The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

BP’s Motto:DRIPPING with Sarcasm May 25, 2010

Beyond Petroleum. Indeed.

I fancy myself a fairly good writer, but I’m not sure I can express my feelings about the Oil Spill. In fact, “spill” seems not really worthy of this event. Let’s try some wordplay shall we?

Oilpocalypse

Oiltastrophe

Oilmageddon

Oiltorious BIG…. maybe not.

The wordplay about the huge snowstorm this winter was amusing, but in the end, the snow just melted away. It’s gone, and with the heat wave outside in New York City, it almost seems like it never happened.

Not so with this disaster. It will stay and stay and stay. Even after 21 years, the effects of the Exxon Valdez disaster still lingers, even establishing a new area called the Death Marsh. Well, New Death Marsh is on its way. Why do I hear no one talk about this? Why is there not outrage except on some blogs that I follow? I see talk on TV, but it just hasn’t quite sunk in yet…

Maybe it’s because we still don’t know what will happen. How can we scream bloody murder while we are holding our breath? How much oil? When will it stop? Can it be stopped? How many animals will die? Will we ever have shrimp from the gulf again?

Like I said, I’m just not sure how to process this yet. But I do know I want to do something. I’m going to start by getting one of the t-shirts above, proceeds of which go to the Gulf Restoration Network. You can do the same, or just make a donation  here. Please do!

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Looking for Some Yum Organic Food in NYC? July 31, 2010

I’m an avid user and reviewer of Yelp, so I decided to highlight some of my reviews of organic, local, and sustainable eats in NYC and Brooklyn. This is by no means comprehensive though! On my to-do list:  The Good Fork, ABC Restaurant, Xoom, and so. many. others. Good sustainable food is everywhere, you just need to know where to look!

Bobo

West Village

7/31/10

As a huge local food fan, I’m always excited to hear about a restaurant with a relationship with the farmers. You won’t see a Cisco food truck outside of this place. Every dish is lovingly crafted from artisinal cheeses, locally-grown produce, and delicious humanly raised meats. It makes it all the better than the owner, Carlos Suarez, quit finance (“a lack of values” he said) to open this restaurant.

We arrived just a few minutes later for our 7:45 reservation, and an older gentleman led us up the painted wood stairs lined with flickering candles to a romantic dining room. The handcrafted quality of the restaurant shines through even in the decor. Fashioned from what was obviously a townhouse at some point, the dining room is romantically lit, with bookshelves stocked with old tomes, heavy draperies, and candles everywhere.

We hit a hiccup when our waiter forgot to provide us with a wine list, but he apologized when he realized 10 minutes later and was quickly back to take our order of an artisinal and biodynamic malbec. There was also a short list of cocktails, bottled and draft beers, and aperitifs. I hardly noticed the less than stellar service because he was so friendly, and even made me laugh a few times.

We provided the waiter with a coupon from Blackboard eats, and received in return a plate of fig leaf wraps with brown rice and a sweet sauce, and three “shooters” of pepper and zucchini infused non-alcoholic drink. They have a long list of canapes that comes in singles for about $3 a piece, so you can mix and match.

The star of the night was the duck breast with chorizo that my boyfriend ordered – it was an eyes-rolling-back-my-head moment. My brook trout wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, unfortunately. And at one point I had to pull a small bone out of my mouth. Yuck.

However, you must order something from the dessert menu. We had a trio of ice cream sandwich sliders: gingerbread-oatmeal-raisin cookies with a mildly fruity ice cream, chocolate with what I think was a cookies and cream ice cream, and and a classic chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. We made a huge mess, but since they put down paper on the tables instead of white cloth, I didn’t feel so bad.

As we left we noticed that the downstairs bar was booming. And it looks like you can order some food at the stand up tables by the window as well.

A word on the prices – they are very reasonable. I was suprised that the bill wasn’t more, given that we ordered so much, and the quality of the restaurant. Add in the fact that all ingredients are local and organic, well it’s practically a steal. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but the value is definitely there.

All in all I would definitely come back here, but it hasn’t quite made my list of favorites.

The Farm on Adderley

Neighborhood: Flatbush

7/28/2010

Oh man does my boyfriend know me well. I’m a huge local/organic/sustainable food buff, and at his suggestion we came to The Farm on Adderly for a casual after work dinner.

We ate inside, since there was a short wait for the garden out back. The tables are well spaced so you aren’t elbowing your neighbor, and the whole space has a cozy feel.

When the waiter (friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt) described their steak special of the night, I wondered to myself if the meat was grass-fed or local. Imagine my delight when I spied the footnote on the menu: “All the meat on the menu has been sourced locally, is pasture-raised and humanely cared for.” Score!

The menu itself is short and sweet, with an assortment of cheeses, not more than five salads, and some entrees. But the beer and wine menu looked extensive. We ordered cocktails – he got the cucumber lemonade and I ordered the grapefruit Blue Ridge Parkway (a reference to a scenic drive through the Appalachians.)

For non-alcoholic beverages, they had some interesting choices, including Fentiman’s Brewed Cola, Zico Coconut Water, Fever Tree Tonic, and even homemade kombucha.  This place is a hippie paradise. At the bottom, as if they are ashamed to admit it, there is diet coke too.

I ordered the special, which was… hmmm… what did they call it… a crepette I think? It was a meat dish with tripe. The waiter was nice enough to warn me about the tripe, but really, you can’t even tell it’s there. It wasn’t the best meat dish I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t bad either, and was very filling.

My bf ordered the butcher’s meatballs, which he reported being quite satisfied with. We took a glance at the dessert menu, just to see what was on there. Mistake. I had to shove it away so I wouldn’t be tempted by all the delicious confections on there, including banana chocolate upside down cake. Another time, for sure.

Bonus, go a few doors down to Sycamore for a follow-up drink in their garden. It’s equally enjoyable.

Community Food & Juice

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

7/26/2010

I had heard such wonderful things about this place, and after coming here both for dinner and brunch, I’ve gotten a 360 view.

They have a wonderful selection of organic and local beers to start off with. I didn’t try the cocktails, but they were tempting, to say the least. In fact, they have a lot of local and sustainable fair on the menu, which is always very nice.

I had a delicious salmon and fried potato salad over a bed of parsley, which just blew my mind. I’m not a huge salad person, but I left feeling very full.

I came here a few days later for brunch. We managed to snag a table in the shade outside (the wait for an indoor table looked long) but not all tables are shaded, so watch out on a hot summer day.

We saw several B.E.L.T.s walk by (bacon lettuce tomato and egg on sourdough, yum!)  But I opted for a more traditional house-made apple sausage and eggs with carrot hashbrowns. Filling and delicious. My friend had the blueberry pancakes, which came with a syrup that tasted like brown sugar and butter. So decadent, and so good!

The service was great both times. The waiters quickly came by, and so did our food. I will be eating here whenever I get the chance!

Tangled Vine

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

6/18/2010

My friend and I were lured here by the promise of organic and biodynamic wines. The menu was full of organic wines by the glass as promised, but I had a hard time ferreting out a biodynamic wine. Too bad. If you are looking for an extensive wine list, you’ve got it here. It goes on for pages and pages.

I know this might not matter, but I noticed the menus are cheap photo albums with printed paper slid into the plastic pockets. Small things like that really factor into my experience. That, along with the unfinished awning out front, gave me the feeling that they weren’t quite finished putting the place together.

The food (all meant to be shared) was delicious, and the service good. We ordered the organic veal meatballs and asparagus and peas risotto. I could have licked the plate!

My one big complaint was the tight space. It was a crowded Thursday night, so we sat at a high communal table with five others. In order to leave, everyone on one side of the table had to climb down from their stool to let the person pass.

It was super loud in there, but my friend and I had to strike a careful balance between speaking loud enough to here each other, and not offending our neighbors, who we knocked elbows with the whole meal.

I’ll probably go back for a casual glass of wine and some plates with a friend since it’s in my ‘hood, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a romantic date, and I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

The Castello Plan

Neighborhood: Flatbush

6/14/2010

I am so happy this is right around the corner from my boyfriend’s place, because we both agree we’ll be going back soon!When the sommelier came over, he inquired after my preferences, and then went to get three bottles and three glasses. “I think I’ll taste some with you,” he told us.

Each glass he would give an abbreviated, broad description, (“full, fruity, bold) which was nice because it’s a proven scientific fact that you cannot detect five different notes in every wine, no matter how romantic it sounds. Then while my boyfriend and I followed protocol (swirl, smell, taste) he would knock it back like a frat boy taking a shot. We suspected he might be drunk, or maybe he didn’t even work there and was just hanging out. Doesn’t matter because we were super happy with the wine he helped us choose. He also pointed at the Brooklyn borough president who was schmoozing at a nearby table.

When our friends joined us, we ordered two appetizer plates, and an assortment of cheeses and prosciutto. The wooden platter of prosciutto and cheeses was amazing, but the duck really took the award for the night. I’ve never had such a sumptuous mouth-feel before. We tasted our friends’ sweet potato dish, it was hard to refrain from stealing their plate and eating the rest! Dessert was amazing too: bite-sized chocolate tulips. I would give you a fuller description, but by this point my faculties were severely impaired.

I also liked their presentation: vintage-looking silver and raw cut wood platters. We all had such a great time, I couldn’t imagine a nicer night.

Juice Generation

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

5/28/2010

As far as smoothie places go, this is the best.My reasons? Voila:

1. They use fresh, local-when-possible, organic ingredients.

2. They have delicious smoothies with ingredients like acai, goji berry, ginger, or just your regular strawberries and banana, plus boosters.

3. They use recycled plastic cups that – unlike Jamba Juice’s – don’t leach chemicals into your yummy smoothie.

4. Their sandwiches are fresh-made, and delicious, especially when grilled and cheesy-melty.

5. If you need a snack, they have crazy healthy raw food bars, trail mix, and protein muffins.

6. The people who work there are always friendly and helpful. They deserve all the tips they get and more!

7. In the winter, you can get a hot drink like their cold-busting ginger and orange juice drink. Peps you right up.

8. Everything always looks hyper-sterilized and organized.

This place costs me seven extra blocks of walking before work, but it’s totally worth it. I love starting my day with a smoothie or (if I’m hungover) a muffin.

 

Put it on the To Do List: The Hester Street Fair July 27, 2010

Sunday, after having a delicious brunch at the sustainable and organic Community Food and Juice in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side, Vicki (the roomie) and I set out on an adventure all the way down to the Lower East Side. I was actually just there Saturday night with Agatha, my friend from work. But I wasn’t going down there on Sunday for Ommegang beer and gin and tonics. Nope, I was headed down to sample hand crafted macarons, spicy popsicles, and peruse some vintage wares and locally-made crafts.

Allow me this rant first: Sometimes I really hate the MTA. New York’s transportation system is like a five year old’s birthday party run by a drunk grown up: nobody knows what is going on, it’s always a mess, and there ends up being a lot of pissed off people.

I had gone jogging earlier in the morning at 9, and reported back to Vicki that it wasn’t “that bad. It’s doable.” But as we came closer to noon, the heat became close to unbearable. Vicki and I found that the subway 1 line was not stopping at 125th, 116th, 110th, or 103 going downtown. Since we live at 110th, this put us in a predicament. We waited at the bus stop, panting like poodles in the heat. One bus rumbled by, too full to stop. Another pulled over to let over a little old Asian couple, but didn’t allow anyone on. Our trip to the fair seemed like it might be a huge mistake. Vicki suggested we walk east to the AC line, four long blocks West. Peering out from our shady spot under the bus shelter was like gazing from an oasis across a parched desert. But I finally agreed. We passed through a pedestrian fairway with shady trees, and finally managed to get a train going in the right direction, cooling off in the wonderfully icy interior of the subway car. From the Grand St subway stop, the fair was only a few blocks away.

The Hester Street fair is deceptively small. With only a hundred yards of grounds, you would think you would get bored quickly. And yeah, you might if you like to speed shop and you aren’t hungry. But Vicki and I spent nearly an hour as we hopped from booth to booth, gossiping with the vendors, asking them about their foods and crafts, and nibbling on the tasties.

After passing by some cute stationary (which is getting old, I feel like a see at least one – if not three – hand printed stationary table at every fair in New York) we stopped at DBA. I thought DBA only produces beautifully simple biodegradable pens, but upon visiting their site right now, I’ve found all sorts of nice little sustainable things that are “forthcoming,” like a dishrack, an extension cord, and a heater. Ok, sounds boring, but it would be the most stylish extension cord you ever owned, trust me. But right now, besides the matte black pen that uses non-toxic ink and is 98% biodegradable, they also have an “endless notebook” that can

be combined and rearranged to create your perfect little notebook. It’s 100% post-consumer waste and chlorine free. If you don’t have a compost bin, you can just send the pen back, and they’ll take care of it for you!

I scribbled a bit using the pen and chatted with Niamh (pronounced Neev – she’s one of those Irish beauties whose name is crazily spelled) Hughes, the Business Development Manager. She tried on my Kayu glasses, saying she had  been salivating over them for some time. I think they actually looked cuter on her than on I…Obviously, I bought a pack of the pens, happy to support the venture.

Next door: the Macaron Parlour with Simon Tung manning the table. We’re lucky we didn’t come Friday, because the shop had sold out, riding on a wave of customers after a mention in the Daily Candy. But today he had lots of flavors. I tried the lemon macaron, which seems silly in hindsight, with flavors like candied bacon with maple cream cheese, thai chili, and earl grey available. I mean, I’m not saying was disappointed with my choice. I bit in

to the flaky crust which melted away to reveal the ganache filling – tart and tasty. “This is better than Laduree!” I declared. He practically blushed. “No way, that isn’t true. Though Christina [Christina Ha, his business partner] did study under Pierre Herme in Paris.” I nodded like I knew what he was talking about. It sounded impressive, at least.

Vicki ordered the cinnamon pistachio with morello cherries, which I nibbled on as well. Not bad!

Moving on to the next yummy thing, I had a iced lychee white tea, then a delicious waffle with sweet red bean in the center. A bean filling sounds savory, but this one was sweet, almost like a fruit filling. And they were shaped like fish! Charming. I felt bad for the pair manning the griddle, in the 90 degree heat though. Luckily nearby there was a tent whose sole purpose was to cover visitors with a cool mist.

Also, I almost got a ping pong ball the to the face, but luckily one of the players snatched it from the air by my head. Of course, I had no clue until they both started laughing. Typically me.

Vicki and I perused some vintage jewelry and dishes, marveling at an old butter churn and examining old postcards. I gave some serious thought to getting some lovely jars (something I’ve been obsessed with lately) but the swing-top lid was so rusty it was a struggle to get it open and that’s not something I wanted to deal with on a daily basis.

I passed by Laura Fisk’s table and fell in love with her printed cotton accessories. There were classy cobalt blue napkins with ruby pomegranates. “If I had a real house with more than two seats at a table, I would get those,” I told Vicki. Instead I opted for a pretty little apron with an adjustable neck, and cupcakes on the front. I was giddy when Laura yanked on the strings and the apron slid up. “We short people always have to fold it up,” she said. I totally agree. It gets annoying that normal aprons starts right under my boobs. She also had a children’s book, stationary, and some children’s-sized aprons. They’re printed with non-toxic inks as well, though I wish it was organic cotton. Can’t win ’em all!

You can see her stuff at fiskandfern.com.

Of course, it wasn’t all stuffing my face with food and shopping for myself. I shopped for other people too! I bought Mike a very manly belt from Feur Wear made from out-of-commission German fire hoses. That’s Dave, above, posing with the belt. His company, Holstee, is selling the belts for Feur Wear, because they like the German company’s stuff so much and wants to see them in the US. Holstee designs and curates beautifully designed sustainable goods, and you should really give their website a look, because there is some uber-cool stuff on there. It debunks the myth that sustainable design is all hippie skirts and fanciful stationary.

I especially love their manifesto:

“This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love…” And on. (I don’t want to brush up against copyright infringement by reprinting the whole thing here…” You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Next to Holstee was a table displaying some select stuff from Sustainable NYC: adorable fold-up reusable bags, Toms shoes, soy candles, and upcycled purses. I did not even know this place existed, but now I feel like I have to go there! It’s at Avenue A and 9th St. A bit out of the way for me, but still….

At this point another vendor piped up, saying a huge rain storm was about ten minutes away. To the West the sky was dark and ominous. Vicki wanted to leave right then, but I wanted to stay a little longer.

Finally we stopped at Xoom for some smoothie samples. I wish this smoothie and tea shop wasn’t so far away from me, because if Xoom was on the UWS, it would replace my obsession with Juice Generation, I’m sure. Not only because the smoothies are delicious, but their green creds (to the right) are top notch.

At this point we hurried away from the fair to beat the rain. As fat raindrops spattered the sidewalk, I took one last picture of the bike valet and Vicki and I promised each other we would come back to try everything else. What we didn’t get to sample: the ice cream sandwiches, sassily flavored popsicles, and barbecue. Not to mention the adorable yoga bags I forgot to go back for. Another day, another time…

Vicki set off in a dead run for the subway, with me calling after her. “Wait up!” as I struggled to run in my Jack Rogers. You would think she would melt or something. We waited on the platform for a full twenty minutes, watching train after train go by on the opposite platform. Finally a voice over the intercom. “Wah wah wah Brooklyn bound only wah wah.”

That’s when we saw a sign saying no north-bound trains at that station. Awesome. We emerged, walked ten steps and then the skies let loose. Luckily the Green Market farmers market was right next to use, so we hid under a tent and chatted with the Green Market worker about her time in India while waiting for the downpour to ease. (I love New York!)

When the rain eased up a little, we walked on, stopping at The Pickle Guys for Vicki, and then we hopped a bus and took it up to The Strand. Can you believe I’ve never been to this bookstore before? I could spend hours in there, but I stuck to my shopping list and walked away with Markets of New York City (natch), 101 Things I learned in Culinary School, and Remember Be Here Now, the classic hippie tome about the spiritual life. That and psychedelic drugs, ha.

Finally we hopped on the subway and came home. I cooked some stir fry up for Vicki and Mike, Vicki made mimosas, and it was a good day.

 

How to Grocery Shop the Green Way, and My New Fave Grocery Store July 24, 2010

Last Friday evening I had plans to go see a movie (or two) with Vicki, but she had come down with strep throat. As I rode the elevator down to the lobby at my work, I wondered what I would do with my night. I could call some friends, but instead I decided to have a low key night in, and cook for myself.

I hardly ever cook. I know that it’s a great thing to do, but when I get home at eight every night, and want to get up at 6 the next morning…well, I have my priorities. So I relished the thought of having an evening to practice my cooking skills and get a good night’s sleep. (Yes, this is old woman behavior. No, I am not ashamed.)

I had visited the Westerly Natural Market a few times before, but in a slap-dash, grab-and-go sort of way. Located at 54th and 7th Avenue, Westerly Natural Market is like a more authentic version of Whole Foods. Instead of well-dressed, gossipy girls, there was a pair of old woman trading witty banter as they perused the full four aisles of natural supplements. Instead of women dressed head to toe in Lululemon, there was a woman dressed in t-shirts and jeans, with a fair-trade looking purse slung over their shoulder. There was a guy wandering around with both a shopping bag and his bicycle helmet slung over his arm.

I enlisted my iPhone to help me with my mission to cook something easy and healthy. I’ve been saving recipes on Delicious, and now pulled them up using the Delicious App. I chose Lamp Chops with Pistachio Tapenade, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

Westerly Natural Market has a basic produce aisle, four aisle of supplements and pills, and three or four aisles of both gourmet and beautifully packaged foods, and foods that looked like they had been lovingly cooked and packaged in someone’s apartment in Brooklyn. I wandered up and down, looking for my ingredients. (“Mmmm, homemade peanut butter granola! FOCUS Alden”.) When I couldn’t find the garlic, the manager cheerfully showed me to them, piled in a cardboard box on the floor, underneath the apples.

I picked up organic pork chops instead of the lamb, filled a reusable produce bag with bulk pistachios, grabbed a glass jar of green olives (instead of plastic, my dears), and a jar of capers. The recipe also called for fresh oregano and parsley, but seeing that those herbs were packaged in styrene and plastic, I decided to try it without.

And check this out! Westerly has a NUT BUTTER MAKER. Oh my gosh, it makes me so excited. I tried to make my own almond butter the other night at home, but I got bored with the process and didn’t want to subject Vicki to more than 15 minutes of the high-pitched food processor. So the result wasn’t awesome. So here was the solution: at the top, a whole bunch of nuts. You just press down the lever and out the bottom comes nut butter. I can’t wait to come back with an empty jar and fill it up with this stuff. (Little things get me excited, yall.)

I wasn’t even finished. I rounded a corner and saw a shelf of sun tan lotions. I’ve been meaning to get new sunscreen, since apparently skin cancer is on the rise partly because of tanning bed, and partly because sunscreen itself can give you cancer. Oh, but life has a sense of irony.

I whipped out my Good Guide iPhone app and started scanning. Nature’s Gate got a 1 for health out of 10. Really??? That’s worse than conventional make up and shampoo. I mean, this is supposed to be organic stuff! I picked up another “organic” brand and it also got a 1. I scanned another – Kiss My Face – and this one got a 3. At this point I was bored with the process, and figured, what the heck, a 3 is better than a 1. I tossed it in my basket.

(If you want to do better than I, check out Good Guide’s online guide to sunscreens. Hint: Coppertone sucks.)

Finally, I tossed some Burt’s Bees Radiance Day spf 15 in my basket (Good Guide score of 6.8 overall, 5 for health) and paid for my items. I was so freakin pleased with myself, what a green shopper I was!

In summary, for a great green shopping experience:

1. Use your iPhone’s helpful apps for identifying healthy and genuine products. The iPhone also has some fun price comparison apps.

2. Go organic, free range, cage free, and hormone free.

3. Come prepared with produce bags and reusable shopping bags. I keep my reusable Lululemon fold-up bag in my purse at all times, with a produce bag tucked in the outside pocket.

4. Avoid plastic packaging where possible. Embrace the shabby chic aesthetic of jars on your shelves.

5. Read the ingredient label. A long list of scientific gibberish is NOT a good sign. Also, avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. In fact, if the food does not come with an ingredient list at all(“peanuts.” “grapes.” “wild rice.”) that’s the best. (Trust me, this is good for your long-term health AND your waistline.)

6. Unless you are in a lovely health foods store, stick to the edges of the grocery store like it’s the shopping district and and the center is a dangerous food ghetto. That’s where they stick on the deceptively delicious and highly-processed crap that you are better without.

7. If you don’t see a healthy and conscious brand, ask for it. They might take a hint and start carrying Burt’s Bees and Method like so many conventional convenience and grocery stores.

Anyway, I am happy to report that my pistachio tapenade pork chops turned out beautifully, even without fresh parsley, and Vicki scarfed hers down even with the strep throat. Really, if you have any brains you’ll try this simple recipe. Unless you are like Vicki, who apparently is afraid of anything involving heat. In that case, pass the recipe along to your roommate and have her cook it for you.

 

A Non-Toxic Manicure and Thrift Shopping July 23, 2010

Ugh, so sorry I’ve been MIA for the past week. But I’m back, and this will be the first of several backlogged posts.

Saturday was catch-up-on errands day. You see, I had to finally get rid of some old clothes. I cleaned out my closet months ago with the help of a stylist, and even after one trip, there was still an impressive pile on the floor of cast-offs. I poured it all in a couple of reusable bags to take with me.

The whole city was hot, muggy, and inhospitable. My air conditioner labored to keep my room comfortable, and we had all the lights switched off so we didn’t blow a fuse in our old apartment. As I got my stuff together to run out the door, I decided at the last minute to switch bags. “It’s too hot to carry a leather purse,” I complained to Vicki. The idea of having black leather touching my skin, even if it was a thin strap, was gross. I poured everything in a cotton shopping tote, picked up my stuff, and took off for Brooklyn.

I was drenched in sweat by the time I made it to the cool air conditioning of the subway, and drenched again when I emerged into the hot sun and walked two blocks to my destination: Beacon’s Closet. I gratefully pushed open the glass door to the air conditioning.

Beacon’s closet is great, because it’s such an easy process to consign your clothes.

1. Dump your bags full of clothing and accessories with the girls in the back.

2. Either leave and go home, or go shopping on 5th Ave for an hour while they go through your stuff.

3. Pick up your voucher for store credit or cash.

If you decide to just go home, they’ll donate everything they don’t take to charity and you can come back another day for the voucher. If you decide to come back, you can take back all the clothes they don’t want. So easy!

So I left my unwanted stuff with a hipster girl with a brassy blond pixie cut and went to get my nails done. I found a place only a block away and popped in.

Now, a word about getting your nails done: It is not good for you. I mean, it’s great if you want to stop biting your nails (that may or may not be a problem for me) but in reality, a nail salon is a viciously toxic place, with toxins that have been linked to birth deformities, cancer, and liver damage. About this time last year, I made the trek down to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to get my nails done at a green salon, but lets be honest – it’s just too much to ask me to be on the train for an extra hour for a manicure. (There are other salons who use organic nail polish, but none of them are anywhere near the Upper West Side or even Mid-town.) So I came up with a solution: bring my own stuff!

Priti is a great line of nail polishes and nail polish that…well, I’ll let them explain:

Priti Polishes have been formulated without Toluene, DBP and Formaldehyde, all known carcinogens and does not contain any petroleum ingredients. They are fast drying, chip resistant, and super glossy.

As much as I like O.P.I. and Essie nail polish, I like my health more, and these Priti polishes really do the trick. Oh, and you can find them on Amazon, among other places. I had come prepared with pink nail polish, a top coat, and nail polish remover in my bag, and as I slid into a seat at the table, I took them out and put them on the table. “Can I use my own?” I asked the nail technician. She nodded as she took out her various sterilized tools. Then she took a cotton swap and began to soak it with blue liquid. I slid my nail polish remover forward and indicated it. She paused, quizzically, and with an expression of curiosity unscrewed it and soaked a new cotton swab, then set to work.

While she was  pushing up my cuticles and soaking my fingertips, I was able to study the ingredient list on the “fancy” lotions displayed next to me, so when she reached for a bottle I was prepared to turn down the offer of a hand massage. I can’t say for sure there were toxins in there, but if I need a chemistry teacher to identify it, then I don’t use it. It’s a rule that has served me well.

I could just imagine what the technician was saying to her neighbor as she giggled in Korean. “What is this silly white girl doing? Man, do we get some crazy hippies in Brooklyn.” No matter, the woman getting a pedicure next to me and I had a great discussion of the merits of bringing our own polish, and, God help me, Birkenstocks.

When she was done applying the last layer of polish, she picked up my stuff and settled me in the cancer causing UV nail dryer. When she walked away I subtly turned off the light switch and settled for a blow dry.

All prettied up, I stopped by a smoothie shop. I quizzed the girl behind the counter to establish that no extra sugar is added or syrup, and then ordered a pina colada.

It came in a styrene cup.

ARG! I just can’t win! It was too hot to get mad though, so I stopped outside the door to pet a cute pooch and headed back to Beacon’s Closet. I still had time to kill when I got back in, so against my better judgment I started to peruse.

I actually didn’t think I would find anything. Beacon’s has weird criteria for what clothing they pick. They usually turn down 75% of what I bring them, but they do keep some fairly ugtastic items. I guess I’m just not hipster enough to understand what is “fashionable”.

Despite this, I found several cute items:

One very fashionable (a la Refinery 29) Dooney & Burke long-handled leather purse in perfect condition, $25

One gorgeous maxi dress in bright tropical colors with neckline embelishments, $19

One adorable vintage bow tie for Mike to wear to the Jazz Age Festival on Sunday (post coming!), $9

Even minus the clothing I ended up buying, I netted $14. New clothes, AND money. I should clean out my closet more often!

 

What’s Organic About Organic? Well, I’ll Tell You July 9, 2010

“The pesticides are made to stay on even in a rainstorm….So how big of a rainstorm are you giving in your kitchen?” – A farmer on pesticide use in apple orchards

Whew, this post is late. Things just got a little out of hand, what with my trip out of town and all that stuff I had to attend to, like watching ten episodes of Lost. (I have a lot of catching up to do.)

Anyhoo, last Thursday – shoot, the Thursday before, actually, I scooted down to the Here Theater to see What’s Organic About Organic? a sort of low-budget Food Inc. The little theater was packed with people, despite it being the fourth showing of a whole week. Apparently there are a lot of very aware and curious people in NYC.

The movie didn’t teach me a lot of things I didn’t already know, since I’m already a voracious reader of blogs on the topic. Still, it’s good for me to watch this stuff, because sometimes I need a boost in my determination to be more aware about what I eat. It’s like going on a diet – you need to keep trying on those skinny jeans in order to remember why you gave up dessert….and hamburgers…and anything not organic…

I did pick up some choice facts about conventional farming (aka, “not organic.”) THey’re a swift kick in the pants to all you Luddites still enjoying McDonald’s. Please enjoy:

  • Farmers and their families on conventional farms frequently suffer from pesticide poisoning
  • Pesticides are the same chemicals used in chemical warfare. They are just watered down to put on our food.
  • Chemicals from those pesticides can get into our water supply
  • The estimated health and environmental costs of our farm chemical usage in the US is estimated at $9 billion
  • Arsenic is often put in chicken feed. The chicken poop is then fed to other animals.
  • Industrialized farming (think large-scale farms with produced shipped hundreds of miles) currently depends on cheap fossil fuel, something that is getting harder and harder to come by.
  • Switching to all organic farming could reduce 25% of our carbon emissions
  • Produce loses 40% of its nutrients within three days of being picked. Unfortunately, most produce doesn’t reach your shopping cart until after that.
  • 70% of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals. (Which makes your next round of needed antibiotics less effective, by the way.)
  • Sewage sludge is used as fertilizer in conventional agriculture

The movie was equal parts hope and frustration. Farmers talked with a fierce pride about sticking to their guns, even as everyone told them they would do better if they used fancy pesticides and GMOs. They tut-tutted other farmers who are deep in debt and battling super weeds and crazy infestations of bugs, even as they douse fields with Roundup. They talked about their hope for the future, about the quality and beauty of their food. But even so, the sheer scale of the problem was sobering. Sadly, one farming cooperative that the movie focused on had shut down by the time the movie was done being produced.

After the lights came up I chatted with a girl my age next to me with masses of long curly hair and fun bracelets that clinked on her wrist. Her name was Rose, and she is even more into food issues than I am. She also already knew about most of what the movie had to say, “I mean, images of CAFOs are burned into my brain,” she said “so…”

While we talked the panelists came up on stage. Restaurants was the topic of the night. I was curious to hear more about sustainable restaurants, but even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have left. Not a person in the theater budged from their seats, eagerly looking up at some of the most well-respected members of the farm-to-table movement.

Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group

My ears perked up at the name Batali. I had just written a post about his wonderful pizzeria, Otto Enoteca, where I enjoyed some of the best pizza I had ever had, and heavenly cheese with truffle honey. Of course if you’ve heard of Mario Batali, you might know he has a small restaurant empire. I was so pleased to know that his restaurants embrace sustainability. They source from local farms, use organic produce, and avoid using fish that are being overfished. In order to convince all of the chefs – chefs always being averse to being told what to do – Elizabeth brought them all in and showed them videos of the impact of food decisions. They were converted. I think I have found my new favorite restaurant.

Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s No. 43

Jimmy’s love of good quality food came through as he talked. Far from being a gimmick, his seasonal variations on his menu evolved slowly as he acquired more and more food from local farms. One day, he said, he woke up and realized his summertime menu is composed almost entirely of food from within a hundred miles, save for the olive oil and lemon. Now he gets CSA deliveries right to his restaurant, which has become a hub of activity has other restaurants stop by to pick up their own produce. His fave farm? The Piggery.

Carlos Suarez, owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant

Love this guy. He worked in finance for a year, but decided it had a lack of value (no, really??), so he quit and started a restaurant, Bobo. I had never heard of this West Village restaurant before, but believe me, it’s on my list. His restaurant doesn’t even serve bottled water.

Ian Marvey, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Added Value

Added Value is an urban farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and from what I can tell it is an amazing venture. Teenagers staff the field and the produce table. The owners of The Good Fork, which sources from Added Value, walk three blocks in the morning from their home to open up the restaurant. The restaurant, in turn, is three blocks from Added Value. The point of Ian telling the audience this is that all that money made from the farm circulates within Red Hook. The implication? Real, local people get the benefit of this agriculture, instead of faceless corporations hundreds of miles away.

Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods

Patrick seems to be more of the pragmatic and sober type, instead of the pie-in-the-sky breed of organic evangelists. He caused a ruckus when he said that Purdue has value in that it “feeds the world.” Boy did that get everyone riled up, especially the farmer in attendance, Marty Mesh. What Patrick was trying to say is that famines used to be a way of life, and the sheer scale of conventional agriculture has made those a thing of the past. That’s a good thing, even if there are a lot of abuses and serious drawback to the system. After getting raked over the coals by other panelists, he reiterated that he dislikes Purdue and Smithfield as much as anyone. They are, after all, the enemies of the movement.

That’s Shelley Rogers by the way, the documentary maker, laughing to the left of Patrick.

Classie Parker, founder of Five Star Community Garden in Harlem

This lady was adorable. Rose and I kept on looking at each other and practically squealing with delight as she held forth about the importance of community and good food, and her jam with Southern Comfort in it. Yum. She’s a main character in the movie as well. “Not enough people are talking about it. Go on Facebook. Go on Twitter,” she exhorted the audience. “I guarantee you it will grow!”

Marty Mesh – Farmer Advocate and Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers

Marty was another main character in the movie, a grower with very strong opinions. (At one point he claimed Swine Flu was caused by conventional pig raising. Urp.) But I loved his idea of installing organic farms in low income areas and homes, a great way to improve nutrition. He got a huge round of applause from the audience when he declared we should “get corporations out of the food system.”

After the panel disbanded, Rose and I exchanged info, promising each other that we would get up to Harlem to see Classie’s Five Star Community Garden, and maybe get our hands a little dirty!

 

Get Sophisticated at a Wine Bar June 21, 2010

wine at the Tangled Vine on the Upper West Side in NYCThere’s something that seems so much more natural about wine versus other alcohols. Somehow, when it comes to enjoying an eco-friendly buzz, the harsh burn of vodka – no matter how organic it is – doesn’t compare to the fruity and smoky undertones of a wine from upstate.

As luck would have it, I’ve found myself at four different wine bars over the past month or so.  Perhaps I’m just turning into an old fogey, but suddenly I think I like wine bars way better than fratty sports bars that reek of PBR.

Let’s be clear: I know next to nothing about wines. If you gave me a blind taste test, I could identify Riesling, Chardonnay, and…”Red,” and that’s the extent of my expertise. But who doesn’t want to learn more about wines? A wine bar is the second most fun way to do so, behind visiting the winery itself and before ducking into a knowledgeable wine shop.

Bar #1: The first wine bar I visited was when I first started dating Mike. We spent the day at Brooklyn Botanic gardens, and in between that and going to his friends’ barbeque we stopped at Total Wine Bar on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. It’s a simple layout, with bench seating in the front, and u-shaped bar at the back. It was in the afternoon, so every seat was filled at the bar while the rest of the place was empty. I suspect we would have gotten the full experience if we could have fit in at the bar (where everyone seemed to know each other) and chatted with the sommelier, but alas Mike just got a couple glasses and we were relegated to the loser bench at the front to have a party with ourselves. We finished our glasses and moved on.

Bar #2: About two weeks ago my mind was wandering at work, and I realized something. I texted Mike. “We’ve never gotten drunk together!”

How did that happen? What a change from college, where it seemed guys would only talk to you if you had been prepped with three cups of warm Natty Light. And now here I was, six weeks deep into a new relationship and we hadn’t even had a “What happened last night,” moment. I mean, it’s not like we hadn’t drank together, but we hadn’t been taking shots together either.

I wasn’t sure whether I felt lame (what happened to the party girl??) or proud (I can get a guy to hang out with me when he’s sober!) [Clarification: I have, in fact, dated other guys who not only take me on dates when they are sober, but don’t drink at all. My standards aren’t that low.] Either way, it was time to remedy this lapse. After all, you never really know a person until you’ve seen their drunk side, in my opinion. So we decided to get wasty-face together.

True to form, Mike sent me an email with the link to The Castello Plan, a wine bar only a couple blocks from his apartment. At first I was taken aback, and told him so. “I was thinking some place, with, you know, shots?” But he insisted it is a great place and promised if we started slow we could kick it up a notch later at other nearby bars.

Mike managed to recruit a couple friends to meet us. “Don’t worry,” he said. “All I do is drink with Bobby and Danna. They’ll be the perfect company for the night.”

Game on.

So Mike and I showed up at The Castello Plan at eight on a Friday. His friends were running late so we went ahead and waved a guy over to our table who looked like he worked there. “Hey, my name’s Ben,” he said. “What can I get for you?”

“We’re not sure what we want,” I said. “Can you recommend a red?” (I’ve been really into reds lately.)

“Sure, would you like something really fruity and and full-bodied? Or something lighter?” We asked for lighter, and he left and returned with three bottles and three big glasses. “I’m going to have some with you,” he said. He lined up the bottles in a row. “Fuller to lightest,” he said, indicating left to right. As he set about uncorking the bottles, he started telling us about how he had just shaved his beard off that morning. Random, I know, but he seemed nice (ok, and cute) and I complimented him on his fresh look. He pointed to the large round table in the corner, where an older guy held court telling a story to a rapt audience of five other people. “That’s the borough president,” he said. I was duly impressed.

“You live near here?” he asked Mike. Mike said yes. “And you two..don’t live together?” Ben said, arching his eyebrows, sliding his glass in a circle over the wooden surface of the table to swirl the wine.

“No,” I shook my head, blushing. Mike told me later he was convinced Ben was hitting on me, but I told him he was just making conversation.

Ben poured the three glasses. “This one is medium-bodied, with a fresh berry flavor,” he told us. Mike and I dutifully put our noses in the glass to smell, but Ben had already knocked his wine back. I was surprised by his short description and short work of the wine.

He poured the next glasses, again gave a short description, and then poured it into his mouth. Ok, now I was convinced he had been smoking or drinking beforehand. I shot Mike an amused look. Ben waited for we slow pokes to finish our glasses, poured the third wine with another curt description, and finished it. “The second one,” I said. Mike agreed, and Ben filled our glasses and left us with a delicious bottle.

Soon Bobby and Danna joined us. We ordered food, a cheese and charcuterie platter with high quality sausages like wild boar. Wild boar! Just like Michael Pollan! Mike and I also ordered a duck spread, whose fatty deliciousness melted over the crackly bread and in our mouths. We tried I bite of Bobby and Danna’s sweet potato dish – delicious – and then a dessert of chocolate tulips.

By that time other tables had come and gone as we drank and talked and laughed. We paid our bill and wandered down the street to another bar, the Solo Lounge to get a shot, and then dispersed for the night. I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t stay out past 2 in the morning on our drunk night, but c’est la vie. Anyway, I can assure you we did reach our goal, because neither of us remember that picture being taken.

Bar #3: Agatha (@alutoborski) tweeted this last week:

This place looks like it’s up @AldenWicker’s alley. Wine + eco + UWS. Trifecta! http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/the-tangled-vine/

I agreed. Agatha, who works with me at Ogilvy, lives on the Upper West Side too, so by the next Thursday we were there.

It’s a fairly large place but was pretty crowded, so the hostess put us at a communal table. The wine list was printed on computer paper and housed in a cheap picture album, but at least it was extensive, going on for pages and pages. I scoured it for a biodynamic wine, but failing to find one by the glass, I settled for an organic red.

We were so close to our neighbors and the the place was so loud that at one point Agatha had to apologize to the older ladies to our left for talking too loudly. Every time someone had to get up, everyone had to climb down from their stool and stand to the side to let them pass.

We ordered a couple light plates, meant to be shared, of asparagus and pea risotto and organic veal meatballs. “If it’s organic, does that mean it’s humanely raised? Or just that it was stuff with organic corn?” I asked Agatha. She is just as into this stuff as I am.

“Who knows,” she said, spooning the last of the risotto onto my plate while I unsuccessfully tried to wave her off. “I feel like none of these labels really mean anything.”

I shrugged and waved down the waiter to refill our glasses. At least the food was delicious. After reading the reviews on Yelp, I concluded that the best experience would be at the bar, where one could have a conversation with the sommelier about wines. The check came and our eyes bugged out a little. I realized it was my organic wine that did it, at $14 a glass. Ouch.

Bar #4:

Friday Mike and I went to Angelika to see MicMacs by the director of Amelie (See it! Adorable!!) And afterward we casted around for someplace to go for dinner. I looked through my long list of saved emails from Tasting Table, Refinery 29, Daily Candy, and Thrillist. (I like email lists, so sue me.) “There’s a pizza place that’s supposed to be good near hear,” I told Mike. “You read my mind. I was just thinking I wanted pizza,” he said. So we walked to Otto Enoteca.

I wasn’t expecting such a fancy place! Dark wood, a fully stocked wine bar, menus printed on heavy stock recycled paper… Turns out it is Mario Batali’s “cheap” place.

It was almost ten, and the hostess said it was a forty minute wait. We balked a bit, but it looked so nice we decided to stay. She gave us a card with an Italian town, and told us to watch the train station-style flipboard at the front. We walked over to the bar and stood there for a moment, wondering what our next step was. A waiter noticed us and informed us that we could get service at one of the communal standing tables, so we set ourselves up at one and immediately had someone ready to take our order.

Mike ordered a bottle of red from Sicily, where his family is from. I menu at Otto Enotecalooked up the reviews on Yelp, and saw several mentions of truffle honey that came with the cheese platter. So I picked out two New York cheeses and Mike picked an Italian one that means “drunk.” After only a couple minutes, our waiter was back with four plates. On one he poured the truffle honey, a deep golden liquid with flecks of dark brown in it. On another he poured the cherry honey with three whole cherries, and on the third he poured honey with small chunks of apricot.

The cherry honey was so tart it was like Starburst candy. The apricot honey was delicious. But the truffle honey. Oh the truffle honey. It was sweet with a smokey, musky undertone. We had barely started when our town came up on the flip board 15 minutes early. A busboy skillfully gathered up our plates, balancing them up his arm, while Mike went to pay the check.

“The service here is out of this world,” he said when he got back. “I went to find our waiter and this guy asked me if I wanted the check, then another guy right behind me just handed it to me. It was amazing.”

We were led to our table through two dining rooms. There were a lot of pretty people there and I felt myself tense up a little. I wore little makeup, and just a simple dress with Jack Rogers and an old Longchamp. But as soon as we got to our table I relaxed as I dove back into the cheeses. Mike and I debated the merits of each pairing of cheese and honey and vowed not to be rushed through our dinner. We wanted to do it truly Italian style: slowly and with relish.

Well, we couldn’t go as slowly as we wanted, as the waiter stopped by often to check on us and as soon as our plates looked empty a busboy appeared to whisk them away and replace them with our four cheese and black pepper pizza. But oh-my-god-was-that-pizza-good. It had a thin, crispy crust with a melange of white cheeses that were just thick and gooey enough, while the pepper gave it a gentle kick.

“This place really is Sicilian,” Mike said as we walked out. The decor and food and ambiance all vividly evoked Italy to him.

That won’t be my last wine bar, for sure. I want to learn more about wines, and Vicki said she’s down for a wine class at Otto. Are there any other wine bars you would recommend in New York?

 

What’s Organic about Organic? Week-Long Kickoff in NYC June 18, 2010

Next week at the Here theater, the who’s who of the food, sustainable, and organic New York movement will be gathered around to screen the new documentary, What’s Organic about Organic? It discusses sustainable and organic agriculture and the myriad of issues that surround food. If you want to learn more about why what you eat is so incredibly important to the future of our country’s safety and happiness, (or you just want a fresh jolt of energy to keep walking past McDonald’s on your way home) you should check out at least one of the days for a panel discussion. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot.

As for the quality of the movie itself? I can’t find any solid reviews except for this very short one that says it doesn’t cover much new ground, though it is pretty interesting. Scroll to the bottom for the trailer and a synopsis.

I bought tickets for Monday through Thursday. I’m not going to watch the movie over and over, but all the speakers sound so amazing, I’m going to try to make as my panel discussions as I can! Unfortunately I’ll be out of town Friday through Sunday, so I’m going to miss the superfun-sounding benefit on Friday with fancy local food. But here for you is a list of the notable attendees and the topics:

(Buy tix here)

Monday, June 21 – 7pm screening
Topic: Bringing organic food to the NYC population, the trend of urban farming and the organic farming model
Jacquie Berger, Executive Director, Just Food, Hilary Baum, Co-Founder of Food Systems NYC and Founder, Baum Forum

Tuesday, June 22 – 7pm screening
Topic: Organic farming as a solution for climate change
Paul Mankiewicz, Executive Director, Gaia Institute, Karen Washington, President, NYC Community Gardens Coalition, Maria-Paolo Sutto, Director, Urban Design Lab of Columbia’s Earth Institute

Wednesday, June 23 – 7pm screening
Topic: Farmers’ markets & direct relationships between people, their food & farmers
Michael Horowitz, Director, Greenmarket Program, GrowNYC, David Hughes, Operations Manager, Greenmarket Program, GrowNYC, Bob Lewis, US Department of Agriculture and Markets

Thursday, June 24 – 7pm screening
Topic: Restaurants and organic farming
Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods, Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s 43, Carlos Suarez, Owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant, Ian Marvey, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Added Value

Friday, June 25 – 7pm screening
Topic: Reconnecting urban and rural food systems
Scott Chaskey, President, NOFA-NY, Peter Hoffman, Chef, Back Forty and Savoy, Member of Chef’s Collaborative, Adriana Velez, Brooklyn Food Coalition

Friday, June 25 9pm BENEFIT PARTY <– Fun alert!
Benefit Party for NOFA-NY.
Tickets are $20.

Saturday, June 26 – 2pm matinée
Topic: Fun with composting (bring the kids!)
Christine Datz-Romero, Founder & Director, LES Ecology Center

Saturday, June 26 – 7pm screening
Topic: The benefits of a field-to-fork relationship
Joan Gussow, Professor Emerita of Nutrition Education, Columbia University, John Gorzynski, Farmer/Owner, Ornery Farm and “character” in WOAO?, Claudia Keel, Director, Dr. Weston Price Foundation

Sunday, June 27 – 2pm matinee
Topic: The benefits of organic food for child health and development
Annie Novak, farmer and founder of Growing Chefs, Yonnette Fleming, Urban Gardener

Sunday, June 27 – 7pm screening
Topic: Organic nutrition and food retail
Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, New York University, Anne Saxelby, Owner, Saxelby Cheesemongers, Urvashi Rangan, Environmental Health Scientist, Consumer’s Union and “character” in WOAO?, Dennis Derryk, Founder, Corbin Hill Farm, Marty Mesh, Executive Director, Florida Organic Growers and Co-producer, WOAO?

WHAT’S ORGANIC ABOUT “ORGANIC?” rings the alarm for the need to develop an ecological consciousness.  The film illustrates that the organic food debate extends well beyond personal choice and into the realm of social responsibility.

Each of the film’s characters is intimately connected to the organic world; they’re farmers, activists, and scientists.  While many folks can easily endorse “organic,” the characters in the film take the discussion beyond just shopping for another eco-label. As we glimpse into each of their lives, we see how organic agriculture has the potential to solve many of our environmental and health problems.  The film will explore how organic farming can be used as a soil and air protection system, a healthy solution to toxic pollution, and an innovative means to combat global warming.

(Buy tix here)

 

EcoSalon Shops! (And so Does Alden) June 8, 2010

Friday night my friend Agatha and I went straight from work the the EcoSalon Shops! event downtown. Things got off to a rough start, when a sign on the front door of the address directed us around back to a grimy alley covered in graffiti. (And not the artsy kind.) Agatha and I looked at each other, the dark alleyway, and each other again, wondering what to do.

Luckily another girl was waiting, and she assured us it was the right entrance to Green Spaces, an eco-friendly Coworking space where the event was being held. The heavy metal doors creaked open and we boarded a freight elevator that rumbled slowly up and up. “I bet this place has asbestos,” Agatha mumbled.

“What are you talking about??” the operator of the elevator exploded. “You are here to go to an event, not make unfounded assumptions about whether or not there is asbestos. Every building in New York City is required to be asbestos free….” he went on and on, while Agatha stood mute. Finally we reached the top and he pushed open the doors, still fussing at us. We escaped with relief into a long room packed with racks of clothing, boxes of shoes, tables laid with jewelry and accessories, and fashionable ladies milling about, drinks in hand. I grabbed a glass of wine and went to work perusing the offerings.

Lara Miller

Agatha and I were especially taken by Lara Miller’s hand-loomed pieces, which could be switched around to be almost anything you wanted. Lara modeled this… well, I don’t know what to call it exactly but it’s pretty darn cool. For myself I picked up a simple cream t-shirt with a draped front.

Agatha got into a deep conversation with Lara, so I wandered over to look at….

T-Luxe

T-Luxe features beautiful underthings made of organic silk, cotton, and soy fabric. I had read up on the line beforehand, and was already excited to check it out. Tiffany Phipps, the designer, was nice enough to chat with me a bit while I perused her offerings.

“So how does this look under a t-shirt?”

“Not good,” she admitted, “it’s really just loungewear. All that ruching…”

Well, I can dig that. Sometimes a girl just needs to feel pretty, and I can’t think of anything more adorable in which I can beat the summer heat while I “lounge” in my sauna of an apartment. I snagged the panties, the matching bralet, and a camisole as for $95, which is a steal for such high quality stuff! I hope you’re ready for some half nakedness in the apartment, Vicki.

Feisty Elle

We loved the simple and high-quality nature of these laser-cut felt earring from Feisty Elle. While I didn’t get a pair for myself (I have too many earrings that I don’t wear) I could easily see integrating the bright colors into an everyday wardrobe. Leslie Young, the Californian designer, was a sweetheart too! Check out the website, because my pictures just don’t do them justice.

Miasunta

How lovely are all of these pretty baubles from Sara Brancato of Miasunta? All of her materials are either vintage, or sourced from the leftovers in manufacturing processes: extra chains, leftover metals, and vintage keys complete the look of eco-friendly charms.

Fair Vodka

Ever heard of vodka distilled from quinoa? Neither had we, but it is exceptionally smooth. I can say that with confidence because I drank it straight, having come too late for the chocolate martinis that everyone was raving about. You better believe that next time I’m in the market for vodka, I’ll be picking up some of this Fair Trade certified hooch. Luckily enough for me, it’s sold in nine New York City locations including 94th street, only two subway stops from my apartment. You can find a comprehensive list of purveyors here.

Divine Chocolate


Next to the vodka was Divine Chocolate, another component in the chocolate martinis. If you are in Whole Foods and jonesing for some chocolate, you have GOT to pick up a bar. It’s co-owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana, and – most importantly – it’s outrageously delicious. I mean… yeah. It’s amazing.

A Perfume Organic

Lately I’ve been hearing rumblings on how conventional perfume contains harsh chemicals. I’m loathe to give up my Dior perfume, but this stuff made a serious case for the switch. The woman working the A Perfume Organic table encouraged me to rub my fingers on the plants to pick up on the scented oils, then test the corresponding perfume. Each perfume contained several notes anchored by mint or other natural base notes. Who wouldn’t want to smell like a summer garden?

Study NY

I picked up this matching bolero and skirt set from Study NY, which I plan to wear to work sometime soon. Keep a look out!

Rebekah Froberg


Agatha said she was “obsessed” with the pretty gemstones in Rebekah Froberg‘s collection, which are handmade from recycled metals and stones like diamonds, tourmaline, sapphires and topaz.

MissionSavvy

Agatha loved the beaded detailing and tiers of eco-friendly fabric in this shirt sold at MissionSavvy, and store that donates 5% of profits generated to “a select group of animal welfare and conservation groups.” While we decided the shape of the tank favors those who are a little less endowed in the upper region (it’s hard being us, for sure) you should check out their website, as it seems to have some of the most pretty and practical sustainable pieces I’ve seen in a while.

There were a lot more booths there, that I just can’t cover them all. Here’s a list of designers, stores and products I didn’t particularly care for, but may suit your style:

H. Fredriksso

Feral Childe

Ecowrist

Doucette Duvall

Cri de Coeur

Buddha Nose

NatureVsFuture

RESTORE

Zhena’s Gypsy Tea

Juno & Jove

Most of the designers I talked to said their stuff can be found at  Kaight, the eco-friendly and sustainable boutique on the Lower East Side. If not there, you can check out their websites for a list of stockists, and some of them even sell direct on their website.

 

Sometimes Things Get Crazy…But in a Good Way May 21, 2010

I woke up Monday morning, sweaty, tangled in my sheets, the sun pounding my face. I rolled over, cracked my eyes open, and tried to reach my curtains without actually leaving my bed, in the process knocking a silver tray of pens and a stack of unread books (I’ll get to them, I swear) all over the floor and almost ripping down the curtain. I finally succeeded in blocking the sun and I rolled back over to sleep.

“Mew.” A paw sank into my side. I shifted, trying to dislodge it. I heard a pile of clothes go sliding off the end of the bed and onto the floor.

“Mrow.” Now I had two paws in my side, bearing the weight of a chubby tabby. I groaned. “Matteo, you fat slut, get off of me,” I said, swatting at him ineffectually. Cat hair flew into my nostrils. I snorted and then started swatting at my own face.

“MROOOOOWWWW.” Now it was Luca, scooting under the bed and complaining about something. “MEOWWWWWW.”

“What do you want?” I growled. “I don’t feed you. Go bother Vicki.”

“MEOOOWWW.”

I sighed. “Alright you two.” I rolled out of bed and looked at my cell phone. Only 10 more minutes until my alarm for work would go off anyway. I took a fast minute to make the bed and then picked my way around my personal detritus to the corner to step on the scale. First I had to shove the clothing vomit from my hamper out of the way. Oh, and accidentally step on the pointy ends of some heels. THEN, after I cussed up a storm, I stepped on the scale. The two cats watched me from their perch on the bed, with bored, judgmental eyes.

“Sh**…..” I said to them, looking from the number on the scale to the cats. “Well, it’s no wonder after this weekend.”

It was a weekend full of wine, sushi, big breakfasts, cuban food, beer, ice cream sandwiches, lamb, chocolate mousse and chocolate truffles, more wine, cocktails, more sushi, more chocolate and not a lick of exercise. Unless you count walking.

After spending only one hour in my apartment all weekend, my life would seem to be in shambles. I knew there was a pile of week-old dishes waiting for me in the sink, and the floor was unvacuumed. I hate that. You know, when you are walking around barefoot and you pick stuff up on the bottom of your feet? Ew. Gives me the willies.

Oh, but the weekend was worth this huge mess! Not every single thing I did is worthy of a detailed description,  so I’ll just give you the highlights.

Meet Mike. He’s the hot new guy I’ve been seeing for the past new weeks, and I’m just a little bit smitten. He lives in Brooklyn, which is both awesome and annoying. Awesome, because you might have noticed I LOVE Brooklyn. Annoying, because he lives a full hour away from me on the train. I couldn’t live any farther away unless I moved to the Bronx. That’s OK though. Mike is a great tour guide, especially of Prospect Park and the up-and-coming Ditmas park. What it means, though, is that when I go to see him, it’s a commitment. So what did I do? I basically just spent the whole weekend, save Sunday, in Brooklyn. Natch.

Saturday, after a homemade breakfast of turkey bacon, eggs, and a fruit salad macerated in orange juice and vodka (My idea. He didn’t even notice me casually filch the vodka from the top of the fridge and pour it into the bowl.) Mike and I emerged into a perfect day. I mean, it was gorgeous. High of 74, sunny, with a slight breeze.

We decided to go to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. But let me cut in here and talk a little about what a great thing it is to have so many green spaces in New York. Friday, as I left work, I was looking at my cellphone, not really paying attention, when I was stopped dead in my tracks. I smelled a garden. Not only the smell of flowers, but the smell of loamy earth and grass and that clean-air smell you just can’t get by spraying Febreeze around the apartment. I looked up from my iPhone and found myself next to a community garden. I must have looked like Ralphie in front of the Red Rider BB Gun Christmas display, with my face pressed against the fence bars, looking at a bench surrounded by flowering plants. I wanted to plunk my butt right down on that bench and just hang out. But I had to tear myself away. I was supposed to meet Mike and I was late. Such is the curse of the New Yorker.

As I told Mike on our amble through the Garden, that you don’t realize how foul NYC air is until you walk past a garden, step into a flower shop, or get deep inside Central park. I used to take the smell of a garden for granted. Not anymore. Nature has proven therapeutic properties, so I’m grateful that NYC takes the cultivation of flowers and public spaces so seriously. Without Riverside, and Central, and Prospect, and all the other parks around the five boroughs, I might just go insane.

So back to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It’s famous for its cherry trees with their gorgeous blossoms, which had just fell out of season when we went, unfortunately, and its rose garden. I restrained myself, fearing looking like an idiot and boring Mike, but I still regret not putting my nose in every single rose I saw. They smelled delicious, with names like Queen Mary 2, Alberic Barbier, and Abbaye de Cluny.  Anyway, I can’t really adequately describe what a wonderful place the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is, so I’ve not only thrown in some pictures, I’ve quickly cut together a video for you. I hope you it makes you happy while you are stuck inside a cubicle on a rainy day.

After the gardens, Mike and I walked past the huge fountain at Grand Army Plaza fountain, where an Asian bride posed for pictures in her sparkly pink wedding dress, holding bedazzled pink flowers that I’m pretty sure were all fake. To each her own, I guess….

We had lunch at the Cubana Cafe, then a glass of wine at Total Wine Bar, then walked to a barbecue at a Mike’s friend, Rob’s, apartment.

When I think of barbecues, I think of big, shiny metal grills hung with fancy grilling tools, hamburgers and hot dogs, a backyard, kids running between all the grownups, plastic red cups, and then fireflies as the afternoon fades slowly into night. But instead I got a New York barbecue: a little grill with smoking chicken breasts sitting on the back patio overlooking a laundry mat, Shameless Ice Cream Sandwiches from Bierkraft and a small group of close friends. It’s all about the company, and Mike’s friends didn’t disappoint.

Forgive me if I don’t put in many pictures here of Mike’s friends. I’m wary to whip out my camera at every opportunity, because it can get a bit awkward you know?

So one of the things we talked about was bike culture in Brooklyn. Brooklyn, which likes to take every trend to its extreme, and then parody the extreme, naturally has some interesting bicycles running around. There’s the guy with the stilt bike – he attached an whole extra frame to his bike so he’s five feet above the ground. When he wants to stop, he has to find a fence on which to dismount. There’s the unicycle guy – one of Mike’s friends said that when a couple of kids started to make fun of him, he desperately yelled “But it’s good for your core!” Oh, and there’s the intrepid guy that walks his dog on a unicycle. Brave? Or Crazy?

What else can I say about our lovely, lazy Saturday? There wasn’t any crazy bars or parties, or shenanigans. It was just nice and relaxing, and just what I needed.

Sunday I got up early to go to the third installment of my cooking class. We basted lamb with vegetables, steamed mussels (so delicious, and not as scary/hard as you would think) and finished up with a light fluffy mousse augmented with amaretto. Oops, can’t forget the truffles. Man, they were rich. And good!

I met up with my friend Parks, who was in town for a few days for a wedding. Parks is a great guy – he went to Washington and Lee as well, though he graduated much earlier than I. We walked the Highline, drank some beers, and then took a nice afternoon nap in his cousin’s apartment. I never take daytime naps, but this one was lovely. The late afternoon sun was streaming through the windows, and though I’m not usually one for jazz, Parks’ iPod of jazz seemed to be the perfect compliment to my mood. Finally we roused ourselves back up to go to PDT for cocktails.

PDT (Please Don’t Tell) is the worst kept “secret” in New York. I’ve heard of bars that change their number every week, but PDT doesn’t go that far. They take reservations starting at 3, so just make sure to call right away. I mean, they are even on Google Maps, sooo….

Still, it’s an impressive place to take an out-of-towner. Parks and I walked into Crif’s on St. Mark’s, which is a hot dog stand. I told him to wait while I entered a phone booth on the left, picked up the phone and pressed the button. A voice answered, and after telling them my reservation, the door opened and a petite hostess waved us in. She seated us at a little table y the door, the same table I sat with my sister a few months back.

It’s a tiny bar, with taxidermy animals in bow ties perched on the wall. If you go to the bathroom, you can read all their rules, like “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” or “If you came here to hit on strangers, you’re in the wrong place.”

What I go for, though, is the cocktails. The cocktail menus are housed in fine leather folders, and each recipe goes on for several lines. Expect to find absinthe, exotic fruits and syrups, sherry, and essence of flowers. The drinks really are works of art.

Usually I sit at a table, but the first time I went I sat at the bar and I got to watch the bartender craft my White Birch Fizz. I was astounded at the level of care and the variety of tools used to make the delicious fizzy drink. Egg whites, an atomizer, and fine gin came together to make happiness in my mouth.

As Parks and I sat and talked, I had a good view of people coming and going out of the small room, like the leggy girls at the next table, and the investment banker-types in the back corner. It’s a good people-watching place.

Parks and I left, wandered down the street to get more sushi, and then dove into the leftover truffles back at his cousin’s place. Finally, at midnight, I decided it was time to go home. I was just barely tipsy when I threw all my clothes on the floor and fell into bed, and the next thing I knew, I woke up with the sun in my face….