Monthly Archives: September 2009

On the Street

And ready with small bills and change

I could sit and watch a good street performer for hours.

What really fascinates me about these all-the-world’s-a-stage artists is how much they vary from city to city and, directly related, how they really reflect and capture something about where they are.

One of my favorite performers was a combination tap dancer, ball-bouncer and juggler in Barcelona. He was always precise and concentrated, and glanced up at the crowd when his routines ended with a sheepish smile. Sadly, I didn’t shoot a video of the performer myself, but I found a video of him and a friend on YouTube (below).

In Puerto Rico, I spent an afternoon walking around Old San Juan and came across this guitarist playing the song “Guantanamera.” Even though the song is technically Cuban, the scene to me was the essence of Old San Juan: relaxed, colorful, sunny and Spanish. The man sitting next to the guitarist is totally unfazed by his performance or the surroundings, such as the hundreds-year-old convent (now hotel) he was sitting facing. This is everyday for him. Not for me!

Karina for TKGO

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Cannolis, Cassatines and Mille Foglie

Chicago Magazine (in the recent “Best of Chicago” rankings) voted one of my favorite bakeries, Pasticceria Natalina, as the producer of the best cannoli in Chicago. Though the cannolis are decadent and far from any other “cannoli” you may have eaten outside of Italy, this little Sicilian bakery beckons the adventurous taste buds — everything tastes as good as it looks. Two of my favorites are the mille foglie and the cassatine tea cakes.

Below is a TKGO original video on Pasticceria Natalina, where Natalina explains her methods as she goes about the daily grind in the kitchen. Enjoy!

Tara for TKGO

A Flea Market Thrives in Brooklyn

Along with a happenin’ outdoor restaurant

One of our first daytime excursions in New York was over (rather, under) the Hudson to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene. We’d read about the wonders old and new to be found at the city’s largest flea market and given the cloudless spring sky, perusing trinkets seemed the best way to spend a Saturday.

When we finally emerged from the subway stop (the trains get wacky on weekends, a source of repeated frustration) wide-eyed and looking confused, a man sitting on a stoop selling old wares asked if we were looking for the flea market and gave us the two-block directions. “When you’re done there,” he said, “head to Habana Outpost right nearby. It’s their opening day celebration and they have great drinks and food, especially mojitos.” Mojitos? Done deal. That, and because when a cool-seeming local gives you a suggestion, you take it!

At the food and vintage-wear-stuffed Brooklyn Flea, one of us picked up a pair of new, handmade earrings, and the other found a couple vintage necklaces. We also spent plenty of time drooling over the baked goods, ice creams and artisan foods lining the fence.

Habana Outpost was a party. Think live music, outdoor seating, succulent specialty corn out of a neon-colored truck parked outside and minty mojitos churning in solar-powered machines (in fact, sunlight powers the whole restaurant). Because it was the outdoor patio’s opening day, it was packed. We squeezed at a picnic table with some Fort Greene locals with an extra cob of the sour cream-coated, cinnamon-sprinkled specialty corn (which might be the best way to make friends at Habana!). By the end of our conversation — and day — we were talking dreamy plans of lives in brownstones in Fort Greene.

Tara and Karina for TKGO

Spain on my Mind… Again

The first time I visited Spain was on an exchange program in high school. I stayed with a family in the small coastal town of Burriana in the state of Valencia, and after nearly three whirlwind weeks, I left thinking one thing: I have to go back. Fast forward four years, and I returned to Spain for study abroad in Barcelona. I was exploring, blissful and blogging.

My love affair with the country continues even on American soil, something my parents (as well as probably anyone I’ve ever met) know well, which is why they saved on DVR episodes from the PBS documentary series Spain…on the road again. Quick premise: Actress Gwenyth Paltrow, famed chef Mario Batali, New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols criss-cross Spain on a road trip to eat, drink, sightsee and take in its culture. (Funny, sounds exactly like what Tara and I want to do!)

The other night I watched one of the Barcelona episodes, in which the crew visits Bar Inopia. The wife of Ferran Adria (of El Bulli/molecular gastronomy/one of the world’s most renowned chefs acclaim) joins them for a traditional tapas dinner and essentially, the whole episode is a documentary of their meal. It’s a simple episode, but it captures what I loved about eating in Spain. Meals are unrushed, shared experiences focused on appreciating good food and company, where sometimes all you can say in response to your last bite is “Oh my gosh, this is delicious. You have to try it!”

In between bites of tuna tapas slicked in olive oil and sips of full-bodied Spanish wine, someone at the table asked Mario Batali what he wanted to “take back from Barcelona.” “Everything that’s not nailed down!” was his response. Yes, Mario Batali, yes. I know exactly what you mean.

Oh, and, if you’re reading this, Mario, I’d love to join you on the road in Spain…yet again. I’m sure you’ll be back.

The series actually has a great multimedia site — which you know Tara and I appreciate — with galleries, blogs, videos and links. Above is a Barcelona teaser excerpt video, courtesy of the show.

-Karina for TKGO

Toying Around in the East Village

(No, not the adult-only kind, and no again, not the toddler-only kind.)

 

This wind-up tuna nigiri spins in circles before it jets off and spins again a foot away ($2.99; Toy Tokyo, in store only).

This wind-up tuna nigiri spins in circles before it jets off and spins again a foot away ($2.99; Toy Tokyo, in store only), by Tara for TKGO.

 

After Karina’s and my internships (and sublet) ended in mid-June, I found cheap accommodation in the East Village, on 9th Street near Avenue C. (On the corner is a great little Brazilian restaurant, Esperanto, with live music, outdoor seating, $6 caipirinhas and $10 weekend brunch. I sampled the brunch menu with a couple friends the Friday before I left the city, and the dinner menu is equally fantastic and economical. We loved the beef dishes; I ordered a killer beef stew, the special for the night.)

In my last few days in New York, I found myself wandering the streets of my ‘hood, a famously quirky area that houses a mix of artists, hipsters and Puerto Rican immigrants. And if there is a time to go into every curious-looking store you pass, it’s the last week of your six-month stint in the city. So when I passed a sign for “Toy Tokyo” pointing up the black rubber-covered stairs on Second Avenue near 7th Street, I climbed.

This is no Toys R Us. The two rooms at the top of the stairs can only be described as kitsch heaven. I am not a collector of action figures, nor do I worship anyone with a complete set of McDonald’s Smurf toys. But if you want to meet either of these types of people, or if you’d like to become one yourself, this place will quickly turn into a weekly pit stop on your way home from the office.

But just because I don’t recognize any of the alien-faced, army green-colored goons in the back room (reserved for the truly hardcore collectors) does not mean I had the willpower to leave empty-handed. I took home a wind-up piece of tuna nigiri ($2.99), a “surprise” box of mini plastic foods imported from Japan ($4.99, kind of like this one) and a Simpson’s keychain that reads “Where’s Maggie?” ($.99). And in honor of the store’s anniversary, the owner threw in a free “blind pack” with a skeleton warrior. Jackpot!

Find Toy Tokyo at 121 Second Ave 2F (near 7th Street), New York, NY 10003; 212-673-5450; toytokyo.com.

Tara for TKGO

Garlic Flavored Ice Cream

After four months of living and working in New York City, I bid goodbye to the neighborhoods I’d come to love and flew down to Puerto Rico to spend 12 days with my Tía (Aunt) Nora and cousin Annette. I realize I am very lucky to have family living in an awesome place (read: paradise), and it definitely has its perks, among which is the insider knowledge. One of my final days in PR, my aunt took me to an ice cream place in the small mountain town of Lares. (Lares actually was the site of one of the first revolts against Spanish Rule back in the day. Read more here.) “They have garlic ice cream!” is about all she told me beforehand.

Heladería de Lares does have homemade garlic ice cream, along with avocado, cod, rice and beans, and cheese, as well as more traditional sweet treat flavors, like the delicious rum and raisin. The heladería was fairly empty while we were there, so we were able to ask questions and sample a slew of flavors, all of which were light and sweet — even avocado. Corn was my personal favorite and it’s also a top seller, according to the very patient (but after half an hour, slightly annoyed) woman helping us. Small kernels of corn broke up the smooth ice cream, which had the consistency of gelato. Eating it tasted almost like biting into a piece of sweet cornbread. Icy, refreshing cornbread, that is.

The flavors were so intriguing to me that I just had to share them with the world, or at least try. Below is a video of the flavors, which Tía Nora and I attempt (and occasionally fail) to translate along the way. One that proved difficult was quenepa, which is a tropical fruit they sell on produce trucks roadside in PR and also goes by mamoncillo. (If that helps at all. I had no idea what a mamoncillo was, either.) I’ll have to try one of the fruits — and its Heladería de Lares counterpart — when I return!

To taste for yourself: Drive to Lares, which is near Arecibo and Las Cavernas de Camuy, and ask how to get to the famous heladería. Seriously.

-Karina for TKGO

The First Adventure

Nothing will encourage you to get outside and explore like living in a converted two-bedroom apartment at the top of six flights of stairs in the West Village. We came to New York for magazine internships at Condé Nast Traveler and SELF in the spring of 2009, but all work and no play is not our style. We ate our way through the farmers market in Union Square and dumpling houses deep in Chinatown and danced in Bulgarian basement clubs until the horizon lit up. Needless to say, we loved it.

 

Sangria night, a.k.a. the birth of this blog

Sangria night, when the blog was born.

 

A couple of weeks after our arrival in New York, we spent an evening over a pitcher of sangria in a nearby restaurant and lamented the lack of multimedia travel sites that capture the personality of a destination. We believe in traveling to experience, rather than just see landmarks or fill a photo album. This blog is the first step toward a new type of travel site that offers video, audio, photo slideshows and databases of tastes and smells for travelers to explore. We’re using all the tech toys and online components we can in order to convey the authenticity of a place, its soul and pulse.

Everything we write about, photograph, film or record we will have personally test-driven. The name says it all: Tara and Karina Go Out!

Tara and Karina for TKGO