Autumnal Remnants

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The last of the leaves are dropping from the trees and the days are getting progressively shorter. Yesterday the first flakes of snow fell and though they were fleeting and melted instantly, it has me wishing that autumn could hang on for just a few moments longer. I didn’t get my fill of foliage yet. And I haven’t had a single sip of cider yet.

On a lighter note, I have come to the conclusion that vineyards are infinitely more enjoyable during the autumnal months than during the dead of summer. I’m vividly recalling a particular trip that Charlie and I took over the summer to a certain vineyard overlooking a bluff on Long Island’s North Fork. The view was incredible and the wine was pretty good, too, but it was preceded by the longest, sweatiest bicycle ride during the summer’s most unbearable heat wave. By the time our wine was poured, I was ready for a dip in the ocean. Our intentions were good, but it was not the most enjoyable way to spend a summer afternoon.

But in the fall, the air is crisp and cool. You can enjoy a glass of white and not be preoccupied with mopping sweat from your brow. A few weeks ago, we took a trip north to Rhinebeck, NY and then detoured out to Millbrook Winery to spend the afternoon with friends. I’d recommend you take similar course of action if you still have a few lingering, sunny days of fall left wherever you are.

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Don’t mind the criss-crossing power lines. Modern technology can screw up even the most scenic vistas.

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Tempting bunches of grapes still ripe for the picking.

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I could duck out of Brooklyn for that dusty drive any weekend.DSC_0480

Ghostly Renovations

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Halloween may be over, but Park Slope stoops are still sporting plenty of synthetic cobwebs and collapsing jack-o’-lanterns, so I feel a post on the subject isn’t too far off base. One night last week, Charlie and I were taking one last walk through the brownstone before heading home for the evening and I noticed the light casting a ghoulish glow over the garden floor. I snapped a few photos and then failed to post them in a timely fashion, of course. But, if you’re looking for the setting of your next horror film, I think I may have found it.

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And Then There Was Light (And Plumbing)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with quick trips to New Orleans, Tulsa, and Houston. Much progress and many visits to Home Depot were made in between, but I’ve been significantly remiss in chronicling any of our brownstone renovation adventures. In an attempt to make up for lost time, I’m offering a two-for-one deal in this post: electricity and plumbing! Now I have you hooked, right? If further enticement is needed to keep reading, let me preface this by explaining how challenging it is to adequately outfit a home more than 120 years old with modern amenities while still respecting the building’s original layout and structural integrity. But trust me, we’re trying! Or rather, Charlie is trying and I am learning. Every day, I learn new terms and techniques and somehow the pieces are all slowly coming together in my head. So, without further ado, I give you a random assortment of photos and descriptive words that I hope will give you a sense of how we are progressing.

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Let’s suffice it to say that I’ve never given much thought to the pipes that carry our “waste” out of the house. To me, such necessary functions were attributed to magic and were dependent upon gravity and deep, deep, underground holes. Now you have a better understanding of my extensive knowledge of plumbing.

Well, there’s a bit more to it than that I’ve quickly learned. But, the very symmetrical nature of this brownstone beauty has offered a very brilliant bathroom solution. Since the building will eventually morph into either two or three separate apartments, it was crucial to have a bathroom on at least three of the four floors. Charlie is the best problem solver I know and has managed to run one waste line (read: giant black pipe. Not magic, as originally assumed) down the length of the building and all the bathrooms will be aligned down the center of the house. How is that for waste management?

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And, in an effort to make as few holes as possible in those ancient plaster walls, most of the electrical wiring has been neatly coiled next to the plumbing. Which, I suppose, is it’s own kind of modern magic, really.

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Although it’s hard to tell, this will eventually be a third floor bathroom someday soon. Currently, though, you can see through to the second floor. (I promise, no original hard wood was destroyed in the making of this bathroom. It started off as ancient, unattractive tile.)

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Just one of many unavoidable holes that I promise will be patched.

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The top floor ceiling also had to be replaced as some of the beams were beginning to collapse and needed a bit of bolstering. And, if you need one more bonus photo for making it this far, here’s one of all the insulation Charlie managed to cram up there. This baby brown is airtight. I’m hoping we make it to January without turning on the heat.

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Practically Ancient History

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Feast your eyes on this cast iron beauty and tell me how much you’d enjoy cooking a big meal for a large brownstone family. I suggested to Charlie that we keep things simple in the kitchen and, instead of investing in some fancy stainless thing, we just cook on this instead. He was less than amused.

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All kidding aside, this is one of the most impressive stoves I’ve ever seen.

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If you can get a good look at the writing across the top, it says National Stove Works New York. Cursory internet searches have not revealed much of anything about the stove’s origins. But I’m determined to know more. Anyone out there have any insight into enormous cast iron stoves from the late 1800’s? in the photo below, you’ll see that there is date of 1873 listed above the burners.

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My mind is already spinning all kinds of crazy stories and I can practically picture the women who perspired over this stove in layers of crinoline (what else could they be wearing?) cooking hearty suppers for a full house. And I don’t think my daydreams are too far off from reality. Charlie searched through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s online newspaper archives and found an ancient clipping for this very same house in the early 1900’s advertising for a full-time cook. Not just any cook. A Protestant cook. Apparently those owners could only consume food cooked with the same religious views. You are what you eat, as they say.

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Late last week, we had the gas meters installed (one of the less interesting aspects of home renovations so I’ll spare you the details). When the gas guy walked through the garden floor, his jaw dropped when he saw the stove. This thing catches everyone’s attention. It’s even more impressive in person.

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One of the more daunting tasks is to figure out how to incorporate such a stove into our home. Because I’m fairly positive it will take an army to move it. At least we’ll always a conversational piece close at hand.

The Brownstone Boy

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When I moved to this borough about 4 years ago, I’ll admit that I didn’t know very much about it. I knew that most of my family landed here after leaving Ireland about three generations ago. And that some areas were notoriously not that desirable while other areas very much were. I also knew that very good pizza was easy to come by.

But I did not know anything about brownstones. Fortunately, Charlie has turned out to be a wealth of information in that department and has spent the last couple of years patiently imparting his real estate wisdom and knowledge of historical preservation on me. Two weeks ago, he became the very proud owner of one such regal brownstone and, if you’re interested, I’d like to share what one of these baby browns looks like on the inside after many layers of paint and years of carpets (I hear the ’70s calling) and decades of renters. And, if you want to stick around long enough (read: a few months), I’d also like to share what one of these buildings can look like after a painstaking and meticulous renovation.

DSC_0284He’s unlocking the door and ready for the cleanup. This beast of a brownstone has four floors in total. The door Charlie is unlocking here leads to the garden floor and then there are three floors towering above.DSC_0318One of seven marble fireplaces in the building. The one pictured here is on the back parlor floor. Each floor has two large rooms on either end and, if you can imagine, a fireplace in each room. I can’t even fathom a time when a building of this size was heated using fireplaces. If this photo makes your eyes burn, it might be because of the exceptionally pepto bismol pink walls. Also note the salvaged molding on the floor. This will be incorporated back into the building at a later date.DSC_0297I’m still working to figure out what year this sink might be from. But, it should be noted that this room is also currently home to a similarly old and beautiful white stove as well as a hulking, jaw-dropping cast iron stove that reaches almost to the ceiling. This cast iron behemoth is most definitely one of the oldest things in the building (aside from the building itself) and we are determined to find out its origins. Pictures of these will come next time. (Am I building the suspense for Brownstone Part II? Is it working yet?)DSC_0288The original grand staircase just waiting to be restored and returned to its original glory.DSC_0310The pepto pink paint meets its match with a good dousing of paint stripper.DSC_0334

Take a good look at the intact ceiling up there. Perfection.

DSC_0332Now take a look at the ceiling on the other half of the same room. Far from perfect. But Charlie has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Just you wait and see.

if you’ve scrolled this far, I’m going to guess that you most likely are leaving with no true sense of the building’s layout. And, well, let’s be honest here. That’s because I really have not done this building any sort of justice. This is more a hodge podge of photos that I hope to expand upon and, eventually, I plan to give you a better picture of this little corner of Brownstone Brooklyn.

A Beast Far From Extinction

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Considering that I hail from Upstate New York (farther north than most might deem necessary to travel), I love when a worthy trend makes its way south. And rarely do I think that Manhattan or its great, neighboring borough, Brooklyn, lack for very much of anything. Especially restaurants. But when the Syracuse-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que announced plans to open a new outpost in a long neglected warehouse on Union Street near Fourth Avenue, I began counting down the days.

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**Disclaimer: This post is long overdue and the following photos date back to June 21st, two days after the Dino’s official opening. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to extoll the virtues of this place.

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One of my favorite characteristics of all the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que locations is the way they manage to keep their cool by taking root on the slightly tougher edges of town. In Syracuse, the original location was founded in 1988 in an old brick tavern on a largely uninhabited stretch of town. In Brooklyn, the bar-b-que joint is steps from the Gowanus Canal, whose toxicity has long been debated, and has showcased a bright mural as a tribute to the area’s gritty history. The same sentiment can be found in Harlem’s location, too.

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Although I most certainly am no expert in the intricacies of bar-b-queing, I can assure you that this is the best I’ve ever eaten.

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While patiently waiting for our table with a slew of expectant and hungry Brooklynites, I ruminated on some of the many differences between each location. For instance, Syracuse’s curb is always lined with Harley-Davidson bikes while Brooklyn’s curb is more typically filled with strollers and vintage Schwinn bikes. But the food is another story. The food will consistently amaze you, despite the location you choose.

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Fuel for the fire.

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Unfortunately, piles of meat rarely photograph well. At least, in my experience. And, after a lengthy and well-deserved wait with some frothy brews, very little thought was given to the camera once the food arrived. But hopefully I’ve convinced you that this place is well worth a visit.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to catch delicious whiffs of slowly cooking pork as I’ve biked over the Gowanus canal on neighboring streets. And trust me, pork is quite the upgrade from the foul smells typically emanating out of that canal.

Spring in My Steps

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By all accounts, spring has officially made an appearance in Brooklyn and the surrounding boroughs. And to me, nothing spells spring quite like the dusty tomes on display at the Park Avenue Armory. Every year – the past 53 years, to be exact – the New York Antiquarian Book Fair invites book dealers from near and far to show off their most desirable books, from rare, first editions by Jack Kerouac, Flannery O’Connor, or Charles Bukowski to the well-worn, original texts of Shakespeare. For those of us who still enjoy the weight of book in our hands, the book fair is a time to celebrate the writers we admire most.

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Purchasing one of these literary gems may make a dent in your wallet, but to look for a day is a mere twenty dollars. But after a glass of wine and some perusing, don’t think we weren’t tempted to pull out our check books.

And then of course, there are the usual oddities that you only see in New York. Such as…

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A man reading by the light of an ape. Reading lamps are extremely overrated.

In Honor of the Ladies

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Well, as with most things, I appear to be a little late in the game. Women’s History Month may have ended yesterday, but that’s no reason to stop celebrating. In fact, why should we designate just one month to celebrating the accomplishments of all those wonderful women of yesterday and today? I think I’ll celebrate for the rest of the year, thank you very much. And in honor, I’m taking a cue from this former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief turned full-time writer. If you’re in need of a good female power punch, I suggest you grab a copy for yourself. And if you need more convincing, just look here.

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Holiday Traditions

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Many may have spent their morning celebrating with green beers in raucous bars, but I opted for a decidedly more traditional and quieter start to my holiday morning. St. Patrick’s Day has long been a favorite holiday of mine and a traditional Irish soda bread is something I look forward to every year. It’s a basic bread with minimal ingredients, which says a lot of about its country of origin. For a country that has a long, tortuous history with food, soda bread was an easy way to ensure that bread made it to the table each night. I have a feeling that our Irish ancestors would be shocked to learn that we now celebrate something that, to them, was a staple in their diet.

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Though, I’ll be honest, some of my additions are far from traditional. I doubt orange zest was readily available to many in the countryside of 19th century Ireland.

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This point of this post is more to ramble on about traditions than to actually show the step-by-step baking process. The lack of documentation is my own fault and for a more thorough breakdown of the bread, I will direct you to the inimitable Ina Garten.

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According to Irish folklore, a cross was cut into the dough before placing it in the oven (or over an open hearth, if you live in a thatched roof cottage by chance) to let out the evil demons and spirits while baking. While I made sure to etch a cross into my dough, the end result doesn’t show any such markings. But, given the sounds and smells that my oven emits daily, I think it may be too late to purge it of any maleficent spirits.

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Also not present here are the snowy flakes that were flying intermintently outside my window. I hear that spring is lurking somewhere around the corner.

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I prefer my soda bread with a smear of butter and cup of coffee.

But not to worry, I’ll be sipping my holiday beer before long. It is a holiday, after all.

First Flakes

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The first snowfall is a moment I look forward to all year. And in this city, it’s a rare moment when silence descends, muffling it’s incessant sounds and covering it’s dirt and grime. Tonight I walked home in just such a moment, savoring the first smell of winter and welcoming in a new season.

Though, arriving on the heels of a hurricane is making me question the state of our climate…

Alas, if the flakes are flying near you, enjoy them while they last.

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