The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

The Inaugural Meeting of the Picnic Society of New York June 4, 2010

My friend Anne invited me to an awesome picnic in Prospect Park – she plans to make it a monthly thing. Picnics are always great, especially one where everyone brings a childhood favorite. There was ants on a log, cream cheese and strawberry jam sandwiches, homemade bread, lemonade, and much more.


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.”


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….


Brooklyn = Where It’s At April 11, 2010

Filed under: events,Food,Places to go — Alden @ 1:37 am
Tags: , , ,

How many times have I talked about Brooklyn? Seriously, everything that I love happens there. From the edgiest parties, to the most forward-thinking urban renewal and gardening projects, to the most memorable shopping experiences, Brooklyn is where you go when you want to get away from the touristy, see-and-be-seen, rejected-at-the-door, mass-produced and massively overpriced crap that is Manhattan. Brooklyn is infamous for hipsters, but there is a softer side to what many call faux-hemian, and underneath the earnestness is a protest against what society forces on us: that we need to go broke on perfect outfits, that we are all striving for a job in finance, and that you don’t count if you don’t own a car. I can get down with that.

It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’ve already taken the 2 down there twice. It’s a long trip – an hour or more – with the 2 stopping at every single station along the way because of construction. It’s painful. But worth it!

Last night I went down to BK to meet up with a college friend for dinner and a party. She brought along her friend Ariel, a pretty aristocrat-cum-hippie with blond dreads and plenty of stories to tell. We had dinner at a little Oaxacan (read: southern Mexico) restaurant called Chiles y Chocolate. Ariel just visited Oaxaca for a wedding, and told us that Chiles and chocolate are what Oaxaca is known for.

The restaurant was a far cry from Don Tequilas in Lexington, where my college friends and I would stuff our faces and then spend the rest of the day moaning over our distended stomachs. (Or if you were member of a certain sorority, nonchalantly purging your stomach of all that cheese and questionable white sauce.) Chiles y Chocolate has seductive lighting, fresh flowers at the tables, and filling food that eschews grease for grease’s sake. I’m told they serve delicious hot chocolate as well, naturally.

We sat in the back outdoors room, with just some draped cloth and tarp between us and the biting wind outside. In the middle of the meal I finally ceded to the chill and pulled my jacket back on. But I enjoyed a glass of Yellowtail chardonnay, which they of course took the trouble of describing for us as buttery and smooth, with notes of blah blah. Or you could get the Turning Leaf, with aromas of fresh citrus-like lemon and lime. Love it. After my meal of shrimp and diced fruit, I felt full yet comfortable. We left the restaurant and walked to the apartment in the Park Slope neighborhood, Ariel walking her bike alongside. Have I told you that I really want a bike? More on that later. After she wrestled the bike into submission under a lock, we got buzzed into the bottom floor of a row house.

It was a typical Brooklyn party: low on fashion, high on unknown and upbeat music. The host mixed us fancy whisky drinks and bonded with me over our love of Hype Machine, which he used as his playlist. I love weird music, by the way. At parties I have trouble concentrating on the conversation sometimes when there is a good song on.

I went home early though, as fun as it was. I had gone out hard and late Thursday night, and by 12:30 my eyelids were sticky and heavy, and I was being a huge bore.

Today I was back in Park Slope with Vicki. It was opening day at Brooklyn Flea, and I was pumped. First we stopped by Beacon’s Closet so I could drop of some clothes for consignment. They took my bag of stuff and told me to come back in an hour. I already had an idea of what they would choose. In there I had a short-sleeved, pink, Members Only jacket and an acid washed denim vest. Both of them were relics of a time when I had some idea of my being a pseudo-hipster, uber fashionable New Yorker. Ha. Now I know better. As much as Sartorialist and LookBook are fun to look at, I’m much better suited to simple yet classic cardigans, oxfords and ballet flats. C’est la vie.

After that, we beat it up to the market, cooing at the adorable boutiques, blossoming pear trees, and delicious-looking fair from the coffee shops and cafes. We stopped on the way to find a bathroom in the mall and Vicki went into the McDonalds to use it there. Oh, man, talkabout depressing. It was a gorgeous day outside, yet that stupid fast food restaurant in a mall was packed with families. I watched in disgust as the chubby mother of a wailing toddler stuffed handfuls of fries in her mouth and slurped a coke while she gossiped with her friend. I finally turned and fled the madness, waiting for Vicki outside.

When we got the market, the placed was packed. I stopped by to say hi to Monkey, who’s lovely jewelry from salvaged records makes me drool everytime. He told me there were close to 10,000 people there for opening day. The sun was so bright I had to squint to see the wares. In between browsing the racks of clothing and flipping through prints, I gobbled up a chicken dog with kimchi topping, a stroop waffle, and an almond and pear torte. Vicki said everytime she would see me I would be munching on something. Well, you know, that’s how I roll.

I also came this close to buying a sweet, old road bike. I’ve been mulling over for a while the idea of biking to work everyday. I’m a block away from Riverside Park, and my work is all the way over on 11th Avenue as well, so I could largely avoid having to deal with the dangers of cycling – getting doored or getting straight up hit by a taxi – by cycling all the way down the West Side on the bike path. Plus my apartment building has bike storage and my work has showers and a storage locker. Could it be any easier? I need to get some exercise somewhere. Cuz what I’m doing right now isn’t working.

The guy at the bicycle stand guided me to a road bike, because he says the one-speed cruisers with leather seats that the hipsters favor aren’t much for commuting. They’re as heavy as they are cute. Vicki finally talked me out of buying anything, pointing out that I should probably get my ducks in a row as far as reserving some space in the basement and figuring out where the bike storage actually is at work first. The fact that she would have to deal with my taking it home on the subway might have had something to do with it as well.

My only purchase was 3 embroidered handkerchiefs at a dollar each. I’ve stopped buying those little tissue packets, because it’s a waste of money and trees. Plus doesn’t using a pretty handkerchief look so much nicer than paper?

We didn’t leave the market until all of the vendors were packing up their stuff at five.  Now, as I write this back in my apartment, the orange sunset is flaring up behind the skyline of water towers and steeples on the Upper West Side. It’s beautiful, but really, if it weren’t for my awesome roommate and the time I’ve spent putting together a beautiful room, not to mention my two closets, I would be down in Park Slope in a second.