JT, Friendly Confines, Flower Power, and GoT

JT, Friendly Confines, Flower Power, and GoT

On a road trip,  RM and I listen to music and frequently it is to James Taylor. I especially like his newest album, Before This World. I remember singing along with JT on our honeymoon/relocation journey to Los Angeles back in 1984.  We knew the lyrics to Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby James, Carolina In My Mind, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight and Shower the People.  His familiar voice was and still is a comfort to us in uncertain times.

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Monday night, along with our growing brood, we softly sang along again to his music at his outdoor concert at Wrigley Field. It was a beautiful night in the ‘Friendly Confines’ as the music matched the mellow mood of an ideal summer evening in Chicago – a relief to us in our group escaping the Texas heat. While JT is legendary to our generation, our kids softly snickered, fogyish, his 10-piece band is the real deal full of horns, bass, percussion, fiddle, flute, sax and piano.  He also brought along Bonnie Raitt and his soulful session musician, Arnold McCuller. Memories of sitting in this intimate space under the iconic red sign, the fans, the groovy, flower power motif and the ivy-cladded brick walls, with our family, is indelible.

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Our Chicago week-ender celebrated RM’s December birthday without all the distraction of the holiday season.  We kayaked up and down the Chicago River, took pics in front of the Bean and the Buckingham Fountain, toured museums, picked our way through vintage shops, and gobbled down colossal burgers at Rocket Burger Bar on Clark Street in Wrigleyville.  We rented a house within a couple of blocks of the stadium from HomeAway and it met our families’ needs to perfection. Jimmy Buffett was also performing at Wrigley Field so Saturday night was filled with his parrot cladded fans as they fortified themselves at the local pubs before his show.  We just happened to walk by the entrance to the stadium when he and his followers belted out Margaritaville. It brought out goosebumps.

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While I thought the concert would be the highlight of the trip, the Sunday night season premiere of GoT (Game of Thrones for the uninitiated) took top honors.  The Cs got RM hooked several seasons ago on this fantasy drama and they, when together, throw Dothraki and High Valyrian vocabulary around as if they themselves are nomadic inhabitants from some long-lost sea. Worrisome, it took several hours to figure out how to access HBO from our rental (valar dohaeris), but with ingenuity, several degrees in engineering and computer programming, consultation with the internet, we watched the season opener, together, just as assuredly as winter is coming and just like home.

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Red Rooster

Red Rooster

I admire chef Marcus Samuelsson so when I planned a trip to NYC this summer, eating at the Red Rooster Harlem restaurant was top of my list of ‘must do’s’, along with touring the Guggenheim, seeing a Broadway show, and visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. I recently added to my growing cookbook collection, Samuelsson’s beautifully illustrated cookbook, Red Rooster Harlem, which includes his recipes, stories about his life in Harlem, but he also provides an eclectic playlist to accompany each section.  For example, there is the The Bar Playlist for the cocktail section, the Big Day Playlist for the entrée section, and it goes on like that throughout the book.  Songs by Wynton Marsalis, Roberta Flack,  Miles Davis and Erykah Badu make his list of favorites.

The Red Rooster did not disappoint.  I loved the vibe of the place with the multitude of bright and colorful paintings all over the walls, tons of homage to the red rooster in the decor, hip and helpful staff, amazing and creative dishes and oh, yeah, awesome soulful live music.   We met for brunch on a Sunday and the place was hopping with customers of all stripes and sorts dining in twos, fours, eights and more.  There was even a family celebrating a reunion down in Ginny’s Supper Club (downstairs from the Red Rooster, and on my list for next visit to the Big Apple) with matchy-matchy t-shirts.  And everyone was so happy in the space – some places just make you smile and the Red Rooster is such a place.

We ordered the cornbread first. Correction,  I ordered the cornbread, a core recipe at the Rooster, the minute we sat down at the table. I had recently poured over the chef’s cookbook for items I had to taste. This decadent cornbread topped the list.  I didn’t even ask my table mates what they wanted to order. I said, “an order of cornbread, please,” to our attentive waiter.  The bread, filled with fresh corn, aleppo pepper and coarse yellow cornmeal arrived quickly to our table, warm and crunchy, served with honey sage butter and an amazing tomato jam. I tried to share.

We sampled several items off the brunch menu including the Fried Yard Bird, Chicken and Waffles and the Mac and Greens –  all were superb – cooked to perfection.  The Yard Bird came with sweet potatoes and collard greens, the waffles and perfectly fried chicken were paired with smoked maple syrup, rooster hot sauce and house made pickles. The bird is the heartbeat of the restaurant and grounds their menu.  They make use of every part including chicken liver butter, chicken liver omelette, and Wild Wild Wings.  They even fold cracklings into their deviled eggs and serve it with duck salami. Yes, I am definitely trying that hat trick.

Chef Samuelsson is also a pickle guy so of course this Czech girl is enamored with his cooking. For dessert, we shared a bowl of mini-donuts filled with strawberry-orange preserves which was paired with chocolate dipping sauce and whipped cream.  So damn good.

The live jazz, including a strolling songstress, upped the funk of the place.  Every race and every hue is welcome at the Red Rooster. The legendary Apollo Theater is just around the corner from the restaurant and there are several Metro stops nearby to make your trip to the Red Rooster an easy journey from other parts of NYC.

Urban Walks in NYC

Urban Walks in NYC

When RM and I visit a city, we like to walk the streets, feel the pavement under our feet, and begin to understand what makes this unique urban space tick.  When we walk, there is time to appreciate the architecture, to observe the river, to revel in the nooks and crannies and hidden sight lines. A peek-a-boo into the city soul.

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Our tour guide, C1

The traffic stops and starts, sidewalk cafes beckon us over as we look for the past in the shuttered windows and trellised ledges.  The smell of spices and exhaust fumes mix along with the potent piles of rubbish oozing the remains of the day. We wince and turn away but continue our journey across Midtown streets in the light rain.  51st to 49th to catch a risqué Broadway musical or down to lower Manhattan to pose with the Fearless Girl facing down the Wall Street Bull, stepping carefully around and over obstacles, avoiding the flagpole banner-bearing pied pipers.

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City trash, everywhere

A good wander unveils many truths and unexpected gems of discovery some painful to observe like the crack zombies stumbling beside us on our way to Red Rooster brunch or the morning after remnants from a night too hard on Times Square. Getting lost is part and parcel to the urban walking experience.  Getting found again with someone you love is like renewing your vows all over again.

Nowhere is walking more surreally varied and trance-inducing than in New York City. We boomerang from Harlem to Greenpoint to Lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side and back down again to the Brooklyn Bridge. We cross the East River by ferry to Smorgasburg, an open-air food mecca held every Saturday in an empty lot on the Williamsburg waterfront.  It is like a summer rock festival for foodies both alluring and sweaty.  We balance small plates on a rock ledge abandoned from a Domino sugar refinery while sipping fresh coconut water directly out of it’s cracked, greenish hull.  The whole place smells like Marrakesh, I imagine. We trek on through the heat to the cool insides of the Artists and Fleas to find a treasure or two.

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RM & I on the Brooklyn Bridge

We shuffle slowly through the Guggenheim, spiraling down beside masterpieces by Klee and Pollack inspired to try a sketch or two.  We look up at the Freedom Tower and down into the reflecting pools and worry when will it happen again, and where, and how many. We rest in Central Park until the algal bloom drives us up and out for gasps of fresher air and back to our pod for the night.

Reinvigorated in the morning after a good night’s sleep, clean socks, and a NY bagel, we complete one of the most popular walks in NYC.  We cross over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, feed our pizza pie-hole at the popular Juliana’s, located next to the more famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, and then journey back over in the moonlight with a throng of tourists snapping selfies from every angle while strolling the crowded boardwalk straddling this proud American architectural feat. Back to the pod by Metro this time, too tired for another trek uptown by foot.

C1 joins us on our walking itinerary as she is living in the Big Apple this summer and is excited to see all that NYC offers in two short months.  We took the Metro when prudent but enjoyed strolls along High Line Park one late afternoon before the summer heat wave necessitated a call for Uber. Too hot to walk even to the nearest Metro station.

Whether seeing the city on foot, by subway, taxi or ferry, the important part is to experience travel with the ones you love, even if it is only you. So, find yourself a path to follow and learn to walk again. You’ve waited too long. Happy Independence Day, sweet travelers.

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My niece joins us for bruch at the Red Rooster