There’s a lot to love about springtime in NYC. Sun-speckled sidewalks. Buckets of fresh blooms. Dining al fresco. The people watching alone is better than any high-fashion runway show. (Off the shoulder tops seem to be having a moment.)
I love a good girls’ weekend, so when my mother, sister and I all had a free weekend last month, I jumped at the chance to plan a getaway in the city that never sleeps. After selecting our shows and reserving our tables, we set off for our urban adventure. Maybe my Kid-Lit sensors were in over drive, or perhaps being around the Science Chef brings out the foodie in me – whatever the inspiration, amidst the hustle and bustle of NYC streets, I found myself surrounded by Food and Fiction at every stop along the way:
Stop #1: A trip to the Big Apple wouldn’t feel right without a visit to The Plaza Hotel and its most famous resident and Kid-Lit celebrity, Eloise! (Sorry, Kevin McAllister. You’re a close second.) Straight from the source, “One of The Plaza’s most famous residents is the ever elusive and capricious Eloise. Introduced to the public in Kay Thompson’s Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-Ups – Eloise’s mischief and antics have delighted readers and visitors of The Plaza since its publication in 1955.”
While at The Plaza, Eloise fans can spend a night (or two or three) in the pink-and-white striped Eloise Suite designed by Betsy Johnson. Not sleeping over? Why not join Eloise for tea in the Palm Court or, better yet, host a private birthday party in her playroom for you and your closest friends? (Do you think they book birthday parties for 30-somethings?)
Stop #2: I’ve never met a carb that I don’t like. If given the choice between a chocolate chip cookie or freshly baked bread, I’ll take the bread every time. (Although, these cupcakes might be a game changer.) With salty soft pretzels at every corner, how could I possibly pass?
Food Science Fact: Before baking, pretzel dough is dipped in an alkaline bath. This special mixture, such as baking soda flakes and hot water, changes the way the dough’s proteins and sugars react with one another. The result? A dark brown color, crunchy outer skin and perfect pretzel bite!
Stop #3: When Jane told me she had never heard of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I thought she was joking. When she didn’t laugh, I felt old. Surely someone out there remembers Claudia and Jamie Kinkaid – the two adventurous runaways who hole up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spend their days slipping into tour groups, hiding in exotic exhibits, and pinching as many pennies as possible. (Sorry, gift shop.) With the help of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Claudia and Jamie solve a controversial mystery over the authenticity of the Met’s recently acquired statue. (See? Kids are amazing!)
When my mom suggested a trip to The Met, I couldn’t resist bringing along my Middle School copy of this much loved story. While I was tempted to slip into a particularly cozy-looking four poster mahogany bed in the American Decor wing, I suppressed my inner runaway in favor of remaining with the girls. (Also, we had dinner reservations at Bar Americain later that night.)
Stop #4: Ah, brunch. Sweet, sweet brunch. Is there any better way to start a Sunday? Brunching opportunities in NYC are endless. (Trust me, we’ve done our research!) While it is difficult to pick a favorite, Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien ranks high on the list.
Banana Macadamia Nut Flap Jacks? Belgian Waffle with Fresh Berries and Devonshire Cream? Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata? All good choices off the wildly creative menu. For this brunch session, Jane and I indulged in Norma’s Eggs Benedict, a delectable dish that replaces the traditional English Muffins with bite size Buttermilk Pancakes. (Winning!)
Food Science Fact: Egg whites are made up of a protein called ovalbumin. Proteins are macro (large) nutrients that contain chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. When proteins are subject to heat, these chains unfold and lose their structure. (The fancy science term for this is: denaturation.) In traditional Eggs Benedict, the eggs are poached. This method cooks the whole egg in a mixture of hot water and vinegar. The vinegar changes the pH level of the water, which denaturates and cooks the proteins in the egg. The result? A thin layer of cooked egg white covering a yellow yolk heaven. Gently rest on a pancake, smother in hollandaise, and enjoy!
Stop #5: Whimsical. Central Park in the spring is simply whimsical. Take, for example, the Hans Christian Andersen statue. Who could stroll by without first stopping to admire this larger than life Danish fairy tale author and his most famous not-so-ugly-duckling?
If forced to choose, The Little Mermaid is my favorite Andersen tail. (Spelling humor – see what I did there?) And, yes, in college I did in fact write a thirty page paper comparing the original Andersen story to its Disney counterpart. How did you know?
Stop #6: When in Paris, eat macarons. When in NYC, visit Laduree and pretend you’re in Paris eating macarons. Our final excursion of the weekend involved a sun-lit stroll up Madison Avenue on our way to this world famous French patisserie.
With its decadent decor and plethora of pastries, Laduree is perhaps the most beautiful treat for the eyes this side of the pond. The only down-side? Having to choose which tasty treats are coming home with you!
Food Science Fact: Before baking, macaron batter needs to rest for 30 minutes. Why? Every type of batter has tiny air bubbles trapped inside. When the macarons rest, the outer shell of each cookie dries out completely, hardening into a glossy shell. This way, when the macarons bake in the oven, the hard exterior forces the air bubbles to escape through the softer bottom edge, forming a thin layer called “the foot,” rather than through the top, which would result in unsavory cracks in the surface.
I returned from NYC feeling rejuvenated, inspired and full – the hallmark of any successful trip! The highlight of the weekend? Singing along to the catchy Sara Bareilles tunes of Waitress, the hit Broadway story of a talented baker and her much-needed love affair. Talk about kitchen chemistry!