When everything’s not quite

When you are sick and exhausted and have a massive to-do list (see: burnout), sometimes you just want to escape for an hour or two. And sometimes a brand-new restaurant is just the place.

I first encountered Hunky Dory on a sort of extra vacation day I had right at the start of the year, when it obligingly opened up for coffee and pastries right as I was looking for a destination. I ate a beautiful decadent bowl of oatmeal with poached pear, along with a hot cup of coffee, as I watched the owners work toward putting the finishing touches on the space. (Perfect fuel for a January day in the Botanic Garden, where you might encounter my old friend the torii, also working on some personal growth and r&r.)

Hunky Dory’s location on Franklin Avenue around Park Place makes it easy for me to drop by–it’s loosely on my way to the garden, home from work, to other fine establishments in the neighborhood that I frequent. So last weekend I found myself impulse buying a tastier banana chocolate chip muffin than I had any right to expect.

And tonight I nabbed a seat at the bar; some delightful cod tots; a ham, beans, rice, and egg confection; and a warm chocolate chip sesame cookie: a perfect three-course meal in bites. Perhaps even more enticing than the food were the drinks (chosen from a shortened, second-day-of-opening menu): a cocktail with oolong tea, whey, and meyer lemon, with whispers of new components weaving through each sip, and a nonalcoholic concoction mostly hibiscusy with an edge of toasted rice. Sitting and reading a pretty Brooklyn essay collection and coughing merrily to myself, I got to luxuriate in a brief escape from everything awful. Everything besides the restaurant wasn’t quite hunky dory, but, maybe, like SEPTA, getting there?

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(PS: This post was apparently brought to you by hyperlinks! Who can say why or where they’ll go.)

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Bread and butter

When a friend gave me a sourdough starter a year or so ago, I didn’t know it would alter my life in a small but lasting way. I’ve always enjoyed homemade bread (on one ill-advised occasion, after a three-course dinner, I ate most of a loaf at another friend’s house) but somehow it never occurred to me that I could make it myself, not having much experience in that realm. (Other than one surreal attempt at making the New York Times‘s no-knead bread for a college seminar. I mostly remember yet a third breadly friend telling me to turn the bread, toss it, take it out in the moonlight and sing to it, or some such similarly mysterious tiny adjustments over many hours; I also remember, upon seeing the result, declaring with astonishment, This looks like bread! What did you expect, my friend asked. I don’t know, surely not that, though.) And even if I could manage to make bread once or twice, could I manage not to kill the starter, which needs to be fed, every week, like an undemanding yet persistent pet?

Happily, the bread is a success. I make a loaf on average every couple of weeks. It’s a process–typically I start feeding the starter on Thursday or Friday night, prep the dough the next day (this takes a couple of hours though not a lot of active work on my part), and tear into a loaf with fancy butter and/or cheese the following afternoon. The bread is certainly best when it’s freshest; luckily, it doesn’t really last long enough to get stale. In fact, in my humble opinion, freshness is really the determining factor for how good bread is. I’d just as soon eat my own bread hot out of the oven than trust the professionals. (Though I love you, L’Imprimerie!)

Man, isn’t it great to have a fun, unique activity? Except that here, too, as with so many other things, I am a millennial cliche. Bread is so hot right now that the New Yorker is talking about it. There are think pieces about how we are turning to anxiety baking in these stressful times. And, of course, tech bros are trying to optimize bread.

While I don’t think my bread is optimized (I haven’t tried too many variations, and am mostly just pleased that the dough is pretty forgiving of the vagaries of kitchen scale and timing) I do recognize myself in these pieces. It’s satisfying to be able to make my own food (my significant other does so much more of the cooking, generally). l appreciate having a routine in the midst of political and personal stress–the bread is a nice backdrop to board gaming, knee stretching, internetting, and other cool things one does around the house on a Friday night, plus I like going to the library and the food co-op on Saturday morning to pick up reading material and bread fixins. (As for politics, my starter has good vibes; he came to life when Doug Jones was elected.) And it’s nice to share my creations with friends, assuming they last that long: bread is a good centerpiece for a gaming afternoon, and, maybe even better, giving starter to friends so they can make their own bread or pancakes is its own reward.

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Walk it back

As you probably know if you’re reading this, I virtually never see movies. It’s basically a personality trait of mine at this point. And yet, 2 of my 3 most recent posts are now movie reviews. Go figure.

Not too long ago, I was tempted away from my anti-movie baseline to see The World Before Your Feet, a documentary about Matt Green, who’s walking every block of New York City. Other people have done this before, but Green’s doing it a bit more intensely—he’s including destinations like parks and cemeteries. In fact, it turns out the whole project ultimately takes on a Zeno’s paradox aspect; it’s not clear that Green’s gotten any closer to finishing his travels by the movie’s end.

I especially enjoyed this movie because I went on a couple of walks with Green once upon a time, when he used to lead groups on all sorts of adventures. Once we admired window decorations in Bay Ridge then trekked all the way down to Coney Island, including some waterfront adventures; the other time, we walked on the beach along Sheepshead Bay, saw some model planes and semi-abandoned hangars at Floyd Bennett Field, and crossed the Marine Parkway Bridge to the Rockaways. (Green intended to keep going onward to Breezy Point and back; my companion and I begged off, having already walked miles in the double digits.)

Watching the movie was a bittersweet experience. I loved seeing how Green had kept up with his mission all these years, and the movie has lots of great moments of humor and even drama. It acknowledges the quixotic nature of Green’s quest, but doesn’t make (too much) light of it. Parts of the movie touch upon the privileges Green has that facilitate his project (he crashes with friends and doesn’t have to spend much money; as a white man, he has not found himself in the sorts of threating situations that, say, Garnette Cadogan experiences walking while black. And there are times when Green’s interpersonal relationships strain under the pressure of his desire to walk; for example, a former girlfriend discusses how he never wanted to do things she was interested in, like going to the movies, preferring to walk instead. I can relate. As a counterpoint to these more serious issues, though Green doesn’t consider himself a people person, or his walk to be a social activity, there are some great moments of connection between him and the people he encounters on his way. Plus he does some great research as he goes; perhaps this is the project more than the walking itself.

At the same time, sitting in the movie theater with my sore back and knees was so frustrating. I envy Green’s ability to just take off and go wherever he wants; this feeling is a constant low-level ache behind everything I do these days, which the movie only exacerbated. (I appreciate that Green doesn’t take it for granted: he survived a serious crash as a cyclist and his family has had some other health scares; the movie suggests that his project arose in response.) Get out there and walk while you can, friends. I myself am going to leave you to take a spin around the block now.

Slow burn

So there are various reasons why I quit blogging and various reasons why I might start again, but let’s simplify and say: burnout.

I used to be the world’s most proactive person. I finished everything way ahead of schedule, sometimes to the annoyance of teachers and bosses. But after years of working and going to school at night and some constant low-level health woes, a funny thing happened. I learned to procrastinate. Need to send documentation of physical therapy to an insurance company? Maybe tomorrow. Teeny-tiny task that could be done no sooner than I could snap my fingers (if I could snap my fingers)? Eh, I’ll get to it eventually. Blog post that I could write but no one might read? Yeah, guess how that turned out.

It’s hard not to view this state of affairs as a personal failing, even though I can see how it arose out of years being busy and miserable and diligent. So it was fortuitous that I read Anne Helen Petersen’s article about millennial burnout, and I would encourage you to do the same. (Seriously; it’s way better and more comprehensive than anything I say here. I’ll wait.)

Did the article resonate with me? I can’t even count the ways. First of all, over the course of an evening I kept trying to read it and things intervened (chatting friends, knee stretches, a really urgent crossword puzzle). This inability to complete a simple task in itself is indicative of burnout. Petersen talks about the wave of articles criticizing millennials for putting off basic life tasks like mailing letters, registering to vote, doing the laundry—all while often managing larger endeavors like holding a job or going to school. Why are millennials so damn lazy?

Well, maybe that’s not the right word. Maybe our sense that we are constantly on call both professionally (got any outstanding work emails?) and personally (have you uploaded a glamorous shot to Instagram today or made a clever tweet?) is burning us out.

What is burnout exactly? Petersen discusses the common millennial belief that if we follow the right path—get good grades, work hard, get a good job—we will succeed. For a lot of structural reasons which she gets into and I will gloss over here, but which I’m sure you can imagine (student loans and financial crises are a couple), that isn’t really the case. We get caught up in a cycle of working ever harder and, rather than this increased productivity leading to more leisure time, we’re never able to take a break for fear of falling behind.

This cycle results in burnout, a psychological diagnosis Petersen explains was originally applied by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to cases of “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” Burnout isn’t just a brief state of exhaustion; it’s the culmination of pushing and pushing for ages, while never feeling you’ve completed anything sufficiently to take a break. Know the feeling?

I know I do. I can recognize it in what I’ve always glibly described as “learning to procrastinate.” I recognize it when I feel overwhelmed by the list of tickets and reservations in my inbox, even though they’re for fun things; when I spend weekend mornings “catching up on” the internet, as if that is an achievable goal; when I sign up to help out with a political group because I want to be involved, only to feel paralyzed by not being able to finish even a simple task while I wait for other volunteers to get back to me.

As Petersen puts it: “That’s one of the most ineffable and frustrating expressions of burnout: It takes things that should be enjoyable and flattens them into a list of tasks, intermingled with other obligations that should either be easily or dutifully completed. The end result is that everything, from wedding celebrations to registering to vote, becomes tinged with resentment and anxiety and avoidance. Maybe my inability to get the knives sharpened is less about being lazy and more about being too good, for too long, at being a millennial.”

I suspect that I, like Petersen, have been too good at being a millennial. Like her, I do not know how to solve burnout, or think that it’s solvable, really. But I appreciate knowing I’m not alone, and having a new way to think about the dread I feel when faced with my backlog of Times crosswords. I hope you will as well.

PS: I spent about a week trying to come up with a good inaugural topic. Once I realized I’d told about six people to read the burnout article, I decided I might have more to say about it. And I like the trick of attempting to counteract my creative burnout by writing about it. I hope something sparks.

Women Who Kill is killin’ it

And now for something else rather different: a movie review! As you may know, I see approximately 2 movies per year. I used to maintain, perhaps overly smugly, that I go for quality over quantity. Sadly, in the last couple of years my taste in movies seems to have deteriorated. Most disappointingly, I was recently excited to learn of the movie Wild Canaries, about a Brooklyn couple investigating a murder. Perfect for me, I thought: Brooklyn, comedy, and film noir in one compact package. Sadly, I found the characters unlikeable and the plot simplistic. Little did I know a remedy was on the way: one of my favorite directors had made a movie with a similar premise, and this time the movie was everything I wanted and more. So this Friday evening I found myself at the premiere of Ingrid Jungermann’s excellent Women Who Kill, which incorporates just about everything I like in a movie.

I first learned about Ms. Jungermann through her deadpan and hilarious web series F to 7th. Her characterizations of life in Brooklyn were spot-on, and so I was excited to see what she’d do with a full-length film. And I was intrigued by the premise of Women Who Kill: two exes, Morgan and Jean, collaborate on a female serial killer podcast, and one of them begins to suspect the other is dating a serial killer.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, since it includes some surprising twists, but I will say that the film’s balance of comedy and menace is just right, as is its loving skewering of Brooklyn mores. (Morgan gets in trouble at the food coop, and someone tells her to go back to Key Food; someone weeping and painting a bicycle white is our first tipoff that a monstrous killer may be on the loose.) Though the plot is certainly entertaining, it becomes unexpectedly moving as it progresses, and you realize that your first impressions of the characters need some adjustment.

As the credits rolled, I found myself wanting to watch again, armed with the details of the movie’s ending, which put a different spin on events. I even found myself thinking maybe I should get to the movies more often. If I keep up this pace, I’ll make it all the way to 3 this year.

This year in historii

And now for something completely different.

For the last year, I have taken a picture of the torii at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden approximately every week. It turns out that my project more or less coincides with the centennial of BBG’s Japanese garden.

Please check out my newly created Flickr account if you’d like to see how the year turned out.

Below are a quartet of highlights, including the couple of times a bird graced me with its presence.

Busted

So my #1 transit advocacy goal basically boils down to convincing hipsters to ride the bus. (This goal only seems more timely with the recent debate about Mayor De Blasio’s proposed streetcar.) City buses are underrated, and until that changes, we’ll never have the bus service we need and deserve. I say “hipsters” as a shorthand for urban-minded young people, especially transplants; even many of the self-professed transit enthusiasts I know take a weird sort of pride in not knowing where most bus routes go, or in never taking the bus at all.

Now that I’ve been recovering from knee issues for a couple of months, I feel the need for reliable bus service even more viscerally. Sometimes the bus is the deciding factor in whether I can get to work or not, unless I want to spend ~$35 to travel a couple miles via Uber during surge pricing. On the bus I’ve been taking, the M103–which comes only about every 20 minutes during rush hour even though it allegedly has 10-minute headways–most of my ride companions are the elderly and schoolchildren. This is also true of the buses I ride more frequently in times of better knee health; hop on the B49 down to Manhattan Beach and it’s full of older people chatting to one another; catch the B103 at Beverley in the morning and get a seat only because of the vast number of students exiting at that stop.

It’s exactly these travelers, who may not be able to take the subway, or drive, or pay for a taxi or car service, who rely on the bus the most.* And it may be difficult for them to stand and wait for it for half an hour, or to dig their way over to the curb through snowbanks, as Gothamist‘s Nathan Tempey has recently detailed so devastatingly. Of more mundane but no less damaging consequence, at least in my mind, are the taxi and other drivers who stand or park in the bus stop, making it difficult for bus drivers to see the people waiting. I recently told my father I’d prefer if these drivers hung out in front of fire hydrants; there, their risk of inconveniencing and harming people is, in my mind, comparatively slight.

Of course, buses are not without issues. Even those who do ride them often like to hate on them, with frequent causes for frustration like bus bunching. Still, much like I implore you to blame the governor, not the MTA, for fare hikes and poor subway service, I would implore you to level your accusations that way, and at the legislature and others who can improve traffic conditions, not at the buses themselves. And, while you’re at it, check out a bus map and see if one of our city’s routes can take you where you need to go.

 

*In fact, the ability to pay is key here: in my current state, I’m focusing on the lack of adequate bus service as a mobility issue, but of course it also signals a class (and race) divide in how easily we can get around our city. Check out Enrique Peñalosa’s TED talk, where he nails this point far more eloquently than I can, arguing that “an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.” Amen.

 

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An unfortunately-not-too-rare sighting of what Magnus Mills calls the “Three Bears syndrome” in The Maintenance of Headway, his entertaining take on the life of a bus driver.

 

Excursion to TriBeCa

I’ve increasingly found myself warming to a category of restaurants and bars that I would classify as “overrated but pretty damn good.” The pizza pantheon’s Di Fara and  Franny’s immediately spring to mind, as does La Colombe, whose draft latte I enjoy, even in the winter.

The most recent addition to my category comes in the form of cafe Maman, which now boasts 2 trendy locations, in SoHo and TriBeCa. I’ve dropped into the SoHo one numerous times on my way to work or class to pick up some coffee, Maman’s rich version of an Oreo, and any number of other pastry treats. The newer TriBeCa cafe is home to a dining room where I have now experienced both brunch and drinks.

Brunch is a (slightly overly) leisurely affair, with decadent yet healthy-seeming options like green tea waffles and smoked salmon on black bread. About that leisure: Maman was still working out a couple of logistical snags at the time of my visit, but luckily for me, my server was extremely courteous and apologetic, and even comped me my brunch cocktails, including a delightful hot chocolate spiked with amaro and walnut liqueur. If you’ve got a morning or afternoon to while away in TriBeCa (brunch ranges for the incredible span of 9-3), I would definitely recommend a seat at Maman’s communal table. If you’re in a hurry, you can pick up a pastry, salad, or sandwich at the front counter, perhaps consuming it on one of the ridiculously fluffy couches that greet you upon your entry.

When I came back for drinks a few days later, the dining room was empty, which was a shame for everyone else’s tastebuds. I, on the other hand, got to sample two delightful beverages: the Santahattan, a nice strong wintry blend of pine, rye, mint, and sweet vermouth, and a frothy teacup of Papa Peanut, slightly bitter and very peanutty and creamy. My server was extremely friendly, and I hope that she will soon have more customers to while away Tuesday nights. I know I will be back to try some of the menu’s intriguing food options like stuffed squash and corn spaghetti.

Maman, 239 Centre Street, SoHo, and 211 West Broadway, TriBeCa

 

The piece which surpasses understanding

Happy new year, dear readers!

Unfortunately I haven’t had too much energy to eat and write lately. But I’ve still encountered some quality dining establishments. Like DUMBO’s Love & Dough, a new Neapolitan pizzeria just around the street from an old office of mine. Though I work near Chinatown now, aka the world’s lunch capital, Love & Dough made me regret my Manhattanizing ways.

It’s hard to imagine an escape from the workday grind as thorough and satisfying as my lunch at Love & Dough’s bright, airy corner location. And there’s no comparable pizza within a reasonable radius of my office, in terms of both taste and unique combinations of ingredients. The Surrpressata!!! (emphasis theirs) delivers both soppressata and surprise: hints of spice play enticingly with dollops of ricotta and a cherry or two on each slice, while a mint leaf proves an unusual though not unwelcome substitution for basil. My dining companion’s eggplant pizza was also quite tasty, and both were filling enough that, alas, we had no room for what was sure to be a delicious dessert.

Friends, next time you’re in Brooklyn’s DUMBest-named neighborhood, you know where to go.

Love & Dough, 57 Pearl Street, DUMBO

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End of Days

Seems like all the cool kids are hanging out in Bushwick and Ridgewood (and, I predict, Glendale soon enough) these days. It’s almost more than your South Brooklyn correspondent can handle. Luckily, I am an intrepid and dedicated reporter.

The Bad Old Days (whose name I must confess I don’t really care for (better than Good Old Days, I guess; glamorizing crime and grime isn’t really my thing)) is a solid new entry to the bar scene. Located just a couple blocks from Myrtle-Wyckoff’s junction of the L and M trains, it’s got a cozy living room atmosphere (with entertaining bathroom wallpaper for the urban-history-inclined of us), reasonable prices and, most importantly, damn tasty drinks.

I especially liked the Winter Vixen, with its mix of rosemary-infused gin, cranberry, and Lillet. It struck just the right note of holiday cheer while remaining light and refreshing, appropriate for our apocalyptically hot December. I also enjoyed the Manhattan Special. Its mixture of rye and maple reminded me of the day I really got into cocktails in the first place, dragging my then-pretty-new boyfriend on a mad trek across Williamsburg and Greenpoint to Dutch Kills after reading about a similar concoction in a magazine. Four years later, we are cocktail experts, while rye and maple (and a coffee ice cube!) remain as winning a combination as ever.

Not so far away from Bad Old Days, in a very different sort of atmosphere, is the tasty Amaranto (recently acclaimed by the New York Times). Though I was drawn in by the tamale mentioned by Ms. Mishan, what really won me over was the tostada, a perfect mix of textures with crab, avocado, fennel, radish, and tortilla crunch. The stuffed avocado was less beautiful to behold but just as tasty. My elote and mezcal cocktail, garnished with a corncob, was an enjoyable foray into savory drinks; while the blackberry flan we had for dessert was creamy and delicious. I look forward to more trips back up to the Brooklyn/Queens border.

The Bad Old Days, 1684 Woodbine Street, Ridgewood

Amaranto, 887 Hart Street, Bushwick