Exploring Midwood, Brooklyn

Today, Chris took us to Midwood to explore the area, and our first stop was DiFara’s Pizza. Once upon a time, when I still lived in Elmhurst, I had traveled to Midwood twice to have the famous DiFara’s pizza. Then, every single pie was handmade by the original DiFara grandpa, which was why the waits were always so crazy long. Once upon a time, they had only a few seats indoors, and zero air conditioning during the summer. That has since changed. I did a pizza making class for a work event there in 2019, and not only did they have AC and pizza making classes, but not all the pizzas were made by the same one man show anymore! And this time, when we went, they even sold pizza by the slice! We got a slice each of mushroom and sun dried tomato, and everything about these slices was perfect. The sun dried tomatoes were extra fat and juicy. I don’t know how I will feel if one day, we leave New York. The pizza experience will never quite be the same.

One downside of exploring Midwood on a Saturday, though, is that because the area is heavily Jewish, pretty much all the Jewish businesses were closed for the sabbath. No bakeries or restaurants or bagels for us to try out. I suppose next time, we”ll just need to go there on a Sunday.

Staten Island – it only took 13 years

Since I moved to New York, I’ve visited four out of five boroughs pretty regularly. I lived in both Queens and Manhattan. I went to Brooklyn all the time. I’ve enjoyed the Dominican and Italian food in the Bronx, not to mention a number of visits to Yankee Stadium (with work, obviously; I can’t stand baseball). But the closest I’d ever gotten to Staten Island was taking the free Staten Island ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island, just for the free boat ride, and then boarding the ferry to come right back. That’s a little embarrassing, but I knew Staten Island would not be an easy place to get around, and it seemed like a foreign land to me even though it’s technically part of New York City.

Today, Chris rented us a Zipcar, and we finally made our first visit to Staten Island. It’s pretty spread out, so it would be pretty much impossible to explore on foot. There is a bus system through the island, but who the heck wants to rely on that to get around? We made good use of time, grabbing some Italian pastries and freshly baked bread from Royal Crown Bakery, eating delicious Sri Lankan food at Lakruwana along Bay Street, and even stopping at a brewery for local beers on tap (well, for him).

While at Lakruwana, I read an article that was recently published on them in January. While I’d read in the New York Times that Staten Island had the biggest Sri Lankan population in New York City (and actually, the biggest Sri Lankan population outside of Sri Lanka!), I didn’t realize that of the 5,000 Sri Lankans here that 30 percent of them reside in Staten Island. I’m sure there are historical reasons for that, but that made me sad that Sri Lankan food was not closer to us for us to eat more frequently. Lakruwana actually originally opened in the mid-90s in Hell’s Kitchen, but after a fire that burnt down the entire restaurant, when the owners, a husband and wife team, were asked if they wanted to re-open in the same area, they decided it would be easier for them to re-open but in Staten Island, since it would be an easier commute for them given they lived there. And so the Sri Lankan population grew, plus the restaurants in Staten Island.

New York City — I’m so blessed to call this extremely diverse place my home. How can you get bored of New York when you are constantly visiting new places like this right here?!

Wellness Day and back in Chinatown

“You always go to Chinatown on your days off,” Chris remarked teasingly when he found out that i went down to Manhattan Chinatown today. While it is not always accurate that I go down to Manhattan Chinatown, it is usually pretty accurate that I go to some Asian area of the city. My general thought around that is… on my day off, I want to get food, and I also want to support local businesses. And thus, Asian food and groceries are not only delicious but a great value, and in addition, I want to support Asian businesses because of the awful impact this pandemic has had on them.

I went to some of my usual standbys, like Fong On for soy milk and grass jelly, and Manna House for some different baos. I also went to a few new spots, such as Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle Rolls, Hay Hay Roasted, and Golden Steamer. Unfortunately, I arrived at Golden Steamer too late, and they ran out of their signature pumpkin baos, but they still had their “big bao” or “da bao,” which is stuffed with a pork filling, egg, plus Chinese sausage.

Chinatown always feels like home to me, even when I am discovering new businesses and new foods. And well, of course the food never disappoints.

Food crawling through Queens

Although I’ve been to the subway stop at Jamaica so many times in Queens to get to JFK airport, the only time I’ve actually gotten out of the train at that stop and walked around was the one time I had jury duty in 2010. Other than that, I’d never explored the area. What I do know is that the area has a lot of good Jamaican food. What I didn’t know, which is what Chris found, is that there’s a hidden northern Chinese gem there: Beijing Dumpling House. They make Beiing style noodles and dumplings, and if you pay $1 extra, they will top your dumplings with chili oil, lots of minced garlic, and cilantro. We got the pork and chive dumplings, and they were incredible! Something about the texture was just different than most of the other dumplings we’ve had here. I kind of want to go back just to pick up a bag or two of their frozen dumplings.

We also explored the South Richmond Hill area of Queens, which is walking distance from Jamaica. It’s an area known as “Little Guyana,” which is crazy because I had no idea this existed in New York City and can pretty much bet no one else here, except those who live in the area, are aware of this. We had some jerk chicken fried rice and a delicious piece of cassava pone (a delicious, chewy, lightly sweetened cake).

The pandemic has forced us to find and rediscover New York. I can’t get over the diversity of this city and how it never ceases to amaze me.

Snack heaven

Since my friend has been staying with us, not only has she been buying groceries for the apartment, but she’s also been introducing us to all kinds of of new snacks at Trader Joe’s. Although I do shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s regularly, I rarely, if ever, walk down the snack aisles at either store. Before living with Chris, I rarely snacked outside of eating fruit or vegetables and the occasional rice krispy or handful of nuts at work. But with Chris, we have endless Aussie treats, from Arnott’s biscuits like Tim Tams and Scotch Fingers to All Naturals Fruit Confectionary fruit snacks. Since my friend left earlier this week, she left these goodies that are addictive. I hate her for introducing these to us, but love her for how sweet she is. These things are too good and will likely go into junk food rotation in this apartment:

Dill pickle kettle chips: perfect kettle crunch and texture, and they taste exactly as you think they would given their name!

iMango iMango fruit and yogurt gummy candies: they have real mango juice in them and are unbelievably good. They really do taste like real fruit!

Kung pao chicken mochi balls: really good chewy texture on the outside, and the filling is savory and not too salty like most frozen foods.

Portuguese egg tarts (imported from Trader Joe’s): Haven’t opened these yet and popped them in the oven, but they look and sound very promising!

Matcha green tea ice cream: My friend said this iteration is a new formula and is really good. It’s not the best matcha ice cream, but it’s a close second!

City Island and the Bronx day trip

Today, we went out to City Island, which is an island that is technically part of the Bronx. It’s actually a pretty strange experience to be in a small, idyllic “island” that has endless seafood offerings when you are still actually in New York City because it’s not something anyone would expect. As soon as we drove onto the island, endless seafood restaurants abounded. Some screamed signs for crab and fish, others for lobster and shrimp, and many for all the above. We went to a spot called Crab Shanty that’s supposed to offer really great deals on seafood. And they certainly delivered on this reputation: with our lunch specials of a whole lobster plus two small soft-shelled Maryland crabs, we had salad, soup (clam chowder!), fries, cake (carrot and chocolate – two types!), and tea and coffee. We left with our bellies stuffed with seafood and more.

Afterwards, we drove to the Bronx and took a long walk along Orchard Beach, which is considered the “Riviera of the Bronx.” The beach sits on the Long Island Sound and on a clear day, you can see City Island from here. This really did not feel like the Bronx or New York City at all. It felt more like we were quite far from New York City.

We ended the day in Little Yemen in The Bronx and picked up some spinach and meat bureks from a small Yemenese spot there. It was a delicious day trip.

Twinges and dull soreness

Since yesterday evening, I started feeling a dull kind of soreness around my lower back and hips. I’ve eased up my exercise routine quite a bit since the transfer. The clinic suggested I forgo any rigorous exercise up until the day of my beta-HCG test. Since that day, I’ve mostly stuck with brisk walking on “hills” on the treadmill, elliptical for cardio, light yoga (no twisting or anything that could cause me to fall, they said), plus arm and leg exercises. So I knew that any soreness was not due to working out.

I experienced twinges last Monday, the day of the transfer, and a little of it the day after. The soreness I am experiencing now is often thought to be one of many pregnancy symptoms. But I don’t even know whether I should trust my body and any symptoms I believe I may or may not be experiencing. It could all just be psychosomatic. Maybe if I want to “feel” pregnant, my body will just make up the symptoms and tell my head to believe them. I’m at a point now where I can no longer trust my body to do anything on its own in the realm of reproductivity and just have to go by the actual facts… which leads to the HCG test tomorrow.

Who would have ever thought that nine days could go by so freaking slowly. It’s truly the worst wait.

Saturday food crawls with a guest

Today, Chris planned yet another surprise food crawl for us, and this time it was to explore the area that is Spanish Harlem. And we had a surprise guest come with us, too: my friend who has been staying with us. She thought about spending the day preparing to move into her new place, but she realized she really wanted to take advantage of the weekend and “just have fun,” so she came with us. We went to a number of delicious spots, but for me, the biggest highlights were the Tres Leches Cafe and Lupita’s Restaurant. Tres Leches Cafe literally has just two items of various flavors on their menu: tres leches (or “three milk”) cakes or flan. And the flavors could not have been more mouth watering: cuatro leches (“four milk”), guava, passion fruit — HEAVEN! We had the guava since Chris was craving guava, and it was just lick your plate good — super milky, creamy, and indulgent. Chris noted how much I liked it because I went quiet while eating it. Some food needs no words. Lupita’s Restaurant nearby was also notable for both the dishes we shared: the birria tacos (beef) and also the sopa verde res (green beef soup). Ever since I had this incredible meat and vegetable soup in Puebla back in 2010, I realized how under-appreciated and unknown Mexican cuisine is for their soups. This soup was reminiscent of that richly flavored soup at that food stall back in Puebla — layered with flavors of many vegetables, meat, and with a nice kick that lingers.

This was definitely a good eating day. But it was also nice to have my friend come join us because I know that outings like this are not normal or even remotely typical for her, as her former partner would never be interested in a neighborhood exploration or a food crawl at all. We gave her a new experience today of a neighborhood she never goes to.

Durian ice cream find at 3 Aunties Market

It’s been said that you aren’t supposed to lift or carry anything too heavy while you are pregnant. So I tried my best to exercise some self control when walking around Woodside, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst today, picking up different Thai, Chinese, Colombian, and Indian ingredients and takeout while also not toppling over. It’s okay, though: I came prepared with my backpack in tow, and while I had an unplanned walk to Elmhurst since 3 Aunties Market in Woodside did not have makrut lime leaves (the main Chinese market in Elmhurst always has them), it actually helped me discover a new takeout dim sum spot called Rainbow Dim Sum that ended up being quite good. Not only did they have a fully digital menu, but many of the dim sum dishes, such as fresh rice noodle rolls stuffed with meat, are actually made to order. So I got a few dishes from here, stopped by Lamoon to revisit their delicious and fiery Northern Thai cooking, and also picked up some Thai groceries and ready-made food, including these delicious grilled pork skewers with sticky rice, pandan and coconut jelly cubes… and the biggest surprise of my visit to 3 Aunties — DURIAN ICE CREAM, HOUSE MADE! I couldn’t believe my eyes: they had coconut ice cream, which seems quite standard at most Asian markets, but DURIAN? UMMMM, GIMME! So I got a pint and went on my merry way.

Given it was house made, I knew it had to be promising. Plus, the first ingredient listed was durian, which made me realize that it would be packed with blended durian and likely durian chunks since when an ingredient is listed first, it’s usually because it has the most of that in the item. And the durian ice cream lived up to its hype: it was super creamy, very rich in durian flavor, and the chunks of durian were deeeeee-licious. And it was such a bargain at only $5.99 for a pint! I couldn’t have been happier today.

Appreciation and affection

If there is one thing that my friend who is staying with us is, she’s extremely affectionate. She never hesitates to express her appreciation for you as a friend or a person in her life. She’s eager to hug, kiss, pick you up, nuzzle you, do anything to show she adores you. It’s one of the biggest reasons I love and appreciate her so much. She always expresses how thankful she is for the tiniest things you do for her, even if you just gave her a sticker that reminded you of her that you got for free at work. She’s the last person in the world I know who would take anyone for granted.

I’ve been cooking for all of us since she’s been staying with us for the last week, and while I don’t think I’ve made anything particularly out of the ordinary or laborious for me, she’s clearly been loving all of it. Every time I cook, she expresses how tasty things are and lets me know what she especially likes or finds addictive. She obsessed over the simple pea shoot stir fry I made. Even the crispy scallions that I made for the mushroom scallion oil noodles was something she marveled and went nuts over. It always feels nice to see how much people relish my cooking. I’m actually going to miss cooking for her and seeing her reactions once she eventually finds her own place. I really don’t mind her staying with us. If anything, I really enjoy the extra company and socializing. It’s been over a year of being locked down in this apartment, so it’s nice to have someone else around regularly here.