Category: Family

Clams on the Cape

Saturday, November 10th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Family, Travel

This weekend, we revived the Cape Cod tradition for what may be the last time for a long while.

J and J drove in to pick me up just as the sun was rising over Central Park this dreary, chilly morning. As we made our way north, we stopped just once, somewhere in Connecticut — all the excuse I needed to pick up an Egg McMuffin on the road. No matter how I feel about the rest of McDonald’s menu, the McMuffin retains a soft spot in my heart. Something about the synergy of warm, chewy English muffin, salty Canadian bacon, day-glo melted cheese and unnaturally round griddled egg.  It’s a classic breakfast combination I’ve come to associate with traveling, since I rarely indulge in these mini-sandwiches outside of rest stops and airports.  Now if the fast food chain would just bring back the deep-fried apple pie

Over the Sagamore Bridge and onto the cloudy Cape:

Cape Cod

At the Cove, we attended to the business of our weekend. Strange to think with how little fanfare two decades of tradition is dispatched.  (Hawaii, here we come!)

I was struck by how different Cape Cod is in the quiet season. The usually bustling Route 28 was half deserted. The seafood shacks, ice cream parlors, salt water taffy stands and mini-golf courses regularly teeming with families in the summer, were all closed for the season, leaving behind an eerie landscape of empty parking lots. Happily, our old standby Seafood Sam’s was still open for business.

We couldn’t bid adieu to the Cape without at least one more visit. Locals and visitors have been flocking to this place for some of the best fried seafood in the area since 1974, when the first Seafood Sam’s opened in a tiny, former laundromat with just six employees. Three decades later, three of those original six now own and operate the mini-chain of Sam’s restaurants. In the years since we’ve been going, we’ve seen the Yarmouth location evolve from a glorified shack with several open-air benches to a full casual-dining restaurant. There’s still no table service, but the airy main seating area is now enclosed within solid walls (vs. the former combination of sturdy canvas and clear plastic) and the bathroom was moved from outside and around the corner, to just down the hall from the dining room.  What hasn’t changed: food orders are still placed with the cashier, and arrive piping hot on disposable plates; the faux-wooden trays are scattered with clear plastic cups of tartar sauce and wedges of lemon.

Seafood Sam’s

Another advantage of visiting off-peak: no lines, no waiting.  Well, no waiting to place your order, anyway; the seafood is still fried fresh — sure they have broiled items on the menu, but why? — but now instead of hovering by the formica-topped counter as you wait for your food, the cashier hands you a red plastic lobster that flashes when the order is ready for pick-up.  Like this:

Seafood Sam’s lobsters

No lobsters were harmed in the making of these lollipops:

Seafood Sam’s chocolate lobsters

Fried clam strips. These decidedly aren’t the fancy, succulent whole bellies version, but more the shack-on-the-beach variety, best suited for serving in a paper boat (or here, on a paper plate, over fries).  I still love them.  J conjectured that it may be that perfect proportion of hot, crispy fried batter to chewy clam center that I find so appealing.  She may be right.

Seafood Sam’s clam strips

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Rocking out at Carnegie Hall

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 | All Things, Events, Family, Music

In the interests of equal opportunity family time, I met J for a concert at Carnegie Hall tonight. The thirty-year collaboration of composer/performer Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin was being honored at an all-star tribute to benefit Music for Youth — UJA-Federation of New York’s initiative to support music education for underprivileged youth.

Now that J is back in New York, it seemed only fitting to introduce him to the midtown non-secret that is the Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien, since they apparently serve “one of the 20 hamburgers you must eat before you die.” Despite the continuing onslaught of coverage, the faux-dive behind the hotel lobby’s brown curtain seemed somewhat less packed than usual. Perhaps the price increase had something to do with it. $7 for a cheeseburger now — outrageous! And since when did the Joint start offering grilled cheese sandwiches ($5)? It’s still a pretty good burger, and a relative bargain for the neighborhood, but these days Shake Shack is looking better and better.

Carnegie Hall

J and I collected our tickets and took our seats in the Dress Circle as we waited for the parade of performers to take the stage. Producer/promoter (and Knitting Factory founder) Michael Dorf‘s second Music for Youth concert was typically grand in scale: 21 artists, emerging and established. The first concert, on April 5, honored Bruce Springsteen. Unlike Sir Elton, though, the Boss actually showed up for his own tribute, even performing with the other musicians in one grand finale.

Elton was with his longtime friend Billie Jean King in the Philadelphia area that night, hosting the 15th annual Advanta World TeamTennis Smash Hits at Villanova University. The annual charity event raised more than $400,000 for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Philadelphia-based ActionAIDS. Bernie was on hand, though, and seated across the concert hall from us in the first balcony — within clear view of our binoculars, which we used to gauge his reactions after each performance.

The eclectic and talented group of musicians chose their material from the duo’s extensive song catalog, unearthing songs from the famous (Naked Eyes lead singer Pete Byrne’s kick-off rendition of “Rocket Man“) to the more obscure (“Friends” as sung by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds). The fourth performer, Phoebe Snow brought the crowd to its feet with her poignant rendering of “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny),” — Elton and Bernie’s tribute to John Lennon — all the more touching if you know anything about Snow’s backstory.

Other stars of the evening included “Godfather of Acid Jazz” Roy Ayers, Page McConnell of Phish (performing “Amoreena” solo on piano), Jill Sobule (who sang “Levon” with a string quartet), Shawn Colvin (“Sacrifice“), and Aimee Mann, seen here performing “My Father’s Gun” from Elton’s “Tumbleweed Connection” album. (As J observed, she is very tall.)

Aimee Mann

I was impressed with some of the less established artists, many of whom were performing songs released well before they were born. Newcomer Joshua Radin, who counts Zach Braff among his devotees, reintroduced me to the loveliness of “Border Song (Holy Moses).” Los Angeles-based recording artist Buddy offered up a stripped down, wispily introspective rendition of “I’m Still Standing,” giving the song an entirely different feel. Jazz singer Lizz Wright delivered chills with a sultry “Come Down in Time.” And Raul Malo of the Mavericks put his smooth baritone through the paces with “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” — one of the few times J and I saw Bernie show any enthusiasm.

But my favorite moment of the evening came when English singer/songwriter Howard Jones took the stage. HoJo launched into the familiar tinkling intro to “Tiny Dancer” at the electronic keyboard, but a minute in, when faulty speakers continued to burst through with loud pops and crackles, he halted the performance mid-verse. Abandoning the keyboard entirely, he gamely decamped for the grand piano on stage right as he declared: “When you’re in Carnegie Hall, you’ve gotta play the Steinway!” The audience erupted in cheers (and gave him a standing ovation.)

Howard Jones

(Of course, I cannot mention “Tiny Dancer” without referencing my second favorite musical moment from a Cameron Crowe film. My favorite being… well, c’mon now.)

Throughout the evening, we were teased repeatedly with hints of a “special guest” to come, and until the end, J at least still held out hope that Elton John would emerge from the wings. But no. The show closed out with the unbilled British Invasion-era pop duo Peter & Gordon. J and I had no idea who they were – and judging from the buzzing around us, we were not alone in our ignorance. I googled their names at home later that night, and learned that the men are longtime friends of Elton John’s, best known for their 1964 hit “A World Without Love,” which happens to be the only song Paul McCartney ever wrote for another group while with the Beatles. But perhaps more interestingly, if you check out their website, you will note that the man on the right in the vintage photo, Peter (Asher), is totally the original Austin Powers! Yeah, baby!

When the snow falls
And Central Park looks like a Christmas card
I just looked beyond the bagman
And the madness that makes this city hard

— “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters, Part Two,” Elton John and Bernie Taupin

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Twinkle twinkle

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 | All Things, Events, Family

After my adventures — or sometimes: misadventures — in crochet class last summer, knitting seemed like the logical next frontier. So tonight, J and I took part in a knitting circle event, hosted by Wenlan Chia of Twinkle Knits.

We met at the Rockefeller Center Anthropologie, which not coincidentally, carries Chia’s popular clothing line. (Her signature knits are also available at Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. ) The airy space was decked out with about a hundred white wooden chairs, divided into sections for “beginner,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” knitter levels. No question there as to which group I belonged. J gamely joined me in the newbies area, though as the night wore on, she would emerge as the clear ringer of our section.

Knitting circle

We were each provided with cloth knitting bags containing one fluffy skein of Twinkle Soft Chunky wool, and either a pair of bulky wooden needles or a set of fat circular needles. Chia provided an introduction, describing how she began her fashion career as a self-taught knitter, creating her own designs while at FIT when she was unable to find just what she wanted in stores.

Chia launched her Twinkle line in Fall 2000 with a collection of modern-shaped handknit sweaters and accessories. In February 2002, her ready-to-wear clothes made their runway debut at the “Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion” show, earning praise from critics and audiences alike. Since then, she has shown each season at the Bryant Park tents during New York’s Fashion Week. Her Fall 2007 collection featured a neutral palette and prints inspired by 1950’s abstract expressionism. Chia has since expanded her line to include a home collection, Twinkle Living.

The knitting lessons began, and instructors demonstrated the steps using comically giant props: a ball of oversized yarn, hot pink plastic needles and their own arms. Tonight’s projects were chunky-chic scarves of varying levels of difficulty, culled from Chia’s pattern book Big City Knits, and divided among the knitters according to expertise. Chia and her assistants spent most of their time working with the beginners, providing one-on-one attention as needed. And some of us needed it quite a lot! Even J was pressed into service.

Wenlan Chia

Rather disheartening, by the way, seating the beginners across the aisle from the experts – look at ‘em go! But good fun was had by all anyway. The cases of sparkling hard cider and trays of warm, gooey cookies helped, certainly.

Knitting circle

By George, I think I’ve got it!

I can knit

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