Fun Around New York City

Barbecued whole hog.  I suppose that I should stop being surprised that everything and anything may be found in this colossal metropolis, but given that I couldn’t find a decent sweet tea for years (aside from my own kitchen), imagine my surprise to find this glorious meal without having to head south of the Mason Dixon.

Daisy Mays Whole Hog

Bonus:  Daisy Mays BBQ serves excellent sweet tea, served in campy Mason jars.

We went with a big group of friends and their kids, and unfortunately, there are always drawbacks when dining with a group of kids.

Cookie’s Friend:  OH NO!  They cooked Peppa Pig!

Cookie’s Friend’s Mom:  That’s not Peppa Pig.

Cookie’s Friend crying:  How do you know?

Cookie’s Friend’s Mom: That’s not a real pig.  That’s a delicious pig… for eating.

Cookie, needless to say, your friend didn’t eat much pulled pork that day.  She missed out.  Peppa Pig was delicious.

Extra Bonus:  The restaurant is located a couple blocks away from this:

Intrepid

Somewhere along the way, Cookie, you became obsessed with airplanes and spaceships.  Instead of a doll in your stroller, you push around a Lego Osprey.  Planes was your favorite movie (until Frozen), but the Elsa doll always sits on the shelf watching you play with Dusty, El Chupacabra, Bravo, and Rochelle.

Naturally the Intrepid became the most interesting thing available (next to Lagaurdia), but the thing that made it awesome was the Enterprise.  Now, not only did you come back raving about airplanes, we had to build SPACESHIPS!

Happy 4th of July

It never surprises me the number of things that occur in and around New York City.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but every time I turn the corner, there’s something new.

Federal Hall

Directly across from the drums and fifes on Federal Hall sat an old man playing an ErHu, a poor immigrant playing in front of the symbol of America’s wealth.

Wall Street Erhu

Happy 4th.

Wall Street

Really Expensive Strawberries

The corner deli sells a pound of strawberries for $2.50.

That one-pound carton costs between $4.99 and $6.99 at Whole Foods.

Head into Chinatown, and the street vendors will sell that one-pound carton for $1.25, a ridiculous price for the isle of Manhattan, even in the height of strawberry season.

So, how much did we pay for our strawberries, Cookie?

Mommy insisted on renting a car for the day: $184 (It’s a nice car, but the rental was only for one day.  Everything is more expensive here.)

We drove out into New Jersey: $45 (tolls)

Picking fee: $8 ($4 dollars per adult.  Yep, we paid the farm to work for them).

Strawberries: $9.5 ($3.5 per pound, at 5 pounds, minus a refund of the picking fee)

Total cost of strawberries: $49.30 per pound.

Strawberry Picking

Yep, those are the most expensive strawberries I’ve ever purchased, but if that’s the price to pay in order for me to raise a city girl who isn’t afraid of getting dirt under her fingernails, it’s totally worth it.

Strawberry Picking 2

You also picked a half pound of asparagus, but calculating the cost of an asparagus picking trip is just depressing.

Jonyesa Temple -Inner Peace with Toddlers

Looking at the Brooklyn Bridge or Fraunces Tavern, it’s easy to forget just how young America is compared to the rest of the world.  Yet, places like Jonyesa were already half a millennia old (the current iteration of the buildings may be newer) when the Brooklyn Bridge was new.  It’s an ancient, but still functioning temple surrounded by high rises in the middle of a cramped and modern city.

Like many Buddhist temples, there’s a large gate, though here, a third is blocked by a concrete building.

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Walking over to the main temple, there are two trees believed to be four to five hundred years old.

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Apparently, it’s custom to venerate them.

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The main temple itself is a thing of beauty.  The colorful roofing and the painted panels showing the scenes from Buddha’s life enclose three gargantuan statues of Buddha and thousands of smaller statues.    We’re not Buddhists, Cookie, and, since this is someone else’s place of worship, Mommy and I stayed outside.  Halmoni*, a devout (never misses mass on Sunday, and occasionally goes every day) Catholic, still feels the need (her grandparents were Buddhists) to bow in front of the statues whenever she visits a temple.  You, of course, went with in her.

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As Mommy and I walked around the outside looking at the exquisite decoration, three things became readily apparent.  One, each temple has a gong by the door, which sounds the beginning and end of meditation times.  Two, gongs are very tempting to three-year olds.  Three, Halmoni isn’t as fast as she used to be.

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Fortunately, many of the people inside apparently had found inner peace, and the loud gong (and your even louder giggling) was merely met by smiles as we bundled you back outside.

The bell tower, properly roped off from inquisitive three-year olds.

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_______

*Grandma

Bukchon Hanok Village

Seoul is a city of contrasts, with historic buildings next to modern ones, all surrounded by buildings that building techniques that are just ancient.   Halmoni’s plan was to take us to Bukchon Hanok Village, a section of Seoul not far from Changdeokgung Palace where the houses (hanoks) were preserved to reflect the feel of the Joseon Dynasty.  Stepping into that little alley feels like steeping back into history.

It’s spectacular, except, as we made our trek from the palace, we passed countless hanoks preserved and being used as homes and restaurants.  The first stop was a mandoo restaurant (serving only mandoo and mandoo guk, of course) a stones throw from the palace walls.  While the dumplings were excellent, I think I spent the entire lunch staring at the plaster and log ceiling and other construction bits of the building.

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Many other houses, restaurants, and shops along the way held the same charm.

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The street famously photographed in Bukchon Hanok Village is located along the side of a hill, allowing a stark contrast between modernity and tradition, with the ancient hanoks backed by the glass and steel skyscrapers.

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As a New Yorker, I felt sympathy for the residents, with flocks of tourists outside, until we were invited inside of one of the hanoks (for a fee) by a tour guide for tea –the residents were spending winter in Peru.  Inside, the traditional building techniques were supplemented by modern fixtures for a unique blend of tradition without sacrificing the comforts of the 21st century (not pictured, the marble and stainless steel kitchen and the tiled bathroom).

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Aside from the tourists, walking around Bukchon is like walking back in time.  A little imagination to remove the utility meters and the power lines, and the quiet streets and ancient architecture suddenly come alive.

Walk a few blocks away, of course, and you reach Insadong, with places like the Ssamzie Mall (one continuous row of shops spiraling around an open air courtyard), full of the bustling energy of youth, selling the latest (and cutesy) trinkets and technology.

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We’ll have to do this part of the trip again, Cookie, since you slept through everything except the hanok tour after lunch.

A Word of Warning about Korean Food in Seoul

Korean food in a word?  AWESOME!

In a second word? dangerous.

First, the awesome.

To state the obvious, Korean food in Korea is everything you’d expect, only better.  Miyeokguk, seolleontang, toboki, doenjangjjiegae, bibimbap, and all the different banchan you can imagine, only not loaded with salt or polluted with corn syrup and other processed foods. There are thousands of little restaurants specializing in one or two dishes (it’s not uncommon to see seating for ten to fifteen, a miniature kitchenette smaller than some camp sites or food trucks, and a menu with less then four items), run by mom and pop (and now grandma and grandpa) proprietors for decades.  Even Korean barbeque (you’d think in Korea, it would just be called “barbeque,” but the sign on every restaurant we went to, even the non-tourist ones, said otherwise), had meat marinated in crushed Korean pears (you’d think it would just be “pears”) instead of corn syrup and roasted over actual charcoal where you can still see the wood grains of the sapling.  This isn’t the gas burners or even the flavorless brickettes common in Korean barbeques in America.  Here, you can smell and taste the wood smoke, with the meat melting like butter underneath the slightest crisp of that hint of char.

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Cookie, you finished an entire 16 oz platter of Galbi by yourself.  As a dad, I couldn’t be prouder.

Second, the danger.

In many American recipes, there’s a phrase to add black pepper to taste to adjust the proper level of spiciness.  If you’re one of those people, you may starve in Korea amidst the bountiful culinary awesomeness of Korean cuisine.  The non-spicy dishes are often filled with black pepper. While not all places are spicy, the spicy dishes…

The below dinner is a great example of the perils of Korean cooking.* 20150212_194407

At the top of the picture is a bowl of ramen that was turned by this particular restaurant into a bowl of fire. At the bottom of the picture is a bowl of toboki served by this establishment as a bowl of hell.  You’d think that the bowl of hell is hotter from that deep red color, but from a pure Scoville perspective, the bowl of fire is actually hotter: it will melt your stomach, torch every square inch of your intestines, and set the toilet on fire afterwards.  It’s not a coincidence that Koreans adopted bidets with a national gusto.  With that in mind, you’d be tempted to think that the bowl of fire is worse than the bowl of hell.  That’s a fatal mistake.

The bowl of hell, while not as blindingly hot as the bowl of hell, doesn’t wash off.  Yeah, that bears repeating.  Once the inferno starts in your mouth and tongue, that red, sticky, pasty stuff torturing every fiber of your being DOES. NOT. COME. OFF.    Do not be fooled into thinking the canned and bland gochujang you had in the states bears any resemblance to the napalm concocted in some of these kitchens by the deceptively kind, old grandmothers in the kitchen.

Which brings me to the second part of the warning:  Koreans are not big on drinking water with meals.**  Most places will have a water cooler or a water dispenser in the corner.  Larger places will have little, emphasis on little, 4 ounce steel cups in a little sterilizer cabinet.  Many places will have smaller paper cups, or worse, a paper envelope that will hold maybe 2 ounces of water if you’re lucky.  Secure ample water ahead of time (bring your own bottle) before sampling local dishes, as you never know when you might stumble upon that one restaurant summoned from the sixth level of damnation serving hellfire with a side of torture.  Trying to put out the five alarm fire from the bowl of hell in slow, 2-ounces increments with water slowly dribbling out of an empty and obviously neglected water cooler into a flimsy envelope that wont stay open is quite painful.

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Envelope and cups next to a standard 8 ounce can for scale.

You’ve been warned.

___________

*  As a matter of perspective, I’m not some bland Midwesterner who can’t handle his heat.    Jalapenos?  Might as well be bell peppers.  Texas chili?  Tasty.  As you know, Cookie, Grandma grows habaneros in the front yard, and these… are far worse than habaneros.

**  Is this ability to tolerate and enjoy heat genetic?  Mommy is perfectly fine with this stuff.  Even you, at 3, aren’t too bothered.  I’ve turned into a fire breathing dragon in need of the paramedics.

Changdeokgung Palace -Secret Garden

Behind Changdeokgung Palace is its Secret Garden, also known to any out-of-shape and sleep-deprived father pushing a stroller as the aerobic exercise from hell.  Don’t get me wrong, pushing a stroller up and down the tortuous hills of the Secret Garden is infinitely better than carrying a sleeping toddler up and down the tortuous hills of the Secret Garden, but there are certain stretches of the place that are quite steep, and other stretches of the place that involve carrying the stroller and the sleeping toddler up a series of steps.

The tour starts ominously up a walled road up a sloped hill.  The tour guide warned of a strenuous walk lasting a several kilometers and kept looking worriedly at our direction.

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On the other side of the first hill, we reached a artificial pond surrounded by four pavilions, the king’s library, sitting room, and accompanying structures.  The pond was frozen over due to the -8 degree weather (I never got whether that was in Celsius or Fahrenheit, though it was sufficiently cold enough to make me question our sanity in the timing of our vacation choices). On the plus side, the tourist sites certainly were not crowded.

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The king’s library, facing the frozen lake:

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For parents with kids, this is the last bathroom opportunity (except of course, for the woods of a national treasure with a stern tourist guide and patriotic citizens standing watch) for the next hour.

Further along is a lake in the shape of Korea (not pictured are the three small austere huts constructed by one of the crown princes to devote himself to study and the greenhouse constructed by the Japanese when they converted the Secret Garden to a zoo) .

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What follows next is a tortuous climb up a mountain. The road is unpaved, though dense (it may have been frozen), so that the only difficulty in pushing the stroller was the incline (I think I saw a mountain goat slip and die out there) and the height.  When we reached yet another pavilion near the top, the tour guide saw the gasping people struggling to stand and called a break.  Those intrepid enough to continue could reach the wine pavilions.  The rest would wait for our return.  Most stayed.

Mommy and I took you to the wine pavilions, where one of the kings had carved little streams into the rock, built pavilions amongst the streams, and floated wine cups between them during poetry readings.  You, of course, were asleep, and didn’t benefit from Mommy and my back breaking climb.

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After a long way down, we reached the recreation of a nobleman’s house.  After the splendor of the palace, it seemed rather plain, though the clean lines and crisp colors made if fit perfectly into the park.

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Small note to my fellow stroller people, the exit to the Secret Garden at the end of the tour consists of 40-ish steps hewn into a rocky hillside.  To avoid climbing that stairway with a stroller, you can exit by retracing your steps (thankfully avoiding the crazy climb to the wine pavilions as the nobleman’s house is close to the scholars huts).  As the Secret Garden is only accessible by the tour, this will allow you the chance to see the garden a second time without a tour guide hurrying you along.