a ton of vintage promenading. Fans and hats and parasols, and suspenders, suspenders, suspenders.

It’s also a chance to joke about people who we now know were in for a big economic surprise in a few years’ time — “Oh, golly, how much have YOU made in the stock market this month?!” exclaimed one of my companions dramatically. Perhaps we are using humor to address our own embarrassment and shame of our own actions (or those of people we knew) during the last boom. Or maybe people are just jerks.

More than anything, though, it was a visual spectacle to see so many people in costume, lounging on blankets, strolling among the trees, or dancing a few steps of the Charleston to the sounds of a live band. There is a feeling of safety when you are surrounded by so many people doing what can be construed as a foolish thing in one place. On the ferry over, the benches were full of a mix of people in costume and wide-eyed folks in normal clothes who had no idea what was going on. When the silly ones are the ones in the know, there’s something special happening.

We’ll see you again soon, Governors Island — possibly even for the next Jazz Age Lawn Party in August.

Weekend Snaps and Tourist Traps

For the first — and last — weekend in a while, E and I had no real solid plans come quitting time on Friday, so we enjoyed a quiet, unstructured weekend around the apartment and in the city. The weather was delightful, so we got to spend some time outside over a pitcher of beer on Saturday night, and when we got home, the Greeks in our neighborhood were setting off fireworks to mark the start of their Easter Sunday festivities.

Tessie managed to get out (by which I mean we held the door open to see if she would go into the hallway), but she wasn’t sure what to do when she did. Her whole world for the past three years has been our one bedroom apartment, and I don’t know if she thinks the squirrels or other critters who occasionally stop by our fire escape are even real.

Sunday morning we were up and at ’em early to make it to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Discovery Times Square exhibit space. Today was the last day of the show, and we bought Groupons to visit ages ago, so we decided to head down. It was neat to see some of the artifacts (and the scroll remnants, of course), but the experience was pretty terrible overall. They herd you through the space in groups, so you end of moving either too fast or too slow and have trouble accessing all the things you want to see. They also have a really strange way of displaying some of the objects. They built long walls with text panels and inset display cases for smaller artifacts, and then placed dioramas with larger artifacts behind the wall and cut long, thin vertical windows into the wall. You can kind of see what I mean in this photo, which shows the vertical cut-outs. The end result was that it was nearly impossible to really see what was in the larger cases, especially if there were other people crowding you.

In any case, if it weren’t for the Groupon, it probably wouldn’t have been worth the astronomical entrance fee (30 dollars per person! For an exhibit that took us only an hour to comb through thoroughly!). I saw Harry Potter: The Exhibition in the same space and was similarly frustrated by the experience, though in that case more because we were pulsed through the hall so quickly we could barely take in all of the costumes and props. I’ll definitely think twice before seeing anything else there.

Because the weather was so beautiful when we got off the train back in Queens, we ended up having brunch in the back garden of one of the neighborhood restaurants after we realized that all the Greek restaurants we’d been talking about visiting for a quick breakfast were closed for Easter. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours with my favorite over-busy law student, but I am still dreaming of a good gyro. I know, my life is hard.

Lemon Poppy Seed Blueberry Muffins

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As I’ve gotten old and settled down (watch out for any Back-In-My-Day diatribes, kids), I’ve come to appreciate Sundays. They’re days that we clean our apartment, plan our meals for the week ahead, go grocery shopping, and tackle any big cooking projects. Sunday is also the day most likely to see a fancy breakfast coming out of our kitchen. Sundays are quiet days, they’re productive days, and, in some ways, they’re my favorite day of the week (assuming I can hold at bay the thoughts about the weekend ending and all of that).

This Sunday I decided to make lemon poppy seed blueberry muffins. I’ve made (and love) lemon poppy seed muffins before, and adding some sweet blueberries to the tangy batter seemed like a risk worth taking. It was.

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Recipe adapted from BrownEyedBaker:

Yield: 12 muffins

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Bake Time: 18 to 20 minutes

Ingredients:

2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
6 ounces of blueberries

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups.

2. In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of lemon strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and melted butter together until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – a few lumps are better than over mixing the batter. Fold in the poppy seeds and blueberries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffins cups.

3. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.

The muffins are dense and not too sweet. Perfect for a grey Sunday or weekday-morning treat, and a great way to use the blueberries you might have overpurchased in a fit of Spring! Now! ecstasy.

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Almost in Central Park

Saturday morning, I woke up with nothing to do until seeing The Hunger Games (reaction summary: guh! in a good way!) at 2 pm. I didn’t feel like cleaning or anything responsible like that, and E was heading to campus for some dumb thing, so I ended up going into Manhattan with grand plans of going to the Central Park Zoo to take pictures without an impatient spouse in tow, but I gave up after fifteen minutes of standing in a very slow-moving line to buy tickets while unsupervised toddlers wandered around me. Instead, I wandered around the perimeter of Central Park, bought some bowls at Crate & Barrel, and loitered on the patio by the 5th Avenue Apple Store. At least the weather was nice.

At the southeast corner of the park, near the entrance to the zoo, The Strand sets up a whole slew of books for sale. With Borders out of business and a Kindle (which I love) in my purse, I’ve found that the amount of time I spend idly browsing books has gone way down, and I’ve been feeling a little lost as to what to read next. Today, as I picked through piles of new and used books in the spring sunshine, I was reminded of how wonderful it can be to have a physical experience of shopping — whether for books, clothes, or other items. To see the designs of the covers, smell the pages as I flipped through them, and run my fingers down the spines as I turned the books over to read the back was a wonderful experience, and much more inspiring than clicking through a list on Amazon. In a digital age, it’s easy to forget how important the tactile can be.

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.

Photos From the First Warm(ish) Weekend of 2012

E and I had a weekend that was the best kind of busy.

It started with a much rowdier Friday night than we are used to.

And we finally found a vintage buffet to cut a hole in the back of and use as a TV stand.

We visited friends in Connecticut for cosmic bowling.

And brought the sunshine in with some lovely flowers.

Warm weather means summer bedding and happy kitties.

And changing the clocks gave us daylight lingering on until almost 7 pm!

After losing much of Saturday to sleeping off a late night at the bar, Sunday was amazingly productive. We made chocolate chip banana pancakes for breakfast, worked on the TV stand swap-out mentioned above, cleaned the entire apartment, went for a walk that turned into an impromptu half hour soaking up the sun over some brews at the beer garden, made a pan of amazing almost-vegan baked mac and cheese, and watched a movie in the evening. As I get old and settle down a bit, I appreciate Sundays more and more as a day to shake the dust out of my life, check things off the ol’ to-do list, and take care of all the little tasks that help us gather our reserves for the week ahead. A productive, happy Sunday seems to soften the blow of Monday morning just a bit.

A very small bit.