Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Frugal Tourist explores NYC

The OC had business in New York City...with a paid-for hotel room. How could I possibly not go along and share that free hotel room when it had been decades since I'd last been in NYC?

We drove to where I-84 and the Hudson River intersected, parked our car and took the Metro North commuter train while looking out at the wide river almost all the way to Grand Central Station. We passed prisons (the destination for those "sent up the river"), West Point, and went under the Tappan Zee bridge that we've so often driven over.

Tappan Zee Bridge as seen from the Metro North train

We came out of the subway into the hustle and bustle of Times Square with its flashing bright lights and teeming crowds.

Hello Times Square

The next morning, the OC went off to do what he'd come for and I set out to explore the city while also seeing how little I could spend for a day in New York.

Hey, look! There's the famous Radio City Music Hall. Wait. What are all those people doing crowding around the entrance with lights and giant white reflectors? Must go see...

Radio City Music Hall

They must be setting up to film something. I wonder what.

Filming is quite an undertaking!

"Pardon me, sir, but why are all those people standing around over there?"

A crowd of extras shiver while waiting in the morning chill for filming to begin.

"They're extras? Waiting to film a scene for a TV show? Cool. When will filming begin? In about half an hour or an hour? Thank you. I'll come back then. Bye."

"Oh. One more question, please, but what show is it?"

"30 Rock?" "Uh, okaaay." "And it will air on October 30, you say?" "Thank you."

Walking away, (to his relief, I'm sure) I'm thinking to myself, "Hmmm, it will be interesting to see what they do behind the scenes. Did he say "3rd rock" or "30 rock"? Ah, well, off to check out the place where crowds of people try to get seen on NBC's Today Show.

Hey, they're doing that outdoor thing right now. Look at the crowds of people. I'll just hold up my camera and see what's happening.

People hoping to be seen on the Today Show's outdoor segments.  Notice the cameramen and the back of Willard's bald head.

Well, my camera can see cameramen, the back of Al's bald head...and more people! Me? I can see the backs of the people in front of me...until the cameras get turned off, that is, and people start to drift away and I can finally see the center of the ring.

It's easy to get up to the rail when they aren't actually filming. :)

Okay, that was interesting. I guess. Now to walk a few blocks back to where I can watch a TV show being filmed.

Whoo-eee, at this time of the morning, at least, the streets of midtown Manhattan seem to be filled with primarily taxis and busses with only an occasional car. Oh, and a great many walkers, too, of course.

Mostly taxis--and busses--on the streets of NYC

Wow! Those are some serious cameras they're using!

Whoo-eee, that is SOME camera!

There they are--filming in action. Of course, I can't actually see the action...

Back at Radio City Music Hall the extras line up and filming begins on the 30 Rock season opener

Now they film the star (with green scarf) walking along. Hmmm, she looks kind of familiar.

The star (Tina Fey) arrives with her green scarf

They kept the cameras rolling while she stops to do an interchange with a "family" of actors/extras. I have no idea what they were saying--I guess I'll have to wait until Oct 30 when I can watch 30 Rock and find out! The lady in the khaki pants was one of the many extras who kept walking back and forth to add "sidewalk of NYC" realism.

Watch for this scene with Tina Fey on October 30...if you watch 30 Rock, of course

I hung around there a long time snapping pictures ("No flash! No flash!") and trying to stay out of their way because I was certainly not one of their extras!

Tina Fey and ???

Someone finally told me the name of the green-scarfed star; she's pretty famous now--in large part because of the Sarah Palin impersonations she's been doing recently. The man in front of her, I'm told, is Peter Dinklage. (Thanks, Shelly)

Yes, it's Tina Fey

Yup, it's Tina Fey! Three yards away from me. And, before you ask, no, I certainly did not do anything like interrupt the filming to ask for an autograph.

Tina Fey

But I confess that I was fascinated watching them all work. It takes a lot of people to film even a few minutes of television!

Taking a break between shoots

I finally left them to their project and continued on with my own project--playing frugal tourist in New York City.

After walking several blocks, my feet began to get tired (all that standing around on hard concrete watching TV shows being made is hard on feet) so I hopped on a city bus bound for Lower Manhattan many, many blocks away. Cost: $2

When the bus driver said we were nearing Ground Zero, I got off and began exploring. In a big, elegant building that turned out to be the World Financial Center, I found a Rite Aid. It just happened to be running a sale on Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate so I bought 3 bars. Cost: $1

Half a block back, there was an intriguing raised green area. So, I pulled a water bottle and an apple out of my backpack, opened one of the chocolate bars and set off to have a picnic.Irish Hunger Memorial NYC Except that green area turned out to be the Irish Hunger Memorial--a rather incongruous place to assuage my hunger. Pondering the pain of those thousands and thousands of starving people did make me appreciate my simple lunch all the more.

I got my first glimpse of part of the massive crater of Ground Zero from an overpass not far away. Downwind, there was still the faint hint of smoke in the air.

Ground Zero

See that bit of green and the church steeple on the left?

It is St. Paul's Chapel, Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use. It was witness to the Great Fire of 1776 and host to George Washington on Inauguration Day. It survived the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and was where the many rescue workers rested and were fed after 9/11. Amazingly, the trees took the brunt of the crashing debris and not even a window was broken in the chapel.

St. Paul's Chapel

I made my way down canyons of tall buildings in search of Wall Street and finally got a glimpse of the Stock Exchange.

looking toward Wall Street

But then a gorgeous building caught my eye. I had to find out more about it!
So, of course, I promptly crossed the street in search of a sigh, placard or door. It turned out to be Federal Hall, the first capitol of the U.S. and the site of George Washington's first inauguration.

Federal Hall

After exploring the inside of this fascinating national memorial, I came out the other side to discover crowds of people--including several news crews--in front of the New York Stock Exchange building.

View from steps of Federal hall of crowds and security outside stock exchange
"What ever is going on here?" I wondered. It turned out that I was there on the scene at the beginning of the stock market plunge!

Stock Exchange on Oct 6--with worldwide news media

There were five or six news crews from different countries filming reports to be sent out via satellite. I was able to identify crews who were filming broadcasts for Russia, Brazil and Japan--countries whose own stock markets, I found out later, have also suffered severe declines.

Please tell our viewers how this US stock market drop affects those in our country
"Please explain to our viewers at home the effect this dramatic drop in the US stock market will have on them."

I bade a non-too-fond farewell to the scene of the stock market frenzy and fear
Front of New York Stock Exchange

and took myself off toward Battery Park in search of the dock for the (free!) Staten Island Ferry.

Staten Island Ferry

It was a beautiful day for a boat ride from the tip of Manhattan across to Staten Island and back--with a good look at the Statue of Liberty both ways.

By now, I was running out of time before the OC would be expecting me so, after getting off the ferry, I rode the subway ($2) back up toward Times Square and our hotel. The OC and I walked a few blocks past Carnegie Hall Carnegie Hall

and on to Central Park where I got to see the beautiful handcarved horses of its famous antique Carousel.
Central Park Carousel

In Central Park, you can forget you're in the middle of a big city...until you look up!
You could forget you're in the middle of NYC...until you look up!

bus ride: $2
candy bars: $1
subway ride: $2

A day of New York City adventures: priceless

Friday, October 17, 2008

How to make veggie sushi ~or~ How to make vegetarian sushi

The first time I tasted veggie sushi, I knew I'd found a new favorite! But it's so expensive to buy premade and making sushi myself seemed so difficult and mysterious what with its unfamiliar ingredients and strange, hard to find equipment. Where would one find a bamboo rolling mat, after all? Not at my local grocery store, that's for sure! They do sell sticky rice, though, and the seaweed sheets called nori and even the special seasoned rice vinegar that gives sushi its distinctive flavor, so I decided to go for it. And if my homemade sushi looked weird and tasted worse, hey, I'd have had fun experimenting, anyway.

I am here to tell you that making sushi (especially veggie sushi) is not difficult at all! Okay, confession time. First I did a lot of internet research and there are some sites with great directions and photos out there. And then Sunny (who has made sushi, only she calls it something Korean--kimbop) conveniently phoned me while I was right at the most intimidating stage. So I asked her a whole string of questions whose answers I hadn't found on the internet. Perhaps I'll be able to answer a few of yours, too.

So. First you need to buy some sushi sticky rice. I think it can also be called sweet rice. Then cook it according to package directions. But apparently you don't be too intimidated about the rice. Sunny just used what she happened to have in her (2!) rice cookers--some brown and some white. Just don't try to do this with that nasty quick cooking "rice" that crowds typical supermarket shelves. Use real rice. The kind rice-eating peoples around the world use. That said, the sticky rice was really, really sticky and I think using it made making these much easier. So, even if I add some of my yummy brown rice to a future batch of sushi, I'll make sure to use at least half sushi rice.

While the rice is cooking is a good time to prepare the long, thin strips of sushi fillings. I used cucumber (the part without the seeds), avocado (obviously these can't be "long" strips), carrot (use a vegetable peeler) and egg (break into a small bowl, whisk with a fork and then fry on low heat).

So, here's my shopping list:

sticky rice
seasoned rice vinegar
nori--sheets of dried seaweed
the vegetables: a carrot, an avocado, a cucumber
and, if you a) aren't vegan and b) like the taste--an egg.

Okay, that doesn't look so scary, after all. Hey, if I can do this, so can you!

Once the rice was cooked, I let it sit in the rice cooker awhile and then emptied it out into a large metal bowl, measured and stirred in the appropriate amount of seasoned rice vinegar (the bottle label tells how much to use). I stirred and spread it out at intervals while the rice cooled enough that it wouldn't cook my fillings. Be warned, though, that the cooler the rice got, the gloppier and harder to spread it got.

Now comes the part where I make sushi without a special bamboo rolling mat. It was surprisingly easy! I came as close as I could, though, to including the traditional bamboo in the prep--I rolled them over a bamboo cutting board. Hee, hee. But a piece of plastic wrap worked perfectly fine...and I'm not 100% sure even that was necessary.

So, we begin. First lay down a piece of plastic wrap. On top of that goes a sheet of the dry seaweed--rough side up to make it easier for the rice to stick to it (I think). On top of the seaweed, use wet hands to spread out a very thin layer of rice up to about an inch or so from the farthest-away edge. It doesn't go far enough in this picture because it was my last sushi roll and I ran out of rice!

Notice there's a bowl of water and a dry cloth in the picture? That's because you need your hands to be dry when touching the seaweed and well wetted when handling the rice! You'll use both water and cloth--a lot.

In the picture, you can see the strips of carrot, egg, cucumber and avocado all ready to make more sushi rolls. I could have cooked a lot more rice. Of course, the four rolls I did make fed three people lunch very nicely...especially with the addition of all the unused fillings that were happily devoured after the sushi was gone. Okay, back to how to make sushi.

Now that the rice is spread on the nori, it's time to lay the strips of fillings across the rice. I piled the fillings in a bit from the very edge of the rice. You can use any combination of fillings that you like. We found that we like our sushi to have plenty of fillings--though it's easier to roll with fewer. This was the last roll I made and it has two strips of cucumber and one each of avocado, carrot and egg. Next time I'll use more in all of them.

Now comes what (next to choosing the rice) is probably the most intimidating part of making sushi--actually rolling this flat rice and mound of stuff.

Hint #1 (thanks, Sunny) is to squish the bottom pieces right into the rice. Then, starting at the bottom and using that handy piece of plastic wrap as needed to help, just roll it all up. Hint #2 is to be sure to press firmly as you roll. You can see how the side on the right is falling apart because there's nothing holding it together. I only have two hands after all and one was busy with the camera...

You want your nice sushi roll to stay rolled, so dip a couple fingers into that handy bowl of water and moisten the seaweed along the far edge. Then continue rolling and press the seaweed together. Press the rice and fillings in at the ends, too. Set the roll aside (with the stuck together edge down) for a bit while you assemble the rest of your sushi rolls.

Using a clean, sharp, serrated knife, cut the extra fillings off the ends of your rolls. Then, regularly cleaning the sticky rice off the knife, cut your rolls into approximately 1 inch thick slices. You'll have to clean the knife a lot--that stuff is really sticky! I made some slices thicker and some thinner and we decided that we like thinner sushi better than thicker. It's up to you.

Arrange your beautiful sushi on a plate
with a small dish of soy sauce

and don't be surprised if your sushi vanishes as quickly as did mine--and with nearly as many expressions of delight and gratitude!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A True Hero

We just finished watching The Conscientious Objector, an amazing documentary about a real American hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Desmond Doss was a quiet, frail, unassuming Christian who took God's command not to kill so seriously that he refused to carry or even touch a gun during World War II. He held firm to his beliefs even under pressure and harrassment. It's an incredible story!

The movie follows his life through his letters home, archival photos and video clips and moving interviews with him as well as some of those with whom he served--men who had first ridiculed him but later came to respect him--and whose very lives he ended up saving. Under heavy enemy fire, Doss single-handedly rescued 75 (or more!) injured men and lowered them to safety over a high, steep escarpment.

When Harry S. Truman awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor, he said that meeting Doss was a bigger honor than being president.

Listening to these old soldiers talk about their experiences during the war was very, very moving. It made me wish I'd asked my father more about his experiences serving as an Army Medic in Italy and North Africa during WWII. I think I'd have been more grateful and more understanding of his post traumatic stress behaviors.

This documentary also made me hunger for the deep faith in God--no matter what--that Desmond Doss had.