Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Three Days in Charleston

 

When Vinny asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year, I replied “nothing”. Then I said, “Wait. I take that back. I want you to plan a weekend away together” because I am wise and all-knowing and pretty much always itching to get out of town if time and finances allow. On Christmas morning I opened an envelope with an itinerary he created– a few nights each in Charleston and Savannah, with print-outs of the most expensive hotels in each city because Christmas mornings are for wildest dreams and looming debt. We delayed booking until we filled our vacant apartment, but once we did, we hopped online and decided to go away for our 15th anniversary. We didn’t end up staying in the pricy, dreamy places he’d originally picked out, but that’s okay because Charleston and Savannah are pretty dreamy on their own.

 IMG_8961

 

WHERE WE STAYED:

The Ashley Inn: We stayed in room 5 of this cute pink bed and breakfast very conveniently located in downtown Charleston. We booked it last minute on bedandbreakfast.com, and were very pleasantly surprised by its location and the fact that it lead out to a slightly more private section of the home’s wrap-around porch.

PROS: Clutch location! Around the corner is one of Charleston’s best breakfast spots (The Hominy Grill) and just past that are two really great restaurants– Xiao Bao Biscuit (I’ll circle back to this!) and R’s Kitchen, which we wish we could have tried. The b&b is about a 10-15 minute walk to King Street, which is the main shopping/restaurant row in town. Also, I gotta give props to that four-poster bed. It’s rare that I sleep so comfortably when I’m not in my own home.

IMG_9042

IMG_8862

CONS: B&B purists will be none too thrilled at the check-in process. No one greeted us, and we never met an innkeeper. Rather, our keys were obtained from an envelope in a property down the street. Breakfast was also served down the street, but I never ended up going for it since Charleston is known for its food! But the biggest drawback (and it’s a big one frankly)… there was no coffee in the building! Not one sweet, sweet drop! Who could live like this? Seriously, this place needs to set up a keurig or something in the main area, because that’s just bad hosting, in my opinion. On the brighter side, the lack of in-house brew forced us to get up early and beat the crowds for breakfast:). Another thing to know before booking is that the hotel is a few blocks from the medical center and we heard emergency helicopters hovering overhead a few nights which scared the shit out of me until I realized what was going on.

NEARBY: The Hominy Grill, R’s Kitchen, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Sugar Cupcakes, Candy Shop Vintage, King Street

 

HOW WE GOT AROUND: By foot! If you stay downtown there’s really no need to rent a car. If we weren’t able to walk, ubers were plentiful and inexpensive and every single driver was so sweet and friendly we couldn’t get over it. Charleston is a super quick flight from NYC (I think it was less than 2 hours!) and a great weekend destination for people on the East Coast. We went in March, which was perfect timing since we’re about at the end of our ropes with winter weather.

IMG_8938

house in Charleston

IMG_8890

WHAT TO DO:

Our intention in heading down to Charleston and Savannah wasn’t to “do” much, but to stroll, soak up a little spring sunshine and eat until our top buttons cried uncle. We met all these goals. We didn’t really do that much in Charleston except wander around and explore, punctuated by feedings. Downtown Charleston is super walkable, and there are a million guides on the internet to lead you toward the most popular areas to walk around in. South of Broad, Rainbow Row, the Battery, King Street, down by the water. It’s all very photogenic, clean and charming. That’s what we did the first day and a half– walked around, dipped into little stores, ate.

We also visited a plantation in nearby Mt. Pleasant, and I certainly would recommend that as well. There are a few to choose in the area; we chose the one that offered the most insights into what life was like for the slaves on the plantations. Boone Hall Plantation is the only plantation in the S.C. Low country to present a live presentation of the Gullah culture adapted by African slaves and they have eight former slave cabins you can walk through to learn more about the conditions for slaves on the plantation. (and yes… I suppose some people will choose this one over others because The Notebook was filmed here).

 IMG_9050

IMG_9060

 

MOST IMPORTANTLY…WHAT WE ATE

Poogan’s Porch– Recommended!

We tried: Country Fried chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes (very much like the Chicken Fried Chicken I grew up eating in TX), Lump Crabcakes with creamed corn (super generous with the crab, but they could have punched up the flavor a bit), pimento cheese fritters with green tomato jam (the real MVP), and she-crab soup–very tasty but realllllly heavy. This soup is basically on every Charleston menu, but this was the only time we tried it so it’s hard to say whose is best. Very good food, super charming atmosphere, lovely service, a little on the pricier side. Oh yeah… great cocktails too!

IMG_8872

Hominy Grill– Highly Recommended!

We tried: Bread Pudding French Toast with Bourbon Caramel Sauce (as good as it sounds) and their classic Shrimp and Grits with scallions, bacon and mushrooms over cheese grits (like heaven, but seriously). I just loved this place, and it was literally a five-minute walk from our inn, which was perfect to beat the morning crowds. On our second visit, I had the grits bowl topped with mushrooms and leeks (and side order of bacon I got to crumble on top:), and Vin got smothered eggs over biscuits. Fantastic and inexpensive. Get there early for breakfast because it gets totally packed, but there’s lots of good reasons why. I wish this place was in my neighborhood.

IMG_8880

IMG_9036

Sugar Bakeshop- Recommended (pop in if you’re already walking toward King Street)

We tried the Lemon Curd and the Raspberry. Small, light, lovely little place. Definitely worth a stop if you’re already in the area but I wouldn’t necessarily go out of the way unless you’re a total cupcake fiend (I’m not. I’m more of an ice cream gal).

IMG_8986

Fleet Landing- Recommended, especially for atmosphere

We tried: Fried Green Tomato Stack layered with tarragon crab salad (for $8.99, this is an amazing deal and it was delicious!), Lump Crab Cake Sandwich with Red Pepper Remoulade (we’re used to paying through the nose for any dish whispering the word “crab” in NYC, so we ordered crab at almost every restaurant in Charleston!), the fish special which was served with a tomato relish, black-eyed peas and Charleston red rice (twas just ok). Great spot downtown, very popular and super nice if you’re looking to eat outside by the water. Not my favorite meal of the trip, but did the job.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Highly Recommended!

I’m an ice cream gal, and this place is indeed splendid. If you’re ever in a town that has a Jeni’s shop, you must pop in to sample their excellent flavors made from premium ingredients. Top billing goes to Wildberry Lavender and Brown Butter Almond Brittle.

IMG_9076

Xiao Bao Biscuit Very Highly Recommended!

All the in-the-know gals who travel to Charleston (thanks Victoria!) rave about this place and for good reason– it’s incredible! On the website, it’s described as “Asian Soul Food -  Select dishes from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam prepared locally & inspired by kick-ass grandmothers everywhere. ” We tried the popular cabbage pancake topped with bacon, an octopus tail and a crazy beautiful spicy salad (the menu has already changed for the season and I can’t remember what any of the dishes are called). But trust me, when you need a quick break from heavy home cooking, this place really hits the spot! Charleston truly is a foodie’s paradise, and not just for Southern cuisine.

IMG_9026

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit Very Highly Recommended!

Line up early because this place is small, popular and fantastic! Vin had a breakfast sandwich on a biscuit (which was bomb) and I just tried two little guys (cheese & chive, which was really good and Black Pepper & bacon which was utterly mind-blowing). On King Street, so if you’re already shopping around, pop in! This one qualifies as an absolute “don’t miss”.

IMG_9094

Circa 1886 - Very highly recommended (for a splurge). We went to Husk in Savannah, and I have to imagine this place beats Husk- Charleston. If you’re looking for a romantic and special meal for your trip, this is the spot! The restaurant is in the carriage house of the Wentworth Mansion (one of the fancy printouts Vin made on Christmas morning) and serves some really exceptional high-end Southern cuisine.

We tried:

Appetizers: BUTTERMILK FRIED ARTICHOKE HEART  with Parsnip Puree, Tomato Marmalade, Black Truffle Pesto, Basil, Baby Spinach, Prosciutto (good, but not as awesome as it sounds)

NIMAN RANCH PORK CHEEK  with Spaghetti Squash, Pickled Green Apple, Crispy Kale, Herb de Provence Glacé (very very good, very tiny)

Main Courses: COFFEE BRINED ANTELOPE  with Sorghum Sweet Potato Mousseline, Braised Greens, Pineapple Relish, Shishito Peppers, Coconut Crema (Amazing!!! So many flavors– everything was covered)

BENNE CRUSTED DUCK BREAST with White Peach Grits, Broccoli, Carmelized Shallots, Sour Vanilla Tea Demi Glacé (I will dream about white peach grits for a very long time–such a subtle flavor that worked perfectly with everything else on the plate. Really fantastic!)

Dessert: CHOCOLATE BENNÉ CAKE Jivara Mascarpone, Ganache, Benné Butter, Lace Cookie

This was the best dessert I’ve ever had. The chocolate was practically unsweetened and the benne seeds (which are popular in the Carolinas, and are basically sesame seeds with a more toasted flavor) added lots of texture and crunch. My life’s mission is to recreate it. Plus, how pretty is this thing??

IMG_9085

IMG_9084

 

What we Missed: Husk, FIG, Jestine’s, R Kitchen, Leon’s Oyster Shop ( I hear the fried chicken sandwich is spectacular and I’m still sad I missed it!).

IMG_9045

IMG_8873

IMG_9038

read more

I Like Home Too.

 

IMG_8965

Vin and I have this game we play every time we get out of town. He’ll ask, “Can you imagine growing up here? What do you think you would have been like?”  “Do you think you’d be different?” Vin has only lived in New York City, and I think he has a difficult time imagining life any other way.

Whenever he asks these questions, we’re usually in a car whizzing by houses that are much, much larger than ours or walking down an impeccably clean street that smells like jasmine or gardenias. Sometimes we’re in a charming local store sniffing woodsy paraffin candles or admiring jars of rosemary-infused jams. On rare occasions we’re in a place so different from home it’s almost impossible to imagine a life there– on a bone-white patio perched on the edge of the bright-blue sea in Greece, or sweating in late December on the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.

We think about how our lives could have turned out differently if we’d grown up in really small American towns like Saugerties, New York or Fredericksburg, Texas; if we’d have liked the same music or had the same types of friends. I wonder what kinds of jobs local kids have in the summertime and what their parents cook them for dinner. I wonder what dishes are becoming the blueprint for every future memory associated with home. If I’d grown up in New England maybe I’d reach for a bowl carved from soft bread and filled with clam chowder when I was having a bad day. If Cincinnati was home, I’d put chili on a plate of spaghetti and cover it with cheese instead of pour it inside a bag of Fritos and top it with raw onions.

And because I live here, I often wonder how different I’d be if I’d spent my childhood in New York City. Would I be a little tougher, a little quicker to assert myself? Would I have spent weekends touring museums instead of laying out in the sun? I sometimes look at my husband and think he would have been exactly who he is no matter where he was. Or maybe I just have a hard time imagining him any other way.

After a while we flip to, “What do you think? Think you could live here?”

Vinny always answers no. Sometimes in calmer, smaller towns, I picture myself in my 60s and answer yes. The only time I answered “Absolutely! I could move here right now!” was in Barcelona. I cried after our last dinner there because I wasn’t ready to go home. That’s the only place that ever happened in, and I think it means something, but I’m not sure what. At the very least I should probably start brushing up on my Catalan.

 

 

Last week we took a trip to the American South, starting in Charleston then driving our way to Savannah, and I don’t know why I never realized before how beautiful that part of our country is. The buildings are old and ornate with long skinny porches that creak underfoot and host hanging baskets of pink and yellow begonias and climbing trellises of ivy. Black wooden shutters frame windows and delicate iron gates tiptoe around small front yards and walkways. Narrow alleys are lined with cobblestones and history and the scent of very old money. Fathers take their boys to fish for bass and bream in the shallow salt marshes and tidal creeks. Majestic live oaks arch overhead and drip with Spanish moss like some kind of gothic fairytale dream, and just when you think the entire world has turned green an azalea bush erupts in a riot of hot pink.

IMG_9239

IMG_8995

IMG_8872

 

We check into our candy-colored bed and breakfast in Charleston and take a deep breath of fresh spring air on our side porch. We dress for dinner, which we’ve already decided will be fried chicken and crab cakes, served in a wallpapered room in the back of a restored Victorian house.

We carry our craft cocktails to the table and the waiter says to us, “I knew you folks were from New York City the minute you walked in, and I mean that as a compliment.”

“Thank you, “I say. “We take it as one.”

We spend the next few days walking around, taking our time, sleeping in formal old homes where we sip peach tea on swinging benches and cutting quick paths to our next restaurant. Once we start eating we don’t stop. We eat like our time on earth is running out. We slurp she-crab soup thickened with heavy cream and sweetened with sherry, stand in line for tiny buttermilk biscuits we coat in butter and sticky honey, dive into bowls of collard greens seasoned with ham hocks and tangy vinegar.  We swipe fried pimento balls through a river of green tomato relish and swirl a tiny pool of butter into a bowl of creamy hominy grits, topped with tiny bits of bacon and shrimp the size of my elbow. We did this for five nights and six days, until our wallets and waistbands quietly whispered, “Go home. ” Vinny demolished half an apple pie in the uber on the way to the airport.

We take our quick flight, eager to land before the impending snowstorm. We’d given ourselves a quick glimpse of springtime, but were headed back to our cold New York City winter. On the plane I read a book about traveling that I’d borrowed from my friend and dream about all the delicious places in this world I’d be lucky to see.

Eventually we begin our final descent and I look to my left at the familiar skyline unfolding beneath me. A smile spreads across my face like softened butter. Vin is asleep, so I nudge him gently in the arm. “Wake up, Vinny. We’re home.”

“Yay”, he says, and rubs his eyes. “I’m glad we’re here. I like home.’

“I like home too”, I say, and reach to get my bag.

 IMG_9167

IMG_8962

IMG_8943

read more

Under the Radar NYC: A local’s guide to the best non-trendy shops in Manhattan

I used to hide all my inside-spots like acorns, afraid of never getting a table again or walking in a store and knocking elbows on every aisle. But lately, I feel the need to compulsively tell everyone all about my favorite places in New York City, not out of generosity so much as fear.

Everything’s closing!

When I moved here 18 years ago (Eighteen! That’s almost 20!!), I was blown away by all the restaurants and merchants that were completely unique to the city. I refused to patronize chain stores and restaurants because there was never any need to. I’d buy Asian slippers and tiny ceramic dishes at Pearl River Mart and wander for hours at the slightly grungy Antique Boutique on Broadway, where I bought my first “winter” coat at 22. It was leather and dark purple. I bought it second-hand, and it looked like it’d been pummeled with a stick. One day I got caught in the rain and all the color drained right off of me and pooled onto the cement. I’d never heard of anyone spray-painting leather before and was completely mesmerized by the novelty. An American Apparel store now occupies the space. Blech.

 hot pink mannequin

Lately, walking around the East Village on my lunch break has become a bit of a downer, as I pass so many empty storefronts that used to be filled with tiny cafes, ethnic specialty stores and funky gift shops. With rents in the city what they are– and Amazon at all our fingertips– I worry that the owners of my favorite local businesses will be out of a job in the next few years. I just finished reading “Vanishing New York”, and if you’re as concerned as I am about hyper-gentrification, you should give it a read too.

So I’ve created a selfish little list here. These are the businesses I frequent a lot and worry most about. I want everyone to know and love them as much as I do so they get to stick around another 50 years. Almost all of them are inexpensive, under-the-radar, and not trendy in the slightest. No one instagrams or twits about these places, which means they need help to keep their spirit (and their storefronts) alive. I’ve got a whole other list of Astoria, Queens businesses I’ll share later because my sweet little hood is stocked with terrific small shops.

MANHATTAN

Dual Specialty Store: My favorite little shop in all of NYC. Just around the corner from the street affectionately known as Curry Row sits this tiny delight of an Indian and Middle Eastern spice and food store. If you love to cook, you’ll be mesmerized by the variety of spices and herbs here, all priced really well. Also a great place if you’re into incense, oils, roots, powders and obscure natural remedies. (East Village)

spices

Kaluystan’s: This is far from a hidden gem, and it’s basically Dual Specialty Store but bigger with an absolutely stunning array of food products. This is an international culinary wonderland, and I’m not being hyperbolic. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it probably doesn’t exist. (Murray Hill)

The Strand: The greatest bookstore in all the land! Every morning I struggle to not spend 20 or 30 minutes browsing their dollar bins outside. This place is a New York institution and if it ever closed there’d be anarchy in the streets. (Union Square)

Himalayan Vision: I remember being mesmerized by this tiny Tibetan store when I first moved to the city, and sometimes I can’t believe that it’s still open. I love decorating with their bright and beautiful throw blankets (currently on sale for $25) and it’s a great place for tiny trinkets, jewelry and gifts. PS: there’s another Tibetan store called Mandala on the next block. (East Village)

himalayan blanket

WAGA African & Ethnic Shop: The gorgeous woven baskets out front make my heart skip a beat every time I walk by this special little shop on St. Mark’s. (East Village)

Paper Presentation: There are tons of chain stationary stores in the city, but I will always have a soft spot for Paper Presentation. The space is vast and beautiful, their selection of paper products simply exceeds all others and the prices are reasonable. A great place to visit if you’re even moderately crafty. (Flatiron District)

Zabar’s: The Upper West Side would lose their crown jewel if anything ever happened to Zabar’s! This quintessential NYC grocery store has an amazing cheese counter, babka, bagels and all the traditional delicatessen fare. Their top floor has great cooking and baking supplies, and if you ever need to send a gift basket that screams “I love NY”, this is the place to order it from. (Upper West Side)

Physical Graffitea: Physical Graffitea is a tiny tea emporium on the ground floor of the historic “Physical Graffiti” buildings that graced the cover of the Led Zeppelin album of the same name. Their selection is out of control, and the owner loves helping customers find their ideal blend. (East Village)

Tal Bagels: Old school bagels with just the right chewy-on-the-inside/slightly crisp on the outside texture, plus a huge counter of smoked fish. My favorite bagels in the city. This is the real deal. (Upper West and East Side locations)

Porto Rico Importing Company: My first, last and everything when it comes to all things coffee. Another NYC gem that’s made it over 100 years and is still kicking. I buy my coffee (French Sumatra, dark roast, whole beans) from this little stall across the street across from my office, and it’s the highlight of my week. Big bonus–it’s only $10 a pound for my favorite blend, which ends up being equal to most grocery store brands! I buy all my filters and little extras there too because I want this local business to thrive! (East Village, Greenwich Village, Williamsburg, Lower East Side locations)

Porto Rico NYC

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory  These days there are a million places all over the city to get artisanal ice cream in wacky flavors (my other favorites are Morganstern’s (Chocolate Malt and Coconut Ash are TO DIE) and a combo of Earl Gray/Bourbon Vanilla at Van Leeeuan. But Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is not trendy anymore, and in this world of Instagrammable milkshakes, that’s a real problem. Flavors like green tea, red bean and mango will always have my heart. (Chinatown)

Eisenberg’s  If Carnegie Deli can bite the dust, anyone can. The lines for Katz’s are always around the corner, but I sometimes worry about a little lunch counter called Eisenberg’s (open since 1929) in the Flatiron District. If you’re in the mood for an egg cream, matzoh ball soup or great pastrami on rye as well as a heavy dose of major New Yawk nostalgia, please plan a lunch here soon. (Flatiron District)

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery  Truth be told, I hate knish. They’re really dense and heavy and just not my thing. But this place has been a fixture on the Lower East Side for over 100 years, and if it ever went away, it’d be a real loss for the neighborhood and the city. Grab an egg cream while you’re there. (Lower East Side)

yonah schimmel knish

yonah schimmel knish

East Village Cheese– this post sat in my drafts folder so long that it’s already closed… NO MORE CHEAP CHEDDAR FOR ME!

McNulty’s Tea- Another amazing super-old-school tea shop that looks like an apothecary with huge jars filled with loose leaves. (Chelsea)

RIP: Antique Boutique, The Place, CBGBs, Broadway Panhandler, Bamiyan, Dojo’s, Yaffa Cafe, Carnegie Deli, Pearl River Mart (especially the original location on Canal), F.A.O. Schwartz, Caffe Dante (they once microwaved a croissant for me to refresh it later in the day, but still- a Greenwich Village institution!), the Campbell Apartment, the original Pommes Frites (I’ll never get over it), Yellow Rat Bastard, all the silly shoe shops on 8th Street

read more

In Texas, it’s like borrowing a cup of sugar.

 

Did I ever tell you the story of how my dad met his next door neighbors? It is perhaps the most Texan story of all time. It’s really funny.

My dad lives between Galveston and Houston in a small marina town called Kemah; in the 2010 census the population was 1, 773. There’s a wharf down the road where people park their boats and a line of seafood shops sell fresh flounder and enormous shrimp shaped like bananas. Dad built his house on a large plot of land on the edge of a small lake, a body of water so placid and tranquil it barely ripples, even in a hurricane. Dad’s yard is the perfect place to drink a refreshing cocktail and watch the sun set. Every time I visit I’m reminded how different our lifestyles are.

One day, Dad was doing some work in his yard when a big snake slithered along his path. Now dad has all types of undomesticated animals wander around his area and come through his yard– coyotes howl at night, geese do running leaps across the grass and dozens of turtles line the edge of the lake, their hard shells docked along the shoreline like colossal skipping stones. One time we had to have a bobcat rescued from the top branch of an oak tree. Its eyes were piercing hazel and lined by a rim of bright white fur–gorgeous but terrifying.

Dad also has many domesticated animals, as he and his wife rescue anything with four legs. Most things wouldn’t cause a stir, but snakes could cause major harm to their six dogs and two cats. According to legend (aka: my father’s retelling), he handled seeing the snake in a very brave and masculine way, then ran a few blocks to the house next door to ask for help from his new neighbors. He still hadn’t met them yet.

Dad ran up to their front door which was framed by two box ferns and adorned with a seasonal homemade wreath.

“Hey! I live next door. Do you have a gun I can borrow?” He dropped his hands on his knees as he struggled to catch his breath.

“You don’t have a gun?” the neighbor asked. He wore blue jeans and a belt buckle the size of a salad plate. They called him Longhorn Bob, because he raises longhorns. Years later, at my wedding, he did a bidding call to auction off dances with me and Vin. He also served our friends shots from his best bottle of tequila.

“I don’t have a gun. But I have a snake I need to shoot.” said Dad.

Bob closed the door a bit and whispered to his wife Cindy, a beautiful blonde who rolls 60 enchiladas on Sundays just in case people stop by. “Cindy, this guy says he lives next door and he needs to borrow a gun to shoot a snake. What should I do?”

“How do we know he’s not gonna shoot his wife?” asked Cindy. This was a fair question.

“I don’t understand,” said Bob. “Why doesn’t this guy have a gun?”

When Dad retold the story to me, I laughed at the irony of the situation. My father didn’t seem suspicious because he was holding a gun, he was suspicious for not owning one.

Isn’t that funny?

 

read more

My Achy Valentine

 

Thursday, 4:15pm 

I take a sip, and immediately know. I’d just led a group in my office and had offered everyone present water or tea. I keep a little mug tree on my desk and most of the time consider it a pretty nice touch for a therapist’s office, except on the day everyone puts their dirty cups in the same spot and I mistakenly grab one thinking it’s mine.

Jenn: “OMG I’m panicking because I think I accidentally drank water out of someone else’s cup. I know I have the cold and the flu and probably Ebola.”

Vinny: “Haha, oh no!”

J: I’m going home to pour a bucket of hot salt water down my throat. This might be it for me. Game over.”

V: Ok baba. Get to gargling. You’re not going to die.”

J: “Don’t forget that I love you. We had a lot of good times.”

V: “You’ll be fine.”

J: “You can remarry. I don’t want you to starve.”

V: “Stop! You’re fine. But yeah– you better gargle that salt water.”

 IMG_9091

 

Friday morning:

The staff doctor calls in sick. (in a health clinic, this is the sign of the end). The receptionist looks overwhelmed and slightly feverish.

Friday early evening:

Vinny finally arrives home after a week-long ski trip in Vermont where he’d been hurtling himself through fresh powder and guzzling hot chocolate with shots of whiskey. I pull myself off the couch to greet my husband in paint-covered black sweatpants and a dirty shirt. My head wobbles on my shoulders; its weight substantial and cumbersome. He immediately has to rush out to a work function.  I immediately rush to bed.

Saturday morning: 

I wake up to fresh flowers and crippling fatigue. I know right away I will spend the entire day on the couch with a jug of ginger tea and a remote control. Vinny heads upstairs with his father to paint the rental apartment. Throughout the day, groups of people tour the place, all of them healthy and attractive. I greet them from my horizontal position on the couch in a plush white robe. Refusing to shake anyone’s hand, I offer up a few patriotic salutes.

Flashes of warmth course through my neck and shoulders, so I’d remove the robe and immediately start to shiver. Beads of sweat pooled at the base of my neck, then they’d dry and I’d be cold all over again. Per my request, Vin went to the grocery to buy a whole organic chicken and a huge stick of ginger. I taught him how to make “my great healing soup” from my spot on the couch. The only thing he’d ever boiled before was hot dogs. Watching him skin and debone a whole chicken for me brought tears to my eyes. He takes my temperature throughout the day, presses his cool palm into my hot forehead.

Sunday- Monday:

Still achy and fatigued and laying prostrate on the couch. By late Monday, feeling better– take a walk, call clients and tell them I’ll see them in the morning.

Tuesday morning:
I’m dressed and ready to go to work when my knees start to buckle and the idea of walking a few blocks to the subway seems an impossible feat. I feel much better than I had days ago, but still worried about getting others sick.

“I think I need to check in with a doctor,” I say to Vin, who was just about to leave for work too.

We get in the car and drive to urgent care, where they should consider changing their name because we sat in a windowless exam room for an hour waiting for the PA. Vinny played with every instrument in the doctor’s office before i was finally declared flu-free. We go to the pharmacy to pick up my meds, and Vin waits another 30 minutes in the car. It’s now 12:30 and he’s several hours late for work. It reminds me of how I got sick on our honeymoon, and instead of complaining about not being able to go out and do stuff, he spent an hour brushing tangles out of my windblown hair.

Tuesday evening:

Text message from Vinny,” Make some room on that couch baba. So so achy.”

Jenn: “Oh no! Not you too!”

V: ” I think this is the big one. You should remarry. I want another person to eat as well as I have.”

After a crappy subway ride home, Vinny opens the door and heads for the couch. I lay a blanket on him, the raggedy white throw I’d been coughing into for days. I cover his feet, and start the pitcher for tea. I touch his hot forehead with the cool palm of my hand and tell him to get some rest.

It’s my turn.

On and on we go.

And I can’t think of anything more romantic.

tea

My Great Healing Soup

-one whole organic chicken (skin removed)

-1 whole stick of ginger root, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

-as many cloves of fresh garlic as you can handle (i go for 6-8)

salt + pepper to taste

Boil all this together for a long time until it tastes really gingery and really garlicky. Remove chicken and shred, then put it back in the pot. That’s it.

read more

Somethin’ Peed in the Christmas Decor

For a long time, my husband and I rented a basement apartment in Queens. The ceilings were a hair over six feet and the particleboard cabinets had begun to crumble from the edges inward. My closet was in the kitchen and we served appetizers from our bedroom’s dresser drawers during house parties. Lacking adequate space, we stored the overflow in a dank unfinished cave behind the home’s washer and dryer. Most of our possessions back there eventually smelled like mildew, but one cold December day, they reeked of urine.

I don’t like to brag, but I have the greatest sense of smell on God’s green earth. It’s an extraordinary gift when seasoning dinner or saving people from burning buildings, but it’s a real drag when garbage has overstayed its welcome or something’s peed on your Christmas decorations. I’d just stumbled on a box filled with tinsel that smelled like a litter box and it made me feel very unfestive.

christmas decor

I called out to my husband. “Hey Vin! Come sniff these decorations. They smell like pee.”

Vinny thinks I experience olfactory hallucinations because he never smells what I smell, so when he agreed about the urine I knew I wasn’t crazy. It’s nice to have this confirmed now and then.

“Some kind of animal must have gotten down here,” I said.

“Jenn, we’re in Queens. When have you ever seen an animal?” Ummm, did he not remember the rat from last year?

The smell was so strong I began to feel nauseous, and I worried my eyes might never uncross. I wanted to uncover the mystery, but I also needed our Christmas box to spontaneously burst into flames or grow wings and fly itself to the curb.

Vin stroked his beard like an ancient wizard; in times of crisis or uncertainty, he looked to his facial hair as a sort of oracle. Finally he offered, “What if Vito did it?”

Vito was our former landlord, a funny and engaging man with whom we’d always gotten along really well. So when my husband accused the man of marching into his own house and marking his territory like a feral donkey, I thought he was the one hallucinating. It reminded me of the time I heard meowing on the subway and instead of looking for a cat began searching for a person with a bizarre vocal talent.

‘Why would someone pee all over his own property?” I asked.

“Maybe he was working down here and had no other choice. ”  he said.

I’d always admired mens’ ability to relieve themselves at their leisure. The female anatomy made spontaneous evacuation a much more challenging task, with all the hiding and squatting and modesty and whatnot.

I wasn’t ready to rule out a critter, but Vinny was convinced it was human pee, especially after discovering his grandparents’ vintage ornaments were missing.

vintage ornaments

“The ornaments are GONE! You wanna tell me a raccoon came down here and stole them? It had to be a person, Jenn.”

“Let me get this straight,” I debated. “You think our landlord came down here, took a pee in a box, then stole our ornaments?”

“YES.”

I dropped the subject, exhaled, and delivered the stinky box to the trash. Eventually we found the ornaments and ruled out our landlord as primary suspect. We found the mouse droppings an hour later, like tiny lumps of coal. We sang some carols, hung our stockings and toasted with eggnog.

Then we lit a big freaking candle so Christmas could smell like peppermint again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

read more

This is Laziness. But this is also Love.

 

This weekend we painted for two days straight. Our upstairs apartment is back on the market, and the previous tenants dinged and bruised every square inch of wall on the way down. Friday night we tackled the bedrooms. I picked out a lovely, subtle shade of very faint gray.  I hope the new tenants are fond of their new light blue sleeping quarters.

Saturday morning we bought more paint and brushes and a bag of bagels, then I put on a big pot of coffee to share with Vin’s father, a man who says very little but always helps us a lot. We taped and edged and rolled for hours until every inch of the living room and front hallway was covered in a ridiculously crisp white. I’d asked for “the most popular shade of white” at our paint store, and apparently the people in our neighborhood eschew soft creamy shades in favor of a blinding institutional glow.

Sunday morning I had intentions to hit the gym and the grocery store before nine, but instead hit snooze for two full hours. My back ached, my legs wobbled and even my knuckles felt sore. I felt like an old dog, tired down to my bones. Breathing in paint fumes for two days made me groggy and lightheaded. I woke up at 8, and stumbled to our windows to open the dated vertical blinds we still haven’t gotten around to replacing. The sun sucker punched me, right in the eye. I let out a whine like a cranky child.

All I wanted was coffee because all I ever want is coffee.

good coffee

I’m one of those people who normally spends 20 minutes grinding whole beans and pouring hot water over fresh grounds through a funnel. There’s a whole meditative ritual behind it, watching the liquid drip through the paper and into the carafe, but in those moments when you really just need to mainline caffeine that whole rigamarole is too high-maintenance. That’s why a traditional drip coffee maker will always be welcome in my home.

But that morning, my laziness hit an unprecedented peak. I was too tired to make my own coffee– pour over or otherwise. I rang a little bell, hoping the butler might fetch me one. No one came, of course, so I hauled my tired ass to the upstairs apartment to get my coffee maker. It was still half full from the day before. I considered it a sign to take it easy, and against (anyone’s, everyone’s) better judgment, decided to reheat my day old coffee instead of making a fresh two cups.

I searched my kitchen for a pot because as much as I was willing to lower my standards, even I was too good for microwaved day-old coffee. Suddenly I remembered that my small pot was in the fridge holding Thursday night’s chili; I should have transferred it to Tupperware, but never got around to it.

So I did the next best thing and poured the cold coffee into a saute pan. I was totally out of Half and Half (WHY GOD WHY?) so I poured a thimble of two percent milk into the saute pan, then showered a teaspoon of saigon cinnamon over the top in my attempt to be civilized.

I cranked up the flame and when it came to a respectable temperature I poured it into my mug, where a nasty milk film spread like a virus across the top. I took a sip and began to gently weep.

“It’s still coffee,” I muttered under my breath, trying to convince myself that things weren’t so dire. I finished the whole appalling mug while laying across the couch in mismatched socks and a white chenille robe surfing instagram with the kind of dead eyes you only see on a child playing Minecraft. I could not recall a time I felt so out of it, so completely opposed to movement or productivity. I realize that the parents among you have likely synchronized your eye rolls at my dramatics. That, or you get me. You really, really get me.

Finally, Vinny woke up and stumbled into the living room in his boxer shorts. He wiped the sleep from the corner of his eyes and asked me how my morning had been.

“Not great,” I said. “I feel totally wiped and I was so tired I didn’t even feel like making coffee.” I raised my sad cup of day old dregs to show him how far I’d fallen from grace. “I reheated yesterdays’ coffee in a saute pan and it was awful.”

“Do you want me to get you a cup of coffee?” he asked. A crown of heavenly light beamed around the circumference of his head. I bit my lower lip as I struggled not to cry.

“You would do that for me?” I asked. I acted like we live on a remote prairie and he’d offered to ride into town on a buggy to get me just one thing. It felt like the kindest gesture in the world.

Now’s a good time to tell you that we actually live across the street from a 24-hour deli. It is literally seven seconds from my home, door to door. They sell half & half there, as well as ready-made coffee. The idea of putting on a coat and shoes and walking across had been too much to bear. And so I waited a few hours for my husband to wake up so he could make the trip.

He put on his shoes and was out and back in less than a minute. I put the paper cup to my lips and let the liquid warm my mouth and stream down my throat. It was lukewarm and sharply bitter, an absolutely terrible cup of coffee. But I drank the whole thing anyway,  because his gesture had been so sweet.

 

read more

The Life of a Writer

I have been a writer for a very, very long time. I uncovered my talent early, scribbling furiously in little pink notebooks while splayed on my Laura Ashley bedspread. My childhood bedroom was furnished with alluringly feminine pieces–a Victorian style makeup table where I learned to smear glitter all over my face, a canopy bed of wrought iron from which I strung dead dried roses. Vines from our home’s exterior crept inside my front window. I enjoyed clipping them with nail scissors and pretending I was trapped in the tower of an air-conditioned suburban castle. My early setting was very dramatic and inspired my craft.

Recently, I came across a diary I kept throughout my eighth year as a preternaturally evolved person. Please enjoy the early works of a burgeoning artist.

Prologue:
“I’ll always keep this book close to my heart. Through all the years of my life, I will keep this. My favorite page is page 8 about my best friend and me being separated forever.”
Signed, Jennifer (age 8)

Page 4: A Poem
Up in the Sky
“The sky is blue
and the clouds a new
When I sit by the window sill,
Way up in the sky
so high, so high,
up to the brightest star, and I sit and I
sit, And wonder where you are.”
BY: Jennifer P.
March 5, 1986
third grade
age eight 8

Page 8:
“I’ll never forget the day my best friend Magic moved to New Jersey. Yes, it was sad to see my best friend moving, but, it was needed. For her grandmother was dying. It was a tragedy and I cried for her. But I’ll never forget Magic’s smile. And I garentee you she won’t forget mine. And here’s a song I wrote:

Why do we have to be separated like this. We were meant to be together forever forever friends we will be oh, friends together just you and me.

“These words mean a lot to me. Magic was a dear friend to me. And I bet your buckles Erika isn’t even writing in her journal about her moving even though she clams that Magic and her were best friends.

No they weren’t. “

***

(Can you believe I had a friend named Magic? Actually, her full name was Magic Rain And Moon Nelson D’Arienzo. This is what happens when you’re born in the ’70s.)… And yes, the “And” was capitalized.

IMG_5878

So, now do you get the idea? Do you see why I keep crackin’ away at this? You can’t ignore raw talent. You’ve either got it, or you don’t. Same goes for that latent bitchiness in my last entry. If it’s there, you just have to own it. I’m ready to step into my power guys.

So anyway, after a few years (I think it was 3.5, but possibly four!) I *finished* writing my memoir. I put the word finished in little brackets because it will never feel truly finished, I will never get it just right and if by some miracle I am able to get it published in the traditional sense, it’s most certainly not in final form. I’m pretty sure I overuse semi-colons to an almost criminal extent.

Part of me is reluctant to announce “I finished my book!” because now I’m on the hook for whatever comes next. And the truth is, I want something to come out of this. I spent a lot of time on this. I woke up at six–sometimes five– for years to get the writing in before work, when the house was quiet and my brain felt most alert. I wrote this entire thing while Vinny was sleeping; the dude never even saw me at my computer! I spent all spring and summer typing away on my little back patio and I wouldn’t be surprised if my next door neighbors think I have a gaming addiction with the amount of time they’ve seen me glued to my laptop.

I’ve read and fine-tuned each chapter a dozen times, and I can’t look at them anymore. I’ve clipped and rearranged and scrapped big chunks altogether. I’ve given it to a few people (the industry calls them beta-readers) and their feedback was encouraging. But still, when I look over it, I’m constantly asking myself, “Is this a book? Does it read like an actual book?” There are parts I know are good, and there are parts where I think it could be a lot better. It is nearly impossible to objectively read something you’ve written and get a grasp of whether it’s any good or not. Sometimes I read stuff I’ve written and get a kick out of it. Sometimes I read it back and think “Oh wow- this is trash.”

I have no delusions of grandeur here; I didn’t write the next great American novel and I am no Joan Didion. My book falls under the category of “lighthearted”, “easy to read” and “something you might throw in your beach bag”. I’m cool with it. I know what kind of writer I am. I’m hopeful that there are literary agents interested in publishing something like this, but really– I just have no idea what will happen next.

I will say that I am proud of myself for setting a goal and finishing it. Even if nothing happens next (which could very well be the case), I will always be able to say that I got this thing out of my head and onto paper, and I feel true relief in having done that. But if it doesn’t get published in the traditional sense, I will likely self-publish and advertise it here.

That’s where the next phase comes in — marketing myself. Sending queries to agents, proving to them I have a big enough platform to sell copies. Ugh, I’m so loathe to do this, but I’m pretty sure I have to. I’ll ask you this one time and then I’ll shut up about it, but if you like something you read here, please share it–either on social media or the old-fashioned way (with your mouth).

If you’re reading this, I appreciate you. I’ve taken some really long breaks and you stuck around! I’ve always had a really small readership, but it’s always struck me as a smart, encouraging, supportive and savvy one. Now that the book is done, I need to go out and find more people like you to join us here.

If you have any ideas on how to do that, I’m totally open to them. In the meantime, I guess I’ll be in the corner of everyone’s favorite restaurant, hashtagging my poached eggs so that shit can spread like Instagram wildfire.

read more

What To Do When You FINALLY Finish Writing Your Book (!)

 

Email Subject: Query: XXX (memoir/humor)

Dear kind, savvy and attractive literary agents (all 50++ of you),

I’m seeking representation for my memoir XXX. (My book is not titled XXX; I’m withholding here to add an element of surprise. On second thought though, that’s a pretty intriguing title, isn’t it?).

XXX is about a 22-year-old Gen-X Texas virgin who moves to New York City at the dawn of the millennium, marries a man named Vinny from Queens and fumbles through early adulthood while adjusting to significant cultural differences and a burgeoning digital age.

The story begins in puberty and ends on my 40th birthday, each essay chronicling an experience women of all ages can relate to or find humor in: growing up with quirky mixed-faith parents, a long season of sexual ungainliness, interviewing B-list celebrities as a hair magazine writer, competing on a TV dating show, awkward talks at the gynecologist’s office, urban house hunting adventures and basic reproductive turmoil. It also features practical advice on what to do if your boob explodes in a mental health clinic, you discover your landlord is a XXX (let’s keep that another surprise) and your husband grows a foot-long beard that makes him look like the caveman in a Geico commercial.

The 19 essays bounce between New York City and all across Texas, as my life has, for the last 18 years. Most of them are filled with loving and vivid descriptions of place, local characters, family and food—much of it deep-fried or slathered in bubbling cheese.

I’m a New York City psychotherapist who has been blogging about my personal life for the past few years. I intend to boost interest for this project by reigniting my lifestyle/writing blog Much to My Delight, while I continue developing stories for my next book.

Please let me know if you’d like to look over the completed 49,000 – word manuscript.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jennifer P.

IMG_4598 *Hi everybody. It’s nice to be back. You’ll be seeing a   lot more of me. Unless you’re Tina Fey you need to   have an “established platform” to have a memoir   published these days. Stay tuned. Tweet at me, bro!

**I can’t believe I just told you guys I was a virgin at   22. I must really trust you. Although, if my Grandma is   reading this, I bet she’s feeling pretty smug.

read more

The Reason I Don’t Blog Much Anymore

 

Is this thing on?

I know what you’ve all been asking yourselves. “Where has she been? Why doesn’t she blog anymore?”

Just kidding, I’m well aware no one is sitting around asking that. But I thought I’d fill you in anyway. Plus, my website domain renews every September 15th. I just paid 15 bucks to keep this blog running, so I might as well use it.

I haven’t been writing much here, but I have been writing a lot. Actually, I’ve been writing more than ever. At least I was, until Labor Day. Labor Day was my self-imposed deadline for the first draft of the book of essays I’ve been writing. The original deadline was my 40th birthday in June, but I missed it. This is now a recurring theme–not of my book– but of my life. To the 22-year-olds going out into the world, making plans, putting milestones on a timeline… as your 40-year-old elder, I will now encourage you to remain flexible. Things may not happen when you want them to, and you better learn to roll with it. If you don’t get married by 28, the world will keep turning.

Anyway, I thought I was just about ready to put this puppy to bed on Labor Day, and I was feeling pretty great about it. Then I showed it to a writer friend to get some much-needed feedback, and have spent the three weeks since staring into space, organizing my inbox and scratching my butt. Sometimes I take a break to share a really interesting thought on Facebook, something groundbreaking like my urgent and irrepressible need to pee, but mostly I just sit around, feeling lost, confused and unmotivated. It’s not a good feeling.

vermont

The only person to have read my essays is one of Vinny’s work colleagues named Zach, an international bon vivant, technical wizard, writer, and supercilious wine drinker. Zach and his girlfriend lived in Montreal this summer and are now moving to Paris for two months this Thursday. Zach speaks four languages and spent 12 hours a day learning Arabic while living in Syria. He’s applying to fellowships so he can complete his novel from a remote cabin in the woods, deep in the piney Adirondacks. When we visited Zach in Montreal over Labor Day weekend, we spent more on wine than our monthly electricity bill. Zach leads a vivid life–far more vivid than mine–and it shows in his writing.

I was extremely reluctant to show my writing to Zach. First of all, he’s a man and my writing– I’m fairly certain– is far more appealing to women. I wasn’t sure he’d enjoy my voice, or be able to appreciate my “period at summer camp” story the way a woman reader would. Plus, his writing style is just the total opposite of mine. His writing reminds me a lot of Chuck Paluhniuk (who I love), while mine is kind of simple, straight-forward, and probably a little too silly or sweet for his taste. But I showed it to him anyway, because I’ve read every line of my “book” 40 times and none of it even makes sense to me anymore.

His feedback was enormously helpful, but none of it included lines like, “My God, girl…you are brilliant” or a softly whispered “I had no idea you were so talented, Jenn”. His feedback was critical, straight-forward, laser sharp and extremely accurate. Each of his suggestions made complete and total sense, and he made no attempts to coddle my ego when making them. I found his recommendations enormously helpful, but now I’m worn out and wondering how to execute them.

Writing doesn’t come easily to me at all. It’s hard work and unfortunately I’m in a spot where it doesn’t feel fun anymore. I kind of want to finish this thing up and move on. I was on a bit of a roll for a while, but now I find myself distracted so easily. I feel like I’ve lost my swag, and I really want to find a way to get it back.

Anyway, that’s the reason I don’t blog anymore. I don’t know how other people balance so many balls in the air, but I learned a long time ago that I can’t. If I’m actually going to finish this book, it needs to be the only writing project I do for a while. I’d rather throw 100% of my effort into completing this now than barely having time for both that project and the blog, for God knows how long. I’ll be back here more regularly once I’m done. Maybe. We’ll see.

And yes, eventually I will get this book done because I started something and I am hell-bent on finishing it.

Whether it makes sense or not is another thing altogether.

 

read more

About Jenn.


headshot


About Me: I'm a 40-year-old native Texan who moved to New York, became a therapist, and married a guy named Vinny from Queens. I delight in observing the world around me, and write about it here. I'm not normally this tan, but I wish I was.

Archives

Subscribe to my posts