Spring might be here, moving quietly among us—it’s unclear—but the calendar orders us to behave as if it is. I know I’m still cold every weekend in Prospect Park, sunny skies or not, watching our kids’ games. I spend much of each contest remarking with indignant shock how chilly it is. I’m optimistically, chronically underdressed, and I end up grasping thin fabrics across my body to keep out the wind. April is the I’ll never learn month, every year. But still, it’s what we have to work with in New York. And it’s flat-out time To Do Spring Things before summer arrives and turns Brooklyn into a stifling, odiferous ghost town. Once the reliable, incessant rains of April have passed, May in Brooklyn is delightful, filled with all kinds of promise. Promises such as: It will smell like sautéed garbage in July and August, so go out and enjoy your city right now.
If you don’t have six distinct youth sports engagements this weekend like we do, plus a handful of birthday parties, there are many ways to pass the time, both in activity and repose. Do tell me what it’s like out there in the world. I’ll be watching four and a half footers kick and dribble balls, which is very pleasant, and then laundering the pounds of soccer gear that have become festooned with recycled tire bits and curly green fibers from the park, which is not as pleasant. (At a recent dinner party for showered grownups, I looked down and saw a cluster of the fake grass clinging to my pant leg. I hadn’t been to the soccer fields in a week.)
As always, there is an abundance of good things to eat and to see and to do. I picked out a few rewarding encounters that I’ve had in the last few weeks.
You can sate yourself, incrementally and with small, globally varied food servings, at the new Smorgasburg Brooklyn Bridge Park. No one needs another reason to visit the lively and stunning waterfront—the roller skating rink on Pier 2 is underway!—but I must praise the Flea’s All Food Market at Pier 5, which happens each Sunday and boasts 100 vendors. My not-even-anything-else-is-close favorite items during recent Sundays have been from a vendor called Outer Borough. They serve delicious, Taiwanese inspired food. Try the addictive Egg & Chinese Sausage Pancake—yes, pancake—which had me wishing it was triple the size. (Be warned that everything at Smorgasburg is two-thirds the size that it should be and then just Accept.)
The texture of the pancake and the flavor of the spicy-sweet sausage are truly unique. At least it is if you don’t eat a ton of Taiwanese cuisine. Which I don’t, but clearly should. Bring loads of sunblock—there is no shade while you inhale your treats by the sparkling waterfront. Ample Hills Ice Cream is there permanently too, and there’s not much to say about that that you don’t already understand.
There are the you-can’t-go-wrong-they’re-just-so-pleasing-to-look-at cherry blossoms. Hey, wake up! I know you know this already. But look, they’re here right now at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I know you’ve done it a million times. I know it’s as crowded as a club during peak bloom. But still, strolling with pink all around you, and in every direction, is a rare and lovely thing. The Cherry Esplanade is a field of soft green grass bordered by two alleés of the stunning blossoms, and walking around in there can make your mind soar. I don’t mind when all the blossoms have fallen, either, creating a luxurious pink carpet under your feet. It’s dreamy.
If you’re freezing while walking the Esplanade, spread your love and admiration around the gardens, not just the greatest hits which are oversubscribed, and be sure to visit the Desert Pavilion. This particular house of plants is my favorite spot of all. I made many visits with my family during this endless, bleak winter. The temps inside the humid dome and all the craggy, hot weather cacti and varied succulents provided a spirit-lifting jolt. I always left feeling as if I’d had a restorative, bone-warming bath. You’ll find psychedelic looking cacti, beautiful succulents, shrubs with badass attitude, and purdy wildflowers from all over the world—the American Southwest, Mexico, Peru, Chile, South Africa and North Africa, as well. The magnificent plants in this dome have always seemed so alive with surly personality and heart! After the New York winter of 2013-2014, it’s informative to behold the ways desert plant-life develops measures in order to thrive in extreme climates. All we have to do to survive is buy more Polartec. For now. Looking ahead, I’d recommend a canoe.
Eat in Greenpoint the next time you’re planning a dinner out. River Styx, on Greenpoint Avenue, is currently making the Best Nachos in the World. I’ve checked and this turns out to be a real fact. They arrive in a composed, angled pile with sliced radishes, sprigs of cilantro, chives, jalapenos and spicy, shredded chicken. And let’s not fool ourselves, the most important part: a sauce of silky, melted American cheese mixed with heavy cream. We get them sitting at the bar, with a cold glass of the Muller-Thurgau, and ingest them with our hands at a speed not advisable in public. The dining area and the bar are casually sexy—peeling wall finishes painted grayish sage, beautiful mirrors, and two landings of intimate tables. I love a restaurant with steps. The overall effect and scene is nautical, but not preppy—the ocean liner design stands out in a sea of establishments attempting to create memorable atmosphere. Because, after all, it’s nice to feel like you’re having dinner far away, floating off to someplace distant. And also, it’s nice because of the Best Nachos in the World part.
Our kids demand a couple of trips each season to Coney Island. Yours do too. It’s fun, but the amusements of Luna Park are not cheap. The purchasing system for tickets routinely baffles us, but once that’s secured and we’ve handed over the better part of a weekly budget, there aren’t many things more wonderful than watching your kids’ faces as they whirl around on rides that would herniate all the discs in my back. If the powerful pull towards Nathans doesn’t take us hostage, we break from the predictable routine and eat at Totonno’s Pizzeria on Neptune Avenue, where it doesn’t matter if you’ve dined “with them before,” and there is little room for choice, and no one needs to “tell you about the menu.” All of this lack of chatter and options is excellent when feeding four hungry children.
And speaking of feeding kids, I highly recommend Gloria’s on Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights. On the hunt for Caribbean food, we took our family there and ate the freshest and most delicious roti—we had the vegetarian pumpkin, the curry beef, and the potato and channa. Plus huge containers of steaming hot chicken soup we couldn’t have finished with ten additional people. Great Caribbean music blares from the speakers—our children were gleeful about the volume—and after feeding six people to maximum fullness, we’d only spent $40. Forty Dollars. In Brooklyn, this happens less often than Martin Amis sightings at the Met Grocer.
I’d love to pivot to homefront viewing now—because you can’t be outside your home eating Taiwanese breakfasts and frolicking in carpets of cherry blossom all the time. I need to share major enthusiasm for a new HBO sitcom, Silicon Valley. It’s a Mike Judge show, creator of Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill and cult favorite, Office Space. The show is set in Palo Alto and follows the exploits of six socially challenged programmers—and possibly imminent multi-millionaires—as they attempt to claim their stake in the gold rush climate of Silicon Valley. The performances are riotous. And painfully awkward. Christopher Evan Welch, who sadly passed away at age 48 after the first season was shot, gives THE standout performance as Peter Gregory, a brilliant, wealthy investor who suffers most prominently from excruciating interpersonal awkwardness. His character will be terribly missed in Season 2, which has already been ordered by HBO.
A recent love affair I had with Doll & Em, another HBO half-hour comedy, starring real life friends, Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells, completely stole my heart. They are so smart. And so very, very funny. The resonant writing and plotting illuminate the complications, competitions and love between these two intelligent women, and feels like a triumph. They will make you shrink into your couch, cringing with mortification. For them, for yourself. Order yourself up some Doll & Em straight away. Get your cringe on—in the safety of your own home.
Mother’s Day is nearing, and if you’re wondering about a gift for a particular mother you might know, like, or love, visit my amazing and talented friend Lotta Jansdotter’s shop here, Her studio is right in Gowanus, and it’s a destination stop for global travelers. Over the years, I’ve bought various mothers in my midst some of Lotta’s bags, dishware, and notebooks. Beautiful objects, all, much appreciated by the receivers.
On the domestic shores, everyone I know, have ever known, or will presumably come to know, is evangelizing for the NutriBullet. I have a number of emails in my inbox with links to the gadget sent from friends. This nifty little blender/extractor has become a popular fixture on the crowded countertops of Lilliputian Brooklyn kitchens because it’s small and easy to clean. My daughter wants one for “black & white milkshakes.” I suppose I need one too. For Superfood-stuffs? Not milkshakes? What if I add flax? Alright. Fine. This too, is a nice Mother’s Day item for my loved ones to bookmark if other sparkly baubles in silk pouches are not already secured.
When I get my tiny NutriBullet, I’ll have to be prepared to spend even more time avoiding putting green juices into my juices. And should I fail to become an adherent to a liquefied diet because I’m stuck on ballfields and ballcourts all weekend, I can dine at the snack bar by the soccer fields—which just happens to make the best egg, bacon and cheese sandwich I’ve had in ages. They GRILL the roll. And melt the cheese with artistic precision. It’s the kind of sandwich that you discuss the greatness of the entire time you’re consuming the sandwich. The NutriBullet can’t do that, no sir. If you’ve got the dreaded 8 a.m. soccer game on a Saturday morning, this information, and this sandwich, will be indispensable to you.
Now, onward. And put your umbrella away! The only things falling are pink blossoms.
This essay first appeared on The South Brooklyn Post on May 1, 2014.