Gumbo Day

Thanksgiving has officially come and gone. Our bellies are still full from the feast, the detritus of which lingers on the dining room table. And in my house, my dad is busy cooking up the traditional Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Gumbo. It’s a time-honored tradition in the Zelda household, handed down from one generation to the next (the recipe — which is really more like general guidelines — is in fact scrawled on a tattered and well-stained piece of stationary, dictated by my father’s father to him and with interjected advice from one great aunt or another). Thanksgiving for me isn’t really complete until I’ve got a steaming bowl of spicy Cajun stew in front of me, complete with oysters, andouille sausage, rice, plentiful filé, and a healthy splash of Tabasco.

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My contribution to the Thanksgiving bounty

There are many reasons Scout likes to make fun of my family for being “ridiculously wholesome.” I grew up with story time and song time and summers in New Hampshire and Friday night dinners where we each say what we’re thankful for that week. This is not to say that my family is a picture postcard vision of hand holding and tranquility 24/7. Like any family, we fight and push each other’s buttons and can drive each other up the wall like no one else. But most days, there’s nobody else I’d rather hang out with, which on more than one occasion has led Scout and others to engage in a little light mockery. For example, a few years ago, I found myself home for the holidays and having coffee with a former editor. He asked me how my break was going, and I enthusiastically replied that it was going great, it was so good to be home, I’d been spending lots of time with my family…at which point he stopped me with a raised eyebrow.

“So, you guys actually enjoy spending time together?” he asked.

I shrugged and told him that yes, unbelievable as it might sound, it was true that dinner with the five of us is usually a good time.

“You realize that’s weird, right?” he responded.

Other folks can mock all they want (haters gonna hate, y’all), but I love my sassy yet wholesome family, in all our weirdness. And nothing brings out our peak levels of Norman Rockwell-worthy H-Team-ness like the holidays.

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My father, the apron model

We’re big on traditions in my house (see story time, song time, and dinner traditions above), and the holidays are when we really go all out. I wrote last year about some of our December traditions — tree trimming, carol singing using custom (personalized) songbooks my father made one year for each member of our extended family, you get the picture — but post-Thanksgiving gumbo is really where it all starts. As soon as everyone has licked the last bit of pumpkin chiffon from his or her plate, the dill rolls have been bagged up, and the remaining green beans and sweet potatoes have been tucked away in the fridge for later on, my dad begins the task of deconstructing what remains of the turkey. All Friday long, he boils and skims and seasons. My mom, usually the culinary maestro (or rather, maestra) of the house, clears out, at least until it’s time to whip up some rice, toast a baguette, or throw together a salad if we’re feeling really fancy that year.

My father is an enthusiastic genealogist. Few things give him as much joy as discovering some forgotten family artifact or tracing a line of ancestry back another step. For his birthday recently, he asked for “an hour in which to sit down with me and my siblings to show us family trees and discuss our heritage.” That’s the level of ancestry nerd we’re dealing with here: In another life, the man could have gone pro. And so I think that’s why this particular tradition is so close to his heart, and to the rest of ours, too. His dad, my grandpa, died when I was 5. I don’t remember much about him, but what I do remember is this: He loved music, he loved food, and he loved family. Gumbo Day is his legacy in our house, when my dad throws on his Tabasco or New Orleans apron and fills the kitchen with the smell of his childhood — summers in the bayou with a grandma who made jambalaya and étouffée and, yes, gumbo, and cursed in Creole French when she was frustrated (another tradition my father has continued, to the best of his not-really-French-speaking abilities).

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The Maestro at work

Thanksgiving is the day when we take stock of the things we’re grateful for in our lives at this particular time. We catalog all the moments of joy and love that have brightened the 365 days since we last gathered together. But Gumbo Day is about reaching back a little farther. It’s a day for celebrating our roots, for remembering that a quarter of my blood is seasoned with sassafras and okra and Tabasco and the salty breeze off the bayou. That even though my speech is largely twang-free, my roots are draped in Spanish moss and sprinkled with beignet sugar.

Every night before dinner, my family says grace. On an average night, we go with a quick Madeline, a reminder of how much we love our bread, our butter, etc. But on Fridays or Sundays or special occasions (which these days is any time all five of us are together), my dad will go off the cuff. We groan and roll our eyes as he gets long-winded. But at the end of the litany is a chorus that we say tous ensemble. Whatever else we may give thanks for this night or this week or this year, we are always grateful, most of all, for how much we love each other.

Happy Gumbo Day,  y’all. May your stew be well-seasoned, may your bowl be full, and may you be surrounded by family and love, in whatever form it takes.

November Round Up

Where oh where has November gone? This year is on track to be the hottest on record, and the past month’s unseasonably warm climes left us discombobulated, and shocked when Thanksgiving and the subsequent holiday bonanza snuck up on us. Or maybe the reason November seemed to fly by is that it was a whirlwind of small events — lunch with friends, museum excursions, movie nights, bottle shares, engagement and birthday and housewarming parties — that left us in need of some cozy Netflix and tea for one. Zelda goes home for the holidays (albeit briefly) on Thursday, Scout’s anticipating the arrival of the Momma, and both of us are ready to hit pause for a minute, dig into some turkey (which in Zelda’s book is merely a vehicle for the thing that really matters: cranberry sauce), and take stock of all the things we’re thankful for — including all of you. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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What We’re Doing: This month started off on a historical note, with Scout’s list of all the New York spots her inner history nerd wants to visit. We continued the New York theme with another volume of Required Reading, featuring some of Zelda’s favorite tales of the big personalities and inner resources that run this town, and with Scout’s reminiscences about Thanksgiving, and the many forms it takes when you find yourself far from home and surrounded by friends who are your family. Rounding things off were the old stand-by’s: a playlist, a little inspiration, and an Eat This, Drink That in which Scout rocked pulled pork and Zelda discovered she doesn’t really love hot toddies after all.

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What We’re Listening To: This month’s playlist was made for commutes, full of gems to carry you through signal delays, train traffic, crowded platforms, and “showtime.” Some old Z&S stand-by’s made the cut — the brothers Avett and Wheeler, lovely lady Ingrid Michaelson, Alabama Shakes, Monsters of Folk, Simon and Garfunkel, Belle and Sebastian, and Carole King to name a few. But we also added some newbies to the mix! Scout introduced Beach Weather and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Zelda added Milo&Otis and George Ezra, and a sprinkling of other old favorites and new discoveries made for a mix that rolls to the rhythm of the rails. The songs on here are our morning jolt of musical coffee and our late-night lullabies. They carry us home.

We also love: We are obsessed, obsessed, obsessed with Sara Bareilles’s new album “What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress,” which has only added to our burning desire to see this show staged on Broadway (and starring Jessie Mueller no less!). And for another musical treat, check out this video of our favorites The Milk Carton Kids killing it at the Grand Ole Opry.

What We’re Watching: Zelda was sucked into new Netflix arrival, The Great British Bake-Off (known on said site as “The Great British Baking Show,” but as frequent consumers of British media, we insist on calling it by its original name, because that’s what it is). Who can say no to Sue Perkins, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, and cake? Scout on the other hand finally watched the cinematic masterpiece that is Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out. She sobbed an appropriate amount, because crying is good and it’s important to have ALL THE FEELINGS.

We also love: This awkward interview with the queen of owning your awkward, and our fellow Louisvillian, Jennifer Lawrence. And of course we had to indulge in Amazon’s pilot Z, which tells the story of our namesake belle, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, as played by Christina Ricci. This led us to Good Girls Revolt, a newsroom drama about the rise of feminism in the workplace, based on a true story. We see you Amazon. A+. And then there’s this SNL sketch about the power of Adele, which is, as the kids say, giving us life.

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What We’re Reading: This New York Times interview with bona fide badass and queen of the memoir Mary Karr. This tour of chef, blogger, and cookbook author David Lebovitz’s Paris kitchen (also courtesy of NYT). This nostalgic Atlantic ode to girl power classic Charlie’s Angels, whose 10th anniversary, celebrated this year, makes us feel super old. This look over on Jezebel at the sometimes questionable fashion choices of our favorite Gilmore Girls (unlike the author, we’re willing to cut the gals a little slack — it was the 00s after all). This honest and inspiring speech by Girl Raised in the South Reese Witherspoon, who was recently chosen as one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year. This celebration of drawl, twang, and other idiosyncrasies of the Southern speaker, courtesy of our favs at Bitter Southerner. This Vulture interview with unsung hero Javier Muñoz on what it’s like to be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s other half, literally (#javilton). This sad-slash-hilarious-slash-tragic-because-it’s-so-true article on Gawker about the darkness and doom that has descended on New York with Daylight Savings Time, not to lift until spring. And in books, Zelda positively devoured Room and The Martian this month, in anticipation of seeing them in cinematic form. Read them, please read them, but be prepared to stay up until 4:00 a.m. because you can’t put them down. Scout, meanwhile, continues her Sarah Vowell kick with Unfamiliar Fishes, about the Americanization of Hawaii. Engrossing, entertaining, and educational to boot!

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What We’re Eating: In this month’s Eat This, Drink That, Scout tried her hand at pulled pork, and succeeded! It’s true! Anyone can use a crockpot! And of course, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so bring on the sweet potatoes or yams (whatever you prefer), green beans. cranberry sauce, and t(of)urkey! We’re ready to eat until our pants don’t fit and the tryptophan kicks in, and to give thanks for the finer things in life, of course.

What We’re Drinking:  While our Eat This, Drink That  foray into the the winter classic, the Hot Toddy, did not go as swimmingly we had hoped — even spiced rum couldn’t spice it up enough for us — Scout was sent home from Kentucky in late October with almost a case of beer (many thanks to the Momma) not available in New York. The favorite from that case? Three Floyds Deesko, a Berliner Weisse that’s probably better suited to summer, but still tastes fantastic in this unseasonably warm November air. Speaking of that warmth, we’ll admit, it’s been swell, but the time for chillier climes has come. Bring on hot beverage season. We’re ready for our hot chocolate.

What’s On Our Wishlist: These warm and waterproof boots from Cole Haan’s Zerogrand series, Scout’s go-to for workplace comfort (seriously their flats are life savers), shot straight to the top of her list. Zelda is dreaming of cozy cashmere, in scarf, sweater, or cozy blanket form. But obviously, at the top of our list, are tickets to the DCX Tour stop at Madison Square Garden next June (preferably with Katie, Scout’s Momma, and Zelda’s fam, but we’ll take what we can get), because IT’S THE DIXIE CHICKS, OF COURSE WE WANT TO GO. Our childhood dreams have literally come true. Christmukkah’s a-coming, y’all, and we wouldn’t say no to those in our stockings.

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Photos Via BILLBOARD, THE GUARDIAN, THE NEW YORK TIMESTHE BEER BARONS, ROLLING STONE

You’ve Got A Friend

Thanksgiving is just a week away, and for the third year in a row, I will be away from my geographical home for the holidays (granted last year I was able to go home Tuesday and Wednesday, but I spent most of actual thanksgiving in an airport Chili’s, missing both my family Thanksgiving and my roommate Thanksgiving). This year I am willingly staying in New York, and the Momma is coming up on Thanksgiving Day, so I’m looking for the best way to celebrate.

Thanksgiving, for me, takes three basic forms. One, the traditional family meal, surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Two, Friendsgiving, a pre-Thanksgiving dinner/supper replete with turkey, potatoes, pie and all the fixin’s. You gather your friends for a celebration of making it another year in the city and still not wanting to kill each other. Success. And then there’s three, the orphans’ Thanksgiving, occurring on actual Thanksgiving. Round up everyone who doesn’t have another place to go — who doesn’t have the time, the money, or both to make a short trip home to their families — and eat, drink, and give thanks together.

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For the past two years, I have participated in Thanksgiving type number two. My grad school friends and I would come together for a long afternoon of eating, drinking and watching football. Katie would host, Vanessa would bake, and Carl would wear his special turkey carving shirt (so designated because he wore it two years in a row for the event in question). These were my first friends (outside of the ones I moved here with) in the city, and it felt right to celebrate with them, being thankful for them — even in the basement room of Katie’s Brooklyn apartment, sitting on mismatched chairs too short for the table. This year, however, due to vacations schedules, new jobs, and new apartments, we’re not having our traditional celebration, and it sucks to see even the newest traditions fall by the wayside. I suppose there’s always next year.

As for number three, people have been gathering their family-less friends for makeshift Thanksgiving celebrations since who knows when; last year I was supposed to host this type of event with my roommates, but was stuck in the aforementioned airport Chili’s (a Friendsgiving of its own kind I guess…perhaps “Strangersgiving” or “Stranded-Fellow-Passenger-Giving”). Having missed last year’s fête, I’m quite excited for this year’s.

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I’ve never had that many Thanksgiving traditions. Growing up, I split the holiday between my parents — one year with mom, one with dad — switching between Louisville, Chicago, Middlesboro, and Myrtle Beach. So I never really had a hard and fast routine for Thanksgiving (my Christmas traditions were pried from my holly jolly fingers, however— a story for another time). Every five years or so, the stars would align and both of my Thanksgivings would be in Louisville. I’d eat supper (for us, a 2:00 p.m. feast, so we were done in time for late afternoon football) with my Mom’s family, and then dinner (later, between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m.) with my Dad’s family. I’d stuff myself with rolls and turkey and more potatoes than is probably advisable. But the thing that made Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for me was always the table. Part of it was the food, but a larger part was the conversation: the beers sipped long after the meal is done, the laughter from inside jokes, the basketball analysis, the general ridiculousness. Which is why I think it’s so easy for me to transfer Thanksgiving to different places. As far as I’m concerned, as long as you’re well fed and the conversation is flowing (and there are ample amounts of potatoes), you really can’t screw it up.

It’s a good thing my Thanksgiving spirit is on the flexible side, because this time of year is especially hard in the industry I work in. Tourism in New York is at its high during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I take Thanksgiving Day as the one final breath before the holiday onslaught. New York during the holidays is beautiful, magical. The sidewalks are glistening and carols stream out of every store. But the glow fades quickly when you have to push your way into work every morning through the cold, amid throngs of bodies lost on the street: In this city, sometimes it’s hard to remember that the holidays are all about goodwill towards your fellow humans. But this is why I appreciate Thanksgiving. We get to take a second and remember, “Okay, this is what it’s about: Love the ones you’re with, and the ones you’re without.” It’s important to remind ourselves that we’re lucky, especially when so much of living in New York is spent lamenting this, that, or the other.

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This year, my mom and I will be dining with fellow Southerners and general purveyors of awesome Jason and Sarah. And we’re planning to do it up right, vegetarian style (per the aforementioned hosts’ dietary restrictions). These are two of my favorite people in the city, maybe the world, so bring on the tofu! Our number may be small, but our table will be plentiful, and our appreciation for each other overfloweth. After dinner, we’ll head to The Sampler for beers and potluck desserts, my favorite people and my favorite place, and a good reminder that not everything is terrible all the time.

This Orphans’ Thanksgiving is especially appropriate this year, as I fall into a slightly more adult (gasp!) life here in the city. I think the thing I’m most thankful for in my New York life is the somehow sizable friend group I have amassed since moving here three years ago. A group that started as the three people who lived in my apartment with me has grown exponentially, spreading out across the city and into many industries. My friends are what make living here bearable, even enjoyable. They are what drive me to keep pushing, keep trying, keep swimming. They are the family I have in this home away from home.

I’m thankful for them.

Eat This, Drink That: Pulled Pork & Hot Toddies

This month’s installment of Eat This, Drink That was a bit of a doozy for Scout. While she’s not a frequent cook, she’s pretty good at following recipes when the occasion arises. But when it comes to preparing meat, most recipes expect you to have some previous experience in the matter, which she does not. In this case, though, her desire to master the Southern staple of pulled pork outweighed her inexperience. So she mustered up her courage (and her best barbecue sauce) and pressed on.

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Now Scout isn’t crazy: She wasn’t going to step right into the slow-smoked real deal (tiny New York apartments, one day off per week, and a lack of a giant smoker prevented this), so she went with this crockpot version from Chowhound instead. After spending most of the week trying and failing to fight off sickness, she found herself this past Sunday with a sniffly nose, staring at a bone-in pork shoulder that she had no idea what to do with. Cue copious amounts of help from her roommate, Claire, and general culinary flailing. Go Team Pork! (We’ll work on the name.)

First, they had to make sure that the slow cooker their old roommate left behind when she went back to Copenhagen, one, was actually a slow cooker, and, two, actually worked. The answer to both those question being a resounding yes, Scout went back to bed for three hours. Later, well-rested and mostly ready to cook, the fun began. After tracking down a recipe, checking that her it’s-my-day-off-and-I’m-sick outfit was leaving-the-house appropriate, and making a last minute trip to the grocery, they were ready start.

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Slow cooker recipes are generally easy. Throw everything in a pot and cook for a long time. Right? Mostly, right. A cup of chicken broth, four cloves of garlic, and two yellow onions went in the bottom of the slow cooker. Then they combined one tablespoon each of dark brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, salt and a dash of cinnamon to make a dry rub. So far so good. But then, Scout and her kitchen spirit guide were faced with what to do with the pork shoulder itself. Leave the bone in or take it out? Trim off the skin or leave it on? They were stumped.

So they did what any two millennial girls in their pajamas faced with a large piece of raw meat would do: They asked the internet. Google said to leave both skin and bone in place for juicier meat later on. Yay problem solving! Armed with their new knowledge, it was back to the recipe: Pat the pork dry with paper towels and rub it thoroughly with the, well, rub. Put the pork shoulder into the slow cooker (skin up) and cook for eight hours (turn the pork over halfway through).

And then the waiting.

Allow us to to take this intermission to talk Zelda’s cocktail! (Strictly speaking, by the time she arrived at Scout’s pad Monday morning, ingredients in hand, the pork was already done and ready for eating, but all that timey-wimey, wibbly wobbly stuff is relative anyway. Right? Right.) This month, Zelda decided to tackle the hot toddy (not to be confused with hotty toddy, rallying cry of Ole Miss fans everywhere). This hot cocktail has two advantages. Number one, it is cozy and decidedly fall/wintery. Number two, it is a long-standing old wives remedy for colds, so we were hoping it would kick Scout’s sniffles into alcoholic submission (or at least get her drunk enough not to care about her slowly imploding sinuses).

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There are many variations on this cold weather classic, but Zelda decided to work from this Wine Enthusiast recipe for the Classic Hot Toddy. Hot toddies can be made with brandy, whiskey, or rum — basically anything brown and boozy. For variety’s sake, Zelda took the rum route, picking up a spiced Captain Morgan’s (BOURBON WE STILL LOVE YOU). The other things you’ll need for this drink are honey, lemon juice, hot water, and something fancy for garnish (in this case cinnamon sticks and clove-studded lemon slices, which is a fancy term for pieces of lemon with whole cloves jabbed into them). Other garnish options include star anise or a twist of lemon peel.

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The construction of the drink is simple. Combine 1 ½ oz of the liquor of your choice, 1 tablespoon of honey, ½ oz of lemon juice, and 1 cup of hot water in a warmed mug. Stir to combine. Garnish with whatever pretty little wonders you’ve picked, and you’re good to go!

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The verdict? The drink was ok, and pretty damn close to the picture (yes, we did make our toddy in a TARDIS mug, because we’re awesome). But after several sips we came to the conclusion that hot toddies are not, in fact, that exciting. Zelda puzzled for several minutes over what could have made it better, and it came down to a lack of flavor. Maybe it would have been better with our beloved bourbon (we knew we shouldn’t have turned our backs on you) or with a nicer and more flavorful spiced rum, or maybe we should have tried subbing Fireball or another flavored liquor for some or all of the alcohol. All in all, though, our toddies were decidedly meh. We’d just as soon scrap the booze and opt for a hot cider instead. But hey, at least we gave it a try.

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Returning to the pork, after a nice six to eight hour wait (in the case of our kitchen heroines, closer to eight), the pork will be ready to pull. But when Scout’s batch hit the magic hour, it was two in the morning, so she decided to let it sit in the cooker on the “warm” setting until morning. By the time she woke up, the pork was practically falling of the bone. She pulled the pork on a cutting board using two forks (basically, drag two forks through the meat in opposite directions until it’s well-shredded). After the shoulder started to resemble everyone’s favorite barbecue sandwich, Scout drained the remaining liquid from the slow cooker and transferred the meat back in before adding barbecue sauce and seasoning to taste. The results? Pretty awesome. Maybe even Scout’s most successful cooking venture yet. The only slight hiccup was the (maple bacon) barbecue sauce, which was a tad sweet. A little extra cumin and chili powder cut the sweetness nicely though, taking it from porky dessert to scrumptious entrée status.

 

Required Reading: Volume Six

This post is part of our “Required Reading” series, in which we share some of our favorite tales and tomes of New York and the South — classic and contemporary, fiction and nonfiction, short form and long. These are the stories that open our eyes to other walks of life, that shape who we are, and that make us feel at home no matter where we may be. Check out Volumes One, Two, Three, Four, and Five for more of Zelda’s favorite tales of the South and New York.

“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” — John Updike

“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” — John Updike

New York is a city of big personalities. The loud, the brash, the irrationally confident — they all seem to elbow their way into Manhattan, or one of its surrounding boroughs. Maybe it’s because, with so many humans fighting for room, you have to shout to make your personality heard. In many ways, it’s what I like least about New York. All that self-preservation can easily turn into intolerance, or arrogance, or just plain bad manners. There’s value in listening, in taking the time to imagine another complexly and to make room for their needs alongside yours. But there’s also something delightful, and unabashedly New York, about a big personality that is completely unashamed about letting his or her freak flag fly. So this post is for them, the characters with the big voices who are proud to stake out centerstage (and who’ll be damned if anyone is going to steal their spotlight). It’s for the unexpected softness and kindness that more often than not lies behind all that braggadocio. And it’s for us, the ex-pats and the transplants, in hopes that when the occasion arrives, we can all summon our “Inner Resources” and find our inner New Yorker.

51otZF4bydL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Classic Fiction: Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-Ups

Author: Kay Thompson, with illustrations by Hilary Knight

When It Was Published: 1969

When I Read It: sometime in my youth or childhood

Where It Takes Place: The Plaza, darling

Why I Love It: Who doesn’t love Eloise? The epitome of precociousness, with her brash confidence and mischievous ways, her no-nonsense attitude and her flair for the dramatic, she was for me and many people our first real example of a New Yorker. It’s said she was inspired by Liza Minnelli, Thompson’s goddaughter, but she really could have been any one of the street (or rather, hotel hallway) smart, self-possessed young things who call New York their playground. As a sheltered suburban kid, I devoured the rascally misadventures of our knee-socked heroine on the tippy-top floor of a fabulous hotel (with Nanny, Weenie the pug, and Skipperdee the turtle, of course). And as I grew up and eventually moved to her stomping grounds, I’ve come to believe that sometimes this city demands the inner-Eloise in all of us — to stand up for ourselves, to delight in everyday absurdity, and sometimes to deal this town a well-deserved, hands-on-our-hips raspberry.

Attenberg_SaintMazieHC+(2)Contemporary Fiction: Saint Mazie

Author: Jami Attenberg (who you should seriously be following on Twitter)

When It Was Published: 2015

When I Read It: last month, on rumbling subway rides, with George Ezra in my ears

Where It Takes Place: The Lower East Side, to Coney Island, to the Bowery, and various sundry spots in between

Why I Love It: Let’s start with the premise: A documentary filmmaker discovers the diary of one Mazie Philipps (inspired by the real-life Mazie Gordon, profiled by Joseph Mitchell in The New Yorker in 1940). Wild flapper child turned ticket taker at the Venice movie theatre and patron saint of the hobo masses who swarmed onto the New York streets after the stock market crashed, Mazie narrates the twists and turns of her life in a wry, honest, never self-indulgent voice. Her diary entries alternate with interviews with those who knew her, or of her, apparently done by the filmmaker in hopes of resurrecting the now-deceased Mazie and bringing her mainly unsung exploits to light. The book is as much a portrait of New York — from pre-Prohibition decadence and the first World War through speakeasies, gentrification, and the crippling economic stagnation of the Depression — as of its vivid heroine.

51jwxlk8knL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Non-Fiction: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Author: Mindy Kaling

When It Was Published: 2012

When I Read It: once the summer after I graduated college, and again when I moved to Brooklyn (and started watching Kaling’s fantastic TV show)

Where It Takes Place: to be fair, largely not in New York, but a significant (and formative) chunk does transpire in a cramped Brooklyn apartment and in sketchy subway cars to and from Manhattan

Why I Love It: Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal. And her take on life in New York, especially as a 20-something female trying to do something vaguely artistic, speaks to my soul. Behind all the hilarity and mishaps are very real lessons about the importance of true friends, especially the gal pals that know you best, and the challenge of forging a path through the chaos and making your voice heard in the cacophony of humans “expressing themselves.” In particular, she’s a big cheerleader for making things you love with people you love, even if nobody else will hear them. Which reminds me of a little blog I know, made by two twenty-something lady besties trying to make it in New York…

LiveFromNewYorkOn My Wish List: Live from New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests

Author: James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

When It Was Published: 2015 (the updated 40th Anniversary Edition — the original came out in 2002)

Where It Takes Place: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, 10112

Why It’s Awesome: Talk about colorful characters. This tome has been on my shelf for months, with pages and pages of hilarity and behind-the-scenes tidbits ready for me to consume. Miller and Shales talked to as many cast members, writers, crew, and guests past and present as they could to stitch together this oral history of America’s greatest comedy show. This book has everything: Fey, Poehler, Hader, Short, Martin, Chase, Shannon, Oteri, Fallon, Meyers, Ferrell, DJ Baby Bok Choy…the list goes on and on.

images via: NOT THE HARDEST PART, AMAZON, DALLAS NEWS, AMAZON, JAMES ANDREW MILLER

Inspiration Tuesday: Saving Daylight

November is normally a melancholy month. Daylight Savings sucks the sunshine away, the wind begins to howl down every skyscraper-lined block, and the bright spots of the holidays are still too far away to reasonably start listening to our festive playlists. This November, though, has been downright balmy — nearly summer-like in its warmth and claustrophobic in its humidity. It’s left us discombobulated, unsure of our place in the year and unseasonably unsettled. So these are the things that have brought our feet back to the ground, settled our breath, sparked our curious minds and cradled our beating hearts. Like fairy lights on a tree, they are our bright spots in the five o’clock darkness. We hope they hug you close too.

Art: “NYC Bird’s Eye View” Joaquín Torres García, 1920 

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Poem: “November Night,” Adelaide Crapsey

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Book: The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell

Song: “Opening Up,” Sara Bareilles (What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress)

Video: John and Sarah Host a Scramble Scrabble Dinner (in response to this Art Assignment)

Bonus: The Best “Hello” Parody We’ve Seen Yet, featuring James Corden and Billy Eichner

Quotation: “Life will hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.” — Sarah Kay, “Point B

Image Credit: STUDYBLUE

History Has Its Eyes On You

Here’s the cool thing about New York: It’s old. Maybe not European cathedral old, but as far as the United States goes, it’s practically ancient. Which, if you’re me, is awesome, because I am a giant nerd who loves old things. I spend the majority of my working life in museums, and I have a mile-long list of all the ones I want to visit in the city (there may be too many…). But there are also many places I want to visit that fall under that strange category of “historic site,” “landmark,” or “monument.” Basically, history is everywhere you look in this city, and my goal is to see a reasonable number of statues, plaques, and other memorabilia. Because all would be far too much to ask.

Spurred on by repeated listens to the Hamilton cast album, and by reading the entire bibliography of my favorite author (and fellow lover of historic plaques) Sarah Vowell, I’ve compiled a list of a few statues, places, and plaques I’d like to visit in the near future, just to say I did. Because history is awesome and all around us. Sometimes you just have to look up.

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Statue of Edwin Booth, Gramercy Park: I’ve been fascinated with Edwin since I read the aforementioned Sarah Vowell’s book, Assassination Vacation (purchased because I share her strange and perhaps slightly morbid fascination with the history and context of presidential assassinations). Edwin Booth was the older brother of Lincoln’s assassin, the more (in)famous John Wilkes. He was a renowned Shakespearean actor, known for his portrayal of the title role in Hamlet. Namesake of the Booth theater, he was also the founder of The Players Club, which exists to this day in his old home in Gramercy Park. It makes sense then that a statue of him, as Hamlet, was erected in the center of said park. My efforts to see the statue may be all for naught if I can’t find someone with a key: Gramercy is one of only two private parks in New York City (the other is in Sunnyside, Queens).  [Zelda’s Note:  My roomie has the hook-up. I’ve got you covered.]

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Hamilton Grange National Memorial, Harlem: Lin-Manuel Miranda did a really good job getting people interested in this oft-forgotten founding father (Still in the dark about the Hamilton fuss? Click here). Since his genius musical started making waves, people like myself have been making pilgrimages to his relocated home in Hamilton Heights (if Alexander was worried about his legacy, clearly his fears have been put to rest). The Grange was the only house that Hamilton ever owned, and though he only lived there during the final two years of his life, it remained in his family for 30 years after his death. Renovated and relocated twice, The Grange now sits at the north end of St. Nicholas Park on 141st Street, for Hamilton/Hamilton fans of all ages to enjoy.

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Cleopatra’s Needle, Central Park: This obelisk, one of a trio, is the oldest man-made object in Central Park. It was brought over from Alexandria, Egypt, in 1880, funded by millionaire philanthropist William H. Vanderbilt. Getting the obelisk from Egypt to its new home in Central Park, using 19th century technology, was a huge undertaking. They had to cut a hole in the side of the ship that brought it over, carry the massive piece of rock (it measures 69 feet high and 220 tons) from the East River through the Upper East Side, and then push it with a steam engine over a specially built trestle until it was eventually erected near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It took them 112 days to move it from the ship to its place in the grass, finally installing it in its current location on February 22, 1881. I find it endlessly fascinating that the New Yorkers of yesteryear would go through such trouble to erect a piece of someone else’s history in their backyard, but they weren’t the only ones. The obelisk’s twin resides in London, and a third, similar one looks over the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

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The Raven Plaque(s), Upper West Side: The thing about events that happened many moons ago, their participants long since gone, is that there can often be confusion or conflicting claims down the line about even the most basic details. We know that Edgar Allen Poe, master of macabre and mystery, wrote his narrative poem, “The Raven,” at New York’s Brennen Mansion in 1845. Naturally, it being one of the most famous poems in history, the city decided it deserved a plaque commemorating its creation. Except…there are actually two plaques. It seems there is some conflict over the exact  location of the former Brennen Mansion, so plaques were affixed at two different (though nearby) sites. While I care very little about which is the real place that Poe wrote “The Raven,” I find the fact that there is dispute fascinating. What I love about history is that there are endless ways to look at it, and the dispute over where the great poem was written may say more about the history of the place than the production of the poem itself.

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Dr. Alexander J. C. Skene Bust, Grand Army Plaza: Fun fact — there are only two monuments in all of New York City dedicated to physicians, and both of them are in honor of gynecologists (thanks NYT for that little tidbit). The Scottish-born Skene made the bold choice to be educated and start his career in Brooklyn, at a time when no physicians of renown had ever come out of that particular borough. He went on to be a revered and respected doctor and teacher, founding the American Gynecological Society.  His bust sits near the entrance to Prospect Park at Grand Army Plaza. It pleases me that the doctors New York chose to commemorate were those dedicated to women’s health. Next step, more monuments to ACTUAL WOMEN (they’re doing okay, but there can always be more).

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Maria Hernandez Park, Bushwick: Speaking of women, and history close to home, my (and Zelda’s former) neighborhood park, always dotted with skateboarders and dominos players, was named for and dedicated to one Maria Hernandez. A longtime resident of the neighborhood, Maria and her husband Carlos were leaders in the struggle against drugs in the area. She was a community leader and organizer of cultural events and block parties, and in August of 1989 she was gunned down in her home for her efforts. The park was renamed in her honor soon after. I walk through the park at least twice a week, and it wasn’t until I sat down to write this piece that I learned who exactly Maria Hernandez was. She was one awesome lady, and I’ll think about her now when I take that diagonal brick-lined path home.

And that, really, is the point here. New York is old, and there is history everywhere. We forget that all those street names mean something and are meant to remind us of some person or some event (Example: New York City has five streets named for the Marquis de Lafayette, one in each borough, AND an additional Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn). The bronze busts we pass as we walk though parks were real live people that did things, and those things were worth remembering to someone. So next time you come across a plaque, a bust, or a sign, take a second. Read it. See who stood where you are standing now.

Photos Via: WIKIMEDIA, UNTAPPED CITIES, NYTIMES, TODD HEISLER/THE NEW YORK TIMES, NYC DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION.