Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday market at Union Square 2011

Sugar and spices from Spices and Tease

Other than some local merchants such as the dry cleaners, newstands and takeout restaurants, there are limited opportunities for us to shop in small stores these days. Holiday markets offer the opportunities to patronize independent and local merchants and at the same time enable us to purchase unique wares and gifts.

Spices and herbs from Spices and Tease

Browsing through the myriad of stores at the holiday market in Union Square, we came upon the Spices and Tease market with its spectacular troves of exotic spices, herbs  and condiments.. Like a child left loose in a candy store, it was initially difficult to decide which treasure we would like to partake. Fortunately we were allowed to sample some of the products. We particularly loved the aromatic "Hibiscus Strawberry" blend of herbal tea. We also sampled some of the pasta spices.

A variety of spices from Spices and Tease

It has been said that variety is the spice of life. We purchased some of the herbal tea and spices and couldn't wait to add a culinary dash of exotic flavor to our cooking.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2011 | Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas Illuminations

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree - 2011

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York city  is lit up each year on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. This year, the lighting ceremony coincided with a city visit by the President. The confluence of events created the mother of all gridlocks. Thousands of visitors thronged the streets surrounding the tree during the lighting ceremony. New Yorkers were impeded in their attempts to get home quickly during the evening rush hours.

This year, we managed to set some time aside to visit the Rockefeller Center to enjoy the lights and festivities. The above picture was the majestic Norway spruce that we saw. The seventy plus footer hailed from Pennsylvannia and was adorned with 30,000 sparkling lights. Its top was crowned with a Swarovski crystal star. At some intervals, the tree even "twinkled" (like the Eiffel Tower twinkling effect).

As expected, the Rockefeller Plaza area was jammed packed but everybody was in good spirits, busily snapping pictures. There was a long queue of people waiting patiently to get into the ice skating rink while it was being resurfaced by a Zamboni.

Rockefeller Center ice skating rink being resurfaced by a Zamboni

Opposite the tree along Fifth Avenue, the Saks department store also has its own Christmas Illumination spectacular show. Snowflakes, bubbles and other animations were beamed onto the entire facade of the department store building. I just happened to be standing in front of the golden "angels" when the show started and was able to get some good snapshots.

Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas Illumination show - 2011

Heading towards home, we saw these decorations on Sixth Avenue. A tourist exclaimed, "Look at those balls !" We tried to decipher where she was from  based on her accent and concluded she was probably from Australia.  A joyful season to all !

Holiday decorations on Sixth Avenue, New York City - 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Can't Help Falling In Love | Over and Over Again

Waikiki Beach
"Can't Help Falling In Love"  was on the "Blue Hawaii" movie soundtrack

During the past few weeks, the local tv airwaves have been flooded by ads for the new movie "Like Crazy", a love story. It was accompanied by a new cover of the classic "Can't Help Falling In Love" song. The movie has garnered some positive views but we have decided that it would be a new entry in our DVD rental queue instead.

What amazes me is that "Can't Help Falling In Love"  is the movie's theme song. This song that has been covered  for 50 years starting with Elvis Presley's golden standard in the film "Blue Hawaii" in 1961. The song is like the Energizer Bunny rabbit, never running out of momentum and favor starting with Elvis' generation to our current generation X and Y members.

If one wants to be a successful song writer, I suppose a song like this would be the paramount product. It would propel one's career trajectory into annual royalties until the song passes into the public domain.

Ingrid Michaelson's projection of  "Can't Help Falling In Love" for this new movie hasn't really grown on me yet. Only time would tell.

My favorite version is still Elvis's. Over the years, I have enjoyed multiple renditions ranging from UB40's reggae signature remake to contributions by Andrea Boccelli, Chris Isaak and even the Swedish A-Teens group who performed a cover for the Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch". One version that really threw me for a loop initially was the speed up celtic version performed by the Lick The Tins group. I  really like its fast beat and tempo.

If you have enjoyed listening to "Can't Help Falling In Love", which is your favorite version ?
Which recent song do you think would still have momentum 40 - 50 years from now ?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fall Colors

The sweet aroma of an apple orchard

Old Father Winter visited us early this year and even gifted us with a surprisingly early October snowfall of a couple of inches. The last time New York City received such measurable snowfall in October was in 1952 ! In the meantime, the fall foliage in New York City was still limited. We just have to contend ourselves with the beautiful golden hues of fall colors reflected in Mother Nature's seasonal gifts of mum flowers, ornamental fall cabbages, pumpkins and apples.

Stunning fall colors of mum flowers

Beautiful mum flowers to add a welcome touch to the front doors.

Ornamental fall cabbages for the gardens

Animated pumpkins

Animated pumpkins

I just could not resist buying some of the colorful mums and a little pumpkin to decorate our doorsteps.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brooklyn Flea Market in New York

Brooklyn flea market in the Fort Greene 

The forecast for the Saturday before Columbus Day called for beautiful balmy weather hence we decided to head to the Brooklyn flea market in Fort Greene. Over the years, the Brooklyn Flea event has mushroomed into two venue attractions: the Saturday one in the Fort Greene neighborhood and the Sunday event in Williamsburg.  New Yorkers and tourists flock to the Brooklyn flea market which has been described by some as a town square get together while others hailed it as vintage bazaar.

Brooklyn flea market in Fort Greene

Brooklyn flea market in Fort Greene

Brooklyn flea market in Fort Greene 

Brooklyn flea market in Fort Greene

This flea market featured a myriad of vintage items ranging from cameras, typewriters, luggages, handbags, costume jewelry, clothings, shoes, books, posters, postcards, furniture and other knick knacks. Check out those vintage typewriters in the above picture. Until I visited this flea market, I have never seen typewriters in such lovely blue and pink colors. They were in good working condition too and typewriter ribbons were also available for purchase.

Flea markets bring about unexpected gems. I saw a beautiful vintage scarf but I decided it was a "nice to have" item rather than a "must have".  Hence I didn't  purchase it.  A woman bought a beautiful vintage jacket at the same stall.

Lobster roll offered at Brooklyn flea market in Fort Greene

There were also food vendors and my appetite was teased by the Maine lobster rolls stand. I finally gave in and bought a lobster roll. It was delicious. Let the treasure hunt continue !

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New York Paid Tributes to Steve Jobs

Tributes paid to Steve Jobs in at the Apple flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The recent passing of Steve Jobs has brought an outpouring of tributes to the late technology guru.  At the Apple flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, tributes in the form of flowers, apples, pictures, signs and other items were laid on the steps at the entrance of the store.

A friend commented that some of the apples presented were of the granny smith types instead of the macintosh variety. Nevertheless, the "fans" were sincere in their respects paid to the late technology whiz. Inside the store, it was as crowded as usual with a long wait at the genius bars.

Tributes paid to Steve Jobs in at the Apple flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York.

I first learnt of Steve Jobs when he appeared on the cover on Times magazine celebrating the success of the first generation of Mac computers. Over the years, I read about his eventual ouster from Apple and then his foray into building the Next computers and then establishing the Pixar graphics studio. Pixar was eventually bought out by Disney leading him to be the biggest shareholder in Disney.

Steve Jobs' return to Apple gave way to a phoenix-like trajectory of  the company into the upper echelon of America's most successful and valuable companies. The trailblazing sleek design and ease of use of the  iPod, iPhone and iPad products made him a household name.

Steve Jobs, the Thomas Edison of our era, passed on too soon. His upcoming biography Steve Jobs (currently a best seller already while on pre-order on Itunes and Amazon) would probably be a fascinating read. RIP Steve Jobs.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wicked on Broadway in New York

Playbill for the Wicked musical

When the musical Wicked  premiered on Broadway in 2003, I did not pay too much attention to it. Over the years, the show had won Tony awards and played to full house audiences. Friends who had attended the performances raved about the musical. Hence I decided to put it on my "to watch" list.

 Hoping to score a discount ticket for Wicked seemed to be an exercise in futility. You  would never see it offered on any of the Broadway discount code web sites. Neither  had it been featured at the Manhattan Times Square discount ticket booth. The only  times I've seen it discounted was during the Kids Night On Broadway promotion and  those tickets were sold out instantly.

 Fortune smiled upon us recently when Wicked was one of the shows offered during  the September Broadway Week promotion where you could purchase two tickets for  the price of one. I managed to score some tickets saving at least $75 per piece.

The author of Wicked took the liberty to wax poetic about the formative years of the two witches featured in the iconic The Wizard Of Oz story. There was Galinda, later known as Glinda, the good and beautiful witch in contrast to Elphaba, the emerald-toned "wicked" witch. The story focused on how these two characters met in school and became friends in confidence. Along the way, one learn how Elphaba evolved to be "wicked" while Glinda fit into the good witch role.

Elphaba, fiery and misunderstood, was ostracized by her society based on on her outward appearances. However, she was strong willed and steadfast to her ideals of justice and stood up for the oppressed citizens in her world. Glinda on the other hand, was rather shallow although she had good intentions in her undertakings. Basically, what was alluded to was that what you see around you sometimes was just "smoke and mirrors" obscuring the harsh realities.

Attending Broadway shows has always been a special treat. These live shows have never failed to capture me with  their brilliant and dazzling stage sets. I sat there spellbound as usual by the powerful vocals and live energy channeled by these world class performers.

To my untrained ears, the actress who portrayed Elphaba sounded quite a bit like the performer Idina Menzel's powerful vocals who had originated the Elphaba role on Broadway and had won a leading actress Tony award for it. Last season, Idina had played Rachel's mother in the TV show, Glee. These world class performers were honored with  a rousing standing ovation from the full house audiences at the end of the night. A very well deserved honor indeed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Andrea Bocelli concert in Central Park - the concert that I did not attend

I was stuck in a hugh traffic jam on Thursday night near Central Park on the way home. The increase in traffic was due to the free (yes absolutely free !) concert in the park performed by the great Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. He was accompanied by the NY Philharmonic plus other performers such as Celine Dion and Tony Bennett.

Even though the concert was free, one still had to obtain an admission ticket to the Great Lawn concert area in the park. Several park entrances were cordoned off hence the fans had to gain admittance through specific entrances. I saw the fans queueing patiently and orderly. Lucky fans ! This was such a cherished once in a lifetime experience for them.

The night before was warm and balmy and it would have been the perfect starry night for the performance. In contrast, Thursday night was chilly and rainy. Fans had to brave the adverse weather with umbrellas, windbreakers and blankets to watch the stars performed.

I wonder how much the average fans could see and hear at the vast distance from the central stage. I have read that PBS would broadcast the concert in December this year.

Nevertheless, this was such a marvelous gift to New York City !

 In the meantime, I had to settle on listening to Andre Bocelli's Con te Partiro at home
 instead of live at the park.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pretty In Pink

So pretty in pink gown

I wore a pink shirt to work  last Tuesday. Within two city blocks, I saw three fellows wearing pink shirts in the same shade as mine. "Is it a pink shirt day ? ", I was wondering to  myself. The best was yet to come.

At the office, we had a male visitor from another department and guess what he was wearing ? A pink shirt too.

Later that night, I was watching a rerun of "The Office". In the opening credits, Pam, the receptionist was seen wearing a pink shirt similar to mine.

Was it a coincidence that people just happened to be attired in pink that day or was it because I was more conscious of the color since I was wearing it too ?  I did not have a chance encounter with the singers Pink or Pink Floyd though.

Pink is a pretty color, just right for the summer days. Come to think of it, I don't remember ever seeing a politician wearing that pink although it seems to be a very popular color as an office attire for the males. But we gals always look pretty in pink :)

Say it with pink flowers at dinner

The world is awashed in pink afterglow. The fine pink sands of Bermuda .... Monet's pink house in Giverny, France as shown in one of my previous posts.  ... pink flowers for fine dining ...

Take a look at the beautiful pink junior gown at the top of this post ! The gown reminded me of the dazzling gowns that the Barbie dolls wear.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Essential tools | snow throwers | power generators

When we first moved into our current home, we decided to buy a snow thrower. I forgot the reason why we were so adamant about buying it when the snow fall in those days in New York was minimal and blizzards were infrequent. Hence the new Toro  snow thrower sat underutilized in the garage for a few years.

Then, one year, the blizzard arrived and the snow thrower was promptly put into action. Over 20 inches of snow fell on that day and the thrower worked beautifully saving us many hours of manual snow removal not to mention also backaches !

Before the blizzard arrived, the weather forecast had already filled the airwaves warning about the impending blizzard. Homeowners rushed to buy the snow throwers, shovels and salts. These items were quickly out of stock.

Hence we were fortunate that we had the snow thrower handy to help us dig out of the snow storm.

With the recent Hurricane Irene that hit the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., many areas were flooded and the power was down. Many of our friends experienced power outages. In fact, a week after the storm had passed, a few thousand households in Long Island still had no power.

So now the latest must have "tool" at home for these unexpected events seems to be the power generator. A friend just bought the Champion Gas Powered Portable Generator to serve as a backup power source. Now we are thinking of investing in one ourselves. During this past hurricane, we were fortunate that we did not suffer any outages. However, one could never be over prepared for such an emergency.

We definitely didn't want to be in the same shoes as the one million plus residents of Southern California who recently lost power due to human errors in the San Diego Gas and  Electric operations.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Outer Banks | Hurricane Irene

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks in North Carolina (OBX) was the first bullseye target of the recent Hurricane Irene when it landed on the U.S. continent last weekend. The roads to many Outer Banks towns were unreachable due to the damages on the main thoroughfare. The tourist season, a major lifeline of this community had been cut short abruptly. Over and over again, this series of barrier islands had braved Mother Nature's fury. The many past shipwrecks off its coasts and landmark lighthouses attest to the stormy relationships the inhabitants have had with the seas and winds. Tales of treasure-laden pirate ships that had wrecked along these shores have long fueled treasure hunts in the waters of this region.

Outer Banks is beautiful and I hope the recovery in this area will be swift and seamless. I had visited Outer Banks during the off season. With sparse crowds and cooler temperatures, I was able to stroll on the beach in solitude as far as my eyes could see.  It felt like I had my own private beach from sunrise to sundown ! The only precaution that I needed to take was to avoid the jelly fish cast on the sand. I was able to pick up many shells with unique "twirls". I've never seen these types of shells before on the northern beaches.

Soft shell crab meal in Outer Banks, North Carolina

Fresh seafood restaurants abound on the Outer Banks. During the off season, the wait is minimal. My husband still raves about the soft shell crab meal he had here.

We were able to relive the aviation history at the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills. Here, the U.S. National Park Service has marked the maiden flight path of the Wright brothers' plane. It was here that "The Flyer" first took off, freed at last from the tenacious hold of the earth. Therefore the Outer Banks area was the first bird's-eye view seen by the Wright brothers.  Hence the logo on the  North Caroline license plate is "First In Flight".

Ocracoke ferry sailing during sunset in Outer Banks, North Carolina

One of the highlights for me was a trip to the Ocracoke Island reachable by a 45 minutes state ferry ride. Ocracoke beache has been rated number one in a beach ranking survey a few years ago beating perennial favorites like Hawaii and Florida beaches.  I was not disappointed. The sand was very fine and powdery lending credence to its number one ranking accolade.

Sunset in Outer Banks, North Carolina

Wide open blue sky, bountiful sunshine, pristine beaches, soothing sea breezes and charming Southern hospitality - that's the Outer Banks I've known and loved. With the dog days of summer winding down, I am definitely missing all that and feeling "Carolina In My Mind".  Here's to a speedy recovery in the Outer Banks.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Outer Banks in North Carolina

Monday, August 22, 2011

Accidental encounter with Richard Gere | guitars

A collection of guitars

The media reported recently that the actor Richard Gere was planning to auction off his extensive collection of American vintage guitars to raise money for humanitarian causes around the world. This reminded me of an accidental encounter we had with the actor a long, long time ago in a guitar store in midtown Manhattan.

We were browsing in a guitar store when I noticed a a man playing a guitar behind a sectioned off area. I nudged my husband, asking, "Isn't that Richard Gere ?" My husband approached the store personnel to inquire. The store personnel confirmed that it was the actor Richard Gere and that he visited the store often.

My husband asked whether we could get an autograph from the actor. The store personnel relayed the request to Richard Gere. To our surprise, he agreed. He came out to the counter area and my husband personally asked him for an autograph. He graciously autographed on the store business card for us. There were no crowds around us so it was a pretty close and personal encounter.

Unfortunately, I did not have a camera handy on that day. I still have the autograph and I remain a fan today.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Smoke On The Water | Montreux, Switzerland | Freddie Mercury statue

Montreux by Lake Geneva

While driving home in the heavy rain after dining out the other night, the Deep Purple classic rock number, "Smoke On The Water", came on the radio. I am not a musician but the guitar riffs from that song are some of the most recognizable and popular ones. While researching for a past trip to Montreux, Switzerland on Lake Geneva, I remembered reading that the Deep Purple members were inspired to write this song after witnessing a fire that had broken out in the local casino and that the smoke had drifted onto the lake.

Montreux's main street, Switzerland

Montreux along Lake Geneva promenade

Montreux along Lake Geneva promenade

With its balmy Mediterranean like weather, Montreux is also celebrated as the Swiss Riviera with beautiful views of the Alps along the Lake Geneva . Nestled in its surrounding higher grounds are award winning vineyards with panoramic views of the lake and town. 

A gentle reminder to be an obedient dog in Montreux by Lake Geneva

McDonald's menu prices in Swiss Franc in Montreux, Switzerland

We strolled along the flowered lakeside promenade admiring the beautiful architectures of many of its pastel color buildings. This was also a perfect spot to watch the locals. Various signs along the promenade indicate several qualify of life reminders such as curbing your  dogs. The above picture shows the local McDonald's menu prices in Swiss Franc qualifying this to be a relatively expensive meal option compared to what we normally pay in the United States.

Freddie Mercury statue in Montreux by Lake Geneva

Montreux is a charming old town that has become the home away from home for many celebrities. The singer, Shania Twain has called it home. Another famous resident was Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of the group Queen. A Freddie Mercury statue has been installed by the Lake Geneva promenade making it one of the most visited sites in this town.

We browsed the gift stores along Montreux's main street hoping to purchase a small cuckoo clock as a souvenir to bring home. We saw some beautifully designed cuckoo clocks that were beyond our budget and also too inconvenient to lug home. So no cuckoo clock but we brought home some Swiss chocolates that were a major hit

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bastille Day Celebration | New York City

Macarons from Ladurée, Paris

Macarons from the Mad Mac stand during the Bastille Day
celebration in New York City

We were blessed with a gift of macarons from the famed Ladurée store in Paris recently. We also  had the
opportunity to partake of some freshly made macarons at the Mad Mac stand during the Bastille Day celebration in New York  City during this past weekend. They were simply delicious. Unlike the Ladurée macarons, these were softer in texture and they kind of melted in the mouth.  We initially bought the raspberry ones and they soon ran out of them when we returned to the stand one hour later.

Bastille Day celebration in New York City

Bastille Day celebration in New York City

Fresh crepes being made at the Bastille Day celebration in New York City

Beautiful mouth watering desserts at the Bastille Day celebration in New York City

This was our second Bastille Day celebration attendance.  All the food stands were such marvelous eye candies last year that we had to return again this year to partake of some of  the offerings.  All the crepes being made looked delicious but the queues were so long at the stands that we decided to forgo them.

Live entertainment at the Bastille Day
celebration in New York City

This fete took place on 60th Street between Lexington and Fifth Avenues which was jam packed with visitors enjoying the French culture.  There were live entertainment embraced by the attendees.  Children enjoyed face paintings and while others participated in the cheese and wine tasting. 

Flower display at the Bastille Day celebration in New York City

The beautiful floral arrangement above decorated the American Airlines post, a sponsor of the festivities.

Macarons showcase at the Bastille Day celebration in New York City

Check out the above creative display for macarons !

Vive la France !


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