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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Findings: Food, Street Art & Biking

I have not been biking in a month, since the big move from South Philly to Collingswood, NJ.  I have my road bike in storage in our new garage.  The commuting bike has been locked up in an out of the way corner in my workplace.  I've been debating on the best way to get it to the new house - take it on the PATCO line, pick it up and take it apart so it'd fit in the back of our car, or ride it home through Philadelphia, over the Ben Franklin Bridge, through Camden and then to home.  After a month long internal struggle and trying to find the right time to do this, I finally made my decision - ride the damn bike home on a clear, unnaturally warm early winter day like this past Friday when I finally had the time.

So ride I did. But first I took a few detours on my way home, stopping by "Love Park" at 16th and JFK Boulevard.  I hadn't intended to stop here I was only looking for some street art rumored to have been placed at the train station.  Instead of finding a Monopoly installation of the Reading Railroad superimposed on the Penna Station sign, I found three awesome food trucks; Guapos Tacos, Rival Bros Coffee and a cup cake vendor.  

A Bicycle Chef girl has to eat lunch, so I stopped for lunch.  Had two carnitas taco from Guapos Tacos - 7 bucks, very good and fresh, topped with a zesty jicama and black bean salsa. I could have eaten two more and I downed these practically in two bites!  Then to give myself a jolt of energy I grabbed a coffee from Rival Bros for the road.  I thought about a sweet, but since I've been indulging a lot lately, I skipped the biscotti and rice crispy treats the coffee bros were selling and I skipped the cup cakes that were for sale by the 3rd vendor at the corner of 16th & JFK, outside of the visitor's center.  

There were ample photo opportunities at every turn.  Between the new and old City Landmark Sights like the LOVE stature with dozens of tourists posing beneath it and the new Kraft Mac & Cheese Noodle sign, I didn't need to look for found street art, the kitchy landmarks were providing me with many laughs.  But I'm always on the lookout for my beloved street artists so my eyes were wide open for the treasure hunt.  

Outside of the PA Academy of Fine Arts, in front of the new Lenfest Plaza, I pondered the atrocious paint brush installation by Claes Oldenburg and the paint dap.  The paint brush is trite and the paint dab looks like a big pile of shit - sort of like those old gag joke-shop fake dog-doo poops.  No photo, everyone in the City is taking one and I'm not adding to it.  
I did spot this artist's car that looks like a version of a painter's jeans after he's wiped his brush on them to clean the brush. Now this was much more interesting.  On a utility pole in front of PAFA was a double street art find, a modern version of the Sti(c)kman/Robot Tiles with a superimpose or graffiti of another street artist's work.  Kind of like an ink blot.  Hmm, a theme here perhaps?

I find the airplane crash landed in the plaza between the old and new PAFA buildings very disturbing and at the same time clever and thought provoking.  

I like the touch that was recently added by installing a pink-greenhouse inside the cockpit. For a real pop-culture reference the installation reminds me of a set piece from the television show, LOST.  What do you think? What comes to mind when you see this installation? 

And ending my street art tour of Philly, I found another one of my favorite's - DASH - and his timely pop-culture mash-up of a Dick Tracy installation at the corner of Race and Broad Street.  I just now noticed that he's called it Dash Tracy.  Very Clever dude, very clever!

Rode the rest of the way home down Race Street, through a very busy Chinatown and then over the Ben Franklin Bridge.  It was a tougher ride for me on the heavy one-speed old school collegiate Schwinn.  Add the 5 pounds I've gained in the past few months and the fact that I haven't exercised in over two months and I really felt like I was having an asthma attack.  I made it though and didn't have to walk the bike up the bridge's pedestrian walk way.  Then I had to make my way through downtown Camden along Haddon Avenue to my house in Collingswood.  I've done the ride before, when I was in shape, on my road bike, with my riding partner, Sue S.  At least I knew where I was going.  It's a bikeable ride home, just about 10 miles.  It's just not a ride I think I should be doing though.  There are some tough stretches of streets to traverse.  

Here I am, an old white girl, riding this ridiculous bike while wearing my English-style horse riding helmet, biking on a one-speed through the mean streets of Camden.  At one point, I got stopped in some traffic on Mt. Ephrim and Haddon Avenues.  There were ambulances racing through the streets probably to some gun fight and all these cars were blocking the flow of traffic across Mt. Ephrim Avenue.  A woman in a red Monte Carlo flips out of her car and starts screaming at the top of her lungs, "Move your fucking car mother-fucker out the fuckin' way! Shit!"  I never pedaled so fast.  All I could think next was that guns were coming out next.  A woman passenger in the car next to me was putting on make up and talking on her cellphone.  Cars couldn't go anywhere.  It was a bit of drama to say the least.  

The ride took about 40 minutes and I made it home in one piece, feeling the uphill bridge ride in my lungs and legs.  I miss riding, the freedom, the exercise and the sense of being a part of a riding community.  Not that I want to make a New Year's resolution, but I do want to put biking on my must do list.  I'd hate to think that by the time spring arrives I'll be so far out of shape that I'll be back where I was in 2007 when I first started riding again.  Plenty of good riding in Collingswood; most of which won't take me in the line of fire.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in Collingswood

We celebrated our first Christmas in the new house 
and it was even more wonderful than we imagined it would be.

Technically, we had a "Boxing Day" celebratory meal in our dining room, with friends and family.  Christmas day we went to Liz's Dad's house in Easton and spent the day with the other side of our clan: Sister, Brother, Sister-in-law, nephew and nephew-to-be, Step-Mom, Dad, Aunt.  It was a big noisy joyful day filled with a lot of great food and presents.  The boys, Nate and Nephew/Cousin Dylan spent the day running their Papou ragged, playing, rough-housing and exploring in all the non-child-proofed areas of their grand parents' house.  Back at our house in Collingswood, we had guest come over all day and evening, spending the night and continuing the festivities until Tuesday evening.  Christmas for us last three whole days!
Nate, with his Oma Maggie, as he tries to steal a cookie, or a piece of cake, or maybe even a sip of wine.  Who knows? Our table was laden with many goodies!

I may not be blogging much about new recipes and food finds, but that doesn't mean I'm not cooking and finding new things to create.  Au Countre! I discovered a new way to use butternut squash and cannot wait to tweak it a bit for my own Bicycle-Chef recipes.  

Roast butternut squash cut into large chunks & toss with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, sliced onions and diced fresh chestnuts.  When it's caramelized and tender (after about 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven) put the roasted butternut squash into a bowl and stir in cleaned fresh spinach; the heat from the squash will wilt the spinach.  Toss in dried cranberries and serve hot immediately.  

We also had scalloped Japanese Sweet and Idaho Potatoes, sliced thin, layered in a baking pan with minced onions, salt, pepper and olive oil between each alternating layer of sweet and russet potato.  For the main course, I made a brown-sugar cured bone-in ham, with a glaze of Dijon Mustard, molasses, dark beer, hot sauce and smoked paprika.  Roasted the ham for 2 hours at 425 degrees and then let it rest before slicing.

Cheese - some from Wegman's and some brought back to the States from Amsterdam by our friend, Jen. She brought this amazing pesto Gouda that's emerald green and very herbaceous.  There was also a smoked cheese that went perfectly with a slice of Sicilian Salami.  Also on the cheese board, an earthy, creamy brie and a Stilton with dried cranberries.

Of course there were also cookies of all kinds and the Bouche d'Noel from DiBartolo's Bakery on Haddon Avenue.  I'm not a big fan of icing but the cake was very moist and fresh.  The icing tasted too much of shortening.

We drank lots of wine and beer, ate lots of great food and everyone was engaged in endless laughter and conversation around our table.  At one point, Nate was running around through the dining room, into the kitchen, up and down the steps that lead from the kitchen to the living room and back around again.  People were whooping it up at the table and the wine was flowing.  It was a raucous joyous time.  

Both Liz and I had real moments of realizing that this was exactly what we had hoped and envisioned but we didn't realize it until it was actually happening.  To share a holiday meal with people who we love so much and who bring us so much happiness was the most extraordinary gift of the season.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Collingswood Christmas Light Parade

Our first Christmas in Collingswood and we were here just in time to catch the Annual Christmas Light Parade of Firetrucks.  All the local boroughs festoon their old, new and somewhere in-between fire trucks with lights, holiday decorations, characters, Santa's, Grinch's, sleighs and whatnot.  There was music and lots of candy canes tossed to the kids along the parade route.  We weren't sure that Nibblet would make it through the night, it started at what is typically his bed time and the boy can get ramy after 7 pm.  But we didn't want to miss this annual event since we missed the big Christmas Kick-off Parade Thanksgiving Weekend, the weekend before we moved to town.

The Parade of Lights was well attended with families lined up along Haddon Avenue, out in folding chairs, blankets, holding cups of hot cocoa, coffees and other warming agents of cheer.  This was exactly what we were hoping to find in our All-American Small Town Dream we call home.  People were friendly, smiling, waving and saying hello to all who passed.  The fire trucks were decked out in bright light splendor.  The parade went on for close to an hour, with the trucks moving along the route slowly so all could catch a full lengthy gander of the lights.  There were a few song and dance segments, with some trucks stopping, kids and adults did choreographed dance movements and routines!  Many trucks were vintage, harking back to the 1940's, 50's and 60's!  It was very much like a scene out of my favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story.  If only there were a local department store to run to visit afterwards, to see the revealed spectacular holiday toy window display.

Nibblet was a good sport, lasting the whole evening with nary a tear or scream at the sight of any of the many Santa-Grinch or Smurf characters.  He even waved and said hello and goodbye to all the people who waved and/or handed him a candy cane.

As more people make quizzical remarks to me about why would I want to live in New Jersey, here's my reminder of why we made this move.  Collingswood is a wonderful place to be and this Parade of Lights illuminates all the reasons why I love it here already.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seasons Greetings from Collingswood, NJ!

We recently moved to Collingwood, NJ.  It's not even a full week that we are here in this wonderful little town that bills itself as "The Place You Want to Be..." It's listed as one of America's best small towns.  As a life-long city dweller, this move is a radical change for me, having lived in either row homes or apartments for my whole existence.  Granted, I haven't always lived in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, but for my entire adult life, since I was 19 years old, I have lived within 2 miles of my home and wherever I may have been working at the time.  The ten miles distance from my new front door to my office isn't that big of a deal.  My commute takes half an hour give or take ten minutes, depending on how I get to the High Speed line station.  What is so different is the attitude and tranquility and the lack of stress.  We moved for all the obvious reasons - wanting more space for our son, a back yard, better schools, a better quality of life.  Liz would say it was also for the parking.  We were both tired of spending hours of our lives looking for parking each week.  I supposed the time  commuting to the City is less than the time wasted on looking for parking in South Philly.  No more worrying about losing my parking space if I needed to go out after 7 pm on a weekday.  No more parking a block away when the car was packed with groceries and we still had to get Nibblet into the house along with all of his accoutrement's.  Nope, we traded in and up for a three story house with a substantial back yard, two car garage, small front lawn and a real porch on which you can sit and have your coffee on warm mornings.  It's the Modern-Family American Dream!

Over the past two years as we discussed places where we wanted to live, Collingswood kept coming into our consciousness.  First we discovered this charming small town via our friends Bobby and Julie.  We had great hamburgers at the Pop Shop on Haddon Avenue and I was hooked.  A few more drives and a bike ride into town and a visit to the famous Collingswood Farmer's Market convinced me that this hip, urbane town of 15,000 residents was a place that we could call home.  It's walkable, cute, full of great shopping, dining and drinking establishments.  It's affordable and best of all, gay-friendly.  What most people don't realize is about Collingswood is that it is a remarkably progressive town.  The vibe I get from the town is that it's like an ideal small town with cool amenities.  Think New Hope, Cape Cod, or as I've been describing it, the unstuffy version of Chestnut Hill, PA or Haddonfield, NJ.  Collingswood is cute enough to be described as quaint and charming but   it still retains a bit of its working class roots. 

The reaction I'm getting from people upon hearing about my move out of the city has been uniformly surprised.  Most people want to know how I'm going to get to work, as though my only mode of transportation is via bicycle, which, to be honest, was true for over 25 years of my life.  However, I can drive now and there is a great train that runs from my house to the City in less than 18 minutes.  I can still ride my bike to the City in the Spring and Summer, taking the Ben Franklin Bridge.  I can still ride my bike to the train station and if I wanted, I could take my bike on the train into the City.  The other reaction I've been getting is that my friends that are City Dwellers think I'm going to become a Levittown Suburbanite.  Having spent my entire 44 years as a Philadelphian, I don't think I'm going to change into an wearing an A-line skirt w/hostess apron and pearls lipstick lesbian just because I no longer live in  gritty Philadelphia.  Now I might don a dapper fedora and smart suit and kiss the missus as I walk out the door and head towards the train to the big city! Don Drapper's wardrobe is much more my style.  

The truth of the matter is that I'm tired of the hardness of the city.  I'm tired of the trash, the bad attitudes, the lack of ambition of the people who lived around our old neighborhood. I'm over the crime and hearing gun fire when I want to believe I'm hearing fire crackers.  I'll still have to deal with it, it's not like I've waved some magic wand and put on rose coloured glasses and everything is magical and shiny and nice because our car is in our driveway and I can lay back on the porch couch and put my feet up while waving to Joan down the street as she walks her dog.  We weren't doing things in Philly that made it feel worth living there any more.  We drove a lot, didn't go out to eat all that much since Nate was born and we hardly ever took advantage of events going on in Center City.  This may be the case here in NJ, but living in a smaller town gives us a community that we didn't have before.  I'll still be riding my bike around town, driving to the grocery and taking Nate for our long Sunday morning strolls to the Avenue and parks.  We traded up for a prettier environment, more trees, grass and friendlier neighbors.  

Will I miss living in the City? Sure, but I'm also so ready for this next phase of my life.  The new house is a bit bigger, not tons bigger.  It's like moving from a studio apartment to a three-bedroom apartment, meaning that it's more spacious but it's not a McMansion.  I'll have a bit of lawn to mow, lots of leaves to rake and Nate will have a spacious yard to run, play and drive his cars, bikes and scooters.  We wanted the peace and quite and a more gentle pace to our lives.  We traveled 10 miles and went across a river and already I feel like a new woman.  Now where are my pearls?