[An introductory note: This week was ridiculously busy. Spent two late nights in NYC and due to various types of exhaustion was left with very little brain power. I do try to update twice a week, but lately this goal has been very hard to meet. :(
If you want advice about where to eat in NYC, you won't find it in today's post, which is more of a...personal thing. But next time, yes!]
"She's coming closer! ...No wait, she's going the wrong way. Should I open the door for her?"
Olia had just peered through the peephole looking out of her apartment to update us on Diana's whereabouts. The rest of us stood (or crouched) still, scattered down the apartment's narrow and currently unlit hallway, anticipating Diana's arrival. We decided that Diana would find the apartment without our help; we just had to be patient.
"She's coming this way!" alerted Olia. We shifted in our spots. You get one chance get the "surprise" part of a surprise birthday party right. Otherwise the reaction will be less of surprise and more, "Why are you hiding behind that couch?" My brain whirred through Diana's possible reactions and what her initial thought might be, aside from, "Why are all the lights off?"
The doorbell rang. Cue quiet time. After Olia and Diana exchanged greetings, we positioned ourselves into "surprise mode," which wasn't all that different from the way we were already positioned. I moved about an inch, perhaps. The lights flicked on.
"SURPRIIIIIISEEE!!" we all shouted. Diana had barely made her way into the apartment, having stopped to take in all the faces at the end of the hallway. Her wide eyes and open mouth said something like, "Wuuuuut!" although her thoughts were probably more complex than that. I clumsily hopped out from behind Jeremiah's arcade game console and stood by Patricia, who was grasping a cluster of pastel-colored birthday balloons.
Diana had come up to Olia's and Jeremiah's apartment off of 181st Street (yes, that is still Manhattan) knowing that she would see them and Ian, but not knowing that Kathy, Patricia and I would show up as well. Kathy had only joined at the last minute after luckily being released from prison/work a few hours earlier than she had expected and I had just gotten in touch with Patricia the night before. Ian organized the party (where / when / who / what / food) and although Washington Heights was out of the way for most of us, Olia's and Jeremiah's awesomely decorated apartment in the quiet neighborhood was perfect for our get-together.
After exchanging hugs and expressions of, "Holy crap you're here, WTF!" the eating process began. Bwahaha.
Actually, we started with drinks. Olia had provided Cava, a sparkling white wine, not too sweet nor dry, to sip on and toast with before officially digging into the food. I had told everyone that I wasn't much of a drinker, but I quickly downed the contents of my Champagne flute just to get it over with. This gave the horribly misguided notion that perhaps I did like alcohol.
"I think Robyn needs a refill!"
"Noooooo!!!" I moaned while shaking my head and waving my hands. "I just wanted to get rid of it! Really!" Don't question my logic; it made sense at the time.
After the drinks we started with an overflowing cheese platter, an equally overflowing plate of crackers, sliced pears and apples and a loaf of bread cut into thick chunks (also provided by Olia).
Although I like cheese (mostly in the form of pizza or grilled cheese sandwiches), I'm not very knowledgeable about the different types. My favorite kinds of cheese are of the fresh and mild variety (mozzarella, MOZZARELLA!), but after sampling the cheeses on the plate I'd add two to my list of Cheeses I Must Eat Again: smoked Gouda and Brie. The dominant flavor in the smoked gouda was...well, smoke—I couldn't tell what the underlying Gouda-flavors were, so I may have to try the plain version later. I especially liked the cheese's texture: smooth, creamy, and semi-soft, but hard enough to be easily cut. (That might make sense.) The Brie, which became runnier as the night wore on, had the consistency of melted cheese, except it required no additional heat to become naturally creamy and goopy. It was perfect for filling the crevices of the bread. Olia mentioned East Village Cheese as either the shop she bought the cheese at or her favorite cheese shop in the city. I'll have to check it out.
Olives are unfortunately on my short list of foods that I don't like. I wish it weren't so! I also wish that olives didn't taste like little salty bitter nubbles that attach their tentacles of astringency to every square inch of the inside of my mouth. I'll eat olives in other foods or as a spread, and of course I have nothing but burning love for extra virgin olive oil, but I have yet to chew up a whole olive, comfortably swallow it and then go back for seconds. Heeelp meeee.
Ian had gone to Sanur in the belly of Chinatown to bring back Bak-kut Teh, an herbal Chinese soup with fatty pork. This was one of the standout dishes we ate during our group dinner at Sanur a few weeks ago (a dinner which I haven't written about yet—sorry). Spongy tofu cubes bobbed to the top of the goji berry-studded soup while the bottom of the bowl was full of glorious pork chunks layered with fat and meat. As much as I enjoy pork, I actually liked the slightly chewy tofu better—the spongy nature of the tofu allowed it to soak in all the flavors of the soup, flavors that would then gush out as you bit into it.
And what were the flavors of the soup? Besides...medicinal? I could never identify them by taste alone, but Wikipedia lists star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, and garlic as potential herbs and spices. This Bat Kuh Teh flavor packet has some additional ingredients: "Angelica Sinensis, Polygonatum Odoratum, Cinnamon (Kayu Manis), Fructus Lycii, White Pepper (Lada Putih), Radix Codomopsitis, Radix Glycyrhizae, Rhizoma Lingustici, Radix Ginseng, Star Anise (Bunga Lawang)." What the hell? Imagine all that mixed together! Uh, right! Or just go to Sanur and order it yourself.
What follows pork soup, cheese and crackers better than A GINORMOUS PLATTER OF SUSHI? Yeah?! This was possibly the first time in my life I ever looked at sushi and felt like I could barely eat a piece. While I usually regard sushi as too dainty to appease my gurgling belly (which doesn't mean I don't like it, just that I tend to go for something heartier), never before had I seen 10 rolls of it in front of my face at one time. I felt like the sushi army was trying to tell me something, something like, "Robyn, we're gonna stuff you up sooo good. Never underestimate the sushi." Tuna, spicy tuna, California, Philadelphia, dragon, and more things that I can't remember were all squeezed together on the hub cab-sized tray. If only I hadn't already eaten so much food. I managed to down five or six pieces before my body said, "Eat any more and there will be regurgitation." Sigh. Alright.
Ian served us warm sake to go with the sushi. Like I had done with the Cava, I downed it a little too quickly for someone who claimed to not like alcohol, perhaps more like an alcoholic. But the contents of the cup must've been the same volume as a golf ball! Sip, sip, gone! While I would never drink sake for fun, at least this didn't make me feel like my taste buds were crying fiery tears of pain and agony and suffering and more pain—the initial flavor was of sweetness followed by a cool burst of alcohol and sharp bitterness.
Patricia and I had picked up six cupcakes from Billy's Bakery to serve as the birthday cake. Since distributing 25 candles among six cupcakes didn't seem like the most aesthetically pleasing idea (unless we were going for an "impaled" theme), the blue cupcake counted as 20 years while the rest were singular. (You can do the math.)
We sang "Happy Birthday" as Diana blew out the candles. She said she didn't have to make a wish. ;)
We took a break to oogle Jeremiah's curvy Japanese arcade machine. So pretty. So sleek. Oooh. I seemed to be the one who was most excited to play the vertical scrolling shooting games DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou and Dangun Feveron. Patricia and Kathy joined me for a game or two, until they died and decided they'd rather sit on the couch than subject themselves to more video game death.
So it was just me. And the joystick. And the buttons. And being shot at by lots of big angry looking life-crushing spaceships and whatnot. This was when everyone discovered that I possessed a mental disorder, the one that is, "Talking to myself while playing video games. Things like, "NOOO!" or, "CRAAAP!" or, "WAHWHAHWHWA HUHUAUHADS" and other random noises expressing instances of impending doom. Of which there were many.
And then I died. Epic fail. But it was fun while it lasted and I probably would've played more if I didn't feel the need to break out my pie.
Yes, my pie! I made a BIRTHDAY PIE, banana cream to be exact. Why pie? Because I've never made a cake. Also, I knew Diana liked banana pudding and the crust didn't take much more effort. The recipes I used were Foolproof Pie Dough and Bubby's Banana Cream Pie. According to everyone else it tasted great (I was too full to eat more than a tiny piece), but I was surprised by how runny the pudding was. Maybe I needed more cornstarch? Maybe I didn't cook it correctly? If anyone has any tips, please let me know!
By the end of the night we all wanted to hug our gorged bellies.
Just before I decided to run out and attempt to catch the last train back to NJ, we took a few group shots. And I'm really glad I stayed for that because even if I hadn't, I would've missed my train anyway. ;)
As much as I like that the NYC subway system runs for 24 hours a day, I keep forgetting that after a certain time everything goes wonky and stepping into a subway may subject you to an alternate dimension of public transportation hell. Sure, the subway functions, but not necessarily in a reliable way. Kathy, Patricia and I had to take a shuttle train that was running between 207th and 18th Streets before switching to a downtown A that was no longer running express at that time of night. After realizing that I missed my train, I thought about taking a bus home, but decided it wasn't worth the trouble when I could crash at Kathy's place and thus not have to commute the next morning. The only good thing about the subway changes was that Kathy and I didn't have to switch to an F train to reach her apartment; the A train ran on the F track after West 4th Street. If you actually wanted to go to an A train stop after West 4th, then you were doomed. Ha ha!
Oh, subways. If not for the great birthday party and being accompanied by Kathy and Patricia, the diversions and lateness would've made my brain implode.
By the end of the party I was thinking about how I wish every get-together could be so laid back and enjoyable. It beats eating in a restaurant any day. Then again, I can say that not having been the person to clean up afterwards. (Thanks Olia, Ian and Jeremiah!) -__-
I wouldn't mind celebrating Diana's birthday the same way every year.