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Summer Recap

This was my first summer spent full-time with a walking (and kind of talking) FOMOBaby.  Thankfully it was not a super hot summer.  As someone who grew up in NYC, I can confirm that there is nothing grosser than NYC in the summer. June is usually fine. For those of us without weekend countryside or beachside escapes, it’s not a glam experience.  The stench, humidity, vermins, and extra grime are inescapable unless you work 18-hour days/7 days a week inside an over-air-conditioned office building (there’s a silver lining to being an office zombie).  

At least, I got to spend my sweltering days with my little man this summer. And enjoy him as a little person. He is actually now able to sit through and enjoy an outdoor music class.  He lets me know whether he wants to go to the playground or museum on a given day. I love his firm little “no’s” and “go this way”. And we experienced many first field trips.  Bronx Zoo.  Victorian Gardens. Seaglass carousel. City Treehouse. The Highline. Visit to Battery Gardens, where I got married seven years ago.  Ten year college reunion. Berry picking (2x).  Getting coxsackievirus for the third time (except it’s seasonally appropriate this time!). 

   
    
   

    
    
    
    
    
    
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beach vacation, Captiva, vacation

Captiva 3.0

Turning this into an annual tradition, we just got back from our August vacation in Captiva.  We booked a beach cottage at South Seas, same as two years ago, but this time, we got a top floor unit with an additional sleeping loft (the in-laws stayed down in Sanibel, but definitely made use of the sleeping loft for post-beach siestas).  The upside of the top floor unit were the great views and additional sleeping loft (which we didn’t need) and downside was no “direct” access to the beach from the unit (i.e., being able to wash off the sand on your deck and not trek it into the cottage).  This year, since we booked through the resort, we also got access to the resort pools and beach service, which was convenient for lunch and signing up FOMOBaby for daily swim lessons.

We tried 5 new places this year: Cayo Costa boat trip, ice cream at The Love Boat, Sweet Melissa’s Cafe, the Blue Coyote Supper Club, and the Bubble Room.

Cayo Costa was amazing for shelling.  We rented a boat and dropped anchor 20 ft from shore.  The water there is even calmer than Captiva and only about 4-5 ft deep at 20 ft from shore.  We didn’t stay as long as we wanted because we didn’t bring any supplies for lunch and FOMOBaby was a bigger fan of the boat than the beach (he tried several times to swim back to the boat on his own–this kid is totally fearless and determined when he has a goal in his sight).

A new ice cream place, The Love Boat, opened in the Jerry’s Grocery shopping complex since the last time we were here.  We gave it a try.  It was decent but we still prefer Pinocchio’s.  We tried the salted caramel bacon and salted crunch flavors.  Despite the rave reviews for the salted caramel bacon and my deep-abiding love for salty-sweet desserts, I didn’t quite like the salted caramel bacon ice cream (just little bits of bacon and not very salty or caramel-y).

My in-laws watched FOMOBaby while we went to dinner at Sweet Melissa’s Cafe.  Last year, it was closed while we were down there.  It was a solid meal, but in terms of fine dining, I would give the edge to Mad Hatter, with its beautiful beach/sunset views.

For our last meal on the islands, we had dinner at the Blue Coyote Supper Club in Sanibel.  Dinner was delicious and service so friendly and attentive.  I recommend the ribeye with mole sauce and the gooey chocolate chip cookie (Levain Bakery quality) with cinnamon ice cream–this is any (small or big) kid’s dream dessert. Unlike most diners, we did the eco-tour after dinner instead of before since we had such an early reservation.  The eco-tour is really just a scenic way of doing pre-dinner drinks–typically, people will order drinks to go at the bar and then hop into one of the golf carts provided by the restaurant for a tour of the Sanibel golf course, which runs through the Sanibel River.  We opted out of the drinks since we had FOMOBaby in tow (but maybe next time without the munchkin?).  We have been told people have come across alligators on these eco-tours, but we only saw a menacing bunny.

As FOMOBaby is now 2 and actually gets excited about Disney stuff/fish tanks/trains, we figured we should do the requisite visit to the Bubble Room.  FOMOBaby LOVED the miniature train that ran through the different rooms of the restaurant (he would jab me violently every single time the train came through the room where we were seated, which happened about 40 times).  We ordered the orange cake.  Pure sugar and not for me.  But the little kiddo and the big kid enjoyed it.  I don’t understand why they serve sticky buns for bread, but FOMOBaby licked them off thoroughly.

So some photos below…

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Things I’d like to do next year down in San-Cap:

-Eat at the Pecking Order: we almost went there for dinner one night, but didn’t realize it was take-out only (there are a couple of seats outside, which would be fine if it wasn’t August).  Probably good for a picnic lunch to Bowman’s Beach or Blind Pass.

-See a manatee or stingray.  Have not seen one down here yet in the three times we have come.

-A longer day trip to Cayo Costa

-Visit Useppa (not sure if this is doable by private boat without staying there)

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#tbt, travel

#TBT: Captiva

Toward the end of my maternity leave, we took our first family vacation and upon my mother-in-law’s suggestion, we *gasp* went to Florida.  During our childless years, we would never have thought to vacation in Florida.  The plastic Miami scene wasn’t our thing. Neither is Disney.  But we were childless no more.  FOMOBaby was almost four months old and in full FOMO mode (not sleeping, screeching and screaming for hours–especially after 2 pm, and only slept in a swing). We are beach people but a resort hotel room with adjacent neighbors seemed like torture for us and fellow vacationers.  A self-catering condo also sounded like a not-vacation (taking care of a colicky baby is exhausting enough without having to clean up a condo).  MIL suggested South Seas, a full-service resort on Captiva Island with condo accommodations.  Apparently, NO ONE goes there in August.

We booked a 2 bedroom/2 bath beachfront Gulf Cottage.  On the way from the airport to the resort, we stopped off at the Target in Fort Myers and stocked up on supplies and a Fisher-Price swing.  For most of our 2-week stay there, we were the only guests in the Gulf Cottage section of the resort.  We had the beach to ourselves the whole time.  Nothing but water in the distance.  FOMOBaby could scream to his heart’s content in the afternoon, evening and during the night.  It was blazing hot but we had the bathwater-calm ocean at our feet to cool off.  FOMOBaby had his own baby beach cabana with regularly prizing of ice-cold water and a fan.  This is when we knew we had a beach baby on our hand.  During our stay, he NAPPED at least three times in his beach tent.  FOMOBaby actually fell asleep and stayed asleep, without needing to be worn and bounced.  We even took him out to dinner in Captiva and Sanibel.  As it was low season, every restaurant we went into was OK with us bringing him, even the fancy French restaurant.  I never thought I’d enjoy Florida so much.

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The next year our in-laws came with us and we rented a 3-bedroom Beach House.  The little man was now mobile and enjoyed running back and forth between the pool and the beach.  We would plop him in the Swimways Baby Spring Float and just hang out in the shallow water for hours.  FOMOBaby got to go on his first boat ride with Grandpa at the helm.  We took the boat around Pine Island Sound, hung out at Cabbage Key where FOMOBaby chased around a quad of turtles named Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael.  It was a majorly rough ride back to Captiva but somehow FOMOBaby FELL ASLEEP.  The rest of us thought we were going to die and the motion-junkie kid just dozed off.

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The second time on the island, I finally learned that there was a whole resort pool complex at South Seas (c/o my awesome ex-boss who happened to be vacationing at South Seas at the same time).  Somehow we missed it the first time around, probably since we just hung out on the beach in front of our cottage and honestly, a newborn wouldn’t get much out of the waterslides and kid’s camp.  We also discovered the Island Seafood Truck this time, where we bought fresh grouper and cajun butter.  Several trips were made to Pinocchio’s Ice Cream in Sanibel.  Our in-laws had friends in Sanibel, so we visited the beach there for the first time.  The shelling was definitely better there, but you could see the skyscrapers of mainland Florida in the distance, which detracted from the feeling of being on a secluded island.

We are going again this year in a few days and I can’t wait.  During these years of his life, FOMOBaby changes so much and going back to Captiva at the same time every year really highlights how much he grows over the course of a year.  When we went last year, we were picking up a high chair and baby proofing locks rather than an electric swing at Target, he ate real food at restaurants (ok, Kraft Mac & Cheese is not quite real food) rather than just a bottle, he went shelling with me, and we said sayonara to the baby beach cabana (no way was he staying put inside a tent).  I think this year, we will be saying adios to the Swimways Spring Float and will be spending a lot more time at the pool than the beach.  His picky eating has gotten better in the last few weeks and I’m crossing my fingers he will be willing to eat something other than French fries and Kraft Mac & Cheese. I have a feeling he is going to learn that he can break out of his portable crib during this trip.  On our first trip, FOMOBaby learned to sleep without the swing on all night and it was the first step in getting him to sleep in a crib, so maybe this trip, it may be time to move to a big kid bed?  

My favorite picks in Santiva and the Surroundings (Captiva-Sanibel)

Best Casual Beach Food: Mucky Duck

Best Fine Dining: Mad Hatter

Best Grouper: Lazy Flamingo (there are two locations–I like the one closer to Captiva better)

Best Shrimp: Yucatan Shrimp at Doc Ford’s

Best Raw Bar: Trader’s Cafe

Best Key Lime Pie: Green Flash

Best Ice Cream: Pinocchio’s

Best Accommodation: Land’s End condo overlooking Red Fish Pass so you can spend your afternoons/evenings watching the dolphins

Best Accommodation for Those With Boating Experience: Rent a boat for the duration of your stay and a beach cottage on Cabbage Key (accessible only by boat)

Best Groceries and General Supplies: Jerry’s

Best Beach Gear Rentals: Yolo Watersports

Best Spa: Spa at Tween Waters Inn

Best Fresh Seafood: Island Seafood in Matlacha (I’ve heard the truck stopped coming to Captiva but it’s worth a drive to Matlacha to stock up on fresh seafood)

Best Bug Spray: No-See-Ums All Natural Bug Spray (the no-see-ums here are no joke and other stuff does not work on the bugs in these parts)

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Home

Renovation Newb: Loves and Regrets From My Bathroom Renovation

In 2012, we bought our first home.  Pre-war 2 bedroom, 1.1 bathrooms (there is literally just a toilet in the 0.1 bathroom).  Kitchen and 0.1 bathroom were fully if dubiously renovated.  The main bathroom, however, looked like this:   


It certainly was not the grottiest bathroom I’ve ever seen.  But we actually own the apartment this time.  We had bought at the bottom of the market, so any improvement work on the place should (fingers crossed) enhance the valuation of the apartment down the line.

Up until then, I had read my fair share of Domino, Dwell, Architectural Digest and Elle Decor magazines, but that was the extent of my knowledge of renovations.  So, what the heck, we decided to gut renovate the main bathroom.

The contractor quoted 6 weeks for the project and after it was all said and done, it took 2.5 months.

I didn’t know much about leveling floors, washers, etc., but these were the key elements I wanted for the renovation:

  • Marble subway tiles
  • No square tiles (I HATE square tiles)
  • Separate rain shower head and handheld shower head

I would have loved to put in a walk-in shower in lieu of the tub, but as it is our only full bathroom, it would have significantly devalued our apartment since we live on stroller-central UWS where there is a significant segment of the population that take baths regularly.

The finished product:

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IMG_0842DSCF2811We have been using the renovated bathroom for 2+ years now, and I would say that

…I love

  • The separate handheld shower head: so practical for bathing the kiddo, cleaning the bathtub, rinsing off dirty feet, cleaning big toys (i.e. the wheels on FOMOBaby’s toy stroller or his Radio Flyer), the couple of times FOMOBaby went #2 during bath time, etc.
  • The hotel-style towel rack: great for additional towel storage
  • The 10-prong towel hook: great for hanging to dry clothes that can’t go in the dryer
  • The recessed mirrored cabinet

…I regret

  • Buying an off the rack sink vanity:  I should have just asked the GC to build a custom sink vanity with a stone waterfall panel to fit the space.  Instead, the sink vanity awkwardly juts out and there’s dead space on either side.  The “coated” mdf wood hasn’t held up very well next to the bathtub.
  • Placement of the shower system:  we wanted to save money and didn’t move the plumbing, but it would have been far more ergonomic to move the shower system to the center of the long side of the tub.

Notes on the selection and use of a general contractor: We asked for 4 different estimates before selecting our contractor.  Two of the candidates were the “go-to” guys for our co-op (i.e. they painted the hallways, fixed leaks, etc.).  The other two were recommended by friends.  The contractor we selected gave the most detailed quote with pricing broken down very clearly (i.e. $X for demolition, $Y for installation of the vanity) vs. the other contractors that simply gave a number for renovation of the bathroom.  The estimate also laid out the payment schedule, which we appreciated.  Cost overruns were itemized.  

We later used one of the co-op’s go-to contractors for more minor work like installation of a larger dishwasher and replacing the radiator covers, which was convenient as the co-op board approval went through very quickly (days vs. a few weeks for the contractor that renovated our bathroom).  We have since reached out to the same contractor for more cosmetic work on the apartment, but after the first go-round, the pricing they are quoting is significantly higher and they’ve jacked up pricing after the fact claiming it was a clerical error.

My take is that for personal residential projects, the way to go is to be your own general contractor and source the millwork specialist, plumber, tile installer, electrician, painter, etc. yourself.  However, this is only really feasible in a condo or a single-family home.  Given the approval process, a GC is pretty much de rigueur for renovation work in a co-op.  In such cases, it might be better to use a different contractor each time because the contractor may view repeat business as an opportunity to overprice or lob “surprises” at you once you’ve sent them your deposit (which may not be a concern for some or may be viewed as a premium for knowing what you are getting).  I’d love to be proven differently…

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knitting

Knits: Baby Blankets

When I was pregnant with FOMOBaby, I knitted up a storm, during the long days/all-nighters waiting for work documents to come in and during my early maternity leave (I went on leave around 38 weeks and FOMOBaby didn’t arrive until after 42 weeks).  I stopped knitting for a while after FOMOBaby was born because between colic, a baby that didn’t sleep well, and insane NY corporate law hours, I barely had time to get more than 3 hours of sleep a night.

FOMOBaby used to be really attached to the baby blankets when he was a non-mobile baby, but now that he’s a big 2-year-old on the go, he doesn’t have time for snuggling with baby blankets.  But I finally have time to knit again!  So when I found out friends of mine are expecting baby 2.0, I jumped at the chance to knit something for this impending little nugget.

As the dad is Canadian, I thought Purl Bee’s Hudson Bay-inspired baby blanket pattern would be the perfect project. They are going to be living in Texas, so I am knitting it out of cotton.  

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My favorite sources for baby knitting patterns are Purl Bee, Ravelry, Pickles, and the What to Knit When You Are Expecting book by Nikki  van der Car.
Below is a sample of FOMOBaby’s arsenal of baby blankets.

Purl Bee’s chevron baby blanket (I made 2 versions, one in cotton and the other in merino wool):

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Lion Brand’s Baby Love Diagonal Baby Blanket (you have to register on Lion Brand’s website to access the pattern):IMG_0106

Garter Rib Baby Blanket (this was his favorite blanket!):IMG_0299

Purl Bee’s Four Corners Baby Blanket:DSCF2630

The ever-so-simple Super Easy Baby Blanket:IMG_3194

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food, Restaurant

Cosme: Mexican Haute Cuisine

We never make advance plans for date night, other than if friends invite us or it’s Dinner Lab.  Mostly because, in case the sitter has to cancel, we don’t end up  with disappointed bellies that were expecting decadent adult-only multiple course meals.  Usually about an hour or so before the sitter is slated to show up, I browse through Chowhound, Eater or Serious Eats for recommendations or google “best  —– in New York 2015”.  This time, I googled “best dessert in New York 2015” and what comes up is Cosme for its husk meringue dessert.  I checked opentable and luck would have it, they had tables for 2 available (we dine out early, usually no later than 6 pm, so that we can get home in time to put FOMOBaby to bed). 

We were welcomed by complimentary flat or sparkling water and were advised to order about 3 dishes per person.  The food is served family-style.

 
I took charge and ordered the following dishes: uni tostada, chicharron, kampachi, scallops, burrata, and fluke. 

Homemade blue corn tortillas and pumpkin seed-habanero salsa (complimentary starter):  
They served the 6 dishes we ordered 3 at a time.  The kampachi, uni toast and scallop dishes were served together.  The concentrated dried lime gave the kampachi dish its kick.  It’s a great Mexican twist on the classic yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño dish made famous by Nobu.  The uni was so plump and fresh, and made extra buttery by the bone marrow salsa.  It was a little awkward to share the single uni tostada, though.  Scallops are tricky to serve in an aguachile manner.  They end up either too raw or too rubbery.  Not so here.  The jicama was a nice crunchy counterpoint to the delicate, buttery scallops.  They do a really great job of sourcing their seafood at Cosme.

    
  

The next trio of dishes to be served were the burrata, chicharron and fluke.

The burrata was not particularly inventive but superbly executed.  The chicharron was just a really fun dish (hot sauce optional).  Garnished with avocado, radish and greens, Cosme’s light and airy chicharron tricks you into thinking you’re eating a vegetarian tostada rather than fried pork skin.  The fluke was the only main course we ordered.  The fluke was nicely cooked, but the real stars were the diced (and maybe slightly pickled?) cactus and garbanzo bean purée.

  
    
Onto dessert: husk meringue and banana-red bean tamal.  Both were the most inventive desserts I’ve had in a while that were also delicious tasting.  A little weird without being unrecognizable as a dessert dish and lightly sweet.  I wanted to order everything on the dessert menu and was left wanting for more dessert even though I was stuffed.  

   

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food, Omakase, Restaurant

Contra: Farm-to-table omakase

I am a big fan of Fish & Game’s farm-to-table omakase concept.  Every time we are up in Hudson, NY for a weekend getaway, we usually dinner reservations at Fish & Game without fail.  So when a recent Fish & Game email newsletter featured Contra, which I hadn’t heard of before, I knew I had to try this not-quite-new place on the Lower East Side (if you are a NY spot that opened between May 2013 and April 2014, I will have totally missed news of your opening since I was just trying to survive billable hours/no-sleep-always-sick FOMOBaby during that time period).  Contra follows the same set menu omakase concept as Fish & Game.  It’s $67 per person for a 7-course menu.  Bread with cultured butter is another $3.  A cheese course can be added for $8.  

We came in on a rainy evening hoping for a walk-in table (note: if you make advance reservations, you should be aware that they have a policy of charging $67 per person for a cancellation within 24 hours.)  Alas, the host indicated they were full, so we sat at the bar.  The bartender was super nice, chatty but not intrusive, and let me sample the strawberry and salt cocktail (I’d ordered a different cocktail with saffron gin, Strega and yuzu).

We started with an “extra” order bread–freshly baked poppyseed bread that was pretty great but somewhat strange that it should be a surcharge at this price point. 

First course: a little wedge of gem lettuce covered in a milkweed and almond dressing and grated Parmesan cheese.  Gem lettuce seems to be the new darling green of the culinary world.  A cute spin on a Caesar salad.  

Second course: a squash carpaccio dish.  I was skeptical about raw squash, but it works, even if it was not particularly memorable. 

Third course: this was just such a wonderful take on squid ink pasta, except the pasta is 100% squid. You cannot go wrong with squid, lard and peas. 

Fourth course: the scallops were very fresh and seared perfectly, and the light acidity of the rhubarb was just the right counterbalance to the richness of the scallops.    

Fifth course: My favorite savory course.  The pistachio sauce and amaranth leaves made all the difference here.    

Sixth course:  I was expecting an interesting contrast between the tartness of sour cherries and tangy-ness of sour cream, but this dessert dish was simply innocuous.  Not flavorless, but just not packing the punch I imagined. The sour cream ice cream just tasted like milk and perhaps too much sugar was added to the sour cherry sauce.  It was a nice summer dessert, nevertheless. 

Seventh course: I really like this sweet and savory dessert.   The contrasting textures of the corn custard vs. peach granita really highlights the sweet-savory relationship of the ingredients in this dish. 

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