Happy Summer (almost) Coney Island Art Walls

http://www.ninachanel.com/
Nina Chabel Anbney
John Ahearn

I don’t know why but I’ve under visited Coney Island in the past few years. To remedy the situation the other Sunday we woke up and headed straight to the beach during a late Spring heatwave that I think is  a harbinger of a humid Summer season to come.

The beach was packed in that great, characters-of -New-York way. I forgot to bring my sketchbook instead reading the Sunday paper in the sand.

I was particularly energized by the Coney Island Art Walls for the season, presenting a diverse set of local artists. Nina Chanel Abney’s work is a riveting set of political abstraction and figuration. She is one to watch in contemporary art.

Here’s to more Coney Island for the season to come.

To do: Beach lounge and dip your feet into the water! Luna Park. People watch. Coney Island Art walls, walk the boardwalk and peer. Weekend fireworks and Spinners games are next on my list.

Eat: Coney Island Brewery. Hot dogs, duh.

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Swedish Things in The City

Two year’s ago I took a week long trip to Stockholm because (of course) the flight was a great deal. Flying Norwegian, we spent our days just walking the city, stopping for coffee, and enjoying the late setting sun.

I think all the residents of Stockholm were out that week in May, basking in this eternal sun after a long winter, lounging in the many parks that dot this city of islands. I’m not sure I’ve been to such a lush, European city of water and trees before.

Everywhere we went we were greeted by warm, lovely people and distinct art and food. Ever since I’ve harbored a Scandinavian crush.

For a slice of Sweden in New York City, here are a few noteworthy to me:

Coco Balls! I remember eating these both at a cafe for fika, the art of a slow downed coffee break, and at the airport before leaving. They’re chewy, dense, and satisfyingly sweet with coconut on the outside. I have yet to ventured a try at making them myself but the Swedish inspired coffee shop in Brooklyn and Manhattan Swedish coffee shop Konditori. The owner is a swede transplanted to Brooklyn. They stock other fika delights like kanelbulle, too.

Another alluringly but strange snack I enjoyed in Sweden was salty-sweet licorice. I learned it’s quite an acquired taste, though.  Luckily for me (and all you New Yorkers who don’t know it yet) you can find all your licorice delights and more at Sockerbit on Bleeker Street in Manhattan

Even before I went to Sweden, wooden clogs were ever so trendy in New York City. I bought my first pair of many at the Brooklyn Flea by Nina Z, a Swedish expat who brought the well known wooden shoe to Brooklyn in 2008.   I’ve just about worn my pair into the ground. A hint to those who lust after her beautiful clogs: she often has a sale section at the Brooklyn Flea.  I very much love the summer collection styles this year.

I hope to get back to Sweden someday. If not, I’ll be grateful a momentary glimpse at another place, finding the city’s imprint right here in my own.

 

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Smoked Fish at Shelsky’s

Shelsky’s is on a drag of Court Street in Brooklyn that is busy and appealing to browse, a frequent haunt for me off of the F train.  It’s also right around the corner from a great walking strip of antique stories on Atlantic as well as the delights of both Sahadi’s and Damascus for middle eastern prepared foods and pastries.  And it’s easily followed by a long meander to Brooklyn Heights, a favorite neighborhood of mine every since watching Moonstruck in my room as a lonely middle schooler.

Shelsky’s is perfection of smoked fish and cream cheese on an everything bagel or bialy. It is an old school Jewish deli with a modern twist, an engaging palate giving the lox-and-cream-cheese a rebirth.

Much of what’s sold at the deli counter is made in-house or sourced from top Jewish food purveyors across the city. The appetizing shop brings the main stays of the like of the Upper West Side’s glorious Zabar’s, so Brooklynites don’t have to go that far for quality smoked fish.

It’s quite busy at breakfast or brunch during the weekend. I’ve found the best time to find yourself in the beautiful smoked fish heaven is the late afternoon, for that either late lunch or early pre-dinner snack. We always split a sandwich, sitting at the counter in the front.

I use to be a bialy novice before Shelsky’s.  Yet a delightful combination of the Gaspe Nova, Smoked Whitefish Salad, Pickled Herring, and sour pickle, on  bialy convinced me otherwise.

Remember to wash down with a Dr. Brown for that classic New York City Jewish deli flavor experience.

Shelsky’s
141 Court St,
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Hong Kong Travel Guide

 

 

When I was a teenager I loved Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express. Returning from Hong Kong a few months ago, I drifted in and out of sleep on a long Friday night rewatching it. The colors! The food! The melancholic feeling of being lost! What a classic mood of a film, a love letter to a city at a moment before it transitioned away from British protectorate, into an unknown future identity.

I said goodbye to my twenties in Hong Kong this past January, funnily enough, walking the same paths in the movie, lingering on the harbor, getting lost inside wet markets, the neon signs coloring my memories.

On the very last last day of our week in Hong Kong, Brian and I had a flight at one am with an early afternoon check out from the rented apartment in the vertical tower blocks of the the mid-levels. With hours to kill, we took the escalators downtown, dropping our bags at the central station to meander without a plan. (oh to know the joys of a city without the terrorism fears of New York City when it comes to storing luggage!)

We walked the city like locals, taking the double decker trams to the edges. Riding on the other side of the road never stops making me feel blissfully queazy. We spent time mingling in and out of the never-ending busy shopping districts, packed with contrasting images of a place so iconically Chinese and also so singularly Hong Kong. I bought coffee and Korean beauty products, hanging around teens. I was the outsider looking in as we communally shopped for orange lipsticks.

We wove through old-school canteens, the ever present Australian cafe culture, and high-fashion malls right up against hole in the wall restaurants.

We waited in line to eat Michelin starred duck on rice that was literally prepared by a man in the front with a penchant for chopping extremely fast and hard with decisive whacks.

A few backpackers sat with us at a tiny circular table, marveling when I told them we were really that much older than their hostel friends.

“You came all the way here, for your birthday?” the Toronto native who must have been no more than twenty said to me. He had just met his Thai friend at their hostel,  who helped us all know how to order pork and duck correctly.

Our momentary friends were heading off to travel South East Asia on different tracks, departing from each other in just a few hours from this meal.

We went to hunt down egg waffles as our dessert of choice afterwards, stopping to walk past the old post office in Wan Chai.

Hong Kong is forever etched into my last days of being twenty nine now, a neon-colored vertical city a city with a history of people upon people, an iconic style, a culture of freedom, and now me humbly greeting a new time in my life.

Turning thirty has meant coming full circle, returning to the start. I have a sense of gratitude right now to feel, in that way, at home with that always-there-self, almost surprised she has always always been there.

 

Where We Stayed

Using points (thanks Chase Sapphire Preferred!) I booked Brian and I two round trip tickets for a ridiculously low amount of money, I’m talking, cheaper than flying from NYC to LA kind of deal.

Good to know: January before the Chinese new year is a slower season but not cold or rainy. It was like stepping into early spring or late fall in the middle of a snowy New York existence. I wore denim on denim the entire weekend like a true vagabond, not washing a single thing in my carry on.

We flew Asiana to South Korea and onto Hong Kong. The service in economy was excellent! They even served in-flight bim bim bap. I wish I had taken my hot sauce tube with me, though. 

Having had great success in traveling with Airbnb, we saw no reason not to use it here as well. After a little neighborhood research, we thought as first timers in Hong Kong SoHo was a great spot to explore on foot most of Hong Kong island.

We were in the mid-levels to be exact, that dreamy other-worldly escalators and tiny-itsy-bitsy skinny towers giving the entire area a great drastic mash up of things I was expecting and not expecting. It felt like San Francisco a little bit, with those winding street packed with people and minibuses.

What We Did

Really the very first thing we did out of both interest and relief was ride the escalators after walking with carry-ons strapped to our backs. The view of them criss crossing between buildings ushered  a sigh of relief to my aching back.

Hong Kong has the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world! It’s free and you can ride it up pretty far, meandering to Victoria peak even if you’ve got time. The area is steeply hilled, packed with streets full of both Western and Chinese markets. 

In the morning commute, the escalator changes direction to go down. We rode it more times than I can count. It’s a great way to people watch.

SoHo is a very hip packed part of the city, a mash up of West and East. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many French speakers in one area before (well outside of Montreal and France.) It was a nice location for nightlife, coffee, and street markets.

On a few nights we also headed to the Tsmi Sha Tsui East Promenade, riding the cheap Star Ferry into the harbor, to catch the laser light show on the other side. Any place that wants to install lasers on skyscrapers and have them daily put on a show is pretty alright with me.

In exploring around Hong Kong Island, we stopped at Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, took the Peak Tram to Victoria peak, including a slow hike around the peak with those iconic views of the central skyscrapers. There are several hikes that look fantastic on the peak and all around Hong Kong, too, if you’re looking for something harder.

In more of our Hong Kong Island walks, I enjoyed the Mao figurines and antiques of Cat Street, and the local stores and cafes of both Sheung Wan and Wan Chai. I peered into enough herbal medicine stores and giant shopping malls to fill a lifetime.

 We also took Trams to Causeway bay, an area packed with people and stores.  Riding the trams is actually an excellent budget activity because you can get off and explore whatever you came across.

On Kowloon island, I loved the frenetic energy of Mong Kok as well as the Jade, Flower, and Bird markets.  Being us, we also found two bookstores worthy of noting in these areas: Kubrick’s and Hong Kong Reader. Nian Lin Garden was a nice respite, too. 

The tram to the Big Buddha was closed, so we decided for just a day trip to Lamma Island. This hike was moderate and great. I enjoyed the fishing village at the end, where we sat outside and drank beers in what felt like mild, late summer air to us. The locales thought it was cold. 

What We Ate

The food in Hong Kong is amazing and diverse, at once fancy and regular, cosmopolitan and everyday.  I found the most joy in eating the street food and at cheap  dim sum joints.

The notes of what we ate barely scratch the surface:

Wonton soup everywhere
Dumplings Wang Fu
Cooked Food Centres
One Dim Sum
Egg waffles
Tasty Congee and Noodle Wonton
Tai Cheong Bakery for Egg Tart!
Hong Kong French toast
Din Tai Fong for amazing soup dumplings
Joy Hing Roast Meat
Fancy midday dim sum at Duddells

What I read:

Monocle Guide to Hong Kong is excellent.
I always trust Lonely Planet, too.

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Ruminating on things eaten in Paris last year

Maybe it’s that my sister in-law is headed to Paris right now. Or that I’ve recently joined the fan club for those normal French pharmacy beauty products that just seem so much better every time I use them, like this dry shampoo and this really basic moisturizer. It’s probably also that I was in Paris a year ago crazily enough, and being stuck inside during a snow day had me wistfully thinking about that late winter trip.  If you’re looking for even more inspiration, Cup of Joe’s recent city guide of Paris has me thinking France is always a good idea, whatever the weather.

Of particular note to me, even a year later:

baguettes, always good, with butter even better
gastro pub Les Deux Cigales , very delicious
mint tea at the Grand Mosque of Paris worth the marauding pigeons 
all pain au chocolat forever!

 

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Embrace The Pretzel Croissant

I love breakfast. It’s the best meal, hands down. You can eat it early, you can eat it late or you can eat it twice like me most days.

There is a strange promise in being fancy for breakfast every once in awhile. It’s like seizing the day, reminding me of being on vacation. Making any day commuting in Manhattan to feel like a vacation day is a good approach for making my life more enjoyable.  I love to put in a little effort some morning to make it in earlier than usual to stop for a croissant and a cappuccino because Im old enough now to just embrace my love of frivolity without caring.

This week at the office my lovely coworker brought in pastries from The City Bakery to celebrate Mardi Gras. My favorite of the bunch is by far the Pretzel Croissant.Call me an iconoclast but It’s a beautiful, salty thing of butter wrapped into a pretzel homage of sorts. The crispy outside is saltier than a regular croissant. The inside is the familiar buttery goodness. I have a fondness for it’s brown-flecked flakey layers. I enjoy that while saltier it’s still a croissant, through and through.

I like it even more jam, a perfect blend of sweet and salty, eaten at my desk. Those tiny crumbs of course ruin my usual attire of dark on dark.

The City Bakery
3 W 18th St
New York, NY 10011

 

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Feeling like Early Spring in Brooklyn

I started this drawing of brownstone Brooklyn in a sketchbook more than a year ago but only now felt like finishing it  as the temperatures reached a mighty strange 65 degrees this past weekend. Lately we’ve been talking about moving out of Brooklyn, maybe to Queens or even Manhattan (the shock!) This strange and pleasant February weekend outside reminded me how much I like living in this borough, though. So maybe it’s not meant to be yet.

Enjoying a warmer and sunnier borough means spending less money and more time outside around my favorite parts of the city: Prospect Park walks, bike riding to the beach, meandering from brownstone neighborhood to neighborhood, beers outside and in a back yard at my favorite flower shop bar (ah, the backyard life), the waterfront at Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg, and food adventures down to Coney Island or Sunset Park or Midwood. Central asian food is next on my list.

I’m feeling overly optimistic (we do have this weird climate-change-weather to blame) that Spring is right around the corner and this will be a pretty good Brooklyn season for me and Brian. And hopefully a good one for everyone.

Brooklyn is mighty fine in the warmer weather.

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Happy Lunar New Year

I recently got back from a wonderful birthday trip to Hong Kong! Which is to say, Happy birthday to me and Happy Lunar New Year, I’m so grateful to spend any time exploring the food and lives of other people around the world, ever slightly unhinging the way you can feel your experience is the central way of life.

Before we took off I started thinking about New York City’s Chinatown, seeing that it was first settled by Cantonese immigrants to the city . It’s the largest Chinatown in the United States, too.

It’s easy to ignore the beautiful, unique nature of Chinatown’s busy, neon signed streets. It’s easy to accept it as a part of Manhattan’s core, not stopping long to appreciate it’s flare for out-of-the-norm. After being in Hong Kong, I’m ever so ready to score it’s back alleys for egg custards and waffles.

e. There has never been quite a time to appreciate an immigrant enclave in New York City that right now, to think that at a time we also excluded Chinese immigrants from coming and settling in the United States. I’m so thankful that it is a part of the fabric of New York City, though, with more Chinatowns in both Brooklyn and Queens growing today.

A local favorite Chinatown favorite is Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles, a staple in my journeys through the neighborhood.

If you’re there at the right time, when the tables aren’t too busy, you can easily watch the chef slap the hand-pulled noodles down in the tiny side kitchen with a loud, sudden whack. The noodles are chewy and fresh. The thicker the cut the better in my book! I prefer them stir fried with vegetables.

Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles
1 Doyers Street
New York, NY 10038

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Women’s March 2017 Postcards

You can donate to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood while get these post-cards for sending to your elected officials!

I’ve printed these on recycled matte paper with an illustration I did in gouache and watercolor. For every bundle sold I’m going to donate 90% of the proceeds, using the rest to print & ship for as long as I can.

It’s hard in these crazy times to keep focused and do as much as you can, especially while we’re juggling work, life, family, and health. So I’m trying to keep my eyes clear and use whatever I have to do something, anything. I know I’ll have to protest again and over and over again. Right now, I’m using creativity for a little burst of energy though.

It was beyond nice to have a random, kind stranger buy two bundles online last night. I’m very excited to both raise some money and to send my art out to other women.

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Pacific Coast Highway, San Francisco to Los Angeles

The new year is here, with fresh starts and some trepidation on what’s next in 2017. I’m more ready than I’ve ever been for a new year though. 

In looking forward to the New Year, I was stuck on the feeling I had during the drive down the Pacific Coast we took at the end of September. Perhaps it’s the long ingrained school calendar that makes me feel the fall as a new start but that drive also felt like a beginning, too. Sure, things were still to come (the election for one) but it felt like an harbinger of a new year, of the new challenges we’d all face.

So while the end of calendar year came with unexpected bumps still, I’d like to think I’ve been embracing a new year, a new era in my life since this fall when we flew to San Francisco and drove down the coast. I’m thinking of those feelings of California sun, the misty cold air in Monterey, as New York City hunkers down for winter as it snows outside my window right now.

 

Where we started:

We flew to visit our friends who’ve moved to San Francisco, staying in an Airbnb in Berkeley and attending a wedding of another friend.

Since we’ve both been to San Francisco before, we spent a good amount of time just exploring the East Bay by UC Berkeley. Particular favorites were the views from Tilden, Cheeseboard pizza, and an excellent izakaya meal at Ippuku. We killed lot of time in bookstores by the campus, being especially fond of Moe’s.

In San Francisco we dim sum-ed with our lovely friends and their new baby (!) which seemed a necessary activity for a city known for dim sum, walked the Mission and the Castro, as well as toured the original Mission Dolores Basilica church. We had abnormally warm weather for September, so it felt like a wonderful return of summer.

On the Coast:

We spent two nights on the coast, driving down Route 1 on the Pacific Coast highway. First of all, don’t worry about missing the views because literally every pull-off on the highway provided an amazing view.

On the recommendation of a Nor Cal friend we stayed in Monterey one night and toured the amazing Point Lobos State Park, where you meander several trails, catch sea lions, and watch the phenomenal fog drag into the coast. The flora and fauna and the dramatic cliffs reminded me so much of the South of France!

Next we spent a day driving through Big Sur where unfortunately several of the big state parks were closed for a large forest fire. (Sidenote, forest fires are crazy?!) Still, we turned off every single opportunity to admire the coast meeting the forest, watching fog make you think you weren’t at the end of the continent. Of note were the very well photographed Bixby Bridge and Julia Pfeiffer State Park for the famous waterfall on the beach view and meandering coast hike.

The second night on our two day drive down the Pacific Coast Highway we slept outside of Big Sur (to get a cheaper hotel rate) at Pismo beach. The town felt like a California’s tourist town, with a great beach and lots of hotels. On the way we stopped for smoked fish tacos at Ruddell’s Smokehouse which came randomly recommended as a roadside treat. They were great!

On the way to Los Angeles we stopped in Santa Barbara for a cup of coffee and stroll, walking up the spanish style courthouse which is a brief and free way to view both amazing architecture and get a beautiful view of Santa Barbara. I felt like I was also living inside a Nancy Meyers movie while in town.

That same day we made it to Los Angeles but before we checked in our Silverlake Airbnb we stopped at the The Getty; I was very smitten with the tram that takes you up. The architecture and views were reason enough to stop on our way to silverlake. Oh, and we also stopped for In-and-Out.

Since we didn’t have much time in LA, only three days, we picked one area to call home. Picking the east side was great, Silverlake had lots of food and was just a bit more walking friendly (thought we drove everywhere to sightsee) Still, if I were returning I’d love to stay in West LA, seeing Santa Monica, Venice Beach, or Malibu. I will say that given how big the city is, and how unlike New York City it is, picking one area is the best idea. Driving times are crazy (to me) on those freeways!

Of note in our time in the east side of LA: We ate excellent roadside tacos everywhere, excellent ramen, went to Griffith Park Observatory at night to see the stars, had drinks at Mohawk Bend, ate ever-so-trendy toast at Sqirl, saw a few Hollywood stars, went to Downtown LA for modern art The Broad and Grand Central market, ending our trip with a hike in Runyon Canyon like we were pretend locals.

 

Until next time, beautiful left coast! I could get used to all that sun and succulents.

 

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