Friday, April 27, 2007

Bidding adieu.

Today is my last day in New York City. Tomorrow we are packing up and shipping out. I have to say, for a last day, New York has done a great job of making it one of those typical annoying mornings when the grime and the grease start to make you snap at tourists who stand too long on street corners.

Of course, on the last day that I will ever need to ride the subway, my month-long subway pass expires. Okay, I'm not complaining--so I timed it almost perfectly, but when I head to the subway card-dispensing machine (because the people station attendants no longer sell tickets--not really sure what they do. They certainly don't give friendly directions.), it is not taking credit cards or debit cards. As is the story of Brooklyn!

No problem. I'll just head back out into the pouring rain that is soaking through my leather boots, juggle my $6 breakfast smoothie with my umbrella that will probably turn inside-out at any minute, and hit up the Bank of America ATM.

Convenience. The only saving grace for this moldy, abused city. Thanks to convenience, there is a Bank of America right down the street. I would have just gone to any of the seven ATMs I pass on my way to B of A, but the idea of a $3.50 charge is making me think I might as well just take a cab to work.

After getting money out, I realize that most likely the subway card-dispensing machines don't give change and I don't feel like taking a chance that it does, only to climb the stairs up to the street yet again. And since ATMs only spit out in increments of twenty, I am forced to slip into a drugstore for change. Buy a pack of gum, get my ten, my five, my ones and merrily (albeit twenty minutes late) descend down the stairs into the rumbling, damp (and now, flooding) subway station.

Life is hard in this city. And this morning was just one example of the common obstacles that make a simple task (i.e. a commute to work) become a silly goose chase. I will miss the depth of the people here--they carry a self-assuredness that I have yet to see in other places, a real strength. Pride in their interests--interests that are not manufactured by the mainstream--and a love for challenge. And although I admire how people here thrive on challenge (because I too will up the ante most days), the challenges here just don't seem worth it to me: cramming in to 400 sq. feet of space and trying to live a sane life. Only being able to afford those 400 sq. ft. because the cost of living here makes every day a battle. A battle...for what?

And so I leave, with much respect for those who choose to revel in the remarkable culture, energy, and rhythm this city has, but with no regrets. The quality of life has become too deprived.

[Image 1 thanks to efeb according to this license.]
[Image 2 thanks to Ian Troxell--my partner in adventure and crime.]
[Image 3 thanks to B.G. Johnson according to this license.]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Life's A...Beach!

Whenever the weather gets warm and my freckles start showing again, I can't help but dream of laying on the beach, sliding my feet around in warm sand, smelling my coconut-scented Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion, and thinking of absolutely nothing. Except how badly I want to grab my surfboard and paddle out.

It's been tough living in Brooklyn, battling my way to the beach on the trains only to discover unsatisfying surf. Not to mention the $6 fee it takes just to get onto the beach in Long Beach--the closest and nicest of train-accessible beaches. Yes, $6 just to cross over from the boardwalk onto the sand.

This was a shock to me the first time I spent a day in this Long Island beach town. With one surf shop (decent enough) and local-magnet, burrito shack Aye Caramba (which also serves Caribbean fare), the image of what beach town meant to me (Santa Barbara and San Diego) floated farther and farther away. Even the scent of salty sea was nowhere to be found.

To me, Hawaii does it right. By law, all beaches must be open to the public. Yes, even the beaches in front of those mega-resorts like the Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai in Kona or the Princeville Resort in Kauai must let people onto the beach who are not staying at the hotel.
How to gain this said public access? When you drive up to the kiosk to enter the parking lot, just ask for a beach pass.

My favorite beaches in the world (okay, so I haven't been to Fiji, New Zealand, or most of the world yet), are in Hawaii. Sadly, the turquoise waters of Kua Bay in Kona, are no longer only accessible by an adventurous walk across a mile of black, sharp lava field. I know this doesn't sound enjoyable, but now that a paved road leads tourists right up to Kua Bay's white sands, the cove no longer feels like its your own when you arrive.

Lanikai, on Oahu, is my second favorite. The first time I arrived was by kayak. Gorgeous mansions line the shore, the Chinaman's Hat island looks so close, like you could doggy paddle your way right over to it. Brilliant coral in fuschia and blue creates an underwater civilization while sea turtles glide through less dense parts.

And unlike the beach that lines Malibu Colony's shore, anyone can settle into the sand, soft as velvet, with a book and a towel and enough drinking water to last all day long...

(Now fill me in. What's your favorite beach? Don't worry, we won't tell.)

[Image 1 thanks to Laura A according to this license.]
[Image 2 thanks to sarahkim according to this license.]
[Image 3 thanks to ssylvis according to this license.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Earth Day 2007: What's In Your Area

One of my clearest memories is standing out on the hot, black asphalt of my elementary school's playground as a child, my tiny fist gripping the string of the yellow balloon. My friends around me were all holding onto theirs too, their knuckles red and white from holding on so tightly, anticipating the countdown. We'd all written letters (mostly just our names in crayon) on pieces of paper that were folded neatly and stuffed into the pre-inflated balloons, visible through the translucent rubber skin of the floating sphere overhead.

"3, 2, 1..." Release. Hundreds of yellow balloons drifted up, up, up, at first blocking out the sky and then get tinier and tinier the farther up they went. On the car ride home, all I could do was wonder where my balloon would pop, who would find the perfect creases of my note, my name written in rose-colored Crayola. I pictured it like a message in a bottle, washing up on some distant shore...

Of course, that was over ten years ago. And as the world has learned by now (or at least my elementary school has), those balloon releases are detrimental to animals (mainly in the ocean) who think they're food and choke on the rubber, not to mention that rubber is not biodegradable. We no longer do balloon releases, but we ONLY haven't been doing them for ten years! And our recent environmental naiveté is as bright as the sun.

This Earth Day, April 22, I'd like to give back for all the years I released a hopeful balloon only to have it pop and fall from it's swift current--it's probably still caught in a redwood tree somewhere in Northern California.

Earth Day festivals and events are springing up (or happening again!) all over this country. For all of us who live in the concrete jungle of New York, even we have somewhere to go. Head over to Brooklyn for Prospect Park's Celebration, April 21-22, and take a nature walk or a boat tour, even volunteer to spruce up the plants.

If you live in Chicago, check out Friends of the Parks event Chicago Parks & Preserves Clean-Up on April 21 from 9AM-Noon. Seattle? Join the People for Puget Sound and roll up your sleeves for the Duwamish Alive Earth Day. Nine simultaneous habitat restoration projects will be in motion along the Duwamish River.

The Los Angeles area is studded with Earth Day events. Inkwell Surf is holding their 2nd Annual Earth Day Event at Inkwell Beach on Pico and Bay St. Volunteers will be rewarded with lunch and refreshments. Rock Your Planet! is throwing it's launch party to demonstrate how to live sustainably, without sacrifice.

Throwing an event? Offset your event's carbon footprint and reduce climate change through Carbon Fund. Your donation will go towards carbon-friendly projects like renewable energy and reforestation projects. Find out how much you should give back by fiddling with their carbon calculator.

Another great way to give back is through Food & Wine magazine's Grow for Good, a campaign striving to donate $1 million for Farm to Table, an initiative that supports local farms and encourages sustainable agriculture.

And if you can't make it out for Earth Day weekend, give back to a conservation effort any other time of year. Simply plant a tree.

One of my favorite field trips as a kid was to TreePeople, a forest of a hillside in Los Angeles with walkways covered in wood chips that would crunch under my feet. Every time I went, I got to plant a seedling. Some of those seedlings must be teenagers by now, trees much taller than I am, with limbs and needles cleaning up the air I, and so many of us, have been dirtying. I'm sure they've erased a little of our carbon mess--but only a little, we still have about 7 billion footprints to go.

[Image 1 thanks to Jon Ingrham according to this license.]
[Image 2 thanks to *n*o*o*r* according to this license.]
[Image 3 thanks to sindesign according to this license.]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Adventures of a Kona Town Transplant

Two years ago, I spent a summer in the coconut tree studded town of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. "Kona Town," as the locals call it, is one of two major towns (as major as it can be) on the largest island of the paradisiacal chain. The other town, Hilo, sits on the wetter side of the island connected by Saddle Road, a road that cuts the volcanic island in half. It is said that if you see an old lady on the side of this dark, windy road, you must pick her up, for she is Pele's sister and Pele is the Goddess of Fire. She controls the active volcano that is erupting in Hawaii's Southwest corner--and you don't want to make her angry.

Black fields of dry lava reach across Kona's undeveloped land and although the town is relatively drier than it's rainforest counterpart, clouds accumulate every afternoon and spill rain over the town. The air is heavy, and heavier right before the daily storm. But the storm is brief, and warm, and allows for relief from the humidity's weighty pressure.

No matter how fine the rainstorms are, when you are a waitress who caters to the only outdoor section that is unsheltered in a packed, tourist-filled restaurant, they tend to pose a problem. At first sight of water beading up on the tabletops, salt shakers are quickly rounded up. On most days, this wet stint happens before the rush, before the tables are sat and the food is a bullseye target.

One day, however, the restaurant was full. Fuller than usual. My section, unprotected by the retractable tarp that rolls out over three-quarters of the patio, had couples and singles and families at every table with hot dogs and coconut shrimp and mai tais with little purple flowers floating in them.

The rain came fast and drove in bullets, aiming directly for the french fries, the calimari, and in particuler, the fish sandwich. My customers made a run for it, snagging the last stools at the indoor bar, crouching under the tarp, balancing their plates on the rock wall. Whatever they could do to avoid watery ketchup. I headed into the storm, round tray in hand to gather what I could of the salt-and-pepper shakers, to save any salveagable food my customers hadn't been able to grab.

"Can I help you guys move inside?" I asked a middle-aged couple that had stayed put. They continued to dig into their now-soggy, and becoming soggier, nachos. The woman's glasses were spotty with raindrops and the man's aloha shirt was turning darker blue by the second.

"No, we're fine," The woman said, her glass of beer now watered-down.

"Are you sure?" I asked. The grassy, oceanfront lawn in front of the restaurant was abandoned, its lounging visitors had run for cover minutes before.

The man looked up at me and said, "This is our 35th anniversary. And this is how we want to remember it."

I stood there for a moment, mesmerized by this couple, so carefree and in-the-moment. It didn't matter how uncomfortable they might be in the hours to come, or even in that moment, all that mattered was that they wanted to create this memory and have a story to tell for the years to come.

"Alright," I said. And all I could do was hope that when I am their age, I would sit as completely serenely beneath as heavy and wet a rainstorm, just to feel so alive.

I set some dry napkins on their table, turned around and scanned the sheltered lava rock wall for my scrambling customers.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New York to Santa Fe, The Ultimate Road Trip

One of my absolute favorite things to do is road trip. But not only the driving part, you see. I find incredible joy in plotting out every stop--finding the best places to pull off the road whether to eat, to rest, or just to contemplate my navel (as my massage-therapist aunt would say). You could say itineraries are my specialty.

I've taken on many a road in California, heading northeast to snowy mountain-town Mammoth, south to San Diego as it bathes in warmth, straight east through hours of barren desert to Vegas (with my fingers crossed that I'd hit the jackpot once I arrived!). But in all my travels on four wheels, I've only done one road trip that involved an overnight stop to my final destination. And yes, it was the inevitable Route 1 California coastal drive from Los Angeles to just north of San Francisco--Mill Valley, a historic, affluent town enshrouded in giant redwoods. Not to say it wasn't incredibly scenic and adventurous, it's just overplayed.

At the end of this month, my boyfriend Ian and I are taking on the Mother Trip--a 5-day road race from New York through the South and back up to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Aside from being well-traveled on the East and West Coasts, I've never ventured in to the middle of this country be it South, Middle, or North. So, we've been sure to include stops in New Orleans (just so happens to be during Jazz Fest!) and Austin, TX for some big, beefy BBQ.

Our start point? Ian's parent's barn-turned-house in tiny, farm town Oxford, New York. After a few days of decompression from New York City we'll be heading south to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. After camping amidst forest and waterfalls, we'll mosey on down to New Orleans for two nights in the French Quarter. And over to Austin, to Guadalupe Mountains National Park for another camping jaunt, and then up to adobe-laden Santa Fe, New Mexico where we'll be making our new home for the next six months (thanks to a new job at Outside Magazine!).

I've figured out where we will lay our heads for those five nights. Anyone have any suggestions of where we can snack along the way? I'm all ears.

[Image 1 thanks to Daniel Muriello according to this license.]
[Image 2 thanks to Ian Troxell, once again.]

Monday, April 9, 2007

Farmer's Market's in the Air

When I first moved to New York City, in summer months heavy with humidity, one of my saving graces was the farmer's market that lined the city sidewalks with buckets and barrels of ruby strawberries, orange and green heirloom tomatoes, artisan cheeses, and homemade jams. When I first came I was living in the high reaches of the Upper West Side. Farmers stood beneath the shelter of their shady tents with puffy pastries, spongy breads, and promises of crisp apple cider in the fall.

After two months I migrated to Brooklyn Heights where I clutched my air conditioner until the days and nights were just cool enough to escape the apartment and settle into pleasant summer temperatures. No matter where I went, it seemed a farmer's market plopped right down around the corner--a spread of culinary delight for my eyes, nose, and especially mouth to feast upon.

Almost year-round (sans the months when snowflakes fall from the skies and the temperatures dip below bearable), the local farmers find their way to Borrough Hall (Court Street & Montague Street) and stand tall with fruits and vegetables they've planted, nurtured, and nourished on display. For a couple dollars, I can buy sweet, yellow ears of corn, fragrant basil that opens the doors of Italy in my kitchen, and maple syrup tapped from trees not too far from my doorstep.

Since 1976, Greenmarkets have flourished in New York City with over forty-four markets dotting the five boroughs. With everything from organic produce to fish to wine and baked goods, these sales help support local families, gather your neighbors, and preserve open, green spaces. Not only that, but eating local is better for you: the less time produce travels, the less nutrients spill out along the way.

Can't make it to the famous Union Square market? Check here for some fresh produce near you. Can't cook? No problem--bite into a crunchy apple (no frying pan necessary!) or keep an eye out for recipes concocted by Greenmarket themselves like Cucumber Puslane Yogurt Salad, Blueberry Pudding Cake or Fresh Market Salsa.

I often refer back to my recipe for Pesto. The moment I open the bag and release the scent of basil into my kitchen, I am standing on the steps of Monterosso, the Mediterranean winking up at me.
[Image 1 thanks to jaymce according to this license]
[Image 2 thanks to the talented Ian Troxell, painter and fine artist]
[Image 3 thanks to according to this license]

Friday, April 6, 2007

Hope For The Planet Yet

Frost and Los Angeles. Two words I don't normally put in the same sentence. Dew and Los Angeles? Yes. Cool temperatures and Los Angeles? Yes. But frost? My parents lost a tree that blooms with fiery red blossoms this year, not to mention, the acres and acres of citrus trees that fell to the fate of abnormal weather completely running California's economy askew.

My thoughts have been pirouetting on global warming lately--watching taxi cabs grumble through the streets of Manhattan twenty-four hours a day wafting toxic fumes into our Earth's lungs, seeing an office refrigerator chock-full of water bottles right next to a sink. And, believe it or not, New York City has some high quality tap water, according to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Residents can even have their tap water tested at no cost by The Free Residential Testing Program, a program required by the state that stands as one of the largest of its kind in the country!

So, what are we doing? What can we do? Well, NPR had a good idea yesterday. Instead of buying a $2 bottle of make-you-feel-good Ethos Water at Starbucks (which donates 75 cents to in-need communities, but also aids in harming our planet), take that $2 and send it over to UNICEF's new Tap Project.

The April issue of Outside Magazine--dedicated to all things Green--had some noteworthy suggestions that may even take the pressure off your wallet and improve your health. Join a car-share network now available in 65 cities or get some use out of that lonesome ten-speed bike in the garage and start or join a bike-share program. If you must use a car (which many of us must), keep your tires pumped for better fuel economy. Traveling? Rent a hybrid. Aid in saving 62 million trees by opting out of receiving junk mail. Want more daily tips? Outside recommends Ideal Bite for advice on greener living via e-mail.

And just in case you haven't sprung into an earthier lifestyle yet, read this. As noted by Outside Magazine, "Science [magazine] estimates that by 2048 there will be no commercially harvestable seafood left."

Hope you don't like salmon all that much.

[Image 1 thanks to 0 W8ing according to this license.]

[Image 2 thanks to sato sugar according to this license.]

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Whole Foods Steps It Up

Just when you thought you were doing yourself good by shopping at Whole Foods Market, you can now do other people good as well! By selecting products with the just-released Whole Trade label, you'll be aiding workers all over the planet--and specifically the ones who helped put that can of organic tomatoes in your hands.

Brand new to the store this month, look for the Whole Trades Guarantee label on items such as tea, bananas, mangoes, rice, sugar, and vanilla. Three of Whole Food's Allegro coffee--Organic French Roast, Organic Guatemalan, and Organic El Salvador--have also been stamped. Purchasing these items promises more money to producers, allowing them the ability to always produce their high-quality product without falter, and provides an outlet for low-income producers who can then, in-turn, create better work environments for their workers.

It's not all about the labor, though. The Guarantee is also promoting sound environmental practices (like integrated pest management systems and soil and water conservation techniques).

One percent of retail sales will go to the Whole Planet Foundation--a non-profit that devotes its funds to the poor in the countries that are filling Whole Food's shelves with products.

Worrying about where the money is going can be left to the Rainforest Alliance and TransFair USA--the certifiers who are making sure it gets to where it needs to be. Look for the do-gooders label in the grocery and produce departments for starters, but keep an eye out because it should be popping up all over as Whole Foods brings in more food items from developing countries. up!

[Images thanks to adlaw according to this license.]

Monday, April 2, 2007

An Unlikely Pair (or should I say pear)

I can't explain it. There's something about the scratchy texture of a pear's flesh that's been diced into a cup of creamy yogurt and then mixed with wholesome grains like barley, oat and wheat. It's like a big glass of ice water--so refreshing! Okay, so maybe I'm sounding like your grandmother--"Put wheat germ on everything!"--but Liberté's Six Grains Yogurt is simply delectable.

I first discovered it after a day of snowboarding in the East Coast ski town of Lincoln, New Hampshire. Half Baked & Fully Brewed (187 Main Street; 603/745-8811), a cozy coffee shop and purveyor of all-natural, take-home meals like oven-ready Curried Lamb and handmade Artichoke & Portabello Mushroom Ravioli, can be considered the culprit of my addiction.

Sweetened with only fruit juice and blended with grains like rye, oat, buckwheat, rice, wheat, and barley, Six Grains is incredibly healthy and organic but does not fall short of feeling like a treat. Pear is my favorite (and, you'll find, most-often sold out) but Six Grains can also be found in strawberry, raspberry, and peach!

Quebec-based Liberté is an eco-friendly dairy company focused on sustainable business practices and delivering organic goods to its customers. Six Grains (and other Liberté products) can be found in Whole Food's stores, Fairway Markets, Stop & Shop Natural Department and other specialty stores in the Northeast.

[Image 1 thanks to Alejandro Sandoval according to this license.]
[Image 2 thanks to roboppy according to this license.]