Half-way Around the World in 14 Days

An Epic Trip to New Zealand

Two weeks of hiking, dining, drinking, exploring below the equator

Auckland, New Zealand

Downtown Auckland from the Bay

It was a dream trip 25 years in the making. It has been that long since my sister, Marianne, moved to Auckland, New Zealand  And for 25 years i kept promising i would visit. But you know how it is. But in February i finally bit the bullet and hopped a looooong flight to Kiwi land on Hawaiian Air. I got a very good price with an overnight stop over in Honolulu. Perfect! that meant i could spend a night with my oldest friend, Joe Ferraro and his wife Nadine. Joe picked me up at the airport around 5:00 and brought me back to their bungalow-style home in Manoa. After a shower and a change into the appropriate shorts and flowered shirt we had a beer on the patio and headed out for dinner on the beach. i have to say, the minute my feet touched ground in Hawaii i could feel the tension seeping out of my body. And it continued into New Zealand. Even the prospect of a nine  hour flight hard on the heels ao a 11 1/2 hour flight and an hour and half delay in taking off from Honolulu due to an equipment problem, couldn’t raise my temperature.

Touchdown in Kiwiland

I arrived in New Zealand late Tuesday night. Marianne was there to meet with at the airport.And i really didn’t feel that bad after the 20 hour trip. Here’s the key: I laid out an extra 75 bucks each leg for exit row/bulkhead seating. well worth it? no knees jammed into the seat back in front of me. no getting pissed off at the person in front of me. There was no person in front of me!

Day 1: Exploring downtown Auckland

Wednesday i got my first look at Auckland. I threw on a t-shirt and a pair a shorts and set out. Yes, it is hilly! My sister’s house is in the Eden Terrace neighborhood of Auckland, just a 20 minutes walk from downtown. I just kind of nosed around downtown. You know how when you go to Boston and you’re walking around and suddenly you wonder, Hey where are all the people? well, it’s not like that in Auckland. not in downtown Auckland anyway. Lots of people walking around. I stopped at the Crown on Custom St. for a pint. It’s a brewpub where i enjoyed a pilsner. Though i thought the $12 price for a pint was a bit steep. But stop to figure it out. The exchange makes that $12 $10.20 American. Also, note that there is no tipping in New Zealand, so knock another 2 bucks off of that and you have an $8 pint. that seems about right. Later Marianne and i went out for dinner at, YUZU,  a Japanese place in Mt. Eden. the miso orange roughy was fantastic.

Day 2: Discovering the Auckland Domain

I took a commuter train to Grafton and walked a few steps to the Domain. Wow! What a place. i entered it from behind a small grandstand that sat at the edge of a depression or bowl. it wasn’t until later that i learned it was one of the many volcano craters dotting the city. Athletes were running, stretching, playing cricket. (Well, maybe calling the cricketeers athletes is a bit of a stretch.) i was there to visit the winter garden but had to hunt a bit to find it in the vastness of the Domain.

The Wintergarden in the Auckland Domain

The Wintergarden

The winter garden is a smallish conservatory with a beautiful annual house, and a tropical room with a lovely courtyard. I found the lovely Wintergarden Cafe outside the courtyard and enjoyed a delicious lunch of a warm salad and a Steingarden beer.

More to come…

Ibsen and Quebecois Cuisine in Brooklyn

A Great Performance of A Doll’s House

Then Dinner at Mile End

The Gallery Seats at BAM Harvey Theatre are found after a hike up a long flight of stairs. My front roll seat hung over the stage. And that turned out to be a perfect perspective to view the gripping performance of A Doll’s House by  the Young Vic Company    From high above, the remarkable set did indeed appear as a doll’s house. Set up on a huge turntable, the set revolved to reveal several rooms of the apartment: first the living room, Nora’s bedroom, the dining room, Torvad’s cramped study, a hallway. From above you can watch characters scurry from room to room during the set change. it’s fascinating and adds to the mood of the play.

All of this provides a background for the actors and the words to shine. Hattie Morahan as Nora commanded the stage. every second, something seemed imminent. she was constantly on the verge of… something. It could be good. it could be bad. it could be utterly insane. She was, in short, bottled up. Domini Rowan as her husband Torvald played the bottler beautifully. he was charmingly disarming as the controlling husband. In the last act, his drunk scene was pitch perfect, followed by a maelstrom of conflicting emotions. Together, they were on fire.

I literally found myself holding my breath as the last scene unfurled in all of its power.

From fiery emotion to smoked meat

Whew! After all that drama i needed a drink and some comfort food. I had heard great things about Mile End and its Quebecois cuisine, and after having enjoyed the same in many visits to Montreal i was down with it, so i took a short walk over to Hoyt and Atlantic to give it a shot. It’s a small place, diner-like with a short counter and a few communal tables. I sat at the counter and knew immediately what i wanted, the smoked meat and poutine with pickle platter. I enjoyed a Two Heart ale as i waited. good IPA.

The dish arrived.

Mile End Special

Smoked meat sandwich with poutine and pickle at Mile End

It was as epic as promised. The rich, juicy smoked meat was piled high on rye. the poutine fries were fresh and crispy (until the absorbed the homemade chicken gravy) and the cheese curds were perfectly melted.

The ambiance was great. The staff was friendly and happy to talk smoked meat. All in all it was a perfect Brooklyn afternoon.

24 Hours in Beantown

A Short Post-Christmas Trip to Boston

Last year, my wife and i spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Boston, visiting family, sampling restaurants, getting some culture at the Gardener Museum, getting some History at Paul Revere’s House.  We stayed at the Boston Park Plaza in one of the biggest hotel rooms i ever saw. This year, i went solo and booked a “petite” room at the same Park Plaza—with some trepidation. I like this hotel though. great location, just a few blocks from the Boston Common, Boylston st, Newbury street. what i don’t like is the $12 surcharge PER DAY for WiFi.photo(1)

But the petite room turned out to be fine and after i dumped my stuff off, Emme and i drove off to pick up Zea at South Station. She was coming in from Maine, where she spent Christmas with her in-laws. Where to eat? that was the question on everyone’s lips. The answer? The Gallows. I had been there once, for brunch and didn’t require any arm-twisting. At the Gallows, we started with their pulled pork stuffed corn muffin to share. Well, i use the term share loosely. Zea pretty much claimed it. Fabulous! then it was on to the main course.

Earlier, we had decided we would “eat light” after the excesses of Christmas. But by now we had worked up an appetite and when confronted with the menu, i knew it was burger time. I opted for the Carpetbagger with fired oysters atop. Zea chose the Maleson Melt with chanterelle, and porcini-morel butter. Emme, though, zeroed in on the poutine. specifically the daily Out of Control poutine, tonight made with bone marrow gravy. Wow!

Friday night, we hit another, small, beer-centric pub of the type that seems to characterize Boston. This time it was The Five Horses Tavern in the South End. Our mantra again was
“Eat Light!,” but that didn’t happen. not after i got a look at the menu.As son as i spotted it i knew i would have the k.f.c.g.h. With Kentucky fired Cornish game hen, jalapeno mashed potatoes and pork belly mac and cheese, it was comfort food times three. And it did not disappoint.

Fried Cornish Game Hen, Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes and Mac & Cheese

Dinner at Five Horses in Boston

Both of these fine establishments had amazing beer menus–bottled and on tap. And Five Horses happily seated our party when only  four of  six were present. When’s the last time something like that happened in New York?

 

 

Holiday Magic at the NYBG Train Show

An Amazing Display of Miniatures

Must-sees in New York for the Holidays include the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and the Rockettes Christmas Show, the store windows on 5th Avenue—all enduring New York Christmas traditions. But none of them outshine the annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.

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The George Washington Bridge reaches toward the Conservatory ceiling at the NYBG Holiday Train Show

 

For those who don’t know, the Holiday Train Show takes over the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory during the holiday season. Throughout the exhibit, model trains zip around New York landmark replicas made of plant parts such as nuts, bark, and leaves, There’s the George Washing Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and of course, the Brooklyn Bridge. Want buildings? Rockefeller Center, the Flatiron Building, City Hall, Macy’s, even Yankee Stadium (!) —all painstakingly constructed of nuts, seeds, twigs, leaves, roots. Each structure is more marvelous than the next. Even the most hardened Scrooge is bound to be swept into the holiday spirit by the experience of viewing this remarkable buildings as model trains wind past them. The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show runs through January 12.

Macy's at NYBG
Lauren shopping at Macy’s. There is even a Christmas Display in the tiny windows!
Warren Schultz at New York Botanical Garden Train Show.
Batter up at Yankee Stadium!
JFK airport
Yes, it is the TWA Building at JFK, complete with “plant-based” airplanes on the runway.
This incredible display is the work of Paul Busse. And Paul is not one to rest on his laurels. Every year, he creates new buildings for the show. And this year, “The Artist’s Studio” exhibit reveals his step-by-step process for creating the exhibit.
You can purchase tickets here.

Booking it in East Hampton

Lauren Visits Authors’ Night in East Hampton.

East Hampton Library's Authors Night 2013

Marcus Samuelsson (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz))

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Gwyneth Paltrow (photo by danielgonzalezphotography.com)

I recently had the pleasure of attending one of the best summer events in the Hamptons— Authors Night. If you don’t know, this is when authors, most with local ties, show up to sign their books and chat with fans to benefit the East Hampton Library. I just couldn’t stop rubbernecking there were so many celebs! Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband—Chris Martin of Coldplay, chef Marcus Samuelson, Nelson DeMille, Nile Rogers, Dr. Ruth, Phillipe Petit, Kelly Bensimon, Lynn Scher and, of course, Alec Baldwin. It was a swell evening with good food and drink. I actually got to talk to these authors about their recent works and buy an autographed copy of their latest tome. DJ Bonnie Grice was interviewing for the local station. Fun was had by all!

After the signing, authors were invited to dinners hosted by local fans. Boo hoo! I wasn’t invited to that, but I did have an awesome time and it was all to benefit the library in East Hampton.

East Hampton Library's Authors Night 2013

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly (photo by Sonia Moskowitz)

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Nelson DeMille (photo by danielgonzalezphotography.com)

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Writers and readers filled the tent in East Hampton. (photo by danielgonzalezphotography.com)

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Nile Rodgers (photo by danielgonzalezphotography.com)

I have always loved going to the library. Reading a book can transport you to anywhere in the world. I have to give kudos to the Amagansett library and my peeps that work there! I’m always demanding that they get me this or that. And they cheerfully do. Ah well, I don’t have to wait a whole year to read anything. I’m just going to my library.

Chefs & Champagne

A Great Night for Food and Fun in the Hamptons

lauren is feelin’ the love at wofflers

Andrew Zimmern does not think Lauren is Weird.

Andrew Zimmern does not think Lauren is bizarre. All photos by Gemma Kahng.

 

Today I was so feelin’ the love on Long Island. I’m talking about the passion displayed at the James Beard Foundation Chefs and Champagne New York event at Wolffer estate in da Hamptons. The chefs so tenderly presented their creations. They were lovingly displayed and prepared with care. Many “hot” chefs were represented their from the tri state area including Masaharu Morimoto with his tuna trio, Eric Miller from Madison & Main with his grilled Montauk pearl oysters, and Stefan Karlsson from Sweden with his salmon tartare.  I had a hard time working because it was difficult not to spend all my time stuffing my face with all the goodies available. I also got to take a photo with the JBF award winner Andrew Zimmern star of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods

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Masaharu Morimoto lovingly created and served a Tuna Trio to appreciative guests at Chefs & Champagne.

Besides feeding me—and hundreds of others— the Foundation does stellar work giving students scholarships that honor and nurture America’s diverse culinary heritage.  They educate and inspire the young to be creative and learn their craft whether it’s food, wine, champagne, or whatever. They also had very cool items and travel opportunities to bid on both online and in person. All and all it was a fun time had by me —and all. I think everybody gained at least five pounds!  The only problem is I have to wait a whole year for such fine food grazing. In the meantime, I’ve just have to visit some of the restaurants that were represented there.

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Wofflers in Sagaponnick was the scene for Chefs like Stefan Karlsson

Chef Stefan Karlsson from Fond restaurant in Sweden served Tuna Tartare.

B. Smith and her man enjoy the evening.

B. Smith and her man enjoy the evening.

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Rosa Ross from Scrimshaw in Greenport.

Rosa Ross from Scrimshaw in Greenport.

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Dance Against Cancer

All Stars Take the Stage in Dance Against Cancer

I normally do feel just a bit sheepish attending a charity benefit with a press comp. I mean, all of these other folks are laying out big bucks to go toward whatever good cause it happens to be. I’m freeloading. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the drinks and canapes. This time i felt especially sheepish because the cause was one with which i have had a personal encounter: cancer.

But enough about me, and enough about the food. The main event was the dance performance and it was amazing. It was like an All Star Game of dance. Dancers from all the major New York companies took the stage. And each performed with energy, passion, and precision.

 

Dance Against Cancer

For the Love of Ivy

Yum yum gimme some…..more Ivy restaurant! What a feast I just had. Lobster tacos layered shrimp and avocado sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon and onion covered in cheese. Generous appetizer portions with fair prices. It’s mostly bar food but a bit more upscale than most. My friend had a pomegranate drink and was feeling no pain. I highly recommend this restaurant on 56 and 8th if you are ever in the hood!

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A Late Quartet

Philip Seymour Hoffman Leads a Great Cast

I hope my husband’s not reading this but, Wow! How much do I love Phillip Seymour Hoffman? More than I can say!  In his new movie, “A Late Quartet” he gives a bravura performance. He, Christopher Walken, Katherine Keener and Mark Ivanir, make up a string quartet called Fugue. They actually become as close as a family with all the rivalries and dysfunction that normal families endure. Over the course of the film, resentments build and tempers flair. It’s a kind of  Woody Allen New York love story combined with some anally retentive musicians. if you want to see awesome performances see Yaron zilberman’s new movie.

“A Late Quartet”

Citizen Hearst

Lauren Thinks Something is Fishy with Citizen Hearst

The third flick I went to see at the 2012 HIFF was “Citizen Hearst”. So,  I’m sitting in the theatre thinking this is great… well good… but then I begin to wonder “hmmmm is this an ad for the  Hearst Publishing Company? .  Leslie Iwerks’ new movie “Citizen Hearst” starts off great, with old footage of Hearst, his San Simeon castle lifestyle, and his magazines. But it turns into one big promotion for all current Hearst TV channels and magazines. Academy-award-nominated Iwerks answered audience questions at the end of the flick in East Hampton and revealed that Hearst was a sponsor of her movie. Yup, I knew something was fishy. The best thing about the movie for me was sitting next to the fab China Machado, who was the first women of color featured in the Hearst magazine Harpers Bazaar

Film at the Hamptons Film Festival

William Macy narrates this documentary about the larger-than-life William Randolph Hearst