Asian food takes over Manhattan

Since I first moved to New York City in June 2008, it’s clear that Asian food, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese and beyond, has really been taking over neighborhoods one by one throughout Manhattan. Once upon a time, each kind of food kind of had its own area: Chinese food had multiple Chinatowns ranging from Manhattan Chinatown, Brooklyn Chinatown, Elmhurst “Chinatown” along Broadway, Flushing (obviously); Vietnamese food had certain blocks occupied in Manhattan Chinatown. Japanese food had the 40s on the east side of Manhattan with a sprinkling of places throughout the East Village. Korean food had “Korea Way” on 32nd between Broadway and 5th Avenue. Since then, Koreatown has spread so that Korean restaurants have gone all the east along 32nd Street to Madison, and even a little north to 33rd-35th Streets. East Village has become a haven for many Asian cuisines, including a number of ramen and xiao long bao (soup dumpling) spots. Even more high-end, Michelin rated Japanese restaurants are spread throughout the island of Manhattan that I cannot even keep track of them anymore. And Chinese food, well, it has no boundaries whatsoever. You can even find authentic, western Chinese food up in Harlem/Sugar Hill.

Today, we went to the Sugar Hill area of Manhattan up north and of many places, tried The Handpulled Noodle, which has been on my list for over two years. The noodles are a bit flatter and thicker than the traditional and well known Lanzhou, Gansu-style hand-pulled noodle that tends to dominate hand-pulled noodle shops in Chinatowns around the country. Some of the noodles are more like pulled and flattened small rectangles and squares that are quite toothy. We shared a bowl of their stir-fried cumin-beef flat and pounded pull noodles, and according to Chris, I was totally addicted. We nearly inhaled that bowl of noodles; the noodles were super al dente and chewy, totally mesmerizing. The sauce had a good amount of fresh cumin spice, not to mention a hint of heat from the chilies. And the meat was light and shredded. If that place were near our apartment, I’d likely have them on speed dial for takeout on the regular. Unfortunately, they don’t deliver to our area since we’re too far south from them, but maybe that’s actually a good thing for our waist lines.

So much delicious food is out there to explore and try, even in cuisines that we think we are familiar and well-versed in. I’m always discovering new Chinese and Vietnamese food despite them being the cultures I grew up in. It just feels boundless what you can discover and taste.

First theater show since pre-pandemic

Tonight, Chris and I went to see the Broadway show Chicken and Biscuits, our first theater show since before the pandemic officially shut down New York City. While we have already been to the Comedy Cellar plus two other comedy shows (Ali Wong and Neal Brennan) in the last few months, but this was our very first theater show. As per the New York City law, proof of vaccination (along with an ID to confirm who you actually are) was required to enter. Each venue has its own rules regarding masks, but at this theater, which was right next to the Wicked theater, they required masks upon entry. The entire theater district was buzzing. There were so many people lining up and getting excited to see shows this evening. It’s like a huge part of what makes New York City New York City is finally back.

Chicken and Biscuits was a really good first return-to-broadway and going to theater again show because it was really funny, is about a seemingly dysfunctional but hilarious family, and had a happy ending. The more I think about how miserable and bleak the world is, the more I realize that I am a sucker for happy endings. It’s hard for me to say that a show or movie or book is a “favorite” unless it has somewhat of a positive ending. Yes, that’s the fairy-tale, unrealistic side of me, but hey, it’s fiction for a reason, right?

When your freezer freezes shut

In another story of the moving-in-tale-from-hell, I discovered earlier this week that something seemed wrong with the ice dispenser in our freezer. Instead of dispensing ice, the ice maker was leaking a massive amount of water and ice, which would then freeze over and cause none of the ice to be usable, as it would just be a huge ice sheet. As the water continued to leak out of the ice box, it dripped down to create huge icicles around the drawers, which froze the drawers solid, rendering them incapable of being moved in and out. This also resulted in a near inability to even open or close the freezer without a ton of force. I wonder what the baby was thinking in the womb when I was doing these forceful movements so early in the morning this week, just trying to get some ice for the water bottle for my gym session.

The valve ended up being faulty, so our handyman had to have our management call GE to come inspect and ultimately replace the valve. But given the shelves now seem to be malfunctioning and tiny shards of plastic keep flying everywhere every time I open the freezer, this also means our drawers will need to be replaced. And early tomorrow morning, our handyman is going to come out to reinstall drawers taken from another apartment, and to help clean up all the ice collecting on the bottom of the freezer.

I have no idea what would have caused this total freezer madness, but I never before realized how complicated a freezer could be.

Pregnancy perks

I was going downtown to meet a friend for dinner, and when I got into the subway station, I swiped my Metro card to see the remaining value. The message that appeared was not a money value but instead, “See Agent,” which I’d never seen before. So I went up to the agent counter and told him the message I got when I checked my card value, and I swiped the card for him to see. He took one look at his screen, then looked me up and down and said, “You have $1.50 remaining. You can go through the gate.” I got so confused. Why was he letting me through the gate without topping up the value of my card and swiping? It was loud, so I thought I might have misheard him, so I cupped my ear to him to indicate I didn’t hear what he said. He said a bit louder, “I opened the gate. You can go through.” So I said thanks and walked through the gate without paying a fare. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a free subway fare in my entire time being a visitor or living in New York City. Was he letting me in for free because he saw I was pregnant?

Later on the Lower East Side, I went to the hostess stand outside to ask for a table for 2. My friend was just about ten minutes away, so when the hostess asked me if my entire party was there, I said no. She said that the restaurant policy was that they do not seat incomplete parties, so check back in with her when my friend had arrived. I didn’t think much of this at all until about a couple minutes later, I looked back up at the stand and noticed the hostess looking at me. “Yvonne?” she said. “You can sit down without your friend here. Feel free to go inside and they will seat you where you’d like!”

After checking my proof of vaccination, they sat me down and I waited for my friend, who came just two minutes later. I knew she had allowed me to be seated because I was visibly pregnant, and my friend was telling me how I should wring it for everything that it’s worth while I still can. “You should tell them at Trader Joe’s that you’re pregnant and see if they will let you cut the line!” she said. Every Trader Joe’s has a different policy, so while she could not guarantee that the Upper West Side location would allow this, she said it was worth the shot. So that means I’m definitely trying this the next time I go; I just need to make sure I’m wearing something fitted to show off my bump. 😀

Scrapbooking for 2019-2021

As the baby’s due date is approaching, I’ve been making a list of things I want and need to get done before she arrives. One of the fun tasks is finishing our scrapbook through our Turkey trip this past summer. I hadn’t updated the scrapbook since September 2019, when we went to Georgia and Alabama for an extended Labor Day weekend, so I had a bunch of updating to do. I started creating the pages through Christmas 2019 and creating templates for the pages that will follow, and tonight, I did a bulk order of photos to fill the scrapbook with through September 2021. When the baby comes, I hope to have enough time and energy to document her life, both through photos as well as through a scrapbook, but perhaps a more basic one since life with a child will be a lot different than life without one. We already have a little album and an Instax Fujifilm camera ready to go to document her beginnings, so I hope everything turns out well for her.

I hope as she grows that she will enjoy arts and crafts, too. I have imagined having future crafting sessions with her, creating scrapbook pages, using glitter and stencils, and having her enjoy the fun that is colored pencils, crayons, and paint. Then, we can enjoy all my art supplies together.

Backyard hangout in Flatbush

Last night, Chris and I went to an event hosted by one of our favorite New York food people, Auria from Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen, also known as The Sambal Lady, in her huge backyard in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The theme of the event was Malaysian eats, reggae beats, and local beers cohosted by a beer curator/journalist named Josh. Auria runs a small business that really took off during the pandemic, selling her homemade spicy sambal sauces and kaya (a delicious coconut and pandan jam/spread). Her goal with her business was to spread the love for all delicious and authentic things Malaysian to New Yorkers and Americans, as she’s originally from Malaysia. She expanded her operation from being home run to a factory out in New Jersey. Since Chris discovered her last year, she and I have been in contact over Instagram direct message, and I’ve given her some of my footage to include in her promotional material. When she posted that she was hosting this event, we knew we had to go. So I finally got to meet Auria in person, and she really felt like family right away. She was exactly as I imagined: extremely friendly, warm, homely, and kind.

At the event, she served pai tee cups (these lovely fried cups filled with jicama and carrot, topped with shrimp and a sweet-spicy savory sauce), her delicious beef rendang, white rice, and Malaysian style cucumber salad. For dessert, she served a purple sticky rice topped with sweet and salty coconut milk. And her friend Josh provided all the local beers that Chris got to enjoy. She also unveiled her latest projects, which are spice blends in partnership with Burlap and Barrel, a local spice company that seeks to support small-scale farms from around the world. She has three that have been finalized and will be available on October 30, which is also her birthday: rendang (she used it in the beef rendang tonight!), chicken curry, and satay. I’m especially excited about the rendang and satay blends: those are INVOLVED cooking projects normally. I know from experience last year that making satay is intense; I got sore arms and hands from that video I filmed!

It was also just amazing to be in a BACKYARD in New York. I felt like I wasn’t in the city at all, as it felt like a very non-urban, very suburban experience. I also got my share of mosquito bites, unfortunately. I’ve read that mosquitoes particularly love the sweeter blood of pregnant women. What joy for me.

It was a really fun night, and I’m especially happy I got to meet Auria. I love being around people who love food, cooking, and sharing it all with others. If this could be my life, I’d be eternally happy.

Another Wellness Day to myself

Today I had the day off due to another company Wellness Day. Since it didn’t overlap with a day off with Chris as it did last month, I was left to my own devices. So I started the day with my usual workout, worked on updating this blog, answered a few personal emails, did some more online baby shopping to prepare for our registry, and then walked all the way uptown to check out a family owned baby store that is reputed to have good customer service. After looking at strollers first at Buy Buy Baby, Nordstrom, and finally here at Albee Baby, I can say with certainty that the service I got here was the best. The assistant knew all the models on the floor inside out, let me play around and stroll them all around, and also talked about the different accessories. I think we’ve finally made our stroller decision. It only took three store visits and endless hours of online research!

After my time at Albee Baby, I walked further up to have lunch on my own at Banh, a modern Vietnamese restaurant that opened during the pandemic. I’d already been here twice before and knew the food was delicious, so I ordered the dry hu tieu noodles and a house made strawberry lime soda. As I sat on my own and ate, watching all the action happening in their fully open kitchen, I thought about how this was actually one of the few times I’d be fully on my own, able to explore and galavant all over this city without a baby in tow. I should probably try to enjoy my freedom as much as possible while I can because soon, it won’t be that easy for me to go to any neighborhood I want and not have to think about feeding/changing diapers for a baby, a car seat, or how to navigate a stroller through narrow walk-ways or poorly paved roads or streets.

A few of my friends who have gone through pregnancy encouraged me to take a few days off sporadically leading up to labor and delivery just to do things for myself, whether that was read a book, get my nails done/massage/facial, or stroll through markets or have meals on my own. They told me I’ll never get this time back, so I should soak it up as much as possible. While eating my hu tieu today, I thought… that’s actually a pretty good idea. I will probably do that.

Product “testing” with Bourke Street Bakery

If you watch Sonny Side’s Best Ever Food Review Show on YouTube, you may notice that he advertises for and sells a shirt that says “micro influencer.” It’s basically a bit of a jab at people like me who *hope* one day to be a social media influencer, but really aren’t quite there yet (I recently barely passed 900 followers on Instagram. Granted, once I started my current job, I was far less aggressive in terms of social media interaction and trying to get new followers, so hey, it’s not terrible!). I follow a number of local restaurants and bakeries via my Instagram handle for YmF, and they also follow me, as well. One of the handles I follow is a favorite bakery out of Sydney, Australia, called Bourke Street Bakery. We’ve had a number of their savory and sweet treats, and I am just obsessed with almost everything they make. When they recently posted, saying that they were looking for product testers for frozen almond croissants, I jumped at the chance. I direct messaged them to let them know I was interested, and after a couple back and forths via email, they sent me via DoorDash two frozen almond croissants for “product testing.” In exchange, they asked for my feedback.

We tried out one of the almond croissants on Saturday. I followed the instructions as written. I hate to say this, but the delicious almond filling was almost too generous; it weighed down the bottom layer of the croissant and left it almost soggy, plus it was nearly impossible to hold in one hand without the whole thing falling apart. But the flavor was spot on, and the flaky texture of the croissant was perfect. It did what all perfect croissants do, which was shatter upon your first bite Mmmmm.

If this could be my day job, I’d be pretty darm happy. I’d likely gain a lot of weight, but boy, would this be a fun job.

Off to the “farmland” today

Today, Chris and I went out to Port Washington in Long Island to visit my friend, her husband, and their two kids, one of whom was just born about four months ago. To get there, we took the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which, for the small handful of times I’ve been out there, always seems to run at snail pace. In addition, my other qualm with taking LIRR or really any train from Penn Station is why they always have to update the track information for your timed ticket so last minute, resulting in everyone rushing up/down the stairs/escalators at the exact same time. Are there really not enough tracks at Penn Station to at least be able to update the stupid track 15-20 minutes ahead of time? There was a train scheduled to leave at 11:12 today, and the track wasn’t even updated on all the schedule boards until 11:07. That gives everyone barely FIVE minutes to get the information on the track and rush to the correct platform and train!

So we went out for our visit and spent the full afternoon hanging out with my friend and her growing brood, discussing life in the ‘burbs as parents of two and what our potential life will look like once our little one makes her arrival. Although we’ve spent quite a bit of time in suburban homes while in California, every time I visit a house in the suburbs, it’s almost like my amazement restarts at how large homes can be. My friend’s kitchen was like a chef’s dream! I also marveled at all the endless toys and dollhouses and kitchen sets that her older child had.

“Sorry about the mess,” my friend said when we came over. “Their shit just gets everywhere!”

When they took us on a tour of their home and took us to the basement area, which appeared to be a play area, I asked them if this was the play room. Her husband immediately corrected me: “Well, actually, the entire HOUSE is their play area, but yes, the majority of their stuff is down here!”

This is how kids can take over your space… and your life. And they were telling us to get ready for the fun… and the shit, literally.

Travel systems for an on-the-go life in the city

If there is one area for shopping for baby items that is giving me some level of angst, it is most definitely what we will end up selecting for our stroller/car seat/travel system. For parents who own a car and plan to use it to transport their child everywhere, they definitely have less of a stressful decision to make given they can just leave their base in their car and snap in the car seat at any time, then dump the stroller piece into their trunk. Because we are city dwellers and do not own a car, we need to be able to pop a car seat in and out of multiple vehicles, whether they are ride shares, cabs, or rental cars, and be able to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible; ideally, we wouldn’t have to lug a car seat base everywhere (as they are pretty freaking heavy and LARGE!) and would find a car seat that doesn’t require a base. We will also need to take our stroller on the subway since that’s our main mode of transportation while in New York City.

It seems every “trendy,” or rather uppity, name-brand oriented mom can’t get enough of Uppababy products, particularly the Uppababy Vista stroller, which, by itself, without a car seat/base, without any adapters, costs over a thousand dollars. I can’t even count the number of Uppababy strollers I’ve noticed here in Manhattan in the last few years, and this was even far before I was trying to get pregnant. I told a relatively new mom about my stroller concern with living in the city carless and wanting to easily take these pieces on a plane, and she immediately, likely without thinking, just told me to get the Vista. But the Vista is a full-size stroller, which means it’s not only huge, but it’s extremely heavy, and with me at my pre-pregnancy weight of about 117 lb., I’m not sure how I’d be able to maneuver that along with the weight of a baby all by myself. I think I’d ideally want a more compact stroller that could easily click in a car seat and a bassinet, but there are many pros and cons for each of these options as it relates to cost, suspension, and durability.

As a last stop with our Zip Car rental yesterday, we stopped at a Buy Buy Baby in Jersey, and after looking at Chicco, Peg Perego, Uppababy, and Even Flo strollers, it seems that the best value option is the Even Flo stroller, which is modular (allows front and rear facing), and converts into a bassinet. It also comes with an infant car seat. But as I read reviews online, a lot of parents complain that this tends to break down and the wheels lose their power at around the 5-6 month mark, which would really be a hassle. I also wasn’t that trusting of the employees who helped us, as they gave us some factually incorrect information in regards to some of the strollers, which I later found out about just by doing a quick online search.

When I mentioned “travel,” “compact,” “we don’t have a car,” neither of the employees mentioned some of the most popular options available, including the Babyzen Yoyo, Bugaboo Ant, or the Uppababy Minu. So this just means my search and questioning will continue. What fun. I wish the search could be easier than this.