Sunday, December 14, 2014

On the First Day of Christmas best friend gave to me,
a locally sourced breakfast in the city.
Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy area
Shana and I have both been on a whole foods buying, clean eating kick since summer (although when she completely gave up sugar for a month, she far exceeded my commitment to the task). My dedication to cooking whole foods and consuming less sugar and processed foods is mostly based on how cooperative Blue is being that week. Can I get the organic shopping done at our local Amish market (and by local, I mean at least a 30-minute drive in each way)? Do I have the energy at 5:30 PM to peel carrots and roast a butternut squash...or is it brinner...again? And most importantly, is there any thawed meat in the back of the fridge or did I forget to put it in there between playing zoo animals and cleaning up spilled milk? As a family, we agree that the food we purchase from local farms is superior in taste and shelf life to anything we purchase at a traditional grocery store. Sometimes it's organic and sometimes it's not, but it always tastes more flavorful. This summer I discovered that I actually do like raw tomatoes and fresh peaches. Huh...who knew? 

So, it was in that vein that I asked Shana to choose some farm-to-table restaurants for our visit. She answered with, "You should know that 'farm-to-table' is a catch phrase that's going to cost you a lot of money. Especially in New York." And so it was. A quick perusal of some online menu was...eye-opening. Arby's was sounding better and better. But she promised to find some great restaurants that served high-quality food, even if they weren't technically farm-to-table. This is one of the greatest advantages to having a lifelong local plan your itinerary, especially in a city with so much of everything that eventually you just throw your hands in the air and surrender. 

Friend of a Farmer is a cozy dining spot that feels a little bit squeezed into place. There is some outside seating, which had been completely abandoned because it is December, after all. Once inside, people slide from side to side, as they shift to let some people out the door and others in. I can't imagine what it's like in there during peak dining hours. The hostess lead us upstairs where, again, we danced around some patrons who had finished their meal and were heading down the stairs. The wait staff, while pleasant, was bustling around us with hot plates and hot coffee. But we've dined in NYC before (and in Paris, where restaurants are even tighter), so it was only a passing thought before we were seated. The roaring (wood-burning) fire and a quick fill of our coffee cups went a long way toward putting me at ease after a long morning of travel. 
Someone described the interior as a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Granny's house and it is a bit like that. But more than anything, it has an Iowa farmhouse feel to me. Sturdy, classic and unpretentious. To save on space, they've stored ingredients in baskets throughout the restaurant, allowing them to do double-duty as decor. Once during our meal, a server excused himself as he reached over the head of a very bewildered elderly woman seated next to us to retrieve a pineapple. 
See? Pineapple. 
And once, someone from the kitchen rooted around in a bin behind Shana to dig out an armful of russet potatoes. The paranoid schizophrenic side of me could get all worked up about the general public being so close to the food I'm consuming, but I managed to just push that out of the way and enjoy the homey feel of being surrounded by locally sourced fruits and vegetables. (And they do pull from local farmers as much as possible since the owners are originally from a farm in upstate New York. Although I don't know if their menu is truly seasonal or if they just source ingredients from further regions as they go out of season in New York.) 

We all opted for plates of carbs for our brunch meal. (I don't know what it is...I have the hardest time eating eggs after getting off a plane.) I decided on the blueberry pancakes, which were truly mouth-watering and although I wasn't that hungry, I managed to polish off the entire plate. 
Also, did I mention French press coffee? Ermergerrrrrd. French press coffee!! And none of that bringing it to your table and then asking you to wait 4 minutes while it percolates. They deliver, ready to serve. They set it down, press the plunger and voila! Instant perfection. Neal had pumpkin pancakes, which he admitted were "pretty good" (this is one step up from "not bad" in Neal-speak. It has only taken me 8 years to master this language) and Shana had the waffles. It was all good. We ate past the point of being full. We obliterated rule #1 of being skinny but satisfied ourselves until an early dinner.
With brunch finished and noon tickets for a Behind-the-Scenes tour of Radio City Music Hall, we paid and headed out...again squeezing between tables and through clusters of customers waiting to be seated. This was all complicated by my cross-body, anti-theft messenger bag that was filled to the gills with cold weather gear and photography equipment. You would think that without a toddler in tow, I would travel a little lighter. Apparently, once a diaper bag, always a diaper bag.

On our way to Radio City, we walked through a farmer's market and made one stop at Macy's. Some of the markets run all year and are often set up for 12 hours/day on market days. The fruit, vegetables, flowers, local honey, sweets and wine all looked divine and if we had been cooking any of our next 8 meals, we would have definitely stopped. But we cruised on...until I saw this:
It's Brussels sprouts on the stalk, y'all! This is not how they display Brussels sprouts in our farmer's market and I had never seen them looking so...natural. And to be very honest, I kind of like the idea of plucking my own sprouts from the stalk. But it takes up a lot of table space (and probably truck space) so I can appreciate that I may not be seeing this any time soon. Also, it's Brussels sprouts...not Brussel sprouts. They hail from Belgium, and more specifically, Brussels. There, you will never again look like an ass at a farm-to-table event. Unless you ask for heirloom Brussels sprouts.

Our stop was at Macy's to see the Christmas windows. I wish "the windows" were a thing in Kentucky. It's just not and that's a damn shame. Even the just-OK-windows were still spectacular and gave me an entirely new appreciation for an artist and his/her vision.
If you can see this and not go a little misty-eyed over the miracles on 34th Street, may not be my people.
The Macy's windows tell the story of a little boy and his dog, who traveled through the universe, experiencing Christmas on different planets. A couple of things interrupted my viewing pleasure: 1. We accidentally looked at these backwards so I never really enjoyed the bigger picture. And 2., being daylight, it was challenging to see them well and photograph them accurately. But we tried, dammit.
Although I think it's an interesting juxtaposition of New York's classic architecture against the "Earth" Christmas scene, I do wish these had been easier to see. Daytime is just not the greatest window-viewing time.
Rock figures with animatronic arms were featured on Uranus and Neptune.
Santa joins in on the fun, floating around Jupiter and Saturn.
Apparently, Santa's workshop is on Venus?
The first window, where Alex and his dog are granted an intergalactic tour with Santa serving as a guide. (For the record, I hope Blue's room is equally as nerdy when he's about 8. I would be thrilled.)
On the other side of the building at 34th Street, windows depict the story Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus. I think perhaps these don't change as they were described as "classic" by a New York blogger last month.
1. Hats are good. 
2. Neal needs a scarf. His Adam's apple will get cold. 
These are Salvation Army bell ringers set up in front of Macy's. This year, the bell ringers throughout the city set up boomboxes and then danced and rang to the beat of hip hop music. The effect was intoxicating and if there had been any cash in my purse, I would have just handed it straight over. So many of the hot trends start in NYC and then trickle down. I hope this one makes it to us eventually. It's fun, it's interactive and it looks far less desperate. These ladies were full of the Christmas spirit and I hope they made a bucket load that day.

Tomorrow we venture inside Macy's, where Santa is camped out. Ho, ho, ho! And what's your name, little boy? 


  1. This all looks awesome!!! I love that the Salvation Army folks are doing something SO fun!!! And I am with you - I KEEP FORGETTING to carry cash for this purpose this year. And it breaks my heart. I hate walking by, they really need those little swipe things for Iphones... then I say that and I totally wouldn't trust it - I'll just run to the ATM ;)

  2. OMG, I love those windows AND the fact that the ringers are going hip hop. Although just yesterday I was charmed by a young man bell-ringing outside Walgreen's and whistling a variety of carols. I dunno, the money just floats right into the pot.


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