I know it when I see it...

Looking back at 9/11 through a Window on the World

September 11, 2011

In June, 2001, I was in New York City attending an obscure literary conference. For a quick getaway, my husband had arranged to take the train from Washington and meet me in New York when the conference ended so that we could fly from JFK Airport to Barcelona where we would join family.   My expense account didn't provide for an additional night at a hotel, but we were able to secure a family discount at the Marriott World Trade Center, and despite being in the "boring" financial district we decided to stay the night there.  

Matches from Windows on the World weeks before the restaurant was no more. (Photo by: Leslie Maysak) Matches from Windows on the World weeks before the restaurant was no more.
At the top of the World Trade Center, there was a lovely restaurant called "Windows on the World," with sweeping views of New York and beyond. Having never been there, we took the long elevator ride to the 107th floor to have a look around.  We took some photos of ourselves in front of the windows. After grabbing a few boxes of matches from the bar to add to our "been there, done that" collection we headed out for the evening.  Our flight left for Barcelona the next day and we flew home to Washington at the end of our trip.
Matches from a different angle. (Photo by: Leslie Maysak) Matches from a different angle.
A few months later, in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, I went hunting for the photos and the match boxes from the restaurant.  Searching my digital photos, I was surprised and confused not to find any from Windows.  Had the flash ruined the pictures in front of the windows and I later deleted them?  In any case they were gone.  When I looked at the match boxes (essentially for the first time), I realized that the design on the package was three-sided and only complete when three boxes were placed end to end.  But I have only two and so the text on the side is to ever remain incomplete: my only souvenir of a place no one will ever visit again.

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We all scream for...Leslie's ice cream picks

July 27, 2011

With the dog days of summer officially stalled over Washington (as well as the rest of the country for a change), relaxing in the shade with a cold drink seems the only practical way to persevere.  Unless you are an ice cream fanatic like me.  I grew up in New England, which despite its arctic clime boasts the highest per capita ice cream consumption of any region in the country.  It always seemed to me that the warmer, southern states would claim that mantle, but perhaps because there are so many dairy farms in the northern states (as well as optimal freezer storage I suppose), varied uses for dairy products had to be exploited and with ice cream, they hit it big.  Around Boston, there are a great number of well established ice cream shops and most locals have a strong opinion about what kind is the best whether it's homemade, soft-serve or "gourmet" from the likes of Ben & Jerry's (Est. Burlington, VT 1978), Friendly's (Est. Springfield, MA 1935), Steve's (Est. Somerville, MA 1973),  Brigham's (Est. 1914) or the eloquently named Mad Martha's on the Vineyard (where my husband first introduced my vegan toddler nephew to dairy, but that's another story).  You can get ice cream virtually wherever you go and most grocery stores devote a mind-bogglingly varied section to frozen euphoria. I'm partial to rich, New England style ice cream and think it tastes better there than just about anywhere else.

As a child I thought nothing could compare to a chocolate ice cream cone with chocolate "jimmies" (sprinkles), but my tastes grew more sophisticated over the years and when I moved south to North Carolina (many years ago), I was disgruntled and non-plussed by the paucity of ice cream shops (basically just Dairy Queen which sadly doesn't fit my bill) and the grocery stores which offered a grim display of freezer-burned store brands and the occasional meager selection of Edy's, which was then considered "gourmet".  A move "north" to D.C. did little to remedy the "Great Ice Cream Drought."  Fast forward to present day when I am now able to choose from a variety of frozen treats without straying too far from my beaten path, especially after you factor in the relatively recent introduction (and popularity) of frozen yogurt.  
So here, in honor of National Ice Cream Month (designated by Ronald Reagan in 1984), are some of my top Polar picks.  First up, due to proximity and favoritism is Thomas Sweets (Wisconsin and P St.) which offers the unique pleasure of outdoor seating.  Until recently I didn't even notice they also offer frozen yogurts and sorbets because who could ever get past the tantalizing (and sometimes puzzling) list of ice cream flavors (cake batter, bubble gum, chocolate chocolate almond) , not to mention stir-ins, homemade whipped cream and fudge.  When a friend recently suggested we meet at "the yogurt shop" I was at a loss as to what she was even referring to.  "Iceberry?" I queried,  "That's down on M Street!  The one on Wisconsin isn't open yet." I was thinking of Pinkberry, but I think I can be excused for confusing those two.  Yes, Pinkberrry is here and Sweetgreen,  and Iceberry will soon open, too, enlarging our choices for "fro-yo".  On M Street there is Hagan-Dazs as well as the venerable Ben & Jerry's ( I overheard a woman calling it "Tom & Jerry's"-obviously a tourist!), but the newest contender, Serendipity, with its gigantic Frozen Hot Chocolates, gargantuan banana splits and root beer floats most reminds me of the old-fashioned ice cream parlors which used to be so popular in the Boston and NYC areas. Its location at the crossroads of Georgetown and wide open-air windows make it a people-watching tourist magnet, but residents will find plenty to shiver over, too.
I am also a big fan of Dolcezza  (Wisconsin and Q St.) which serves gelatos that are creamy and delectable and offer unexpected and exotic flavors such as Avocado Honey Orange (and like many of the shops, they will allow you to taste before buying).  Dolcezza is another wonderful vantage point for sitiing al fresco and they serve one of my favorite treats: Affagato- a scoop of ice cream and espresso. Perfect combination of sugar and caffeine for a hot day that has sucked the life out of me.
With all these choices (and many more) I was delighted to see a sandwich board parked on the sidewalk of P Street recently offering, thrillingly, fudgesicles (!), my all-time favorite childhood frozen treat, updated by the gourmet chocolatier Fleurir.  
I can still remember the tinkling music of the ice cream man's truck every summer afternoon that sent all of us kids running to our parents for change before chasing the truck down the street.  While we don't have one roaming the streets of Georgetown, the Good Humor truck can be hired for parties and functions and when I last encountered oneI was once again able to experience the lost pleasure of intently looking over the brightly colored pictures of frozen treats (Cherry Bomb, Hoodsie, Push-up, Nutty Buddy, Rocket Pop anyone?) and choosing one that brought me way back.  There are few summer pleasures that compare to feverishly licking ice cream on a stick the better to prevent it running down your face and arms (unless it's the "brain freeze" that accompanies it).
My advice is don't let the heat deter you: ice cream snobs, fro-yo devotees and sticky-chinned kids unite!  There exists an option for every palate as even President Obama can attest.
(P.S. He likes TS, too!)

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First fig

June 30, 2011

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes and oh, my friends-

It gives a lovely light.


I'm not sure what Norma St. Vincent Millay's poem has to do with a "First Fig", nevertheless I have always loved it.  Not nearly as much as I love the first fig of summer from the tree in my garden, however.  This year, one fig led the pack early and it looks like it is going to be a banner year for figs.   Started from a lowly container plant six years ago or so, last year our tree produced dozens of figs and there is now a bumper crop with approximately 150 already ripening on the tree.  It can be hard to explain to neighbors and friends how exciting it is to care for this little tree and the pride I feel when it produces edible fruit, but being a city gardener is so different from gardening in other places.  Early in the Spring I had an arborist out to trim some of the old growth trees in our yard and he commented on the "trauma" city trees endure and how hard they have to struggle to survive in the sometimes harsh urban environment. 

To give an idea of relative size... (Photo by: Leslie Maysak) To give an idea of relative size...
I've lived in the city for many years now, but I still remember the delight I took when this tree first bore a few figs four or five years ago.  Not familiar with this type of fruit, I wasn't even sure it was safe to eat them when grown willy-nilly in a city yard.  I found them delicious- soft and sweet inside like a strawberry and an aroma like a dusky peach.   I now eagerly look forward to their appearance come summer and probably take more photos of each year's first fig than I did of my first child.  I'm always jubilant, no matter how paltry the bearing.  Each year's harvest has increased and last year for the first time I had to net the tree to protect it from greedy birds and squirrels who ruined the fruit before it was ready by pecking and peeling at the skin, attracting armies of ants, not to mention bees.  It seemed comical to be netting one tiny fig tree as if I were running a professional orchard, but the results were amazing.  Dozens of gorgeous, deep purple, juicy figs which we mostly ate off the tree first thing in the morning or later in the day warmed by the sun and so sweet and luscious it could bring tears to your eyes.   Later in the summer we had ample bounty and began grilling or roasting them and embellishing with drizzled honey, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.  An embarrassment of riches!

Gorgeous and almost half a pound! (Photo by: Leslie Maysak) Gorgeous and almost half a pound!
An aspect of our figs which is at once endearing and heartbreaking is that they must be picked and eaten when absolutely ripe and not a minute before (or after).  The don't ripen at all once picked and quickly rot on the tree if left too long. They also don't refrigerate well and so must either be eaten or cooked immediately.  Leave home for a few days during a ripening streak and you can miss the bulk of your harvest and return to blackening pulp under a tree swarming with flies and bees.  This helps to explain why they aren't generally found on local grocery store shelves and I hadn't satisfactorily experienced them before I stumbled upon them in my yard.

Sitting in the shade of my fig tree I fantasize that I'm in an exotic locale like southern Italy or Greece and languidly pluck the fruit that hangs so tantalizingly near and yet here I am, still in Georgetown.  And so forthwith I present the first fig of the season and the biggest I have seen to date.  A prize-worthy specimen as the photos attest. And yes, I already ate it.

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