Amish Mash

New York is becoming colder and the trees are golden but slowly becoming bare of leaves. My good lady wife has taken to recovering these remnants of arboreal growth and packing them in her bag for some future project that will involve a leafy display of some kind. We have purloined willow from the Whitehouse Lawn, cedar from Central Park and needles of fir from the Rockefeller. It has become an addiction of sorts – she starts twitching excitedly and breathing rapidly whenever we travel somewhere new and the streets are found to be covered in the colours of Fall.

I guess I shouldn’t complain. It’s better than collecting items from New York’s diamond district.

Now it’s hard to tire of the food in new York but there does come a time when you begin to wonder if there might be more to life than huge burgers, pizza slices and creamy cheesecake. It is also true that leaves falls all over the United States and when the opportunity to spend the weekend in Pennsylvania was presented to us we jumped at the chance. I wanted to discover new grub while my good lady went into a cold sweat at the idea of finding a variety of falling fronds from the forests of Amish country.

The trains are quite expensive to Philly from New York but buses are very reasonable and they take the Lincoln tunnel which is a Disney ride of an experience in a bus three inches shorter than the height of the worm-hole under the Hudson.

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We took the megabus.com from 34th street to the heart of Philly for about sixty dollars round trip. It was very comfortable and we got a seat right at the front. That allowed us to feel the very fear of death the driver had to encounter on a daily basis.

On arrival in Philadelphia, the very heartland of American independence, we naturally headed for the most important historical monument in the country.

Not Independence Hall….

The Rocky steps!

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which I gleefully ran up and bounced at the top just like the Italian stallion himself.

Sadly the great city of Philadelphia has chosen to place Rocky’s statue at the bottom of the stairs these days so he was not there to greet me. I was reliably informed that the museum curator determined that Rocky did not represent American ‘art’ and it’s position in front of the museum was improper.

It seems that multi-coloured worms coming out of the ground better represents the American spirit and culture.

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Ok you say – what about the food?

Philly Cheesesteak is the staple of all citizens of this great city and the hot debate about the best is summed up in three words ‘Pats or Genos?’

http://www.patskingofsteaks.com/

http://www.genosteaks.com/

Both are located near the Italian market in Philly from whence the great fighter ran to the iconic steps of the Museum so many years ago to eventually defeat Apollo Creed. As we passed both of these places the queues were longer than the Lincoln Tunnel so we chose to remove ourselves from the debate and sample cheesesteak from any-old vendor of fast food in a place called The Bourse (http://www.bourse-pa.com) close to Independence Hall.

It was both cheesy and steaky so I was quite satisfied and the vendor threw in another Philly speciality (the soft pretzel) for nothing!

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I am told that the only thing I was likely to get for free from Geno or Pat was the suggestion that I should return to my homeland (in less polite terms) as they do not tolerate anyone who does not know exactly what they want, can state same in an understandable local accent and uses less than five words – (cheese steak, white, onions, mustard). Otherwise you may be shot and buried in a shallow grave by your server.

After touring the city we headed into rural Pennsylvania to explore a quieter, more religious community.

That is where the food really became interesting.

In a small church shop in Valley Forge we discovered Wacky Cake and Shoo Fly Cake which are Amish recipes and taste wonderful. There isn’t a link here but I have looked up a recipe and want to try making them because they are just magic.

For dinner we discovered the joy of Amish community entrepreneurship in the shape of a leaf – a Shady Maple one (http://www.shady-maple.com). This eat-all-u-can was going to satisfy both my appetite and my good lady’s need for a tree frond fix.

This was my starter

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which only left room for a small main course

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and I could barely manage my dessert

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that was my pre-dessert. This was dessert

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followed by a large bowl of whippy ice cream (not shown – eaten too quickly).

As we tumbled out of this restaurant having spent the princely sum of $20 a head, we discovered the gift shop below sold as large a range of unusual goodies as the restaurant sold food.

My personal favourite cookie jar here

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I’m afraid that was not all the food this weekend though. I know you must feel ill but bear with me.

Breakfast was late eaten but featured another local delight known as Scrapple (a cross between Haggis and Square Sausage).

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Obviously that’s not all I ate – I needed something more substantial

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All of this was consumed at a very charming little tearoom in Hanover, PA.

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The prices were ridiculously low so well worth going here before they realise the year is 2013 not 1813.

Like these people do

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Before signing off this blog entry I should mention that this weekend marked the 25th Anniversary of my marriage to my leafy-mad spouse. She is completely cookie so what better way to tell her how I feel that to show her

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Little Boxes

My good lady wife has progressed from her first tentative steps around New York into a crazed shopping animal who has pretty much scoured the four quarters seeking the bargains of the century. I’ve certainly eaten a lot of biscuits as these appear to be purchased to sweeten the daily news of ‘necessary purchases’. A giant cookie for me – a new dress for her, a slice of cheesecake for me – a new top (and a slice of cheesecake) for her. Of course she had to get the top to go with the dress.

The problem is New York is one of the fashion capitals of the world and in this vast marketplace there is something for everyone. Even redheads have their own high fashion store

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It is difficult to control a woman in a city of sparkly lights and ‘closing down’ sales.

Today I managed.

HOW?!

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Good question (terrible joke).

The answer lies with the one thing women love more than clothes and sparkly lights.

Little boxes.

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No not that kind of box!

These…

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and these…

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The first was a takeout box from Mee Noodle Shop http://www.simplemenu.com/menus/meenoodleshop which is fifty metres from my apartment. Sister number two searched high and low for these little boxes and there they were all the time, just around the corner. The feast inside was brilliant.

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No chips of course. But I have come to expect that – I really am becoming classy.

The second box came from http://www.pasticceriarocco.com/the-cafe and this was the tardis of boxes because we obtained one of the biggest cookies in the world from this shop in Greenwich today. One of them here pictured to scale against a large building

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We sat and ate these in the park and watched three pigeons have heart attacks after nibbling on the crumbs.

My devious plan to divert her from clothes using little boxes was working very well and we hit mid-afternoon with no purchases whatsoever. As we passed Bloomingdales I had to think quick. Quick look at me!

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A quick snap and I ducked into http://www.yooglers.com/ with the promise of a little box full of frozen yoghurt.

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That put a smile on her face…

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And after that close shave we were both exhausted and had to head for home. A whole day with no garments purchased whatsoever. I should go down in history as some kind of heroic male role model on that performance. I even managed to get her to have her picture taken with one of those painted naked women on the street

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And to top it all I found Wally…

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That’s him with Mrs. Wally showing him a new pair of shoes she just bought from the shop next door.

He needs some lessons from me I reckon.

Mr New York!

There has been an awful lot of eating in the last few days and not a lot of blogging. It’s all been down to brother-in-law-number-two who made it patently clear early in his visit – ‘I’m an eater not a blogger!’

So with all the grub-shovelling I have been a little neglectful.

It’s not just the food he has been consuming. He has eaten New York for breakfast – marching here, there and everywhere, up tall buildings, in and out of museums and still managing to sit through three Broadway show lotteries before winning a cheap ticket to Wicked on his last day. The man is New York daft!

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Of course all the sugar he has consumed might account for some of the energy.

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If you think that’s sickly sweet try this…

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All together……awwwww!

Most of the week has been about reunions such as the one depicted above. Wife number one hit the New York side walks with her brother on Friday and on Saturday we all teamed up with cousin-in-law-number-one (I am losing count here) and her hubby for a feast at http://www.bensdeli.net/ where the food is all kosher. I’ve never had false food, so I’m a bit unclear as to what that means.

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Now this deli which is situated quite clearly on 38th Street just off 7th Avenue is not at all difficult to find.

Unless you are looking for it of course.

In such circumstances it wanders off at will and you can spend most of the day scouring the streets looking for it ignoring the fact that some people need to pay a visit to the littlest room while others lost the feelings in their legs somewhere near the Empire State building the previous day.

But we found it thanks to Mr New York himself.

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The determination of the man was a sight to behold and the fact that he lost it in the first place was never mentioned.

The food was another sight to behold…

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This was a small sample of the ‘kosher’ fare on offer at this very pleasant and comfortable restaurant.

I could only manage a massive sandwich having consumed the deep fried contents of these sacks only twenty four hours earlier at http://www.fiveguys.com/

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Of course we also had three quarters of a cow as well slapped between two loafs of bread…

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It’s just as well we have been walking so much.

After Mr New York departed last night some semblance of normality returned to my life. With wife number one back at my side life is much better (still had to do the ironing though…) and a there’s a good bit less stress on my stomach as we did a nice four miles run in the park and some gentle walking to the shops. One of my home made meals for dinner didn’t overwhelm us but we have plenty time.

I must be slipping.

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But I tell you something. I am very glad that things might calm down now there are no more people to get overexcited about the food in this city…

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Discovering New York

This weekend is marked by the arrival of brother-in-law number two who is a big New York fan and fellow food enthusiast. He is also available to take in some culture when pushed so yesterday my scheduled visit to the Met on fifth avenue was graced with his presence.

The Metropolitan Museum is a massive cache of treasure from countries all over the world and even some from America (in a little section at the back behind the cafe).

The collection is so huge it is hardly surprising people look goggle-eyed.

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Youngsters tend to find it a bit boring though.

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Half time snacks for this world exploration came from an old favourite (vendor outside) loaded with every topping possible.

Which of these is the greater work of art?

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I think we all know the answer.

Okay lets move on from world discovery. Or not….

Columbus day in New York is not only a holiday but a day to celebrate discovery. A fitting tribute to the Spanish explorer who was sure the world was round and headed in one direction to get to the other.

What did I discover today?

Firstly that brother-in-law number two insisted upon buying my food (therefore I would be eating a lot). And secondly that heading South with a view to ending up North resulted in us coming across greater treasures than originally intended.

The Columbus Day Parade runs from 47th to 72nd (so I believe) and we did intend to come back to this after a walk down town to rediscover a book shop I came across a couple of days ago. Hunger struck early though and after some frustrating diversions seeking a nice little cafe we found http://www.cafecondesa.com/ in the Village. A light snack for the weary travellers seemed in order.

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A croissant filled with eggs and cheese and ham for moi. While the health conscious brother-in-law insisted upon eating fruit.

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With sizeable wedges of French toast and a bucket of maple syrup to supplement it.

Seeing the grub made some local children freak out in the strangest of ways….

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And animals were so terrified at the sight of our ravenous eating and gnashing teeth as we demolished the feast they leapt from the ground in fear…

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Now I am not sure if all the walking (and gnashing) makes one even hungrier or are we just a couple of pigs but it wasn’t half an hour before we felt the pangs again.

It was time for dessert.

Since the maple syrup and fruit could not be termed ‘sweet’ as it was served with ‘eggy bread’ and we all know that dessert goes down a different way we could justify locating some fine New York cheesecake.

And good lord did we find some fine New York cheese cake at http://www.magnoliabakery.com/

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We had a pecan and caramel topped one and a key lime one. Apparently ‘Sex in the City’ was filmed at this shop which has a nice little park outside to sit in. Useful because you can’t sit inside for all the people queuing for ‘Sex in a Cardboard Box’!

With all the sugar coursing through our veins (and the parade finished long ago) we decided it would be a good idea to head to the park and play ball to work it off and we did spend a few minutes chucking a softball back and fore to work up an appetite for dinner.

An old favourite this time http://www.angelospizzany.com/ and I am not going to repeat how good this place is.

The evening ended with a seat in Times Square people watching before heading back.

We never got to the parade of course, but Columbus never made it to the Indies either and look what he found!

I am so glad he did.

Conned Beef!

Scotland and New York could do with exchanging more things to each others benefit. I have to say, though, I’m not sure New York would come off best.

Take fire escapes. In New York they have the fire stairs ‘outside’ the building where the fresh air and rescuers are, not inside close to the hot flames, the choking fumes and certain death.

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The fire hydrants are also sticking up out of the pavement easily accessible, not flat and buried under a millimetre of tarmacadam spread by a team of shifty looking itinerants in a white van.

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This one is pictured next to the team who were assembling my lunch sandwich (more on that later)

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Speaking of holes in the ground, any reader of the Beano will know that uncovered drains make superb comic devices but also that our real drains are far too small and our health and safety rules far too strict to ever create such a superb moment of hilarity. Not in New York where the unsuspecting out-of-towner is a prime candidate for dropping into the abyss when passing a store getting a delivery.

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This is one of the safer ones, mostly they don’t bother with the warning cone.

For those of you who have not read the beano…

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It doesn’t get old does it?

And the underground heating system in New York is surely something we could benefit from in the frozen North…

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Mind you most of the people on our streets are steaming every weekend so we may not need this feature.

New Yorkers also maintain a good balance of efficiency and politeness that we seem to lack back home. You don’t go up to a counter in a shop without knowing what you want for fear of being tongue lashed in three different languages but at the same time you will almost certainly be wished ‘a nice day’ once you have mastered the pace of retail transaction. In Scotland the end of a retail transaction is almost certainly ‘NEXT!’ or in Glasgow ‘WHOOZ FURRST!’

Okay – enough of the faff – on to the food…

We have been exchanging food ideas for decades with New York but I have to say we have definitely lost a lot in translation and I think I know why.

New York is awash with restaurants (every fifty yards) and, although they are all busy, it is hugely competitive. Good looking men and women walk the streets trying to kidnap tourists into their restaurants offering everything from a flirty suggestive look to 50% off for those who don’t fall for their more obvious charms. In Scotland you have to travel some distance and then go into the restaurant and hope one of the staff finds a sufficient time slot in their social networking tasks to notice that you are interested in eating. Once you finally find one you don’t feel much like changing your mind and going elsewhere (its more trouble than its worth). You end up eating whatever crap they choose to serve you.

Take the humble toastie…

In Scotland…

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Looks okay?

Here is a toastie shop in New York

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This one is situated on 51st Street between 5th and Madison Avenue close to Jimmy Choo for those of you who wish to keep your women out of the way while you nosh on massive wads of pastrami and corned beef awash with ranch dressing (not our version of corned beef – fat caked cow shavings).

http://www.toastiesnyc.com/

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Bought for $8 (about £5 – the cost of a toastie in local pub?)

Of course just as their health and safety practices leave a lot to be desired so does their attention to pricing (in some areas – such as the Broadway tourist trap – not Toasties to be clear).

I obtained two slices of fairly average pizza from http://rayspizza.com/ on Broadway for my dinner tonight.

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I couldn’t quite fathom the menu so I grabbed this expecting the usual three to four dollars a slice. My change from a twenty was eight dollars. Now either a slice of pizza at Ray’s costs $6 or I was short-changed. This article I read later may be enlightening

http://nypost.com/2013/09/22/secret-mob-history-of-rays-pizza/

It’s not the first time I have felt that my accent suggests a lack of awareness of currency. If the five I got in my change was a ten that would be about right. It’s frustrating when you get caught out like that, especially the embarrassment of feeling that some chancer has got one over on you. It’s down to experience now.

But at the time I had wished the ground would open up and swallow me.

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Doggedly Searching for Bagels.

New Yorkers really do love their dogs!

And their dogs really do seem to love New York…

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….which is hardly surprising when the city is basically designed for their pleasure. Take these doggie friendly features:

A public loo every ten yards…

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Free nosh whenever your owner is not looking…

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… and plenty beauty treatments…

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Who’s that in the window?!

Dogs are so common on a Saturday New York excursion that you have to wonder where they all come from.

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This turned out not to be a topless bar on closer inspection and the furry lump at the bottom of the picture is a litter of three Malti Poo pups (whatever they are).

In fact my walk this morning through Chelsea and Greenwich was ‘dogged’ by so many canine distractions to the point that I almost forgot that I had intended to locate the best bagel in New York.

Greenwich Village in New York is very different to the Midtown area where I have spent most of my time. The streets are no longer on a grid, so it is much easier to get lost, and with so many things aimed at the furrier variety of mammal it is difficult to locate anything really great to eat.

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Yes this was hopeful but it wasn’t a bagel. I pushed onward.

In fact the deeper you get into the Village the more you realise why dogs are so popular. The people just act like balloons.

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That’s the queue for one dollar pizza!

Even the buskers are different.

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He had that piano in his backpack when I arrived 😉

Anyway the bagel was indeed located at http://www.murraysbagels.com/ where the queue was very long but not as bad as the queue for one dollar pizza. Once the item was secured for $10 including bottle of water and dollar tip, it was indeed excellent.

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This was one half of the bagel which took almost half an hour to demolish while sitting on a little bench outside trying to avoid the stare of the locals.

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‘Hey man, I’ve been tied here for three days with no food! Take me home will ya?’