In honor of Valentine's Day, here is my favorite NYC date place of all time:
Every Fri and Sat evening, from 4pm-8:30pm, the balcony of the Metropolitan Museum becomes a cocktail bar with small tables and live classical music. It's not particularly expensive, but the setting is unexpected and romantic, the music is always good, and the drinks and snacks - like a small cheese plate - are lovely. Last call is at 8pm, so meet your date there after work or as a romantic prelude to dinner.
(Note: they might want you to "buy" a ticket to get into the museum, but the "donation" is technically suggested, so just tell them you're only going to the balcony bar and just head upstairs - of course, if you really want to impress your date you could give a couple dollars)
Remember how great Valentine's Day was when you were a kid? The rule was that if you were going to give Valentine's Day cards you had to give them to everyone. Everyone looked forward to the day because when you're eight-years-old you're not exactly worried about being dateless on the most official romantic night of the year. So this weekend, why not recreate that experience? Get a bunch of friends together to make homemade cards out of colored paper, glitter and ribbon, and celebrate the holiday the way you did when you were in pigtails (only this time the pink martinis won't just be pink lemonade).
Graham at NoodlePie.com has posted about the way the Vietnamese celebrate the lunar new year, know as Tet in Vietnamese, with great links to information about the country's traditions and the celebrations going on in Saigon. So if Chinatown's a little too crowded this weekend, head to your nearest Vietnamese shop instead for a helping of banh tet.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! It's Chinese New Year! The perfect opportunity to celebrate all things Chinese. New Years Day itself is on Sunday, but most Chinatowns around the country have already begun their celebrations with festivals, parades, and community gatherings all week long. So this week, explore your nearest Chinese community - go out for a dinner of sesame beef and snow pea leaves, shop for teapots and bamboo steamers with a hot cup of bubble milk tea, or spend Sunday morning eating dim sum.
Traditional Chinese New Year decorations include red paper cut-outs like the one above and banners with the character Fu, or Fortune, which are hung upside down for luck ("fallen" and "arrive" are synonyms in Mandarin, so when a child says "the Fu has fallen down" it sounds like he is saying "the Fu has arrived"). It is also traditional to eat tangerines on the new year because their shape and color are reminicent of the money we would all like to earn in the coming year.
It's tedious, difficult, time consuming, and sometimes painful. But in the end, it's just so good!
Some dishes are a cook's nightmare: they're difficult to make but so tasty that you just have to give in sometimes, dedicating hours to chopping, mixing, searing, mincing, and grating. We wait for excuses to make these dishes - birthdays we need to make something special for, dinner guests we need to impress, or holidays that need to be celebrated (Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all come to mind). And when we've finally finished the cooking and take that first wonderful bite, we promise ourselves that we won't wait this long again to get back in the kitchen and make it again. (But of course we do.)
So this weekend, give yourself an excuse to make that one perfect food you've been craving. Have the neighbors over or call your closest friends, and make the bird, roast, soup, or pie you've been waiting for.
Or better yet, just make it for yourself...then there will be leftovers.
Now that the first week of the new year is coming to a close, we can all start thinking seriously about the resolutions we've made and how we're going to follow through with them. Of course, the best way to build a new habit or work toward a goal is to get your friends helping you, so this weekend, get a group of friends who've resolved to exercise and hit the track, or a group of writers together to get inspiration for those short stories, novels, and autobiographies. You'll feel like you're finally getting the year off on the right track, and it will be a lot more fun than doing it youself.
Most of the year you restrict your singing to the shower or the car. Belting out your favorite songs or musical classics like "Surry With A Fringe On The Top", you listen to your voice, echoing nicely off the walls of the shower, and think I actually sound pretty good. Well, now that Christmas has come, you can test your skills in front of a real audience. This weekend, before Christmas Eve dinner or after opening presents under the tree, grab some like-minded friends and head out to entertain your neighbors (or, if you're nervous, someone else's neighbors) with heartfelt renditions of Christmas favorites like Silent Night and I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas. If your neighborhood isn't conducive to caroling, head to the nearest retirement or convalescent home and brighten the residents' day by getting them to join in on the fun.
Want to throw a Christmas party but don't have the energy or resources to buy a case of alcohol and turn your apartment into a holiday club? Have a few of your friends over on a weekend afternoon to make and decorate Christmas cookies. Just put a pot of cider on the stove (with a bottle of rum on the side in case your guests are feeling festive) and get out the cookie cutters. If your kitchen is big enough to be the center of your home, throw some batter in the fridge in the morning and let your guests make the cookies, and if not, make a couple batches the day before and let your guests indulge their inner artists (and inner children) with bowls of icing tinted with food coloring.
The beautiful sight of falling snow and the fun of winter sports are our rewards for suffering through the long cold months of winter. Now that the thermometer has dropped below 30°, playing in the snow is the only incentive we have to get us out of our warm apartments and into the fresh air. So after the snow storm this Friday, take your friends outside for a little fun - throw snowballs, make snow angels, or make tiny snowmen (like the one my nieces made last weekend); even if there are only two inches of snow it will be winter at its finest.
This week is the Global Salesblood Drive (thanks to Seth's Blog for the heads-up), so start the weekend off generously. Get a group of friends and family together, pack some gourmet cookies and fresh apple cider, and make an appointment to give blood. You can hold each other's hands through the nervous parts, celebrate at the end with cookies, and give a tremendous gift with only an hour of your time.
Thanksgiving food is some of the most comforting in the world, and everyone has specific ideas about what dishes the Thanksgiving feast is supposed to include. Some people can't fathom a Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes while others need candied yams and cranberry sauce from a can to get in the holiday mood. But if you're not cooking the Thanksgiving feast yourself or going home to your mom's version, the chances that you're going to get the exact meal you want is pretty slim. So this weekend, head off your holiday cravings by staging an early intervention feast with your friends; everyone can bring the dishes they crave the most and you can have the meal you want (free from family tensions) before heading to your cousins' or in-laws next Thursday.
Want to have people over for dinner but still retain the relaxed feeling of a long cocktail hour with snacks? Take inspiration from the dinners my father experienced in Russia last month and have a relaxed, marathon dinner without the usual work and stress of cooking a full-course meal. Start with a long hour of passed appetizers like smoked fish or antipasti that you can serve the way they came from the store (in Russia the signature part of this course is caviar, but that's not really in our budget), then serve bowls of a no-fuss soup that you can leave simmering on the stove until you need it, and follow it up with a salad you can toss together without thinking and an entree that can be made ahead of time and left alone like a lasagna that you can leave in a slightly warm oven or a turkey that needs to sit to absorb its juices. To finish it up, serve fruit, cheese, cake, coffee, or whatever else you find sitting in your cabinets. But don't forget, for a real Russian feast, you'll also need a lot of vodka!
So now that you've got bags of frozen dumplings in your freezer, what do you do this weekend? Why throw a dim sum party, of course. Gather your friends, pour some Oolong tea, and impress everyone with your ability to cook up authentic Chinese fare (and your knowledge of proper bamboo basket usage). To round out the menu, drop by a Chinese bakery for buns stuffed with red bean paste and rice flour dough filled with sugared peanuts and rolled in coconut. (No Chinatown handy? Any Asian market will have Japanese daifuku - round, soft disks of sticky rice flour stuffed with red bean paste - that will do the trick.) And don't worry about saving these treats for dessert; in Chinese cuisine, the sweet dishes are served alongside the savory dishes to provide the most contrast between the flavors.
Halloween on a Monday - not exactly a night you want to stay out late at crazy parties (and you're probably going to do that all weekend anyway). So how do you celebrate the holiday that celebrates the scarier, darker side of life? Grab your friends, make dinner, and rent a couple Hitchcock classics or hair-raising horror flicks. Who knows - it might be the first Halloween in years that you actually go to bed feeling afraid of the dark.
Now that the weather is finally cold enough for sweaters and blazers over our jeans, it really feels like Fall. What to do to celebrate the season? Enjoy the weather and Fall produce all at once with a trip to an apple orchard. Pick your own Empires and Cortlands straight from the trees, drink cider, and search for the first changing leaves of the season. If you're in the NY area, there are some places that you can get to through public transportation (Gothamist published a good updated list recently) or pile into a car with a blanket, a thermos of cocoa, some sandwiches, and your friends for a great weekend party.
Every fall you buy new sweaters, skirts, pants, scarves, and whatever else you might need for the cold weather ahead. A few months later, as summer approaches, you buy blouses, skirts, sandals, and bathing suits. Your bank account goes empty while your closets get crowded. Is there a solution to both these problems? The Apartmentalist came up with a great one last spring when she held a clothes swap party. Everyone brought the clothes that they didn't want/didn't fit into anymore, traded for clothes they did want, and helped take everything left over to the Salvation Army. Now that the weather's turning again, we can't wait to do it again.
More people move in September than in any other month all year long. People pack all their stuff into boxes, load them into over-packed cars and vans, carry everything up small, cramped stairs, and try to turn a new, empty space into a home.
Some people move in on Monday, are hanging pictures on the walls by Wednesday, and make fresh mojitos and homemade mini quiches for the housewarming party on Friday. Other people take all their boxes upstairs, dig through them for the sheets and blankets, then get up the next morning to go to work and are still facing boxes when Friday night rolls around. For your friends who fall into the second category, why not throw a different kind of housewarming party? Grab a group of friends, order pizza, and help paint, unpack and warm up a new home. (And next week your friend can make you martinis with the time she would have spent unpacking.)
Netflix has changed our life. Not only do we get to rent all kinds of foreign films we'd usually have a hard time finding, but we can also rent whole seasons of our favorite shows (and share them with our friends). So for the most relaxed weekend party you can think of, pick a show everyone's been wanting to see (like the first season of The Wire or Entourage), buy some bottles of wine and some good snacks, and lounge in the air conditioning while you're waiting out the heat wave of this Indian Summer.
Just because you don't have a backyard or a roof-deck doesn't mean you can't host a barbeque. A couple weeks ago our friend Kevin threw a wonderful barbeque in the courtyard of a bar that just opened in our neighborhood. The bar still doesn't have a solid following and is often half empty, so they were thrilled to get an extra 60 customers for the evening, we got a great place to grill, and everyone had fun.
Of course, for those who don't have a grill they can carry around the city, many public parks have grills the public can use. Some require reservations, but others simply require sending someone early in the day to stake a claim. I don't know about you, but I'm going to grab some hot dogs, find a grill, and take advantage of the outdoors before the good weather disappears forever.
Too old to go "Back to School"? That's no reason you can't celebrate it. Make it an opportunity to get together with your old school friends. Drag out the photo albums, tease each other, reminisce and talk about your summers. It's like that first day back at school, but with wine.
Given my obsession with summer produce, it's not surprising that summer is my favorite time to have people over for brunch. The possibilities for berries and whipped cream with scones, fruit tarts, and fresh jellies are endless. Even just some slices of melon and a wedge of cheese with a baguette can make a perfect morning.
Of course, my favorite thing about brunch in the summer is that you can have it outside. A backyard would be nice, but I'd settle for an accessible roof or a brunch picnic in the park. You can sit in the sun, sip orange juice, and just breath in the warmth. Is there anything better than summer?
With all the beautiful produce this time of year, it's hard not to want to do some serious cooking. You want to try your hand at gazpacho, play with corn on the cob, and turn all those delicious peaches and blueberries into pies. And that's even before you see the picture of gin and tonics with fresh mint on the cover of Saveur. But making a meal that complicated could take all weekend.
So what do you do? A potluck of course! Get all your food lover friends together and you can each try the recipe you're most excited about. I did just that with my friends a couple weeks ago; we had a great salad, some amazing chicken, yummy potato salad, and a still-warm peach pie (a recipe of my mother's I've been wanting to try for a while). It was one of the highlights of my summer, and I can't wait to do it again as soon as possible.
One of the best things about summer is the ability to go on a picnic. You sit on the grass with your friends, look around at the trees, and you're brain loosens up as you remember that "Aaah, it's summer!"
Of course some people spend all day making lobster salad, deviled eggs and a homemade tart, then pack everything in a wicker picnic basket with champagne flutes and a bottle of bubbly. And that sounds divine. But be realistic — if you wait until you have the time (not to mention the moolah) to do all that, you'll never get outside.
So instead, grab an old duvet cover or some beach towels, pick up a roasted chicken and sides at a nice supermarket (I love Fairway's options), and stuff it all in a plastic bag. Believe me, when you're out there with your toes in the grass, none of your friends will complain.