Monday, August 30, 2010

That's A Fancy Way of Saying "Ham and Cheese Sandwich"

Sooooooooo, just in case you were wondering, the gas shutdown in our building continues (Day 27 and counting)—and because the location of the problem has still not been diagnosed, there is no end in sight.

We have been relying heavily on Kraft microwave macaroni and cheese, which lacks the bright orange artificial cheesy goodness of its stovetop cousin, but we have also accepted the challenge of creating meals on a daily basis without the use of a stove.

A favorite of the little three this week was “Ham, Manchego, and Fig Tartines”. Sure, we could have made plain old ham and cheese sandwiches, but we decided to rebrand with a Fancy Nancy version of the old stand-by. The fig jam and butter on the baguette alone was enough to pique my kids’ culinary interest and everyone not only licked their plates clean, but refrained from the all-too-frequent, “Ewwwwwwwwww, this is disgusssssting” protestations.

Parfaits (that’s French for “ice cream sundaes”) might be in order for dessert.

Ham, Manchego, and Fig Tartines

(Adapted from “Gourmet”, September 2008)


-1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened

-2 tbsp. fig preserves or jam

-1 (24-inch) baguette

-6 ounces thinly sliced serrano ham or prosciutto

-1/2 pound Manchego, thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler

-Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling


1. Stir together butter and fig preserves (I zapped them together in the microwave for a couple seconds to make the mixture softer and easier to combine).

2. Spread mixture on baguette; then make open-face sandwiches with ham and cheese.

3. Drizzle with oil and season with pepper. (Perfectly fed a family of two adults and three small children).


-Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Less Is More: Bergen County Zoological Park

I was hoping to break out of my Camp Mom and blog-writing malaise by ending the summer with a grand flourish. At a friend’s suggestion, I entertained the idea of an overnight trip to Sesame Place in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, but after some initial due diligence, decided that as much as I would love to pay over $50 per person (children and adults are the same price and this doesn’t even begin to cover parking, the hotel, and overpriced food) to wait in impossibly long lines in subtropical temperatures for a glimpse of some Muppets, I was going to have to pass. I still often feel like a complete neophyte idiot when it comes to parenting, but one thing that experience has taught me so far is that less is (usually) more when it comes to young children.

In keeping with that maxim, head on over to the Bergen County Zoological Park with your toddlers and preschoolers for some good, old-fashioned, less-is-more fun. This antithesis of Sesame Place boasts a very manageable, accredited zoo, an adorable train, a carousel, pony rides, and last, but certainly not least, the budgie (also known more boringly as a parakeet, but that’s not nearly as much fun to say) exhibit—all within a half hour’s drive of Manhattan.

Feeding the budgies

Come on, ride the train, hey, ride it, woo woo

Jack's first carousel ride

One must be fully accessorized to ride a pony

Bergen Country Zoological Park, 216 Forest Avenue, Paramus, New Jersey 07652-5349, (201) 262-0017,; Hours: Open daily from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM; General admission: Adults: $8; Children (3-14): $5 (the train, pony rides, and carousel are all $1.00-$1.50 extra per person per activity)
** Other than an ice cream cart, there are zero food options, so be sure and pack a lunch.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How To Visit the MoMA With Your Grown-Up

1) Indulge your grown-up by visiting the “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” exhibition (through October 11th), but then make sure to drag them to the photography exhibit around the corner featuring people grasping pickles with their toes in Erwin Wurm’s series of One Minute Sculptures and artist Hannah Wilke’s body art showing her with pieces of chewing gum stuck all over her body. Try to convince your grown-up to let you try all of this at home…all in the name of art, of course.

2) Strongly advise your grown-up to buy tickets in advance. Warn them that not doing so may result in loud and persistent whining while you wait in the long line that wraps around the building. While your grown-up is online getting tickets, show them how to get to Destination Modern Art, a website designed especially for kids about the MoMA:

3) If your grown-up is all about eating like ours is, take your pick from the MoMA’s three restaurants: Café 2, Terrace 5, or The Modern. We opted for the least fancy-pants of the three, Café 2. With its extensive menu of paninis, soups, salads, salumi, and cheeses, it is definitely in the running for best cafeteria food ever. It also nabs an honorable mention for the most Stokke high chairs we’ve ever seen in one place at one time.

4) Come up with a wish of your very own to add to Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden.

Yoko Ono's Wish Tree

We don't really know how to read or write yet, but we're making up something to put on The Wish Tree

5) Ignore the helicopter mom who tries to body block you from infecting her pristine and undoubtedly excessively gifted and talented child in the Shape Lab, an area designed especially for young children to imagine and create and build and design with all sorts of blocks and geometric and organic shapes and 3D forms.

Beware the helicopter parents flocking to this one

Not nearly as cool as putting chewing gum all over ourselves...

...Or putting pickles between our toes, but we're still working up to that

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 11 West 53rd Street, New York, New York 10019-5497, (212) 708-9400,; Hours: Closed on Tuesdays; Sun/Mon/Wed/Thu/Sat: 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM; Open Thursdays in July and August until 8:45 PM; Admission: Adults: $20; Children 16 and under: free.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What To Not Cook For Dinner

A couple of weeks ago, Steve and Charlie spent a long boys’ bonding weekend camping in Canada. Me? I gladly volunteered to stay in the city with Vivi and Jack, putting my new recycling tote to good use (see above).

It’s not that I’m anti-camping. There was a time in my early 20s when I actually enjoyed camping—at least the kind that expressly involved s’mores and beer. It’s just that I’m at a loss to come up with one good reason why camping with my five year old, three year old, and 15-month-old would be fun. Hell, due to a mysterious gas leak in our apartment building, Con Edison shut down the gas in the whole building last week for an indeterminate period of time, and that’s camping enough for me.

Actually, I feel like I’ve been involuntarily conscripted for an extreme parenting reality show: Earlier this summer, ladies and gentlemen, we tore out half of our contestant’s kitchen and took away her running water, but threw in an army of water bugs just to make things a little more interesting! This week, our contestant must come up with three square meals a day without the use of an operable stove! Will she be able to survive without her lifeblood of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Applegate Farms chicken nuggets? Can she go a week without breaking down and ordering take-out every night? Tune in and see…

We’ve either been out of town or subsisting on leftovers, bowls of cereal, Popsicles, and frozen waffles, but here’s what the little three and I came up with to not cook this week:

Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Yogurt, Feta Cheese, and Herbs

(from Dannon advertisement in “Better Homes and Gardens”, June 2009)


-3/4 cup Dannon Plain Yogurt

-1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

-1/4 cup sliced scallions

-2 tbsp. chopped parsley

-2 large, ripe peaches, halved, pitted, and sliced

-1/4 lb. prosciutto, julienned

-salt and pepper to taste

-6 cups arugula leaves


-In a bowl, combine yogurt, feta, scallions, and parsley. Mix well. Add peaches and prosciutto. Toss to coat and season to taste.

-Top arugula with peach yogurt mixture and serve. Serves 6.

I just hope that next week’s parenting challenge does not involve pulling out our indoor plumbing. I mean, this is fun and all, but that would be really, really fun.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Better Than Expected: The Museum of Arts and Design

Taking pictures was strictly prohibited anywhere in the museum, so we were reduced to photographing outside and in the restaurant

The Museum of Arts and Design (aka MAD) is actually, happily, one of those places that shows better in person than on its website. Located on Columbus Circle in a space originally commissioned in the 1960s by Huntington Hartford (an A&P heir and a sort of anti-Midas who managed to lose most of his family’s immense fortune before his death in 2008. But that’s a whole other blog post.) and completely refurbished two years ago, MAD’s mission is to explore how art and design, through a variety of media, focus on contemporary craft.

There are lots of cool exhibits to pique a child’s interest and curiosity here. In “Dead or Alive: Nature Becomes Art” (through October 24, 2010), artists from around the world used organic materials to create art. In “Mad Cow Motorcycle,” sculptor Billie Grace Lynn attached a cow skeleton to a motorbike (apparently, when her wheels are not being showcased at MAD, she pedals around Miami encouraging discourse about meat consumption). In this same exhibition, English artist Damien Hirst created “Prophecy” from jewel-toned, iridescent butterfly wings arranged radially and bilaterally.

About to close on August 15, 2010 was “Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle” which highlighted the work of six renowned bicycle craftsmen. Vivi, my little bling-meister, was especially dazzled by the museum’s permanent collection of modern and contemporary jewelry, most of which was housed in easy-to-access drawers that she could pull out and ogle to her heart’s content.

Something that I think bears noting about the museum—perhaps because it is only a couple of years new and is still working out the kinks—is some confusion and inconsistencies in its policies. We had timed our trip to the museum to arrive shortly after it opened at 11:00 AM on Sunday (per the hours noted on its website). Stenciled on the glass doors in the lobby, however, the opening time is shown as 10:00 AM. I’m still not sure which time is the correct one.

Secondly, as I am all too aware that some museums are less child-friendly than others (the Frick, for example, does not allow children under 10), I always double-check to make sure that my little people and I are not going to be denied entrance (so incredibly FUN when that happens). The MAD gave umbrella strollers the green light, so I had Vivi in our trusty-dusty Maclaren Volo when a guard approached to tell me that strollers were, in fact, not allowed. I smiled brightly, said “Yes, they are!”, and continued on my merry way (I love being right). Fortunately, the guard didn’t challenge us or throw us out on our keisters or anything. But still. It would be less annoying if the museum could get its website and security guards in sync.

We ended our visit with lunch on the 9th floor at Robert, all groovy black and champagne banquettes and circular glass tables. They offered respectable and reasonably priced salads, pastas, sandwiches, and contemporary American entrees for lunch, but the real reason to go is for the spectacular views of Central Park.

No paparazzi, please

Okay, so I couldn't take a picture of "Mad Cow Motorcycle" or the sparkly jewelry collection, but no one stopped me from snapping away in the bathroom of Robert. Aren't those beaded window shades a work of art?

Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019, (212) 299-7777,; Hours (per their website, anyway): Closed on Mondays; Tuesday to Sunday: 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM; Thursdays: 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM; Admission: Adults: $15; Children 12 and under: free; Thursdays from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM is pay-what-you-wish.

Robert, Museum of Arts and Design, 9th Floor, 2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019, (212) 299-7730;

Monday, August 9, 2010

You Can Smell It, Touch It, Play With It--Just Don't Eat It: The Children's Museum of the Arts

If the thought of listening to the maniacal jingle from “Elmo’s World” one more time makes you weep or if Dora the Explorer’s big, vacant, brown eyes have started seeming, well, just a bit off, turn off your television and get yourself down to the Children’s Museum of the Arts in SoHo.

Housed in an airy, loft-like building on a block straddling SoHo and Chinatown, the CMA was founded in 1988 as the only hands-on art museum for children in New York City. There is nary a popular cartoon character in sight. There isn’t even a gift shop peddling character-emblazoned tchotchke to your I’m-gonna-hold-my-breath-until-you-buy-that-for-me toddler.

On a recent Friday morning, Vivi and I met up with some friends at the CMA for their Wee-Arts Drop In program for children aged ten months to three-and-a-half years. In the open studio space on the first floor, there were stations set up for toddlers to create water-color self-portraits, glue together collages out of fake flower and moss, pieces of yarn, lace, ribbons, feathers, and other media, sculpt green Play-Doh into all sorts of shapes, paint their own tempera masterpieces, and plunge elbow-deep into a tub of irresistibly slimy “flubber.” Aside from a warning posted near the thick, oozy polymer that it might stick to clothing and hair, just about anything goes at the CMA, which seems less a museum than an indoor playground with an arts emphasis and whose unofficial credo is “You can smell it, touch it, play with it—just don’t eat it.”

Flying solo without a supporting cast of cheesy kid’s television characters, the CMA has created an original, laidback, and low-tech space for children to create, exhibit, and celebrate their own artwork. And a bonus? You won’t be frantically trying to scrub hardened Play-Doh out of your living room carpet at home.

Children’s Museum of the Arts, 182 Lafayette Street (between Broome and Grand Streets), New York, NY 10013, (212) 274-0986,; Hours: Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays; Wednesday to Sunday: 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM; Thursdays: 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM; Admission: $10 (1 to 65 years old); Thursdays from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM is pay as you wish; Wee-Arts Drop In Program: Wednesdays/Thursdays/Fridays from 10:45 PM to 12:00 PM: $22 per family.

Where to Eat:

Delicatessen, 54 Prince Street, New York, NY, (212) 226-0211;; serves all sorts of yummy comfort food, but my favorite is their buttermilk-battered fried chicken in a bucket served with ranch dressing and melt-in-your-mouth cornbread.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Two Gardens That Will Transport You: Conservatory Garden and Wave Hill

“A garden is a lovesome thing!” -Thomas Edward Brown (19th century poet)

I’ve never had a garden of my own. I’ve dabbled in some window boxes and flower pots, sure, but never have I tended to an honest-to-goodness garden plot.

This may explain why I have been a bit obsessed lately with unearthing urban gardens. Two particularly lovesome ones are the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and Wave Hill in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

The six-acre Conservatory Garden is Central Park’s only formal garden and is divided into three sections: 1) the north, or French, garden; 2) the central, or Italian, garden, and; 3) the south, or English garden.

To enter the Conservatory Garden, pass through Vanderbilt Gate, which originally made up the entrance to the Vanderbilt Mansion at Fifth Avenue and 58th Avenue (currently the site of Bergdorf Goodman) and were installed in the garden in 1939.

Charlie, Vivi, and I spent most of our time in the English garden, meandering along sun-dappled pathways through bright fuchsia crepe myrtle trees and clusters of black-eyed Susans. We stopped and paid our respects to a fountain honoring English author Frances Hodgson Burnett, best known for her children’s books, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, which I can’t wait to read to Charlie and Vivi in a couple of years.

Shady walkways in the English garden

Summer blooms in the English Garden

The Frances Hodgson Burnett Fountain and reflecting pool

There are well-maintained and clean public restrooms within the garden, and if you begin to tire of being surrounded by so much beauty (we didn’t), you can visit El Museo del Barrio or the Museum of the City of New York, both of which are located across the street along Fifth Avenue, or head to one of the many playgrounds on Central Park’s East Side (we did—to Robert Bendheim Playground located five blocks south at 100th Street).

Wave Hill was originally built as a country home in 1843 and was rented out by, among others, both the family of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain before being bought by George W. Perkins, a partner of J.P. Morgan, in 1903. Over the years, Perkins devoted considerable time, energy, and money to beautifying the grounds and enhancing its breathtaking vistas. In 1960, his family gave Wave Hill to the City of New York and it opened as a public garden in 1965.

Today, its attractions include a flower garden bursting with dahlias, sages, and sunflowers; a wild garden filled with amaranthus and lilies; herb and dry gardens, an aquatic garden with floating water lilies and lotuses, a conservatory; a pergola framing breathtaking views of the Hudson River and the Palisades on the opposite shore; woodland trails; and great expanses of lawn.

Vivi and her grandmother, GB, sitting under the pergola overlooking the Hudson River

Sketching flowers in the Elliptical Garden

Hunting for frogs in the Aquatic Garden

On summer weekends, Wave Hill offers a myriad of programs for the whole family, including Family Art Projects every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. On the Saturday of our visit it was one of Target’s Free Days, so our entrance fee was waived. On Wednesday evenings during July and August, leave the kids with a babysitter and enjoy a date night when the grounds stay open until 8:30 PM—you can enjoy a yoga class, take a guided garden walk or simply kick back with a beer and barbecue at the café.

Conservatory Garden, Fifth Avenue & 105th Street, Central Park, New York (Upper East Side), New York, or; Hours: Daily, 8:00 AM to dusk; FREE.

Wave Hill, West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Bronx, New York 10471, (718) 549-3200,; Hours: Closed Mondays, Tuesday to Sunday, April 15th-October 14th: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM; Admission: Adults: $8; Children six and over: $2; Parking: $8; Target Free Days include Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM, year-round.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

You Can Take the Girl Out of the City, But You Can't Take the City Out of the Girl: Kerhonkson, NY

Three little bathing suits

During the summer, Manhattanites leave the city in droves for weekends, weeks, months, even the whole Memorial Day to Labor Day span. They drive, train, or Jitney it out to houses upstate or on Long Island or up in Connecticut or, yes, even out on the Jersey Shore.

Every year, Steve and I, too, kick around the idea of renting a house for part of the summer somewhere and every year, one or both of us ends up finding one reason or other for never getting around to doing it. This has not, however, stopped us from staying as guests at some of our friends’ houses outside the city, although admittedly, these invitations have been fewer and further between since we’ve had three children.

When my friend, Peggy (also a mother of three young children, roughly the same age as mine), invited Charlie, Vivi, Jack, and me up to the house she and her family had rented in the Hudson Valley for the month of July, I hesitated about three seconds , quite possibly even less, before accepting.

Plans were made. Details were ironed out. Bags were (mostly) packed. The day before we were scheduled to drive up, Peggy called. “It’s looking like rain for the next couple of days up here. There is nothing to do if it rains.”

We were going on something like our fifteenth day in a row of 90-degree temperatures in the city. I was hot. I was cranky. I didn’t want to take the subway ever again and, by Golly, I was 95% packed already. We decided to go for it, with a rain contingency plan suggested by Peggy firmly in place: an hour-long trek to the county seat of Kingston to wile away the rainy hours at Barnes & Noble, Michael’s, and Target.

The first full day of our visit was absolutely spectacular: sunny, without a cloud in the blue, blue sky, and blessedly cooler than it had been all month in the city. The kids had a ball. Charlie and Vivi played hide-and-seek in a wee, unfinished house on the property where I imagine Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would have lived had they lived in the Hudson Valley and not in some forest in Bavaria. They searched for frogs in the pond and climbed rocks and tried to catch all sorts of creepy-crawlies. They cannonballed into the swimming pool. Jack sat on a blanket in the grass, uncharacteristically living up to the “Mr. Happy” T-shirt he wore. It was a much-needed respite from the city. Granted, the kids had engaged in all of the above-described activities and it was only 8:30 a.m., but still—why exactly had we always balked at renting a house in the summer? I contemplated this as I lay next to Jack on our blanket.

Zen Retreat

Popsicles outside = no mess

It's Mr. Happy

Then Peggy poked her head out the screen door. “Soooooooooo—I’m ready to go to Barnes and Noble. What do you think?”

“Peggy,” I said. “I thought Kingston was our rain plan. It’s beautiful out. Plus, none of my kids are whining this second. Why don’t we just stay here?”

Peggy looked defeated. “I’m going crazy here,” she confessed. “I. Have. Got. To. Get. Out. Of. Here. Immediately.”

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that three children five and under are a hell of a lot of work no matter where you are, but that fact was brought into high relief for Peggy this summer at their house in the middle of nowhere. They had no cellphone service or Internet access. The dishwasher didn’t work. The walls of the old farmhouse were paper-thin and consequently, no one seemed to sleep much. The pool was a nice perk, but dead mice and frogs had to be fished out of it periodically. Running out for milk became a major undertaking. They didn’t know another soul out there. Instead of enjoying an idyllic summer retreat, Peggy, a native New Yorker, was bored out of her gourd and counting the days until she could return to the city.

The House

We didn’t end up making our Barnes and Noble/Michael’s/Target run and the kids pretty much spent the day outside happy as larks until storm clouds gathered and rain came down in blinding sheets and the electricity flickered on and off . Peggy and I did, however, break open a bottle of Prosecco earlier than we (probably) would have in the city and did head back earlier than originally planned the following day.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!