Bless Your Heart, New York: Goldilocks and the Three Roommates

Dear New York,

It’s been a minute since we’ve had a chat, just you and me. In general, you’ve been kind to me lately. Your air is finally starting to turn crisp, the hot garbage perfume of summer being swept out by the smoky leaf notes of my favorite season. You’ve given me karaoke nights and poetry readings, outdoor movies farmer’s markets, drinks on my rooftop and lazy days strolling around the park. But there’s something that’s been on my mind lately, dear, and my mother said never to go to bed angry, so I think it’s time I got it off my chest.

I wrote to you last year, New York, about how unreasonably cruel and withholding you were when I was looking for a new apartment. You made me jump through seemingly interminable hoops, bled my over-worked printer dry copying form after form, and crushed me with an August heat wave as I drove back and forth through your crowded streets with a good chunk of my worldly possessions. But things worked out in the end, bless your heart. I’ve been in my apartment for a little over a year now and, despite noisy upstairs neighbors and perilously thin walls and a club around the corner that renders many of my weekends on the sleepless side (the police chief said he’s working on it, dear, but I do wish he’d hurry it up), I like it quite a bit. I’ve made it homey and cozy, decorated walls, and forged happy memories within its walls. I thought we were through having this housing fight, at least until I have to move again. But then one of my roommates moved out and we embarked on a quest for a third. And that was when I realized what I thought was a closed discussion had merely been tabled for later.

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Before I go any further, I want to assure you that this story has a happy ending. We did find a new roomie, eventually, and she is lovely. But the road to finding her, New York, was a freaking roller coaster. The remaining roommate (let’s call him Todd) and I, started by putting feelers out, making it known to friends and acquaintances that we were in the market for a new housemate — and, hopefully, a friend. Todd and I sent dispatches out along the webs of our social networks, online and in person, hoping one of those lines would trigger a bite. But none took. In this city of constant flux, where it seems somebody is always coming or going or in search of a pad, the moment we opened up our home seemed to be the one time that all of our friends, and friends of friends, were already housed.

So we went further. Todd crafted a lengthy Craig’s List post, whose details and witticisms, we thought, combined fact and whimsy into a work of residential poetry. We futzed with phrasing and details for days, trying to strike a balance between the rigid (price not negotiable, no smokers or pets) and the casual (but we want them to think we’re fun and nice!). Finally, it was time to send our message in a bottle out into the internet ocean. The replies came fast and furious at first, Todd and I fielding emails and stalking Facebook (me) and LinkedIn (Todd) profiles all afternoon. We thought you were on our side, you see, rewarding our efforts with good housing juju and a speedy end to our quest. Boy were we wrong.

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Your capricious cruelty really revealed itself the next day, when you sent us candidate A. A was sweet and funny, if a bit young. She effused praise for our humble home, gushing over how adorable and homey it was and swearing that it was “totally awesome and definitely her first choice.” She swore she was in, if we would have her. Todd was at volleyball, so I promised to discuss with him and relay our answer ASAP. We talked. We agreed. We marveled over how painless the whole process was. We sent her an enthusiastic yes, complete with our smiling selfie faces. And in return, A said…nothing.

It took a few days before the glow faded to anxiety, which finally sunk into the realization that you had punked us. We had been ghosted, no other word for it, and our confused little hearts spasmed with rejection and fear. Clearly, you weren’t in the mood to make this easy for us. We were going to have to work for it, hard. We pushed the panic away, buckled down, and reposted our ad. I was going away for the weekend, so Todd bravely fielded the bulk of the requests, showing off the apartment and giving his best sales pitch for why folks should want to be in the business of being our roommates. As for me, I waited.

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Sunday night I got a text. “This is B. I showed her the apartment this evening, and she is amazing. I offered her the place on the spot. Sorry but she is so wonderful, I’m confident you would approve. I know you’re at the music festival but can you text her? She said she’d be happy to set up a time to talk with you tomorrow.” The text was swiftly followed by an email extolling B’s virtues and explaining why Todd felt sure this was the girl for us. “I need you to reel her in with your charm,” he said. I fired off a text, full of exclamation points and smiley faces, but not so effusive as to be creepy. I waited. “Did you talk to B?!?” Todd asked. “Texted her, no response,” I replied, with the “teeth gritted in anxiety” emoji. The next morning, you hit us with the news: B was happy to have met us, she thought we had a lovely home, but she had decided to go in a different direction. She wished us luck in our search.

At this point, things kicked into high gear. Since I work nights, Todd scheduled showing after showing, sometimes double booking, in the evening when he and the majority of our prospective roomies were free. It felt like we were on some warped dating show, one of those MTV deals where a parade of prospective matches goes by, sizing you up and swiping left. Each night, Todd would send me detailed minutes and analyses of the days applicants (nothing brings out Todd’s inner corporate executive like housing). Some were ok; some were clear no’s. But none of them came close to A or B. We were down in the dumps, beginning to despair. Would you really betray us like this, New York, leave us adrift and strapped with an extra room’s rent that neither of us was eager to take on?

And then, there was C.

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C viewed the apartment on a Tuesday, at the same time as another candidate, D. D wasn’t a great fit, but she texted Todd afterwards: “Not the right place for me, but thanks for showing me your home! Also C seems wonderful and like a great fit, so I think you guys should take her!” All signs were pointing up, but we had been burned before. I quickly set up a phone call with her for the next day. I confirmed with Todd that, if I liked her, I should go ahead and offer her the room. I went to bed with butterflies in my stomach. Would she like me? Would I like her? All I could do was wait.

The next day, our phone date arrived. And New York, darling, you finally, finally came through. C had found us on the internet. She was not a fellow graduate of Todd’s and my alma mater or a friend of a friend. I had all sorts of visions of the perils of welcoming a stranger from the internet into one’s home, fueled by one too many viewings of Criminal Minds. And yet, within the first few minutes, something told me that C was the one. We chatted for a while, just to be sure. She nervously confided that we were her top choice, and she would be thrilled to fill out the paperwork ASAP if we wanted to have her. Taking a deep breath, I popped the question, officially. And C, in her words, said yes to the dress.

Like Goldilocks and the porridge, our third match was the charm. You took pity, I guess, seeing our stress, and sent us a roommate who is fun and sweet and clean and one of the kindest gifts you’ve given me in my time here. Also, she has yet to try to murder us in our sleep (as far as we know), so plus one for internet connections. Everything, I suppose, worked out better than expected, and in the end we lucked into a roomie who fits into our new triangle like a charm. But man oh man, New York, did you really have to make it so hard?

Until next time.

Love,

Zelda

Roomies! @thaisonofny @sojustinesays

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Bless Your Heart, New York: A Room of One’s Own

Dear New York,

I feel like we need to talk. You and I got off to a rocky start, I know. You were cold and distant, maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but the point is we had finally settled into a groove. Not exactly a fairy tale romance, but things were going alright. Then, I decided to move (not so much decided as “was forced to because our landlord sold our house,” but whatever). I told you we were taking our relationship to the next level, as it were, turning a page on a new and exciting chapter full of new neighborhoods and new adventures. And you, New York? Well, bless your heart, you basically laughed in my face.

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For a city of immigrants, famed for welcoming the tired and poor and struggling artist alike, you were not what I would call welcoming, dear. I approached it like a fun research project, and my roommate and I daydreamed about what new wonders you might have to offer us: “Natural light! Hardwood floors! Roof access! A dishwasher!” But my optimism was swiftly squelched when I realized that for a city with 2,581,170 apartments, you seemed to offer exactly zero in that happy Venn Diagram zone of affordable and non-sketchy/closet-sized/inaccessible/just plain gross.

I tried Street Easy. I tried Zillow. I tried Nooklyn. I even tried Craig’s List. And each search left me more and more discouraged. Now I know I’d been spoiled, New York, with my family-of-a-friend deal that comes once in a lifetime, never to be seen again this side of the Hudson River. But I had seen my friends, not so blessed, who still managed to find cute apartments, with room for their stuff, without selling their souls, bodies, or kidneys to make rent. But you, New York, you spit all over my rosy colored dreams. Clearly you don’t like change any more than I do, because when I said we needed to talk, you just wanted to start a fight. So I said bring it on.

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I formed a squad, because every good warrior needs a squad. We added a third roomie to the mix, and he and I set about searching, and lowering our expectations, in earnest. One spreadsheet and several sleepless nights later, we felt like we were making progress. We had picked a neighborhood, we had a list of options, and now all that was left was to visit them and make our choice. Little did we know your fun, and our torment, was just beginning.

We’d heard rumors of your fickle nature, see, of how you would dangle the perfect apartment in front of people only to snatch it away, for applicants with thicker dossiers and quicker trigger fingers. We were determined to be prepared, well-armed for the fight we knew was coming. So I Googled “Documents You Need to Apply for an Apartment in NYC.” And then I nearly fell out of my chair. I was expecting the bank statements. I was expecting the paystubs. But you, New York, you blew me away. In order to apply for an apartment within your borders, I had to round up more scraps of documentation than an FBI background check. By the time I was done tracking down three year-old tax returns and a copy of my social security card, I wouldn’t have been surprised if you had demanded a blood sample and my first-born child. My new roomie offered to compile and copy all of our documents into neat packets for every application we might submit. Needless to say, he got to know us very well, very quickly.

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One Saturday morning in July, the roomie and I set out on an apartment visiting quest, having lined up three visits that day and five more for Sunday. Like Goldilocks with a renter’s checklist, we started off bright eyed and enthusiastic, determined that by the end of the weekend, we would have found our perfect home. Place number one was too far from the train, in a neighborhood that would have given my mother at least 14 new grey hairs per day. A second was better located, but smaller than a dorm room, with dirt-crusted crevasses along the base of the sink and the tub. Place number three was a little darker than we wanted, not quite as close to the train as would have been ideal, but it was nice. Wood floors, exposed brick, laundry in the basement, a roof. Now we were getting somewhere.

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With one good option in the bag, we arrived at Sunday, with several more appointments on the books. That morning, we started making calls, just to confirm. And one by one, New York, you slammed those doors in our faces. Our five appointments became four, then three, then two, then one single pad that hadn’t been scooped up already. The panic began to set in. I was leaving on vacation that week, and needed to move the day after I returned, so our time was running out. Which is when we called up Door #3, fingers crossed that it too hadn’t slipped out of our grasp.

The next several steps were a blur, New York, so dazed were we by this roller coaster you had us on. There was the application, and fees, and deposits, and interviews. There were discussions and pro/con lists, lease provisions and rooftop rules. And then, we signed. You had put us through our paces, New York, and rather than do a victory dance as we crossed that finish line, we simply collapsed in exhaustion…and then got up to pack more boxes.

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Now we’re starting to get back on better footing, you and I. I’m moved in (thanks in huge part to my family and their car, allowing me to avoid battling your streets and stairs myself). The roomies are here too. We got a microwave and a toaster and a cozy rug. Things are looking up. But New York, I feel like something has shifted here. I thought we’d come to an understanding, see, to happily coexist in mostly copacetic harmony. I admitted you weren’t just a dirty, ugly scrum of skyscrapers and smog; you gave me a job and some new friends and a whole bunch of theatre and bagels. I thought things were going ok. And then you kicked my shins and took a big ol’ bite out of my bank account. You made it so hard, New York, way harder than it should ever have to be. And I know you’ll say the struggle is what makes it worth it, that I’m tougher now because I’ve fought you tooth and nail for a room to call my own. I’ve been initiated into that weary-eyed club who nod sagely and, with a shiver, say, “Oh yeah, apartment hunting in the city. I’ve done that.

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But this is not a club I had any desire to join. I’m already in the Apartment Hunters of Paris Society and the United Job Hunters of New York Association. I’ve got enough t-shirts: I’m good. So now we start a new chapter, New York, and I feel both closer and more distant from you than before. Maybe this is just what growing together feels like, learning to adapt and change as our innocent (slash grudging) romance turns into a long-term, nitty gritty relationship (with no marriage plans at present, thank you). Commitment is hard, honey, but I’m willing to give it a try. But please, oh please, let’s not move again for a while? I just got my last box unpacked.

Love,

Zelda

photos via: GIFSEC, PINTEREST, DAILYGRACERUINEDMYLIFEREACTION GIFS, ODYSSEY, WIFFLEGIF

Bless Your Heart, New York: You Still Can’t Make a Mint Julep

We wrote to New York once already, back when we first started this blog, about their difficulty grasping the essence of a cocktail we hold most dear. Given the Derby season, and the city’s seeming inability to follow our instructions, we have decided to issue a reminder. So New York, consider this your second notice. Bless your heart, but you still don’t know how to make a mint julep.

Dear New York,

I have a bone to pick with you. Lately I’ve noticed a trend in what one might term “nightlife locales.” More and more often, I’ve come across cocktail menus with artisan offerings featuring my favorite Kentucky spirit, that delicious elixir known as bourbon. Now I’m all for experimentation, and my homesickness is soothed by the familiar notes of homespun liquor in a cosmopolitan drink (not a Cosmopolitan drink — that would be gross). And in my travels, I have on occasion even come across a familiar old friend, one with whom I’ve spent many a May afternoon: my dear mint julep. I’m always thrilled to see good ole minty on a menu, like catching sight of an old friend across a crowded room full of anonymous hipsters. And so, brimming with enthusiasm, I order up an ice cold julep. I eagerly await my cocktail, dreaming of humid summer nights at the track and bright sunshiney barbecues. It’s been too long. I can’t wait to be reunited!

And then my drink arrives.

There are many things New York does well: bagels, pizza, incredibly cheap Chinese food. But by and large, this city’s attempts at the mint julep, a gold standard among cocktails, are, well, pathetic. Bless your heart, New York, but you just are not getting this right. Here are some signs that you may be woefully off track.

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Juleps done right, at my 2013 Derby party in Brooklyn

  1. If your julep contains no ice.

Early Times, the long-time official julep sponsor of the Kentucky Derby (usurped this year by Old Forester), calls for a julep to start with a heaping cup of crushed ice, which is then rapidly stirred until the glass is frosted. Like the touch of a Disney princess, the creation of a mint julep should cloak the vessel in the sheen of a winter wonderland, with baby icebergs floating amid the leaves of mint. Lukewarm is an adjective that should never be applied to this drink.

  1. If your julep contains lime.

I want to tell you a story. Her first Derby in New York, Scout was feeling homesick and set off in search of some appropriate festivities. Her roommate worked at a bar that was hosting a Derby Party, so Scout decided to join her. On approaching the bar, she saw two large vats of pre-mixed drinks: one labeled Mint Juleps and the other Mojitos. She chose the julep. At first sip, she could tell that something was amiss. She looked down and discovered a green slice of lime floating in her purported julep. Shocked, confused, and mildly outraged, she concluded that the bartender must have misheard her or mixed up the drinks, so she asked for a sip of her friend’s cocktail to verify the mistake. Turns out, she had the same thing. The vats, despite their signs, were identical.

A mint julep is not a mojito. Lime, lemon, or fruit of any kind has no place in your glass. If you want fruit with your bourbon, order a Manhattan. Otherwise, unless it’s green and leafy, it stays in the fridge. You have been warned.

  1. If your julep contains any alcohol other than straight Kentucky bourbon.

There are some who claim that bourbon manufactured in the state of New York is legitimate bourbon. I am not one of those people. And woe be the mixologist who tries to spice things up with a little rye or, god forbid, some non-brown liquor (again, people, this is not a mojito!). The mint julep is a classic, a king among cocktails, a true American beverage. Take your experimentation elsewhere.

Love,

Zelda

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A Mable’s Smokehouse feast

Now there are a few spots in New York that have managed to get the julep right. My personal favorite is Mable’s in Williamsburg (to be fair, one of the owners is a Louisvillian, which gives them a slight advantage). Their juleps are ice cold, with a well-tuned balance of bourbon and simple syrup, and a fresh mint garnish adding a splash of color. They pair fantastically with the pulled pork and the macaroni and cheese, both equally delicious.

If, however, you’re more the do-it-yourself type, here is my favorite, foolproof julep recipe. A guaranteed hit at Derby parties, happy hours, or Saturday evenings in general. This is a serious beverage, and as such requires some overnight prep, but the actual assembly process could not be easier and will get you a delicious, crowd-pleasing libation every time.

The night (or at least several hours) before you plan on serving your juleps, make your simple syrup. Boil one part water/one part sugar together for five minutes. (I usually start with two cups of each, and then go from there.) If you can, I recommend using cane sugar, like Trader Joe’s sells. It gives the julep an extra kick of brown sugar flavor, with notes of pecan pie. But plain old white sugar will do the trick as well.

Set the mixture aside to cool. Once it’s no longer hot to the touch, pour it into an easily refrigeratable (and preferably pour-friendly) container along with 8-12 sprigs of fresh mint. Let sit overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

When you’re ready to make your juleps, remove the mint from the syrup. Fill your glasses with crushed ice, and pour in the syrup and bourbon until full. I usually go for a three-fourths bourbon/one-fourth syrup ratio, but you can adjust to taste. Stir to blend (and to get that glass nice and frosty). Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

[A note on bourbon: As I said before, unless it hails from the Bluegrass State, I don’t consider it bourbon. My personal julep favorites are Eagle Rare and Bulleit, both very drinkable and relatively affordable.]

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Derby Party, Paris style, 2013

Got a bone to pick with dear New York? Something got you face-palming and wringing your hands? Shoot us an email at zeldaandscout@gmail.com and let us know about your greatest bless-your-heart moments.

Bless Your Heart, New York: BBQ Blues

Dear New York,

We’ve got a bone to pick with you. See we’ve been here a while, and we’ve seen some things. Some things that you call barbecue. But we’re here to inform you that BBQ as you know it is, for the most part, not BBQ at all. And, dear misinformed New York, you are missing out on so much.

Let’s start with the word itself. Early on, we realized that when New Yorkers talked about “going to a barbecue” they were not talking about the events of our childhood. A barbecue in New York is a completely different beast than a barbecue in the South. Allow us to clear one thing up, for your own personal edification.

“Barbecue” is not throwing a few burgers and hot dogs on the grill and calling it a day. That is a cook-out. What you’ve been passing off as barbecuing? That’s called grilling, bless your heart, and doesn’t come close to the culinary heights of true BBQ.

See barbecue, real barbecue, is the slow smoking of some form of meat; our personal preference is for pork, but mutton and beef are also acceptable. If you’re inviting us to a barbecue, there best be a pit or a smoker in sight. Anything else is just false advertising on your part. We’re not trying to shame you — you didn’t know any better, bless your yankee heart — but we’ve been burned before. So really this lesson is for your benefit, and for ours.

Now that we’ve got the broad strokes straight, let’s break it down. Barbecue in the United States is not one homogenous entity. It is a broad culinary genre that encompasses four major categories. Further hybrid and sub-categories abound, but you’ve gotta crawl before you can run, so we’ll stick to the basics here: Carolina, Memphis, Texas, and Kansas City.

Carolina Style: North Carolina takes its barbecue very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it’s become a political issue, with a constant battle raging over which approach should be considered the “official” state style of barbecue. There’s the Lexington or Piedmont Style, which generally uses pork shoulder with a vinegar-based sauce seasoned with ketchup and pepper. On the other side, you have Eastern Style, which uses the whole hog and a vinegar sauce that excludes any sort of tomato product (Zelda’s on their side with this one. If she had her druthers, ketchup would be banned altogether. From the world.). Both factions are adamant that their style is superior, with loyalties running as red hot as sports team allegiances. (South Carolina gets even more complicated, with three separate styles distinguished by their sauces, from Pee Dee to Carolina Gold. But that’s a lesson for another day.)

Memphis Style: Memphis style also consists of two varieties: wet and dry. Meat-wise, either style usually consists of ribs or pork shoulder. The dry style is covered in a rub, pit smoked, and then eaten without sauce. The wet style, as the name might suggest, is all about that sauce, with the meat generously brushed before, during, and after cooking (cue the hand wipes). Memphis is also big on barbecue sandwiches, and they even go so far as to include the smoked stuff on everything from pizza to nachos.

Texas Style: The great and giant state of Texas has its substyles as well, generally divided into East, West, South and Central Texas. While most disciples of Carolina and Memphis style will maintain that barbecue is a pork-only affair, Texas is less concerned about the meat, and more about the smoke. Beef, pork, sheep — pretty much anything goes. They are, however, quite picky about what wood they smoke that meat over. East Texas is hickory-smoked, Central Texas uses pecan or oak, and West Texas is over mesquite. South Texas is the wild child; their signature move is a thick, molasses-like sauce that keeps the meat nice and juicy.

Kansas City Style: Kansas City is single minded in their style, and a little less picky than their Carolina and Memphis counterparts. Brought to Missouri by Memphis-native Henry Perry in the early 1900’s, Kansas City style barbecue encompasses a wide variety of meats, dry rubbed and slow-smoked over a variety of woods. But no matter the meat, KC barbecue always includes a thick, sweet tomato and molasses based sauce, served on the side.

Now New York, you may be asking yourself: “Why did they just tell me about all these delicious slow-cooked meats when their birthplaces are thousands of miles away? Does Seamless deliver from Raleigh?” Not to fear, luckily there are other barbecue enthusiasts who have decamped to your fair boroughs: passionate believers, like us, in the beauty of a well-roasted hog. So don’t just take our word for it. You can find all of these styles of barbecue within your borders.

For Carolina Style, try Arrogant Swine in Bushwick. 73 Morgan Ave. (Morgan or Montrose stop on the L), open Tues.-Sun., arrogantswine.com

For Memphis Style, try Southern Hospitality in Hell’s Kitchen (Yes, it was co-created by Justin Timberlake. What can we say, Memphis boy knows his BBQ!) 645 9th Ave. (42nd St. stop on the ACE, or like eight other trains), open every day, southernhospitalitybbq.com

For Texas Style, try BrisketTown in Williamsburg. 359 Bedford Ave. (Bedford stop on the L or Marcy Av. stop on the JMZ), open Wed.-Sun., delaneybbq.com

For Kansas City Style, try John Brown’s Smokehouse in Long Island City. 10-43 44th Drive (Court Sq. stop on the E, M, 7, or G), open every day, johnbrownseriousbbq.com

Zelda is particularly partial to the Memphis and Kansas City styles, having resided in both towns during her formative years. But if you’re feeling really adventurous, our personal NYC favorite is the Oklahoma City Style at Mable’s Smokehouse & Banquet Hall in Williamsburg. Their sides are equally awesome, and the friendly staff gives it a very homey vibe. Or maybe it’s just our Louisvillian hearts recognized a fellow transplant‘s touches. Namely the excellent (correctly made) mint juleps44 Berry Street (Bedford Ave Stop on the L, Nassau Ave on the G), open every day, mablessmokehouse.com

Now go forth, darlings, and sample widely. You can thank us later.

Love,

Zelda & Scout

Bless Your Heart, New York: A Girl’s Gotta Eat

This article is part of an ongoing series titled “Bless Your Heart, New York,” in which we ever so sweetly remind the Big Apple of the things they are doing oh so wrong. Bless their hearts.

Dear New York,

There’s something we need to discuss. I understand you’ve got your food-related charms — your dollar pizza slices, your bagels and schmear, your five-star dining, your 24-hour bodegas for 4 a.m. sandwich fixes, Shake Shack. But in the realm of the culinary, there is one area where you are seriously, seriously lacking.

There are a lot of downsides to a suburban life. The houses can be cookie cutter, the stores close at 6 p.m., and the public transit is practically non-existent. However, there is an area where suburbia kicks your ass. As a child, it was a weekly (if you’re my mother) or biweekly (if you’re my grandmother) ritual, carefully planned and leisurely executed. I’m talking, my friend, about grocery shopping.

Even Michelangelo made grocery lists, via OpenCulture

Even Michelangelo made grocery lists, via OpenCulture

It always started with the list. A pad of paper was stationed on the kitchen counter next to a pen, and items were added in the days leading up to the next trip. Now this list was fluid, more guidelines than actual rules.  We would snake leisurely up and down the aisles of Kroger, smiling at strangers over boxes of Funfetti and stopping for a free sample at the bakery. As a kid I would ride in the front of the cart reading off items as the designated adult shopper made sure we had everything we needed. It wasn’t necessarily a fun activity (oh sweet young Scout, how little you appreciated the good thing you had going), but it was certainly not dreaded, plus putting away the groceries was one of the chores that I didn’t absolutely loathe. In short, the process of grocery shopping was a fact of life — neither good nor bad, but necessary.

But listen, New York: I’ve been here for approximately 2.5 years, and in that time grocery shopping, in the traditional sense, has become my single most-hated activity (actually, it might be a close second to having to ride L train towards Brooklyn on a Friday night with no alcohol in my system, or really just having to ride the L train at peak hours in general). New York, you make grocery shopping hard enough with my lack of car, forcing me to shop like a cave woman only taking what I can carry (Costco packs, in my world, are merely a pipe dream). But to add on the long lines and tight spaces? You’re killing me here.

Which is why I tend to avoid the more traditional list guided, planned grocery trips. Instead, my acquisition of food tends to fall into four broad categories:

  1. Work
  2. Seamless
  3. Bodega/Duane Reade, On the Way To or From Somewhere, Snack Purchase.
  4. Grocery Shopping

Let me break it down for you.

One: One of the perks of working in the restaurant industry is that, often, they feed you. They feed you food that is fresh and has all the necessary food groups, and you don’t even have to do the dishes after you’re done eating it! It’s a miracle I have managed neither to starve myself nor to slip into some sort of processed food coma.

The next two I’ll give you props for, New York. Seamless is an incredible and dangerous invention that is amazing for your stomach but terrible for your bank account (she writes as she orders Indian food). And 24 hour convenience store is exactly  what it sounds like — convenient — and I often find myself stopping in after a shift at the restaurant and grabbing just enough food to last me a couple of days (This would be a perfect solution if one could subsist entirely on cereal and Reeses peanut butter cups. Sadly, one cannot).

But then we come to four and here, New York, is where you really drop the ball. Every now and then, when options one through three have failed to satisfy all my nutritional and fridge-stocking needs, I am forced to enact desperate measures. I make a list. I block out a stretch of time. And, New York, I head to the grocery. Sometimes I tackle the tiny store two blocks from my house; other times I gear up for the Trader Joe’s in Union Square, but only if I’m feeling particularly brave. While the groceries of my childhood were vast sprawling buildings with aisles wide enough to accommodate two carts, you, New York: the things you call groceries are hardly big enough to house the food on offer, much less the people shopping for it.

Kathleen Kelly knows my pain

Kathleen Kelly knows my pain

I never thought I would miss a place as banal as Kroger, but you’ve made me long for it. My neighborhood grocery is basically a claustrophobe’s nightmare: a labyrinth of narrow passages that barely fit me and my basket, much less another person. Their limited space also means that products are stacked all the way to the ceiling, rendering a many of them unreachable (No Frosted Mini Wheats for me. Why, New York, why?!). You would think at least the bigger grocery stores, like the aforementioned Trader Joe’s, would be big enough to shop comfortably. However, they pose a whole new problem, one which you are constantly bombarding me with: people. We’re not talking the attitude of the TJoe’s staff here (they are actually some of the pleasantest people I’ve ever met, despite their working environment). We are talking about the sheer amount of people that attempt to grocery shop in one place. If hell on earth isn’t Times Square on a Friday night, then it is the Union Square Trader Joe’s at 6 p.m., any day of the week.

But a girl’s gotta eat, and their frozen pizza is damn good (also cookie butter, damn it), so like my ancestors of old I have learned to adapt to the challenges of my habitat. When grocery shopping in New York, all decisions must be made carefully and strategically.

  • When: Tuesday morning is usually a good choice.
  • How: Bring a backpack, a large tote — anything to make that food-laden commute easier.
  • And most importantly, who: New York, if I have learned anything during my time here, it is that shopping at the Union Square Trader Joe’s is a contact sport not to be attempted solo. For optimal shopping, you need to assemble a team of at least 2-3 people. As soon as you enter, one shopper proceeds directly to the staff member holding the sign that reads “Line ends here” (usually found within 10 feet of the entrance. I told you, people.). The others proceed to the aisles, gathering the items from your list that do not fall along the perimeter of the store and relaying them to the line waiter, who collects peripheral items as he or she proceeds to check-out. (The same shop-while-you-wait principle applies if misfortune or incompatible work schedules force you to venture in alone — it is the only way to avoided added stress.)

If you follow this battle plan, and you are very lucky, the entire endeavor can be completed in under 3 hours.

So New York, I guess what I am saying is: Bless Your Heart, you’ll never know the wonder of a leisurely shopping cart ride, the phenomenon of being able to buy in bulk, the sweet frustration of someone leaving a cart in the middle of your desired parking spot. There are some who might say your long lines, your narrow aisles, and your team-based shopping environment are just part of your charm. That is builds character and adds flavor to this adventure we call New York Living. But every time I walk into the store to face an hour-long line, or get home from an all afternoon expedition only to realize I forgot the soy milk, I remain unconvinced.

Sincerely,

Scout

Bless your heart, New York: Sweet or Unsweet

This article is part of an ongoing series titled “Bless Your Heart, New York,” in which we ever so sweetly remind the Big Apple of the things they are doing oh so wrong. Bless their hearts.

Dear New York,

We need to talk.

There is a question every Southerner holds near and dear to her heart. Like the hours of the day or the seasons of the year, it is a reliable part of a comforting cycle, one in a series of steps that get you from Point A to total satisfaction (ooh la la). This question is essential to the clockwork of that most holy part of our days: the meal. And yet, try as I might, I find myself wandering New York unable to find anyone to return my volley, who without even blinking will answer my tentative serve with three little words: Sweet or unsweet?

iced-tea, sweet-tea, new-york, the-south, bless-your-heart, zelda-and-scout

Step one: Cold brew yourself a pitcher of iced tea

You see, New York, the drink which you have been calling iced tea is in fact a multifaceted thing. It is not merely a brownish liquid dredged out of Lipton bags and sloshed into a glass, whereupon the drinker must play chemist, adding a dash of this or that powder, a smidgen of syrup or a squirt of lemon, and stirring furiously in an attempt to avoid the inevitable detritus of sweetener that drifts from ice cube to ice cube before settling at the base of your glass, like bottom feeders on an ocean floor. When I say I’d like an iced tea, that is not the end of our interaction. It is the beginning of a conversation, to be followed by the aforementioned “Sweet or unsweet,” my selection, and then if we’re really rolling a “Sure darlin’ I’ll have that out in a jiffy.”

And oh, New York, the things you are missing. You may think you know iced tea. You’ve seen it before, in a grandmother’s fridge or preceded by a botanical garden’s worth of blooming flavors on a menu. You can identify the brown and green bottles in the vending machine, the ones stamped “Lemon-Honey” as if they contained anything of the kind. Perhaps you’ve even made it yourself, painstakingly adjusting the cube-to-steaming-mug ratio until your beverage reaches a temperature generously described as cool. Unsweet, I will grant you. But sweet tea is a different beast entirely.

iced-tea, sweet-tea, new-york, the-south, bless-your-heart, zelda-and-scout

Step two: Whisk up some simple syrup and divide that bad boy in two

Sweet tea is dessert in a glass, as once satiating your cravings and yet slaking the thirst that calcifies in the back of your throat like clay dust. Sweet tea is sunshine in a jar, fireflies of flavor zinging around a fluid amber prism. It is the perfect companion to pulled pork and corn bread, to wooden docks stretching out into lakes, to Sunday afternoon football games and creaking porch swings. It is summer in a glass, no matter the time of year. And it is sadly, tragically, missing from your lives.

Bless your heart, New York, but you are going about this all wrong. For the city of a million options, you’re giving me none, and I’ve had enough. So next time, do yourselves a favor: Cold brew a pitcher of topaz-hued black tea (That’s right, I said cold brew. You’ll thank me later.), but before you present it to your guests for consumption, split that bad boy in half and give one pitcher some sugar (or rather, simple syrup). And then, when some poor Southern soul asks you for an iced tea, eyes already glistening with the sheen of a thousand past disappointments, smile real wide and send their serve flying triumphantly back over the net.

“Sure thing. Sweet or unsweet?”

Love,

Zelda

iced-tea, sweet-tea, new-york, the-south, bless-your-heart, zelda-and-scout

The finished product, sweet or unsweet

Got a bone to pick with dear New York? Something got you face-palming and wringing your hands? Shoot us an email at zeldaandscout@gmail.com and let us know about your greatest bless-your-heart moments.

Bless your heart, New York. You tried to make a mint julep.

This post is the first in an ongoing series titled “Bless Your Heart, New York,” in which we ever so sweetly remind the Big Apple of the things they are doing oh so wrong. Bless their hearts.

Dear New York,

I have a bone to pick with you. Lately I’ve noticed a trend in what one might term “nightlife locales.” More and more often, I’ve come across cocktail menus with artisan offerings featuring my favorite Kentucky spirit, that delicious elixir known as bourbon. Now I’m all for experimentation, and my homesickness is soothed by the familiar notes of homespun liquor in a cosmopolitan drink (not a Cosmopolitan drink — that would be gross). And in my travels, I have on occasion even come across a familiar old friend, one with whom I’ve spent many a May afternoon: my dear mint julep. I’m always thrilled to see good ole minty on a menu, like catching sight of an old friend across a crowded room full of anonymous hipsters. And so, brimming with enthusiasm, I order up an ice cold julep. I eagerly await my cocktail, dreaming of humid summer nights at the track and bright sunshiney barbecues. It’s been too long. I can’t wait to be reunited!

And then my drink arrives.

There are many things New York does well: bagels, pizza, incredibly cheap Chinese food. But by and large, this city’s attempts at the mint julep, a gold standard among cocktails, are, well, pathetic. Bless your heart, New York, but you just are not getting this right. Here are some signs that you may be woefully off track.

bourbon, mint-juleps, kentucy, derby, zelda-and-scout, jennifer-harlan, jen-harlan

Juleps done right, at my Brooklyn Derby party this year

  1. If your julep contains no ice.

Early Times, the official julep sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, calls for a julep to start with a heaping cup of crushed ice, which is then rapidly stirred until the glass is frosted. Like the touch of a Disney princess, the creation of a mint julep should cloak the vessel in the sheen of a winter wonderland, with baby icebergs floating amid the leaves of mint. Lukewarm is an adjective that should never be applied to this drink.

  1. If your julep contains lime.

I want to tell you a story. Her first Derby in New York, Scout was feeling homesick and set off in search of some appropriate festivities. Her roommate worked at a bar that was hosting a Derby Party, so Scout decided to join her. On approaching the bar, she saw two large vats of pre-mixed drinks: one labeled Mint Juleps and the other Mojitos. She chose the julep. At first sip, she could tell that something was amiss. She looked down and discovered a green slice of lime floating in her purported julep. Shocked, confused, and mildly outraged, she concluded that the bartender must have misheard her or mixed up the drinks, so she asked for a sip of her friend’s cocktail to verify the mistake. Turns out, she had the same thing. The vats, despite their signs, were identical.

A mint julep is not a mojito. Lime, lemon, or fruit of any kind has no place in your glass. If you want fruit with your bourbon, order a Manhattan. Otherwise, unless it’s green and leafy, it stays in the fridge. You have been warned.

  1. If your julep contains any alcohol other than straight Kentucky bourbon.

There are some who claim that bourbon manufactured in the state of New York is legitimate bourbon. I am not one of those people. And woe be the mixologist who tries to spice things up with a little rye or, god forbid, some non-brown liquor (again, people, this is not a mojito!). The mint julep is a classic, a king among cocktails, a true American beverage. Take your experimentation elsewhere.

Love,

Zelda

mabel's-smokehouse, williamsburg, brooklyn, mint-julep, zelda-and-scout, jennifer-harlan, jen-harlan

A Mable’s Smokehouse feast

Now there are a few spots in New York that have managed to get the julep right. My personal favorite is Mable’s in Williamsburg (to be fair, one of the owners is a Louisvillian, which gives them a slight advantage). Their juleps are ice cold, with a well-tuned balance of bourbon and simple syrup, and a fresh mint garnish adding a splash of color. They pair fantastically with the pulled pork and the macaroni and cheese, both equally delicious.

If, however, you’re more the do-it-yourself type, here is my favorite, foolproof julep recipe. A guaranteed hit at Derby parties, happy hours, or Saturday evenings in general. This is a serious beverage, and as such requires some overnight prep, but the actual assembly process could not be easier and will get you a delicious, crowd-pleasing libation every time.

The night (or at least several hours) before you plan on serving your juleps, make your simple syrup. Boil one part water/one part sugar together for five minutes. (I usually start with two cups of each, and then go from there.) If you can, I recommend using cane sugar, like Trader Joe’s sells. It gives the julep an extra kick of brown sugar flavor, with notes of pecan pie. But plain old white sugar will do the trick as well.

Set the mixture aside to cool. Once it’s no longer hot to the touch, pour it into an easily refrigeratable (and preferably pour-friendly) container along with 8-12 sprigs of fresh mint. Let sit overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

When you’re ready to make your juleps, remove the mint from the syrup. Fill your glasses with crushed ice, and pour in the syrup and bourbon until full. I usually go for a three-fourths bourbon/one-fourth syrup ratio, but you can adjust to taste. Stir to blend (and to get that glass nice and frosty). Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

[A note on bourbon: As I said before, unless it hails from the Bluegrass State, I don’t consider it bourbon. My personal julep favorites are Eagle Rare and Bulleit, both very drinkable and relatively affordable.]

bourbon, mint-juleps, zelda-and-scout, jennifer-harlan, jen-harlan

Derby Party, Paris style, 2013

Got a bone to pick with dear New York? Something got you face-palming and wringing your hands? Shoot us an email at zeldaandscout@gmail.com and let us know about your greatest bless-your-heart moments.