Halloween in New York City – door to door in an apartment building

Every year since we’ve moved into this building, Chris and I have embraced paying it forward and passing out candy to trick-or-treaters in our building. We usually buy our massive bag of candy in August or September from Costco. We also are usually pretty generous about how much candy we give. While many apartments or houses may just give one or two pieces of candy, we’ve given handfuls of candy to kids who stop by. Part of the reason for that is that we have SO much candy, and I definitely don’t need more candy lying around this apartment to tempt me. The other reason is that the candy assortments are rarely all types of candy we enjoy.

Well, apparently this year, our building management screwed up. The building manager was out on vacation the last week and a half, and it slipped her mind that Halloween was on the day after she came back from vacation. Nothing was socialized about which units would like to sign up to pass out candy to hopeful trick-or-treaters, so no one even had the ability to sign up until yesterday, which is such short notice to have a sign up sheet set up… and then to actually SHARE that sheet with all parents who have kids participating. So when Chris stopped by the lobby to see the list of apartment units participating, it looked like there were barely even ten units signed up. And at this rate, it’s unlikely that many units with hopeful children even knew that our building was even participating in trick or treating at all!!

I guess yet again, we’re going to have a ton of leftover candy this year…

Toddler cuddles

Tonight, after reading some books together, I put Kaia to bed. As per usual, she asked for her blanket, then immediately insisted on “mummy blanket!” She refuses to have her blanket on her unless Mummy also has a blanket on her, too. So we’ve gotten into that rhythm together. Then, out of nowhere, as I was singing and rubbing her back, she declared, “Lie down Mummy! Lie down Mummy!” But I was already lying down. And so what I think she was trying to say is that she “wanted to lie down on mummy” because she immediately rolled over and landed on my chest. But she’s so long and big now that her body goes all the way down to my thigh. And of course, her stomach was resting against my bladder, so while I didn’t really need to pee before she got on top of me, at that point, I suddenly did feel the urge to pee. Kaia rested her chest on my chest and placed her head down against my head, And so we laid with her lying on top of me. She then started sticking her fingers in my mouth, wanting me to bite on her fingers. So we played that game over and over until she was giggling uncontrollably, and finally she rolled over onto her stomach, insisted on singing songs and rolling around… until about 8:45.

Yes, it took about an hour and 45 minutes from story time to the point when she finally fell asleep. Was it tiring and a little frustrating? Of course. But in the moments of her lying on top of me, insisting on “lie down (on) Mummy!”, and playing the biting game, I relished our time together and thought, “And this, too, will pass.” Soon, she will be too big to lie on top of me; she’s already pushing it now at 25+ lbs in weight at nearly 23 months of age. Soon, she won’t want to cuddle or even willingly give me hugs and kisses. Soon, she’ll speak in grammatically correct sentence structure and speak real, full on sentences. She won’t butcher her words or pronunciation the way I love hearing now (honestly, I am still mourning the fact that she says “mango” now and not “monga.” I am also a little sad that she says “noonulle” instead of “noodie” for the word “noodle” because it is more correct than it is not). These are the little moments that never get filmed or photographed, but I genuinely love them. Chris makes fun of me, but one little thing I do every night is: I always smell Pookster’s hair as she’s sleeping. I kiss her head, then I take a deep inhale when I smell her hair. I just love her smell. I have always loved Kaia Pookie’s scent. She doesn’t have that same fresh newborn smell anymore. She also doesn’t have the baby smell. But she has an evolving smell now as a toddler where when I inhale, I know she’s still my sweet baby. And no matter how big she gets, my sweet baby she will always be.

(Fruit fly) genocide in our apartment

In the last several years, we’ve battled a couple of small “infestations” in our apartment. Twice, we’ve experienced the teeny tiny cigarette beetles, which likely came in through a pantry item that was purchased. Twice, we’ve experienced a mini fruit fly infestation. Once, it was in our old apartment, and in the last couple weeks, I’ve noticed we’ve had fruit flies that just would not go away, even after I was killing at least one a day by squashing them. So I had to bring out the weapon of choice: apple cider vinegar. I used the same method in our previous apartment, adding a few tablespoonfuls of ACV to water, then adding a few drops of liquid dish soap to break up the water tension. These little traps in bowls laid out in areas where they like to fly are a sure-fire way to eliminate these pests. In the first week, we had already killed about eight of them. And after I replenished my last small bowl on the dining table, it already has six dead ones floating on top. In the last three days, I’ve seen zero fruit flies anywhere in the entire apartment.

“You’re committing genocide in this apartment!” Chris exclaimed, as he saw me peer over the bowl to see how many dead fruit flies were in it.

As far as I am concerned, this is not genocide; this is keeping our apartment pest free without using anything toxic. I am winning, and those pesky fruit flies are losing. That’s the circle of life.

When a seemingly simple meal out ends up costing over $60/person

In the last two years as we’ve really felt the impact of inflation, not just through our grocery bills, but also our restaurant bills, every time I go out to eat, I wonder whether what I’ve paid for, whether it’s food or drink, is really “worth it.” It seems like the more we go out, especially when we’re socializing with friends, it’s more and more impossible to see main dishes cost less than the high 20s. In many cases, main dishes seem to be up in the 30s and 40s, and that’s even during lunch/brunch times when people generally will assume that the cost of a meal will be lower than at dinner time. Today, we went to Park Slope to meet friends and dine at Masalawala & Sons for brunch. Masalawala is owned by Unapologetic Foods, a food company also responsible for one of our favorite Indian places in Long Island City called Adda. They like to market themselves as being “unapologetic,” authentic to the regions of India they represent, and also at reasonable, “not” expensive price points. But I couldn’t help but blink a few times when I saw that their main (“large”) format dishes were in the high 20s, 30s, and even 40s. The portions were decent, but even some of the appetizers, which were quite small (meaning, among four of us, we’d probably have a bite each at most), were around $20. Without even really thinking about it or over ordering in the least bit, when we split the bill, it ended up evening out to about $65 each. This wasn’t even supposed to be a fancy or “special occasion” meal. It was just meant to be a casual brunch catch-up with friends on a typical Saturday.

The food was definitely good and different than the average Indian restaurant. The decor was beautiful on the inside, complete with flowers, endless brightly colored wall paintings and interesting decorations adorning the walls and ceilings. I also really appreciated the super clean and muraled bathrooms, both of which had a changing table (which, of course, I was excited by, and Kaia was even more excited by because she knows what the changing tables look like before they are pulled down, and she insisted upon a diaper change before beginning lunch because she had had a heavy pee diaper. She kept yelling over and over, “Change diaper! Change diaper!”). The service was really friendly and attentive. It’s not that I could really critique anything about the restaurant at all. The price points just felt very steep. As I told Chris after, as he had commented about how steep the prices were, I told him that unfortunately, a place like this could not be a reliable everyday “neighborhood restaurant” where you’d stop by without thinking… because it would just hurt the wallet too much. But it seems like almost every restaurant that isn’t a total hole-in-the-wall is like this now in New York City. Once upon a time, we used to spend $8-15 on lunch. Then it became $20 for a weekday work lunch. Now, you’d be lucky to get out spending $25-30, and that’s before tax and… of course, tip. It almost just makes you want to eat even more of your meals at home now.

When your dead brother dies again and has a second funeral

It’s a weird thing to think, but every time we approach Ed’s birthday, Ed’s death anniversary, or even the annual AFSP Out of the Darkness walk, I always hope or expect to see him in my dreams. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes, it does. Sometimes, it’s a happy, sweet dream. But in most cases, it’s a dream filled with anger and angst, usually directed at my parents.

About two nights ago, I had a dream that I was sitting in a funeral chapel, staring blankly ahead at Ed’s casket. The casket, for whatever reason, was closed. Flower wreaths surrounded the closed casket. But I was just sitting there, seething. I could feel that my blood pressure was soaring. My dad was chattering away to my mom mindlessly, talking through logistical things that needed to be done, such as accounts that needed to be closed, or checks that needed to be cashed out. More and more people I didn’t recognize were filling up the room. But all I could think was: how could we let him kill himself a second time? Aren’t people only supposed to live and die once? How did we resurrect him, and then he still managed to get away and be miserable enough to end his life a SECOND time? Did our parents not learn shit the first time around? Why were they so completely incapable of appreciating their first-born, their only son? It’s all I could think of while sitting there with my pulse racing. People approached me to greet and hug me and express their condolences, but it felt like I was just putting on an act and I wasn’t even really hearing them. All I could think of was: how stupid could our parents really be to allow this to happen AGAIN?

Four days of the Sara and Kaia show come to an end

Since Chris’s cousin and his daughter have been here, it’s been all fun chaos and running around and laughter in our apartment. Sara and Kaia got along as soon as Sara came into Kaia’s crib once she woke up on Sunday morning, which was a gleeful surprise for my Pookster. The two days of this week when Sara came with me to pick up Pookster at school, Kaia shrieked with delight at seeing Sara come through the door. Pookster just loves having Sara doting on her and running around and playing with her. Sara likes to take care of Kaia, doing everything from fixing her hair and ensuring she is out of harm’s way. It’s been really sweet and cute to see.

Last night was their last night with us before heading back to London on an early morning flight today. That meant that when Kaia woke up this morning, she wasn’t able to be greeted by Sara to say “good morning.” Last night at bedtime, as she slowly drifted into her sleep, Kaia kept saying over and over, “Good night, Sara. Good night, Uncle Andy. See you tomorrow, Sara. See you tomorrow, Uncle Andy.” I can’t even count the number of times she said it, but it was at least a dozen times, over and over until she rolled onto her belly, stuck her butt up in the air as she usually does to get comfortable, and then fell asleep. As cute as it was, it also made me feel a bit sad because I knew that she would not actually see either of them “tomorrow.” By the time she would wake up, Sara and Andy would be getting ready to board their flight back to London. And though we will be seeing Andy in December for Christmas, we all know that Kaia and Sara would really like to see each other again. But we don’t know when that time will be.

That’s the hard thing about not having siblings or cousins close by: you don’t always know when you can have these fun, cute, sweet moments when they can enjoy time together and get to know each other. So these moments are even more precious.

Taro – what color is it supposed to be: purple or white?

Bubble tea has come a long way since… well, I first heard about it. A lot of tea shops have taken shortcuts on how to make the tea, so instead of freshly brewing real tea, they will instead use cheap powders loaded with artificial flavors, colors, and excessive sugar, then charge you $5-7 for a low quality drink.

The good news is that while many shops have done this, a good number of other shops are doing the opposite. These shops are the ones that use fresh, seasonal fruit, make their own in-house tapioca balls, among other treats like grass jelly, lychee jelly, and pudding, use fresh milk (dairy and non-dairy versions), and freshly brew tea every single day. One of my and Chris’s favorite variations of bubble tea is fresh taro bubble tea, and I mean the REAL taro: the ones that use real, fresh taro paste and mix or blend it into the milk or tea, along with the tapioca balls or the jelly. Chris’s preference is pudding on the bottom, and I will take any and all of the above if there is fresh taro paste involved.

Since Chris’s cousin’s daughter is a big fan of taro, and I happened to see taro at a good price at the Chinese market while in Elmhurst last Friday, I decided to buy some to make homemade taro milk. At this time of year, taro isn’t actually in season and because of that, tends to be more on the pale white side in terms of color. The color of taro tends to vary: sometimes, it can be a nice purple color after steaming or boiling. Other times, it can be a pale purple or grey, and many times even just white or off white. After steaming my little taros today, they really didn’t turn any shade of purple at all like they do in the winter time. So in order to add color without using artificial flavoring (because at the end of the day, we all do eat with our eyes first, and the color of taro matters because people associate taro with the color purple), a lot of shops will add some purple yam or mashed ube and mix it into their taro paste. And that’s what I’m doing today for fresh taro milk!

The magic of simple desserts

As long as I’ve been baking, I’ve made endless different recipes of pumpkin bread. For many years since college, I used the recipe from my resident advisor from my sophomore year dorm, who was so kind and generous as to regularly make pumpkin bread, pumpkin ice cream, and other fall treats for the residents of our hall. But of course, I got curious to try and tweak many other recipes I’ve stumbled upon. And since, I’ve settled on a variation of Smitten Kitchen’s pumpkin bread, which uses an entire 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree and is topped with cinnamon sugar to create a decadent and crunchy “lid” on top. Quick breads like pumpkin or banana bread are so easy and quick to make that I rarely think of them as special or “occasion” bakes. They just seem like the type of thing you’d bake up when you wanted to have some decadent treat, but you didn’t want to put too much time, effort, or thought into something homemade. It’s the no-brainer crowd pleaser. And I always use coconut oil in place of vegetable oil, as I find that coconut oil keeps the bread more moist for much longer.

As last Christmas was the first Christmas we’d gone back to Australia with Kaia baby in tow (plus, I was still pumping!), I really did not want to spend that much time cooking or baking anything. So I found that I had left a can of pumpkin in Chris’s parents’ cupboard from the last time we were there (in 2019!), and then decided to use it for this same Smitten pumpkin bread. Thank goodness for the pumpkin being canned, so I knew it was still good to use! I didn’t think anything of it — I quickly whipped up the batter, poured it into an oiled loaf pan, put it in the oven, baked it for 65 minutes, and out it came. I didn’t even remember to bother with the cinnamon sugar topping. We brought it as a dessert for Boxing Day, and I couldn’t believe how many of Chris’s relatives raved about it. Even the young kids enjoyed it and kept coming back for more. Chris’s cousin, who is visiting this week, was totally obsessed with it. He kept coming up to me to compliment how good it was and said it was the best pumpkin cake he’d ever had. He even reminded me how much he liked it in the lead up to this visit, so I figured I’d indulge him and make the bread for this visit. So I made it this afternoon for him and his daughter to enjoy for the remainder of their trip.

Times like this are always a gentle reminder that while I may want to make something that looks fancy, has “different” flavors or textures, or has many elements or nuances of flavor, that the average person really doesn’t care for all that fussiness or hoopla; most people are satisfied by the simplest treats and desserts, the ones that are not fancy or expensive but are simply delicious and make you happy. In the end, the lemon bars, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and pumpkin bread will still win everyone’s hearts.

Sometimes it’s the little things: when your frittata releases perfectly from your cast iron pan

In cooking forums and groups all over the internet, everyone always has the same question over and over again: what’s the best nonstick pan for X or overall? And the answer that someone will inevitably give, multiple times over, is: Cast iron! Carbon Steel! If you season them properly, then they will always be perfectly nonstick!

The problem, though, is “seasoning” can seem very bewildering to someone who is not used to this type of cookware. “Seasoning” really means ensuring that the pan always has a nice coat of fat on it to keep it slick. This means that the more you cook with it and have some sort of oil, butter, or animal fat on it, the more “seasoned” the pan will become. I’ve mostly used my big cast iron pan for roasting chicken, but I’ve shied away from using it for everyday cooking out of fear that things will stick. Well, I finally tested its nonstick quality yesterday morning when I made a butternut squash, kale, and goat cheese frittata: I sautéed my aromatics, tossed in my pre-cooked kale and butternut squash, added in the eggs, and baked the frittata in the cast iron pan in the oven for about 10 minutes. When I popped it out to cool and loosened the edges, I was pleasantly surprised to see how easily the frittata released. And when I finally used my flat spatula and pushed it onto my cutting board to serve, I felt so much glee at the frittata easily sliding off the cast iron pan, right onto the cutting board. IT DID NOT RESIST OR STICK AT ALL.

I was so happy about this for at least the next few hours that all I could think was: my cast iron pan is well seasoned! It tolerated the frittata! WHOPPEEE!!!! It seems like such a simple thing, but I suppose that is where it’s important to find joy — in the little things in life like a well-seasoned cast iron pan that allows your frittata to release without problem!

10 years of fundraising for AFSP and remembering Ed

Today was the Manhattan American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness walk for this year. 2023 marks the 10th year that I’ve fundraised in honor of Ed’s memory. It’s been an interesting ten years fundraising. Each year, I share my personal story, which has evolved each year. And each year, I’ve somehow managed to elicit the support of not just my friends and family who have been repeat donors, but even new donors every time. Most of those new donors have been colleagues, new and old. Some have been friends or family members of my own friends and family. Others have even been complete strangers who found out about my brother’s story through an acquaintance or family member and felt compelled to donate. In all of these cases, I’ve always been touched that people would spend their hard-earned money to support this cause… all because I chose to share and be open about my brother’s story and ultimately, my family’s loss. It’s been a humbling experience to share his story and see who has felt something when reading it. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me they’ve personally been affected by suicide or struggled themselves. But this is how people start opening up, and I am proud to be a part of the journey of destigmatizing mental health and suicide ideation and prevention.

2023 is the first year I haven’t met my fundraising goal, though. I raised $4,790 out of a goal of $5,000. I’m still waiting on a match from my company, which would add another $100, as my company matches donations up to $100 each year per employee. I think I am waiting on one corporate match. But I guess it’s hard to expect people to donate year after year, especially when there are so many other charities and crises that need our attention. So I’m grateful for even the smallest contributions.

This is also the first year when Kaia has walked with me. Well, we pushed her in her stroller, but she did attend the walk, and she loved the Top Fundraising Team sign that we had for Ed. We also had Chris’s cousin and his daughter come from London, who also accompanied us at the walk, as well as my friends and their young daughter.

Each year when I am listening to the remarks at the opening ceremony, I cannot help but tear up while listening to all the stories of loss. Someone’s teen daughter died from suicide. Someone else lost their dad to suicide. The stories just keep going on and on, and I can feel the pain. It’s just so gut wrenching to hear these stories and see that this keeps happening over and over. But while it is sad, it makes me feel better knowing that I’m doing a little something for the community by fundraising each and doing this walk.