- top eight things I really want to discuss at the expat party
- the nightmare before christmas, live in brooklyn!
- cutting back on caffeine IS KILLING ME
- simulated caffeine withdrawal
- and us remains impossible
- oh hey, it’s the 90s
- NYC is about being Younger
- all grown up now
- the subway is the great equalizer in NYC
- there must be social commentary in this workout
Category Archives: life
Last Wednesday, I took the boys to see the Nightmare before Christmas – Live to Film. It was the projected film, with live music and vocals by the original cast voices. That meant Danny Elfman, in person, belting out the part of Jack Skellington, in front of a full two hundred piece orchestra and backing vocal chorus, below the projected film. It was amazing.
Featuring famous Canadian Catherine O’Hara!
Nightmare, along with Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, are part of the goth canon for my generation. Burton’s early work is what fits with the whimsical, dark faeryland aesthetic of second generation goth, both due to the constant reference of death in imagery, and the elongated lines, dark curlicues, and stark contrast stripes. That is the the Tim Burton aesthetic, and Nightmare, with its horror theme, Halloween imagery and Danny Elfman soundtrack, is a pinnacle of goth entertainment.
It’s also worth noting here that, while Oingo Boingo are considered goth adjacent, I do not believe they are considered goth canon. Except for “Dead Man’s Party“, and that I heard more as the Last Dance cover at Bar Sinister. Paul, however, enjoys Oingo Boingo quite a bit, and, as he remarked to me at the end of the movie, this was the closest we would get to an Oingo Boingo concert for a long time. The fact that it wasn’t an Oingo Boingo concert though did not stop us from occasionally quiet-yelling “PLAY DEAD MAN’S PARTY” or “ONLY A LAD!”
Ben is not yet a fan of Oingo Boingo (Paul is working on it), but he loves Nightmare and even asks to watch it in off season (That’s my baby.). He likes the movie so much that he even took a second run at watching its cousin film, the recent adaptation of Gaimans Coraline. (Still too scary.) This event appealed so much to our family that I invested in the mid-range seats at the Barclays Center so we could actually see the performers.
We walked in to find genius product placement: Hot Topic ads featuring Jack Skellington. I dislike the appropriation of Jack Skellington as this sort of bad boy symbol in general, and I squarely blame Hot Topic. Still. Genius product placement. Then again, Nightmare does inspire some things that sound like a Hot Topic imploded into a quasar of overkill.
Marilyn Manson is also NOT GOTH.
I read retroactively that “Barclay’s Center will become Halloweentown!” and that costumes were encouraged, but I didn’t see anything themed or otherwise. I did see a handful of outfits and Jack Skellington T-shirts, but no effort on the part of the venue was visible as we walked halfway around it to get to our seats.
We sat down just in time for the warm up: Disney’s Silly Skeletons, with a live score performed by the orchestra. I forget how deeply disturbing some of these early cartoons are. Multiple points in this were nightmare fuel:
I SERIOUSLY CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE WHAT THIS IS.
The next piece was a medley of the score, with what I assume were Tim Burton’s original pencil crayon drawings. Ben was very impressed at the drawings and asked if Tim Burton was also an artist. We had just finished explaining that yes, he was, but he was best known for directing movies, like the original 1987 Batman and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but by then the movie had started.
Overture with drawings, which someone kindly posted on YouTube
Right away for the opening number, five cast members filed onto stage, whom we assume were all original score, launching right into “This is Halloween”. It wasn’t until Jack’s first song that Danny Elfman came out, singing “Jack’s Lament” with an incredible intensity. I haven’t seen Elfman sing live before, so therefore I was amazed by his depth of sound. Also, like everyone else on stage, he was clearly having a freaking blast. Despite singing a lament despairing of the sameness of every day in Halloween Town, Danny Elfman was still downright joyful.
That would prove to be the theme for the evening. I have rarely seen a performer enjoy themselves as much as this cast was. Ken Page, singing the Oogie Boogie song, was delighted to be there, and was having so much fun with his performance that it took all the fear out of that most nightmarish of characters. Catherine O’Hara came out and sang “Sally’s Song”, perfectly note for note as she did a quarter century ago, emoting Sally’s tragic longing while still having a good time being on stage. There is something to being at a show where the performers have that contagious joy at being there.
I was just so impressed with this production. I can’t even begin to imagine the work to take the score and sound layers apart and put them back together to sync up to the orchestra and singers. To do so, the original creators of the idea must have had to determine where the live music and voices would cut in, and give direction to sound engineers to specifically take track layers out at those moments. It must have been incredibly detailed work that would require stress-testing with performers.
For that matter, I can’t imagine being in an orchestra performing an entire score all at once. That’s insane, two hours of performing a score straight through without more than the intermission break, plus the opening cartoon and overture. How would you have the entire score on your stand and manage to turn the pages and keep up and play flawlessly for that long? I am blown away with the caliber of musicians that performed this soundtrack, beginning to end.
LIVE FULL ORCHESTRA.
For all these reasons – for the concept of seeing a live-to-film movie perfectly edited, for the joy of the performers singing on stage, for the quality of the musicians who performed, I was so glad we were able to go. It’s our way of celebrating the holiday season: by watching a movie where Halloween nightmares try to reproduce Christmas and end up terrifying everyone. Every family has its traditions. This was a particularly special way for us to celebrate ours.
A few weeks ago, my brain hit a wall. That is the best metaphor I can come up with, not just because I hit a limit, but because that’s what it felt like. It felt like my brain was actually damaged. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t process information or communicate normally. There were times when I struggled to string words together, much less manage to go into Marketer Speak Mode, in which I use buzzwords on autopilot to sound authoratative in meetings. (“What we need is a closed digital tracking ecosystem that mirrors the customer journey,” is the kind of phrase I throw out in that mode).
This isn’t an entirely new state for my brain. I am used to a fairly bad depressive jag around November, when the days get shorter and the time change happens. Layering seasonal affective on top of existing clinical depression creates an annual drop in dopamine and serotonin that I can’t keep in check with the same practices that work the rest of the time.
This jag, however, was worse than any other year in that it was not only mentally worse, but that it brought a whole new set of physical symptoms. I get a slight vertigo when I am in a depressive state, a light dizziness combined with a sense that the world is on a 15 degree angle. In addition to that, I had a permanent headache that Advil couldn’t fix. And I was completely exhausted, lethargic in a way beyond my usual seasonal affective disorder. It was bad in that it actually kept me from doing stuff. I went so far as to be tested for Lyme, and the doctor threw a thyroid test in to boot, but no conventional test could explain the problems I was experiencing.
After ten days of this, I was also running out of hope to get through it. What if I had done something to my brain? What if I had actually broken it and my usual methods wouldn’t work ever again? I am used to being able to control my depression with a regime I’ve spent the past five years working on, a base of medication that covers about half the problem, and then a series of lifestyle changes that cover most of the remainder. But with the extreme lethargy and the headaches, I wasn’t able to get enough exercise, and exercise is a huge part of my mental health regime. What if I never got past this?
I was complaining about this to a friend, about how I felt. I told her the physical symptoms reminded me of the times I’ve gone off caffeine suddenly, like I’d been given decaf. I couldn’t feel the impact of the coffee I was drinking, so I kept slugging back more of it. Similarly, I couldn’t feel the effects of my antidepressant medication. Her response was that maybe coffee was actually the problem. Maybe coffee was over-stressing my brain. Maybe that was causing part of the issue?
My immediate response when someone suggests I cut back on coffee is OVER MY DEAD BODY. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was twelve. I asked my mom if I could start drinking it, and her response was, “It will stunt your…..oh, have a mug.” At twelve, I wasn’t freakishly tall, but it was obvious stunting my growth would Not Be A Problem, that I was trending after my namesake, “Big Jill”, my 5’11 aunt. My entire adult brain has therefore been formed around caffeine. I have a long history of it that I documented twelve years ago when I tried to quit the first time. I’ve tried quitting in the past, and found that my personality doesn’t function the same way. Gone is my innate Canadian Tigger-ness. Instead, I’m much more like a Kanga, a risk-averse milquetoast mom. (Obviously the last time I did this, I had a toddler.)
However, after ten days of my brain feeling like it was alternately too big for my skull, or missing entirely, I was willing to consider options. So I did some research. Turns out coffee can actually damage serotonin receptors over time! It turns out it can also wear out norepinephrine receptors. I take Burproprion, the generic Wellbutrin, which is a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (different than most antidepressants, which are serotonin reuptake inhibitors). This keeps extra norepinephrine in my brain, which seems to be the missing chemical link in allowing me to function like a normal human most of the time. Maybe by damaging the receptors with caffeine, I had actually canceled out the effects of the NRI? Or I had made it difficult for my brain to process serotonin, eliminating a set of positive emotions entirely? Or I had produced too much cortisol and was exaggerating the effects with coffee? All the theories sounded like caffeine could be a factor. Therefore, I decided to cut caffeine back and see what happened.
Ten days ago, I stopped drinking my afternoon pick me up cup of coffee. And I itched for that coffee. I would droop at my desk in the overheated client office around 2pm, and long to be able to go down and get an almond milk latte from the in-house coffee bar. I still need a ten minute nap at 3pm because I can’t just slug back more caffeine like I have trained myself to do so I can push through. (Note that I do not always get said ten minute nap because work).
Last week, I cut from two 12oz cups in the morning to just one 12oz cup. This would be fine at the time, but then I’d be sleepy mid-afternoon again, and be unable to go get a pick me up cup at 2pm. On some days, the half-life would wear off as early as 11am and I’d be sleepy before it was even lunchtime.
This week, I’m down to one 8oz cup. One normal cup. Granted, I went through 3 cups of organic instant decaf yesterday (partly because I was mixing MCT oil in for a snack) but I’m down to less coffee than I’ve had in twenty-five years. This isn’t easy for me. I’m used to combating any fatigue with coffee. I’m used to caffeine being what powers me through my day. Now, I’m drinking organic decaf as a placebo, which is useless. My brain is not fooled, and it wants that steady drip of something that fights off sleepiness through its entire day.
And it may be that the coffee was the problem because I feel better. Actually, not just better, I feel joyful. I feel like everything in my world is fantastic (true, my life is awesome) and each and every day will be a wonderful set of experiences. Most of all, I believe that I will have the energy and the physical ability to actually go and engage with that world instead of being physically and mentally exhausted. It’s a night and day change from the state I was in ten days ago, where I felt like the world around me would go by and I would just count down time in it, unable to rouse myself to move, and unable to feel anything positive even if I did.
Is this all due to the caffeine cutback? Maybe. It could also be the L-tyrosine I started taking. It could be that this episode just ran its course and my brain healed itself. I know part of the headache was actually allergies – after re-visiting my morning Zyrtec, those went away almost entirely as well. But i’m still working on cutting back caffeine just in case that’s the dominating factor. I’ll cut down that 8oz of caffeinated coffee to decaf on Thursday…and over Thanksgiving weekend, I will actually try to go without coffee. (This is also why I’m staying home over Thanksgiving to detox and sleep)
Still, I’m just not willing to risk resuming that old habit just yet. I’d like to see how much better my brain gets, how much I can heal myself. I’m not ever going to not have to deal with depression, but at least I have done the work to alleviate the symptoms most of the time, and reduced a chronic condition down to an occasional flare-up. Cutting back on caffeine may be part of that self-care regimen that I have to accept in future.
Last Friday, I hit a wall. I ran out of energy. I thought it was a depressive episode at first, triggered by hormones, a unique facet of depression that only biological females have to contend with. Then it stretched out for a week of exhaustion, of headaches and dizziness, of a slightly elevated pulse, of a need to constantly nap or rest. Now I’m not sure what it is, if it’s depression that has extended itself into physical symptoms or a physical condition that’s causing me to be exhausted and subsequently depressed. Given that cardio – either running or cycling or HIIT – is a key part of my self-care and depression maintenance, it may just be that my inability to muster the energy for exercise is making the mental condition worse, feeding into the cycle.
Whatever it is, I would like it to stop so I can have my life back. It feels like I’m in caffeine withdrawal, like someone has swapped my two cups of high octane organic coffee with decaf. It feels like the norepinephrine and dopamine that my antidepressants are supposed to keep in my brain are missing again. It feels like any and all stimulants, whether from the antidepressants or from caffeine, are simply missing, leaving me in a state of withdrawal and misery and exhaustion. It feels like my batteries are drained. Maybe I’m sick, maybe I’m depressed – I have too many x– factors to be able to tell.
I thought it was enough that I already spent hours every week trying to hack my brain and correct the chemical imbalance I was born with. I have a problem with my brain’s wiring, an inherited depressive condition that causes a complete lack of motivation. Superficial research indicates that this is a problem with the receptors in my brain: I do not get any sort of positive reward for tasks accomplished or for actions that should give me joy. Hence, a sort of Eeyore-ish response of “why bother?” to every possible action. Why accomplish anything? Why even get out of bed if there are no positive emotions to be had for it?
This is not the best way to live my life right now. I’d like to have my normal existence back now please. Perhaps there is a physical reason I feel this way. I hope it’s something I can figure out, fix, and get back to my normal existence
I went to ConBody this morning. It’s a bootcamp workout on the Lower East Side, with a well documented story and theme around…convicts. Or ex-cons, to be exact. The space isn’t a workout room, but a jail cell, complete with a cell door. The wall features a mural of chain link and figures in hoodies. The logo is a clock with barbed wire on it. The hashtag is #dothetime. The branding is genius, and has landed a ton of press.
What’s more genius is that this is a business that actually does help to get convicted felons back in the employment market. It makes their prison time an asset, not a detriment, in their career as physical fitness instructors. It won’t get them back all their rights, but at least it gets them jobs. The founder, Coss Marte, from everything I have read, seems a genuinely nice guy, from a family committed to social good: his brother Christopher is running for district councilman in New York on a strong community service platform (Their mom was handing out his election pamphlets after she did the class with us. AWWWW)
Incarceration is a serious problem in this country: the US locks up more people per capita than any other country. Two million people are estimated jailed in this country, or just under 1% of all the adults in America.
Incarceration has been called “the new Jim Crow“: a race-biased system that perpetuates the caste system in America. In her book on this topic, Michelle Alexander argues that incarceration is a method to keep black Americans “in their place”, a seemingly fair, equal and just system that instead is skewed towards POCs. Not only does prison take away the freedom of a felon temporarily, but it is a permanent black mark that prevents that individual from fully exercising his rights in the future. He may not be able to vote. He may not be readily hired to work, resulting in economic disadvantage.
The prison system in America is known to be profitable and corrupt. Not only do we have the for-profit corporation in a popular Netflix series, but even Margaret Atwood has written satire about prison economics Now we may be recognizing the justice system as the new vehicle for racial sublimation.
So it is with no small amount of social irony that I, a middle class white woman, went off to do a bootcamp workout, in a room full of other middle class white people. And it was a fine workout. It was a bootcamp workout. It was a hard bodyweight bootcamp workout. And I appreciate and respect that. I especially appreciate and respect that Coss Marte has managed to wrap up an equipment-free bodyweight bootcamp workout into a brand package that manages to be tough love and inspirational, threatening in a safe way. He’s managed to make prison into a weight loss and transformation narrative that sells his service product for him. He doesn’t need to buy thousand dollar bikes when he has that story to tell.
Now, ConBody has been extended into its own space at the ridiculously named Saks Fifth Avenue Wellery. That is an even more glaring social irony. From everything I have ever read about that neighborhood and that store, the women at the Saks location must make the girls down at the LES space I went to look like street punks. I would bet that if they saw a ConBody instructor outside the space in a hoodie, the same UES women would clutch their pearls and eye him warily, perpetuating the same criminal stereotype bias. Yet there’s the workout, and the same ex-cons leading it, in a space that also houses a fucking salt cave. Is that a bright spot in the dark horrors of prejudice in America? Or is it just a ridiculous juxtaposition?
Either way. My quads are tired. A 7am workout followed by a stressful day of chasing clients around their own offices is exhausting. I’ve taken my magnesium and now I’m going to go handwrite in my private journal until I fall asleep.
And I would like to add that I did the time and then thought about rewarding myself for my “incarceration workout” with a cup of butter coffee with maca in it. Then I realized how ridiculous I was being even thinking that sentence and got the hell out of the Lower East Side before I could spend the $7.50. There’s being a spoiled white girl doing a jail themed workout, and then there’s going out after it to blow the same amount of money that some of my fellow New Yorkers probably have for food for the entire day on a specialty drink, and that was just one upper middle class wellness luxury item too far.
I have a very full life. A very good life, many would say: a family, a career, a community, friends, all of the things that go into being a well-adjusted adult. At least, that’s what it looks like in writing, on social, on “paper” and pixels. It isn’t Instagram pretty, but my life is solidly built. I’ve had a mix of opportunity and good luck that I’ve been able to parlay into a generally awesome existence. I do not need my life to be universally aesthetically appealing, because it was built for me.
That’s why it sounds precious and ungrateful to say that this isn’t enough. To say I’m not happy, all the time, given my circumstances, makes me feel like I am a whiny Gen Y yuppie, aka a GYPSY.
There is a critic that lives in all of us that says we are not entitled to say that if our lives are good. This voice tells me that because I have the basics of the Western world: love, safety, shelter, food, that should be enough. Furthermore, American work ethic tells me that if the life I have built isn’t everything I want, that’s my fault for not working hard enough.
I told myself that for years, that I had no reason to be unhappy because I had the potential to have everything. I could lose weight to be beautiful, I could work harder to be wealthier. Everything that could make me happier was possible if I was only willing to work for it. If I wasn’t willing to work for it, then that was why I wasn’t happy.
I told myself for years that if only I was more goal oriented, if only I would focus, Jillian, focus, then everything would improve and I would be happier. The awesome life I built would feel complete.
Then somewhere around last year, I realized that the goals I had been working towards had absolutely dick-all to do with being a happy, fulfilled person. If I’m not entirely happy in my own my life (outside of my relationships with my core people), it has jack shit to do with what I can afford or what I weigh. Instead, it has to do with the way I am treating my own brain, and the little box I am trying to shove it into.
And that was the revelation. It isn’t that I’m unhappy because I haven’t worked hard enough to earn everything I want. It’s that I didn’t want the right things to begin with. Fuck being thinner – my husband loves me the way I am and only wants me thinner if it gives me the confidence to wear sluttier clothes. Fuck more money – money is security to me, and the ability to Travel the World. It can make a big difference in happiness, but it isn’t everything I want. Fuck…oh, wait, professional success is still important, so maybe I should not say “fuck you Corporate America” just yet.
Why is it though that professional success is still important, especially when divorced from financial motivation? This is simply because I actually really like my career when it’s challenging and I’m getting to do the things I’m best at. When I’m poking around in data and writing up ideas for a media plan and pulling together slides on Consistent Messaging From First To Last Touch (note to self, that’s a professional article idea), then I’m happy.
So what is it missing in the rest of my life that is making me less than happy all the time? How can I light my brain up more to make that happiness more consistent and less fleeting…and maybe, in the course of things, reinforce the part of my brain that comes up with good ideas at work? (Or at least make myself more fulfilled so I feel more balanced at work)
I suspect the answer may be creativity.
I am a very pragmatic person. I am not a creative person. How am I going to make this work? I will write that in tomorrow’s post.
Douglas Coupland wrote, in Shampoo Planet, that home is where you dream, that it’s part of your brain’s hard drive. That we’re all hard wired for our dreams to be set at home.
I’m not terribly sure where I dream these days. Many days my dreams do exactly what they should do, and parse through the mundane things that have happened to me each day. Some days, they are pop culture references – TV, movies, books. And then other days, I dream of my own home, of that corner of British Columbia I grew up in, took for granted and left. I dream of Victoria.
With no close family left in BC, I’m unlikely to return, even for a vacation, because I know I’ll always prioritize the rest of the world over returning to that corner of it I know by heart. And yet, every day, I think of random places and it catches my breath in sadness. I’ll be caught by a random memory of Oak Bay in summer, or I’ll look at a street in Manhattan and see the West End. It is forever and ever part of my permanent memory, my own hard drive.
For the past year, since I said goodbye the last time, since I wept my way back across Canada on a red-eye flight back through Toronto last November, I have been trying to push back those memories and focus on my actual present in Brooklyn. I love Brooklyn, after all – I love New York the way I loved Vancouver. This is the most Vancouvery place I could have settled with my family, after all, with its hippie food co-ops, overpriced real estate, bike lanes and beaches. New York City is ten times the size of Vancouver and yet I get it because I lived there. And I chose to be here, and I work every day to stay here and I love it here. And so, rather than focus on the past, I chose to push it away. I thought that would be the smart thing to do.
The problem with the past is that it won’t be pushed away. It’s been half a lifetime since I lived on the Island, a dozen years since I left Vancouver, and yet I still dream of home. It’s taken me the last twenty years to realize that not everyone feels homesickness like I do, and not everyone has the emotional attachment that those of us born in the Pacific Northwest do to our homeland. Maybe I should be celebrating that and shining that light into my own memories instead of drawing the curtain on them. Maybe I should choose to follow those memories for a few minutes each day – not enough to be lost in nostalgia, but enough to accept the sorrow and the joy that comes from spending the first twenty years of my life in a lost English colony on the edge of the world.
And so, I’ve chosen to spend a few minutes memorializing my own memories of Victoria. The neighborhoods and streets are still there, and many are actually protected by heritage and building laws. The Victoria in my memory is frozen in time between 1988 and 1998, in an era before the Internet had pictures, a time between when the natural resource industries crashed and the tech industry started, yet it doesn’t look much different than the city I said goodbye to in 2015. There will never be skyscrapers in Victoria the way there are in Vancouver…but there will be condominium developments, and there will be growth, and there will be big changes yet to come. When I remember places – a half-finished Songhees walkway, Vic West of abandoned industrial zones, an Oak Bay Marina with Sealand of the Pacific (yes, of Blackfish fame) – they are memories of places that no longer exist except in memory.
I have pushed back memory because I am afraid of homesickness, of the addiction of nostalgia and the past. These are terrible temptations in stressful times. I have questioned many times since I left the Island if my desire to go home was pure homesickness or just a longing to return to a time that was less complicated. After all, wouldn’t everyone like to have the responsibilities of their nineteen year old self for a few days instead of the responsibilities of their thirty-eight year old adult self? So it is with the fear of addiction that I risk reliving memories of British Columbia and choose to describe them.
So. I remember Oak Bay, Victoria, the Island. I remember Vancouver, the Lower Mainland. I will allow myself to revisit the place I know by heart. I will trust myself to accept the strange mix of loss and comfort that is growing up someplace that borders on the unreal in sheer beauty, and then having chosen to leave it, as every small-to-medium town kid does, to See the World. After all, being able to call one single place home means that, as long as I live elsewhere, I am forever on a journey.
When I am self-pitying, that is when I tell myself I’m living in exile Off Island.
When I am hopeful, that is when I can see that journey as being a lifetime of adventure.
And living in Brooklyn, that is exactly the adventure I dreamed of as a teenager in Victoria. I do not need to convince myself of the sheer awesomeness of my present, I just need to come to terms with the contrast it has with my past.
Paul and I spent today on a Brunch Date! We dropped Ben off at his class at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and then, realizing we still had two hours until we had to pick him up, kind of looked at each other
“What do you want to do?” my husband asked me.
“Well, it depends,” I said. “How much biking do you want to do?” I’m back in Physical Training mode, after all – trying to get myself back to the physical shape I was in when I first got sick in June. Therefore, I’m prioritizing more challenging physical activity this week to start rebuilding my endurance, so I can resume my personal training sessions without collapsing halfway through. But I also don’t want Paul to have to wear himself out just because I’m pushing myself more these days.
Fortunately that wasn’t a concern for Paul. “I’m fine,” he told me. “I’ll bike as far as you want to go.”
I smiled. “Then lets go to Smorgasburg! It’s only 4.3 miles away! I checked!”
“Isn’t Smorgasburg coming to Prospect Park on Sundays now though?” Paul asked.
“Yeah, it is,” I replied. “But I think we should go to the Williamsburg location. We will get there right when it opens at 11. It won’t get crowded that early because all the hipsters in Williamsburg wake up late from having been out last night. Whereas the Prospect Park one is going to be mobbed as soon as it opens at 11am tomorrow with families whose kids all woke up at the ass crack of dawn on a Sunday and announced they were bored.”
Paul nodded. “I see the logic here,” he said. “Let’s go. Lead the way.” So I jumped on my bike, and did so, leading the way up Classon to the Navy Yards, and then up the bike path to East River Park. We arrived at 10:52, with just enough time to use the reasonably clean port-a-potties and the conveniently placed hand washing stations before attacking the food vendors.
I had read up before heading out to Smorgasburg this year. The event has, after all, only become larger and even more of a Crazy Food-Off since we first visited it in 2012. I found a good recent Refinery29 article that covered it pretty well and helped me prioritize which stands to hit. (Hint: Not the Ramen Burger…and not just because it had a ridiculous line, ten minutes after it opened)
We wandered up and down to see this year’s lineup first. There were no lines at ANY of the stands because Smorgasburg had just opened, and people were still coming in, so we felt secure taking a few extra minutes to survey the offerings before jumping into brunch. At the recommendation of the R29 article, I suggested starting with the Imperial Egg: a Scotch Egg vendor. What is a Scotch Egg, you ask? It’s an egg, wrapped in meat, and deep fried, and it is AWESOME.
This was a lamb merguez style meat coating. The egg was cut in half, covered in a yogurt sauce, and then we added sriracha at the recommendation of the chef. It was amazing at a half-portion each. The egg yolk and yogurt sauce and sriacha all mixed to drip onto the arugula, which was a great counterpoint to the rich layers of the scotch egg.
Then we moved on to Duck Season, again, based on recommendations from the Interwebs…but also because how could anyone resist a blatant Looney Tunes reference?
We opted for their specialty: the Duck Confit, a perfectly cooked duck leg with red onion marmalade. This isn’t the sort of thing that can be easily split, so Paul and I took turns taking bites of it. It was the first duck confit I’ve ever had that wasn’t too salty, but still managed to be crispy on the outside, while being tender and juicy on the inside. I was so interested in eating it, I forgot to take a photo until it looked like this:
So here’s a photo I went back and took of the demo model:
Eating the confit, sitting on a concrete wall, we both discussed how, if no one sets up a food stall called Rabbit Season for 2016, we will be SERIOUSLY disappointed.
We then followed the sound of “Welcome To The Jungle” next door, to Bon Chovie, a seafood and rock and roll themed stall, where I ordered the fried anchovies, “Jersey style” (which I totally didn’t think was a thing.) The menu also included a salmon burger, and a chef that I suspect, based on his Seahawks hat, probably brought that Seattle style. The anchovies were, as promised, head and tail on, deep fried, and served with smoked paprika sauce:
Yes, these kind of small fish are considered seal food where I come from, but the harbor seal is my spirit animal. I shared two with Paul, after which he declared them “too fishy”, even with lemon squeezed on them.
Since both of us were rapidly approaching Food Overload by then, we decided to hit one more stall. We looked somewhat longingly at the short ribs at Carnal. Paul remarked, “I know I can get fries anywhere, but those giant cones of fries look really good”
“You are allowed to choose your own food, my love,” I pointed out. “You do not have to let your wife pick ALL the foods.”
“I know,” he told me, “but wasn’t there one more you wanted to try?”
Yes. Yes there was. The MofonGO, a dish of plantains with a chicken curry stew on top.
I love plantains. They’re super versatile, and work with both sweet and savory dishes. My current list of Things I Want To Cook includes this recipe from Nom Nom Paleo. And mofongo seemed like the sort of dish I could easily modify for our own meals at home.
We settled in to eat it while sitting on the edge of the East River, watching tourists take selfies, and talking about how we could NEVER TELL BEN about going to Smorgasburg, because he would be no end of annoyed with us. Telling our son that we left him to engage in child labor harvesting vegetables at the botanical gardens while we ran off to eat duck confit and deep fried fish would not sit well with him.
As it was, by the end of the mofongo, we were both definitely full, and it was time to bike back down to Prospect Heights. After all, as fun as it is riding our bikes around Williamsburg and pretending to be the sort of people who to go Smorgasburg, we are usually a little family who do everything together. So we reversed direction back down the bike path, and after some back and forth with Google Maps, managed to get to the Botanical Gardens just in time to retrieve Ben from his gardening class.
I collected Ben at the Children’s Farm, and promptly made the mistake of asking him, “how was your class?”
“Terrible. I only got five beans!”
I looked in his bag, and sure enough, there were five yellow wax beans. Ben continued, “I picked twenty of them, but I had to give them all away because other kids didn’t pick any!”
I sighed internally. “That’s OK, my love. I’m proud of you for sharing. I’m actually prouder of you for sharing that I would be of you for bringing all the beans out with you.”
“But I picked, like, twenty beans and I only got to keep a few!”
Thankfully, it was time after that to take Ben to his next stop: a Lego and Pokemon themed birthday party a half mile away. We loaded ourselves back onto our bikes and headed back up the hill, up to Eastern Parkway, past Grand Army Plaza, and onto the Bergen Street bike path to Brickz 4 Kidz. Ben was dropped off, happy with his people, and seemingly over the horrible indignity of having to pick beans only to have to give them away to other children. (Clearly, our son does not agree with communism.)
Paul and I then headed down into the Slope to engage on our last Brooklyn Food Stereotype activity: picking up our CSA from Fishkill Farms, along with our meat share from McEnroe Farms. Lately, the shares have been sizeable, and Paul has had to bike uphill with an extra twenty pounds of produce strapped to his back. It’s still less than the seventy pounds of Ben and trailer bike he used to haul though, so he has done it cheerfully. This week was no exception, as we collected our vegetables, fruit, and grass-fed cow. And to Paul’s credit, even after biking almost twelve miles at that point, he still steadily paced up the hill, back up from 5th Avenue to Prospect Park West, and finally, back around Grand Army plaza to home.
When I got home, I immediately plugged the routes into MapMyFitness, just so I could see how far we rode…and realized, I had totally burned off all the deep fried food we’d eaten at Smorgasburg. Here’s the map showing our route
Now, sitting on the couch, I realize I a extra tired from the effort. Like, really tired, exhausted tired, the sort of exhausted I used to have to bike a lot further to get to. Getting back to bike commuting before the season ends will be tough: today’s 13 miles was done in chunks, and I’m not sure I can do ten miles in less than an hour anytime soon. But if I don’t start now, I definitely won’t be able to return to that level of physical fitness, so I may as well go for it, and see what I can achieve before winter. And if, in the process, I get to go for bike rides and brunch outings with my husband, so much the better.Here’s the map: