Hot chocolate and other stories at Flatiron district

DSC_0114.jpg“Manhattan has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow. This, more than any other thing, is responsible for its physical majesty. It is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village – the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying that the way is up.”

1908
If Fuller building were a person, this would be his story. More than a hundred summers ago in America, it was around the time when public smoking was declared illegal for women. A dapper young man (the flatiron building) stood at the intersection of broadway, 23rd street and 5th avenue tracing glances across the city skyline. It was a triangular piece of land where frequent waves of turbulent winds tossed up skirts while passersby fell in love with his tall charming stance and sleek tricorne (a look alike in this case). He stood there day and night welcoming scores of visitors to the heart of the city. The streets that were hardly frequented now attracted the young and old, some pulled out of hansom cabs for a courteous hat tip while kids craned their heads to the mightiest sight of him. Days grew heavy with obvious stares and hushed whispers that he pretended to ignore. Slenderest, most aquiline structure, one said. He was the talk of the neighborhood, the substance of the city’s most reported love affair albeit a curious three sided story. It was the birth of a historic moment for the identity of 5th avenue. He lived to be more than a hundred, through evolution into the 21st century.

2017
Many weeks ago, on a Friday in June, the sun decided to bring more light into our days. It felt wonderful, the city looked magical. The tulips loved it, shooting out of its bulbs in reds and yellows. Two months later, it continues to be generous. New York streets are now like an overly baked piece of cake. The goodness is in there but it is way too over-baked to enjoy. So while the summer played games with my mind to coil up in a cozy little air-conditioned corner what happened instead were numerous ambles in the lower Manhattan neighborhood. On one such afternoon, I took my seat under the cozy shades of a large street umbrella along the edge of Madison square park. The main course on the menu was a beautiful view of the Flatiron building, a right triangle limestone and terra-cotta grande relished with a delicious sip of hot chocolate. The city bakery (from a couple of streets south of Flatiron district) serves undeniably the best hot chocolate in New York. It’s a thick and creamy delight with a velvety chunk of  homemade marshmallow. The ritual – always get a hot chocolate takeaway to savor the landmark. Bon appetit.

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The beginning of this post is a quote by E.B White from Here is New York.

Travelogue – The fragrance of Williamsburg

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The Sketchbook Project

I stood before all the journals and sketchbooks lined up against the walls, deeply inhaling the fragrance of old books. An image of a young jewish boy came to my mind. I still remember, the subway stopped at a midtown station, mildly crowded for a workday evening. He slipped inside through the closing doors just in time and occupied an empty seat across mine. A little while later I noticed an olive green envelope perched on his lap. He removed the card and wrote carefully in small cursive motions. For a moment my mind wandered off. I wondered what his story might be when he leaves the train. Someone waiting to be loved, I was certain, for his dreamy eyes gleamed with love under the yellow lights. The train passed through tunnels with dirty walls of withered paint and grease. I looked out the window, permitting the scene of the boy and his envelope lodge in my mind. Two stations after I noticed him carefully retracing the words on the flap, to make it bolder I assumed. Many years later this would probably be someone else’s keepsake, a letter that contained a piece of his story.

I have always been fond of handwritten notes and love letters. They are a wonderful medium to connect with loved ones. On Saturday I decided to visit the sketchbook project at Williamsburg, a library of journals from people around the world. Nested between old-world cafes and art scenes, it is the world’s largest public art project with a collection of real narratives. Every handmade journal is a creative expression of a personal story. I spent the afternoon leisurely flipping through journals from Portland, Milan and Israel. The “coffee stains” sketchbook contained paintings with real tea and hot cocoa mix, the atlas of eating was a book of recipes and thoughts about food I liked as well. Each book I opened smelled different form the other, it contained fabric, beach sand, pressed flowers, ribbons, quilt. They all seemed to carry a fragrance from the place they came from. There are thousands of books, it is a good place to connect and an outlet to share something real.

Happily Muffined was born this day last year and I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate today.

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I found a forgotten summer top hidden in the wardrobe. A pale citrus yellow, it was a gift from Madeleine, my lovely landlord back in London. Two years later I wore it this Saturday.

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Sriram and I spent a lunch date at Williamsburg that weekend. He insisted we go on a Saturday so as to not miss Smorgasburg, the weekly food festival. Perched on the waterfront at East Riverstate park, the stalls overlooked Manhattan skyline serving everything from lemonade to spaghetti donuts. The afternoon air held a smoky blend of meat, potato fries and vanilla. It was a crowded but perfect setting for all kinds of food adventures. We walked around a mecca of choices with a lot of food ideas brewing in my head. It was a late lunch but first a local special to resist the summer heat – cream soda! Virgil’s orange cream soda was a better version of Fanta, delicious and refreshing with a strong vanilla flavor.

The neighborhood is known for high energy hipster streets, vintage boutiques and graffiti covered warehouses. There is a lot going on, it is beautiful to walk around and drink in the essence of Brooklyn or grab a snack by the riverside. The restaurants and cafe’ are a good mix of contemporary and old-style. From the outside they all look beautiful, like a perfect prescription for the soul.

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The quaint Italian coffee shops in Manhattan

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As slick as a whistle here we are, at the heart of summer. The sun is beaming in full force dissolving every memory of snow and rain we carried over from last year. Despite that, New York city is rich and lively. Gelato and rainbow milkshakes are hastily relished on the go before the scorching heat bleeds them out. New York is a bit of every part of the world, it has something to give for everyone. This summer commenced with a predominant Italian vibe. The one thing consistent in Italian food is the amount of passion instituted in cooking.  I would never have learnt the story of gianduja had I not explored the Italian pockets of the city.

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Max Caffe’ 

It’s a laid back Sunday morning. We rise up after much contemplation, pour some spiced Indian chai to the brim of our stout coffee mugs. We carelessly dip a social tea biscuit in the steaming hot tea and force our half open eyes to wake up to the nostalgic aroma of mornings in Madras. We then decide to do brunch outside today, instead of the wonted upma or oatmeal. It is a perfectly toasty afternoon. We slip into our summer clothes and head out to the cafe across the street, a couple of blocks uptown. We pick a favorite corner spot by the window, overlooking the streets on Amsterdam avenue. It is a lush Italian cafe with an airy homestyle flair. The comfy coaches with bold floral prints are a visual treat. We order a plate of nutella crepes for him and french toast for me. We savor the food and the intricate decor alike, take a moment to commend the first class maple syrup, then get back to admiring the wall mounted lanterns and other antiques. Hours pass by a cuppa and we are still smitten by the ambience, the sweet little corners calling out to us for tête-à-têtes with our loved ones. It feels good because for a very short while, as long as we are here sipping a latte, life is slow.. the way it should be.

It was a chapter that transported us back in time. A lazy brunch on Sundays is mandatory for the soul. Sometimes it’s all the therapy you will need to tackle monday blues. It is amusing to explore coffee shops unassumingly tucked away in street corners like these. I have an unparalleled weakness for everything vintage and this was a perfect setting to feed my liking. I will remember this day for the best french toast I have ever eaten in a very artsy and vibrant cafe. I will also remember this to be the day when, in New York city, I was finally served just the sufficient quantity of food a person can eat. On a side note, fresh sourdough breads are perfetto for french toasts.

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A day like an Italian

To eat every existing delicacy in this city, one lifetime isn’t enough. One of the most heartwarming attractions in lower Manhattan is a bustling Italian marketplace called Eataly. It stands alongside the Flatiron building across Madison Park. I have been sinfully stealing myself to Eataly at least twice a week the past month. There is a genuine piece of Italy life here, fondling an irresistible invitation to breathe in the fragrance of freshly baked pastries and sourdough breads. It has been an enlightening discovery, the choices of food and wine are endless. The doors at 5th avenue open to a crisp aroma of freshly ground coffee. The magic unfolds the instant we walk in, one wouldn’t expect so much of a truly authentic Italian world on this side of the block. The quiet mumblings over coffee tables and counters are thick and french accented, the air is distinctly scented with regional twists of flavored espresso. It accommodates rooftop beer gardens, restaurants and wine bar. It is a mecca of Italian jams and compote, hand pulled mozzarella, wine and breads. It is a high-end supermarket, the downside is that it is very expensive. Nevertheless it was an incredible experience touring the marketplace and eyeballing the jumbo cheese counters and absynth chocolates. There are occasional shout outs from the fishmonger, the spirits are high at the wine bar and all through the day, the bakery at the north west pocket oozes out delicious aroma of well risen, warm and crusty breads.My south Indian curiosity was promptly tingled, drawing me to create a little bucket-list (a summer fling list) of some offbeat favorites. The Italians here take food very seriously. They strongly believe people bond well when there is good food.

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The summer-fling list:

Violet jamViola/violet jam is made out of wild violet flowers and is popular in France. Some of these have a more perfumed taste.
Gobino’s gianduja spread – Predating Napoleon times, the continental system lead to declining supply of cocoa. To stretch the quantity the chocolate was mixed with hazelnut paste occasioning the invention of gianduja.
Italian coriander honey – Any monofloral honey will have it’s own unique taste of season. Manufactured when coriander flowers are in full bloom, this has an aroma of citrus and coriander spice.
Sambuco –  Sambuco is Italian for elderberry jam.
Sabadi’s Quality of life series : health – Cold processed organic chocolate with bee pollen, pomegranate extract and acerola.
Sabadi’s Quality of life series : beauty – Cold pressed organic chocolate with chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds, extracts of carrots and bilberries
Chestnut cream – A common ingredient in many Italian cuisines.
Redcurrant compote – Red currants are uncommon berries, when had as a whole they are believed to have a seeded caviar like texture. 
Alba
– All the bite sized pastries look beautiful, but I found Alba to be particularly interesting. It is a passion fruit mousse & dark chocolate over buckwheat and almond flour sponge cake

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Celebrating love – A balmy spring weekend in Washington D.C

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The Fourth of April

Creating stories with my favorite people is a continuous desire for me. Be it surprises, love letters, food, pillow fights, travel or laughter – I capture candid moments as much as I can so that at best they visually continue to exist. It is important for me to have a multitude of such stories that will make up a good narrative when we age and  I believe this is what makes life so exciting. We have this time on earth to create something unique and quite certainly, no matter what choices we make this will be a story no one else has ever heard of. I wrote to Sriram one day, ” I realized the reason you fall in love with someone is not based on how much you like the same things, but how much positivity you can bring to the other person and influence him/her”. I believe that strongly now than ever before. So here we are, one year through our wedlock, celebrating the reasons we fell in love for.

Sarabeth’s and other jubilees

Beside the reasons of marriage and love, it was the month when we first moved in together and marked it with a contemporary american breakfast at Sarabeth’s. I have a candid shot of Sriram from last April, waiting for our order at our table. Funnily enough, on our first anniversary we impulsively decided that our visit to Sarabeth will become an anniversary tradition . Sriram coordinated our time (and his sweater) to be the same as last year so we could have an identical picture taken. All so surprising because it’s not often when the hubby says let’s take a photo. On the contrary, it’s not surprising how many ways we try to re-live what we cherish. This year we ordered home fries for starters, and french toast – apple-cinnamon french toast topped with bananas for him and almond-crusted french toast with a drizzle of cranberry-cherry syrup for me. The verdict : his choice was easily my favorite simply because it was tastier and the portion was just sufficient. A thin french crust of thinner almond shaves would have made mine a better breakfast.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we spent the rest of the morning leisurely walking across central park, then sat by the pond with a beautiful view of Spring colors and reflections of a pastel blue sky.

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The cherry blossom festival

The last time we travelled to D.C, it was with a larger group of lovely cousins and relatives on a long summer weekend. The capital is rich in archives. For someone vehement about history and politics, this place is a feast. This year however since it is the season of cherry blossoms, we couldn’t find a better way to celebrate ‘us’ than travel to the beautiful annual spring festival. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom during the first week of April, rightly timed for our anniversary. We did not have an itinerary planned for our travel. Considering this was only a weekend’s getaway we wanted to dedicate all of it to soak in the beauty of the blooms. We walked around the tidal basin, also exploring the monuments along the banks. D.C is brimming with beautiful architecture and elegance. To consume every compelling detail of american/world history it is important to not rush through the tour and we were quite keen on that. It is at least one week’s worth of commitment for inspiration. From this trip, a few favorites at the Tidal basin –

Martin Luther king’s monument –  Amongst the many monuments and memorials near the basin, for me this was the most stirring and overwhelming sight. The theme of the monument is based on a statement from his famous I have a dream speech “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” He stands 30 feet tall, emerging out of the ‘mountain of despair’ granite wall behind him.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial – Roosevelt’s memorial is admirably designed to narrate his story during the unusual 4 term presidency. There are waterfalls that represent it, one for every term, each getting bigger and complex in relevance to the term. With the prominence of stone, water and sculpture this outdoor narrative amidst the thick pink blossoms is an educative time lapse.  Roosevelt is seated on a chair here with Fala, his Scottish terrier by his side.

Paddle boating – The best time to do this is before lunchtime. We did a prior booking online a couple of hours beforehand as a precaution because we found a long queue for tickets the previous day. Sunday morning turned out to be more serene and magical than we had imagined it to be. Paddle boating was a first for me which added to the excitement. The timelines weren’t strict, when asked what time we had to return back, they said “whenever you please. Enjoy!” So we spent a good 150 minutes on the boat soaking in the beauty of the coral trees. What more could we ask for?

In a nutshell, it was a lovely start to one of my favorite months of the year. We wrapped up our anniversary watching an old classic – Rear Window

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