Posts Tagged 'travel'

On the Waterfront: Kayaking in Red Hook

I’ve always been interested in kayaking, but never seemed to find the time or the opportunity to do it, especially since moving to NYC.  Growing up in Massachusetts and living in Connecticut for so many years, I used to enjoy canoeing on small rivers and ponds with my Dad and friends during summers of old. So with summer here again, I started getting the itch to give kayaking a go.  Now, I’m sure kayaking is not typically the first activity that comes to mind to most people when thinking of things to do in NYC.  But bear in mind: NYC is surrounded by water.  All you really need is a seaworthy craft, paddles, and a life vest and the water is your highway. Well, not if you’re a novice like me who’s unfamiliar with the local waters and the potential dangers.  So I starting digging around and found that there are a number of volunteer organizations around NYC that offer free kayaking tours on New York’s waters.  Most of these groups provide everything you need, including the kayak, paddles, life vests, basic instructions and a professional guide to watch over you.

Since I live in Brooklyn, I decided to give Red Hook Boaters a shot.  Red Hook Boaters is an all-volunteer organization devoted to providing safe public access to the waters of Red Hook, “to bring people to the sport of kayaking, and to promote education about, and care for, the coastal environment.”  During the summer months they offer free walk-up kayaking twice a week: Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 pm and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5 pm (schedule is subject to change). No previous kayaking experience is required. It sounded like the perfect introduction to kayaking in NYC. So on a hot Thursday evening after the 4th of July holiday, I decided to take a “7th inning stretch” with my son to Red Hook to check it out! And I wasn’t disappointed.

Red Hook Boaters located at Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park. The cove provides a great spot for kayaking as well as some amazing views of the Statue of Liberty.

RED HOOK: An Historic Industrial/Shipping Neighborhood Enclave

R-E-D H-O-O-K: this cute array of gigantic childhood “blocks” of boulders can be found right beside the cove at Valentino Jr. Pier. Notice the old red brick warehouses in the background–historic remnants of the once prosperous shipping port.

Red Hook is an eclectic neighborhood located in southwestern Brooklyn.  Its name is derived from its appearance as a tiny geographic “hook” jutting into New York Harbor.  Historically, Red Hook served as a thriving industrial port in the 19th and early 20th C. providing thousands of jobs to primarily Italian and Irish American dockworkers.  According to, by the 1950s, Red Hook had over 20,000 residents, many of them longshoremen living in public housing projects built in the 1930s to accommodate the growing number of dockworkers and their families.  The neighborhood also had a tough reputation—with such notorious figures as Al Capone allegedly getting their start there as small-time criminals.  And that rough and tough reputation was evident in the 1954 crime drama classic, On the Waterfront, set in Red Hook, where a young Marlon Brando as a former boxer turned longshoreman takes a stand against a corrupt and powerful union boss. Between the 1960s and ’80s, Red Hook experienced a rapid economic decline precipitated by the loss of its traditional shipping business to New Jersey.  As the economy worsened, local crime increased.  Since the late 1990s, however, the neighborhood has been enjoying a slow but steady recovery as middle class artists and others have migrated to the former industrial shipping enclave attracted by its lower rents and a historic waterfront replete with old warehouses and cobblestone streets dating back to the Civil War era.  Today, it’s an eclectic neighborhood of local artists and artisans as well as an array of businesses.  And for tourists or New Yorkers looking for something different, Red Hook offers a great spot for exploration and recreation, as well as some outstanding views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

View from Louis Valentino Jr. Pier.  Lady Liberty beckons in the distance…

A taste of the artistic graffiti gracing one of the warehouses alongside Louis Valentino Jr. Pier.


Red Hook Boaters is located at Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park, a tiny cove graced by old brick warehouses on either side with a direct view of Lady Liberty across the water.  My son and I arrived just before 6 pm and a crowd of about a dozen people were already there waiting to kayak.  After filling out the necessary waiver forms and being fitted for our life vests, we were given a brief but informative lesson on how to safely kayak on the local waters.  The instructors then helped everyone climb into their kayaks one at a time and we were off.  Due to the potential dangers of strong currents and boat traffic on the open water, we were told to kayak only around the cove and the pier, which was just fine by us.  And in order to provide the opportunity for others to participate, we were limited to about a 20 minute excursion. That said, the experience and the opportunity to enjoy some outstanding views on the water was priceless!  And if this is your first time or you’re going with kids like I was, you’ll appreciate the chance just to get your feet–and likely you’re clothes–wet!  Advice: definitely wear a bathing suit and keep your camera/phones in a water resistant bag. Paddling around the cove with views of the guiding torch of “The New Colossus” to our west and the Freedom Tower rising from the ashes of Ground Zero to her north, I couldn’t help but think of the countless generations of people that crossed the ancient waters around us to discover a new land in pursuit of new lives and new opportunities… As a New Englander who moved to NYC for a new experience, I can definitely relate to that spirit of adventure and challenge.

On the water! It’s amazing to feel the glide of the water beneath you while taking in some of the dramatic and tranquil views.  A rewarding experience…

After our dalliance with a mere drop in the bucket of the great waters surrounding New York City, we took a couple of hours to explore the surrounding community.  As mentioned above, Red Hook is a really unique, eclectic neighborhood worth an exploration in its own right.

Here are a few suggestions to check out during your visit:

Work up a bit of sweat while kayaking?  You might want to check out this old Red Hook ‘institution’: Sonny’s Bar is a local saloon located inside an 1850’s era tenement apartment on cobblestoned Conover Street, just a short walk from the waterfront and Valentino Jr. Pier.  The old decor inside might remind you of the bar where a conflicted Terry Malloy took Edie on their first date.

Sunny’s Bar: one of the oldest running bars on the Brooklyn waterfront. The 19th C building and cobblestone street takes you back to a different ara.

For a more family-friendly experience with an eye towards the nabe’s maritime history, check out The Waterfront Museum, a free museum housed aboard the 1914 Lehigh Valley Barge #79. The museum is designed to promote NYC’s maritime heritage and an understanding of the importance of the Harbor and the local waterways as highways for commerce, culture, and recreation.  Check the website for details.

View of Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79, home of The Waterfront Museum.

‘Potted’ plants aboard the Barge.

After checking out the Museum, take a stroll through a beautiful public garden located right next to the Barge.  In addition to enjoying some amazing views of New York Harbor and the Verrazano Bridge, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, this local ‘greenway’ offers a nice spot to sit back, relax and enjoy the colorful flowers. If you didn’t bring lunch or a snack, swing by Fairway, a unique and popular family-owned grocery store chain whose Red Hook store, located in a large old brick warehouse right on the waterfront, of course, boasts one of the largest grocery markets in NYC.  And in the unlikely event you don’t find what you’re looking for at the deli, check out Fairway’s Patio Grill, which serves burgers, dogs, BBQ, and lobster rolls, while offering beautiful views of the harbor.

The public garden invites you…

A close-up of some of the public garden’s flora.

Another popular option for dining is the Red Hook Lobster Pound located on nearby Van Brunt Street, where you can enjoy succulent Maine lobsters and lobster rolls.

Regardless of where you dine, and there are many other options, make sure you save room for dessert at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies.  If you’re a fan of key lime pie or just want to see what the hype is all about, you definitely can’t miss a sample of the sweet, tart pies Steve’s has to offer.  Simply divine, especially on a hot afternoon or evening in Red Hook.  And if you can’t find it, keep a look out for the signs to show you the way!

At an intersection in Red Hook. Notice the sign pointing towards the key lime pie?

Still heading in the right direction for Steve’s…

Finally! Like an oasis in the desert! Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. If the are doors open, buy some pie then, ’cause they might be closed if you swing by later. And if you aren’t sold yet, according to my 7 year old son, it’s one of the best pies in the world.

There is so much more to see and enjoy in Red Hook.  I’ve merely scratched the surface here.  I highly recommend you visit Red Hook to see the neighborhood for yourself.

Getting There

If you don’t have a car, Red Hook is accessible by subway (the F and G trains to Carroll Street and you’ll have to walk a bit) and the bus (the B 61).  I recommend using HopStop for determining the best way to get there by bus/train.  There is also a ferry service between Manhattan and Red Hook’s IKEA.

Well, hopefully, I’ve inspired you to take a “7th inning stretch” to try kayaking along Red Hook’s historic waterfront and to further explore some of the jewels of this eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood.



Camping in Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Summer is in full swing.  And one of my favorite summertime ‘7th inning stretches’ is going camping.  I love enjoying the fresh air, the stars above on a clear night, and the crackle and smell of the campfire…

Now, I’m no camping pro, mind you.  I’m more of an ‘occasional’ camping enthusiast whose idea of camping usually consists of driving a car right up to the campsite, sleeping in a large tent with a queen-sized air mattress, and enjoying a few craft beers beside my charcoal lighter fluid-soaked campfire.  So, yeah, it’s not exactly ‘Man v. Wild’.

Anyway, as many of you might know, I’ve been living in Brooklyn for about 3 years. And one of the things I love most about living here is the diversity of activities, sights and experiences. And in 3 years, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  So when I began hearing a wild rumor that there was a campground in Brooklyn, I just had to check it out. Wait! Camping in Brooklyn?!? Fuhgeddaboudit!  Well, upon further research, it’s true!  The NYC borough synonymous with Jackie Robinson, Norman Mailer, Biggie, and Nathan’s hot dogs has an actual campground in its concrete midst.  And, no, wise guy, you’re not camping in the middle of a parking lot or under the overpass of the BQE.  More like camping on an abandoned airstrip.  Seriously.

Floyd Bennett Field–An Urban Campground

On Memorial Day Weekend,  I took a ‘7th inning stretch’ from the Big City to check out the urban campground at historic Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY, a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.  The campground is literally located on an abandoned airfield which was once home to NYC’s first municipal airport.

The Ryan Visitor Center. When Floyd Bennett Field opened in 1931, it served as the Airport’s Terminal. Recent refurbishments capture much of the original artistic designs and features of the Terminal as it appeared in the 1930s. In addition to providing useful park info, visitors will find a collection of galleries dedicated to aviation history.


Floyd Bennet Field is located in South Brooklyn, about a stone’s throw from Coney Island, and on the western edge of New York’s Jamaica Bay.  It was dedicated as the City’s first municipal airport over 80 years ago, in 1931.  Although it ultimately proved to be commercially unsuccessful, for about 10 years, the airfield was front and center to the so-called Golden Age of Aviation.  Some of the era’s most colorful aviation pioneers–pilots like the one-eyed Wiley Post, “Wrongway” Corrigan, Jacqueline Cochrane, and Howard Hughes–used Floyd Bennett Field as a staging ground for their various aerial feats.

A few of the famous aviators who frequented Floyd Bennett Field during the Golden Age of Aviation

And yet, for all of its fascinating history, Floyd Bennett Field never quite “took off” as a commercially viable civilian airport.  Between the Great Depression and the lack of an efficient highway connecting it to Manhattan, Floyd Bennett Field’s fate as a commercial airport was sealed.  With the onset of the Second World War, however, the airfield was to serve as an invaluable resource.  In 1941, NYC sold the airfield to the Navy, which used it as a training ground as well as a base for patrolling for U-boats.  In 1971, the Navy de-activated the airfield.  Soon thereafter, the National Park Service made it a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area (Gateway NRA), a 26,000 acre stretch of beaches, parks and historic sites extending from parts of NY to NJ.


Today, Gateway NRA offers a variety of nature programs at Floyd Bennett Field including camping, hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs, an aviation museum as well as a guided tour of old Hangar B, where visitors can check out cool vintage aircraft right up close.  In addition to the on-site activities, Floyd Bennett is conveniently located near world-famous Coney Island, the New York Aquarium, and the Rockaways, home to some of the finest beaches in metropolitan NYC.  And for out-of-staters, the campground is accessible to Manhattan via a seasonal ferry located at nearby Jacob Riis Park, which offers limited service to Manhattan.  The campground is definitely an ideal weekend destination for enjoying some diverse exploration of the area.

View from the beach looking across Jamaica Bay. The beach was just a short walk from the campgrounds and Hangar B. Fishermen can be seen standing in the water offshore.

Beach grass on Jamaica Bay. Notice the plane in the upper right. Though Floyd Bennett no longer operates as an airport, you will hear plenty of airplanes from nearby JFK.

Hangar B is the home of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Project (HARP), a US National Park Volunteer aviation group dedicated to locating and restoring historic aircraft, most of which have a connection to Floyd Bennett Field and its history as a former Naval Air Station.  Be sure not to miss one of the informative guided tours of the old, dilapidated Hangar to learn more about the history of the airfield and the diverse collection of ancient aircraft within.  The tour will provide an up close look at old prop planes, bombers, helicopters and a Skyhawk Fighter Jet, to name a few.  There is also a full scale model of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer.  The tour will really give you a sense of how quickly aviation technology evolved over a relatively short time.

Fairchild PT-26.

Lockheed P-2 Neptune: an anti-submarine patrol bomber

Lockheed P-2 Neptune: an anti-submarine patrol bomber

Camping at Floyd Bennett Field

Okay, enough of the history stuff.  On to the campground!  Despite its urban location, the campground at Floyd Bennett Field is surprisingly rural.  The camping area presently consists of about 40 tent sites, which are fairly spread out, as well as 6 sites for recreational vehicles.  I stayed at the Tamarack Loop.  Tamarack, and the adjacent Goldenrod Loop, consists of a large grassy meadow surrounded by trees and shrubs, creating a very rural feel.  You’d hardly believe that your tent is situated essentially right next to the original air strip from which planes once took flight. Each tent site consists of a picnic table, a grill and a fire ring.  A couple of larger sites also have open-air gazebos offering shade or cover from rain.  Most sites can accommodate up to two tents.  And the Park Service provides a steady supply of free firewood for campers.  Bathrooms, while primitive, are only a short walking distance away from the tents.  Showers?  Well, let’s just say you’ll probably end up roughing it.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, however, showers are apparently available during limited hours to campers for a $10 fee at the nearby Aviator Sports facility.

My tent site upon arrival at the Tamarack Loop.

My campsite is complete! Ready for a campfire and a couple cold brews!

While the location is decidedly rural in appearance, one will not likely confuse Floyd Bennett with a peaceful Vermont forest anytime soon.  Rather than falling asleep to the serenade of crickets, be prepared to be lulled to sleep by the gentle roar of jet engines!  JFK, one of the world’s busiest international airports, is located a mere 11 miles away directly across Jamaica Bay.  (Bear in mind, this is still the City that Never Sleeps…) And don’t forget to pack the bug spray!  The campground is close to the water and the mosquitos are vicious at Floyd Bennett.  That said, it’s camping!  If you want a good night’s sleep, stay at a Holiday Inn Express or something…

‘Primitive’ bathrooms. Note: there is no flushing water inside, and you might want to bring your own TP. A water faucet (not pictured) is located across from the bathrooms. In addition to this facility, portable WC’s were available.

I spent a couple nights at Floyd Bennett and, overall, I really enjoyed the Brooklyn camping experience.  And I would definitely recommend camping enthusiasts check it out, especially if you already live in the NYC area and are thinking about an inexpensive ‘staycation’.  And if you have kids, it’s an affordable and convenient way to take the family camping without leaving the City.  Floyd Bennett also has the advantage of still being ‘under the radar’.  The National Park Service only recently expanded the campground from 4 to 40 sites.  I made reservations for Memorial Day Weekend, and while a lot of people were there, it was definitely not filled to capacity.  For reservations, which are recommended, check out the National Park Service’s website here.

Sunset at the Tamarack Loop at Floyd Bennett Field campground.

For a unique urban camping experience in the heart of Brooklyn, take a ‘7th inning stretch’ and check out Floyd Bennett Field, where roasting s’mores over a campfire is as synonymous with Brooklyn as Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch…

An idyllic campfire at dusk…in Brooklyn!

For official information and updates, visit the official NY Harbor Parks’ website and Twitter account, and Gateway NPS’s website and Twitter account.


Gardens of Park Slope: Spring–Early Summer 2012

I’ve lived in Brooklyn nearly 3 years, 2 of which I’ve spent in picturesque Park Slope. Like many, I am fond of the historic brownstones, its proximity to Prospect Park as well as Manhattan, and its eclectic mix of ‘hip’ and family-friendliness. Residents here really care about their nabe–sometimes to a fault–but the passion is often reflected positively in the way they take care of their tree-lined streets and avenues, especially in the warmer months. If you’re in NYC, especially Brooklyn, on a sunny afternoon, Park Slope is an outstanding neighborhood to take a stroll.  There are some great restaurants and pubs in the area, as well as some unique shops worth perusing. And Prospect Park is a destination in and of itself. But often the best part is simply taking a walk up and down some of the most beautiful tree-lined boulevards in all of Brooklyn and enjoying views of stately brownstones and lush gardens with a little people watching along the way.  To learn more about Park Slope, the architecture, and its history, visit the Park Slope Civic Council and the Brooklyn Historic Society.  In the meantime, to inspire you to take a ‘7th Inning Stretch’ and visit, enjoy some photos I took this Spring and Summer of some of the nabe’s beautiful gardens.

A gate blossoms

An oasis shades brick

An exotic Babylonian-like Garden in Brooklyn

Peach colored roses

Hydrandrea at the base of the staircase

Flowers at the corner

Red flower, red brick

Flowering brownstone

Gargoyles standing watch

Spring Allegro

Sunset on the Slope

Which is your favorite?  Cheers!

‘A Lyric Little Bandbox’ Turns 100: A Photo Album Tribute

On April 20, 2012, Fenway Park–‘a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark’, as Updike described her in his 1960 classic tribute to the great Ted Williams, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu“–turned 100.  Since serving as host to the New York Highlanders one Spring afternoon on April 20, 1912, this Grande Dame of Baseball Ballparks has seen it all.  From the triumphs to the theatrics, from the heroics to the heartaches, from the legends to the rivals… And the roar of the Fenway crowd is only topped by the sound of The Standells singing “Dirty Water” over the loudspeakers after the home team records the final out…

Over the years, I have been blessed to have enjoyed many a great game at this asymmetrical-cut emerald ballpark.   Seeing Pedro toe the rubber when he was at the peak of his game.   And enjoying the at-bats of such sluggers as Mo, Nomar, Papi, Manny and Pedroia.  And having the good fortune to see a young Clay Buchholz pitch a no-hitter on a cool September evening…  Not to mention the countless memories I’ve shared with family and friends at Friendly Fenway, especially taking my son to his first ball game at the Old Ballpark…  Such memories will be forever etched in the ‘Green Fields’ of my Mind.

While the names of the players and managers have changed, and the Park has undergone a few facelifts over the years, the majestic red brick and evergreen walls filled with the echoes of history and the hope of a passionate fanbase remain constant.   Happy 100th, Fenway Park!  Thanks for the memories!

As a tribute to Fenway, I have selected a few photos taken recently to honor the Old Ballpark.

On Yawkey Way, April 14, 2012, Opening Day Weekend.

The iconic Citgo sign. Fans file along Brookline on their way to catch an 'Old Ballgame.' Though not structurally connected to Fenway Park, no gallery of Fenway images is complete without the Citgo sign. Before the Monster Seats were added, on TV, the Citgo sign stood out like a beacon, appearing to hover atop the Green Monster. It remains itself a Boston landmark.

View of the retro-modern Gate B entrance at the corner of Van Ness and Ipswich.

Commemorative red bricks gather 'round Eck's outstretched hands, myself included.

From within the ancient cavernous walls around her, Fenway beckons you to enter her lush, palatial green courtyard...

View of Pesky's Pole from the bleachers during warm-ups. The foul pole is a mere 302 feet from home plate, making it the shortest home-run in baseball if you can hit it. Sox 2B Mark Bellhorn hit the Pole in Game 1 of the 2004 World Series helping the Sox win.

The Lone Red Seat.

View of the seating rows located in the RF Grandstand before the fans file in.

Black & white image of all of the retired Sox numbers along the RF facade (L to R): Ted, Cronin, Doerr, Yaz, Fisk, Pesky, Rice, and, of course, Jackie Robinson whose #42 was retired by MLB. Some day #45 will join the venerable facade...

A favorite Fenway tradition: Here's to one fine century and to another, Fenway!

The 7th Inning Stretch, of course! Across, is the famous Green Monster, standing 37' and 2" high and boasting a manually operated scoreboard. The left field wall wasn't actually painted green until 1947.

Sunlight majestically graces the Green Monster. To the right is the infamous outfield Triangle, and the bullpens can be seen in the foreground, just in front and below the fans, who sit in the bleachers.

The Green Monster at dusk.

Outside, The Teammates at twilight on Van Ness. Red Sox legends, Ted, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio, stand tall beside the Park. These four statues honor the enduring friendship they enjoyed throughout their lives. Together, they would lead the Sox to the '46 AL pennant, the team's first since 1918. The Sox would lose the '46 World Series to the Cards in 7 games, however. One of the endearing highlights from Fenway's 100th anniversary ceremonies was seeing elder statesmen, Pesky and Doerr--the only surviving members of the old Quartet--being led onto the fine green grass by recently retired Red Sox heroes, Varitek and Wake.

Evening settles over the Ancient Ballpark with Pesky's Pole in the foreground and the Fisk Foul Pole in the back. The LF foul pole was made famous by Fisk's epic home run to win Game 6 of the '75 World Series, one of Fenway's many classic moments.

Here’s to many more magical Fenway moments! Go Sox!


What are your favorite Fenway moments?  Please share your thoughts and comments.  Thanks for visiting and cheers!

The Cherry Blossoms of Brooklyn–Enjoying a Celebrated Japanese Custom in the Heart of Brownstone Brooklyn

It’s Spring again in New York.  And with the arrival of Spring comes longer days, warmer weather, and ballparks filled with fans yearning to hear the sound of the crack of the bat when a baseball’s struck.  Within a beautiful swath of green astride Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, each Spring, locals and tourists alike also enjoy visiting the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BBG) to partake in what the Japanese refer to as hanami, or “flower viewing”.  For many, the main attraction each Spring at this urban garden oasis located just minutes from Manhattan’s asphalt jungle is viewing the flowering cherry blossoms, or sakura.

It is said that the centuries-old custom of hanami, which includes the tradition of celebrating the flowering blossoms with great feasts and the offering of sake to the kami, or the spirits believed to flourish within the trees and throughout nature, proliferated under the Imperial Court of Emperor Saga (785-842) during the Heian Period of Japanese history (794-1195).*  The poetry, literature and art of this period praised the flowering blossoms, which for many were seen as a metaphor of the evanescence of life.  Today, the Japanese people continue to enjoy hanami each Spring across Japan and wherever the flowering trees can be found.

The tradition of hanami at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden culminates in the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, or Sakura Matsuri, a weekend-long festival of events celebrating traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.  The annual Festival, which began in 1981, includes tea ceremonies, samurai sword fighting, folk dance, music, arts & crafts, and a sampling of Japanese food.  The Festival offers a great opportunity to combine culture and sightseeing within a beautiful natural setting.   This year the Festival will take place on the weekend of April 28 – 29, 2012.

For those interested in enjoying this year’s cherry blossoms at their peak, you should come to the Botanical Garden well before the Festival.  As a result of our unseasonably short and mild Winter, Spring arrived quite early this year and therefore, many of the cherry blossoms are already peaking.  Whether you come early or late, however, don’t fret!  Hanami is all about enjoying all of the phases of the blossoming trees, not just their peak, and many of the species at the Botanical Garden blossom at different times.  Check out the CherryWatch Blossom Status Map for up to date information.  Moreover, the Botanical Garden has multitudes of flowers, plants and galleries available to enjoy throughout the year.  Whether you’re a longtime NYC resident or a tourist checking out many of the City’s grand monuments, be sure to include within your itinerary a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple by taking a trip to this elegant, urban garden oasis amidst Brooklyn’s brownstones.  You’ll be glad you did!

To inspire you, check out some photos I took at the Botanical Garden while enjoying hanami in March 2012.  Enjoy!!

A few of the blossoms from Cherry Esplanade.  Notice the varying shades of pink and white.  Some of the trees in the background are still barren of leaves reflecting early Springtime.

Close-up view of the blossoms near Cherry Esplanade.

Close-up view of pillow-white sakura.

A scattering of daffodils dotting a hill slope.

Above: View of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, a beautiful and serene Japanese-inspired garden designed by landscape architect Takeo Shiota in 1915.

Another view of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.  Notice the torii gate, the red-colored gate, in the background.   A torii is a gate traditionally found at the entrance of a Japanese Shinto shrine.

Above: Like a gentle waterfall, pink sakura cascading into the pond.

Another view of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and the torii.

Grape-like bunches of muscari add a lavender-esque contrast to the green.

Rhododendron in the Fragrance Garden.

sakura collage for the cherry blossom enthusiast.  Considered symbolic of clouds, it seems only proper that the clouds in the background reflect a sakura-like pattern of their own.

About the BBG:

The Botanical Garden, founded over 100 years ago, in 1910, is located near the Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and Park Slope neighborhoods of Brooklyn.  Its ideal location is just minutes by train from Manhattan.  It’s just a short walk to the Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park and Zoo, and Grand Army Plaza.  It’s also adjacent to neighborhoods well-known for their stately historic brownstones, boutique shops, and diverse dining.  Today, the Botanical Garden, considered one of New York City’s top romantic spots, welcomes over 900,000 visitors a year.  For more information about the Sakura Matsuri Festival and general information about the Botanical Garden’s offerings and fees: festival details.

Festival Details:

Festival hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and Sunday, April 29, rain or shine.  For further details including festival admission fees, visit the Garden’s main website.

Getting There:

The Botanical Garden is located at: 900 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225

By train: Take the B or Q to Prospect Park; or Take the 2 or 3 to Eastern Parkway.




La Semana Santa: A Couple of Spanish Recipes

For those of you who don’t know, I am very fond of Spain and Spanish history and culture.  I first became enchanted with Espana over 13 years ago on holiday and, as a result, it’s drawn me back on several occasions since.  And when I can’t travel there, which is often the case, I continue to enjoy sampling the many diverse wines, cheeses, meats, and tapas…  In honor of Holy Week (La Semana Santa), the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, and the religious processions during this sacred week for which Spain is renown, I was inspired to prepare a traditional Spanish dinner of Sopa de Ajo Castellana (garlic soup) and seared scallops with saffron.  If, like me, you are feeling in the mood for a Spanish siesta but can’t pull away for a holiday to the Iberian peninsula, try a couple of these Spanish recipes, which you might enjoy in lieu of a trip.


Garlic soup is a traditional peasant soup that hails from the Castilian region of central Spain.  Think Don Quixote de La Mancha, noble red wines, and olives.  This soup is typically enjoyed in winter, however, it can be prepared any time of year.  It has been rather windy and cool in NYC this week so the timing is perfect, IMO.  Rumor has it this soup is also great for curing hangovers…

Servings: 4 to 6

Total Time: 30-45 mins

What you need:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
  • 4 cups of chicken or beef stock (water or veggie stock are adequate substitutes)
  • 8-10 slices of day old crusty bread (i.e. a baguette), cubed
  • 4 eggs (optional)
  • optional: 1 1/2 ounces Spanish serrano ham, chorizo or prosciutto, diced
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it starts taking color but not fully brown, 3-4 minutes. Optional: Add diced ham or chorizo and saute for 30 seconds.  Add the bread and cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring to coat the bread in oil.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the paprika over the bread and toss to coat evenly. Return to the heat, add the stock (or water), heat up until it simmers; cook for 10-15 mins.
  3. If you have them, fill 4 oven-safe bowls with soup and carefully slip 1 egg into each bowl and leave to cook in a preheated oven at about 390 degree F for around 10 mins. Serve the soup very hot.
  4. OR: If you do NOT have oven-safe bowls like me, gradually add the eggs to the soup, stirring constantly to form long threads.  (The eggs are not necessary to the recipe, but are a traditional ingredient.)
  5. Serve.  Feel free to add shavings of your favorite cheese on top.  I suggest Manchego, a popular Spanish sheeps-milk cheese with buttery, nutty notes.


This a simple recipe for Galician-style scallops.  Galicia is a region on the north-west coast of Spain, famous for its seafood-based cuisine as well as its regional wines, of which Albarino, a white wine, is arguably the most popular.

Total Time: 25 mins

What you Need:

  • 12-16 large sea scallops
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion (or 1 shallot), chopped finely
  • Optional: 1 to 2 ounces of Serrano ham or chorizo, cut into pieces the same size as the onion
  • 2 teaspoons of finely chopped parsley
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
  • Juice of a lemon


1.   Rinse and pat the scallops dry and salt each side with the kosher salt. Set aside for 10 mins.

2.  Add the olive oil to a large frying pan or skillet and heat over high heat until it’s near the smoking point. Lower the heat to medium-high.

3.  Lay the scallops on the hot oil to sear. Do not move them for at least 2 minutes. Shake the pan a bit to see if they release themselves. Once they do, lift out and put on a plate, seared side facing up.

4. Once the scallops are all seared on one side, add the onions (and ham if desired) and saute for 2-3 minutes, stirring often to pick up any stuck-on bits from the pan.

5. Crumble the saffron over the pan, then add the parsley and sherry (or white wine) and stir well to combine. Return the scallops to the pan, seared side up.

6. Let this boil down vigorously until the wine is almost gone, then turn off the heat and remove the scallops to the plate as you did before.

7. Place the scallops on a dish and spoon out the onion-ham mixture on top of the scallops with a drizzle of lemon juice.

You may want to enjoy these dishes with a side of crusty bread and extra virgin olive oil for dipping.  Wash it all down with a dry white vino such as Albarino.  Personally, I went with a simple bottle of dry, still (as opposed to bubbly) white wine from Penedes, a region near Barcelona well known for harvesting grapes used in the production of Spain’s cavas, or sparkling wines.

Above: seared scallops with saffron, garlic soup, bread and Manchego cheese with a side of extra virgin olive oil.  I enjoyed my meal with a glass of Pares Balta’s Blanc de Pacs, D.O. Penedes, Catalunya, Spain 2010.  This wine is a relatively inexpensive ($12) dry organic crisp white with minerals, subtle peach, and floral notes.

For an aficionado like me who is always pining for the next trip to Spain but can’t make it right now, I hope these recipes will take you on a quick culinary trip to the Iberian peninsula.  And if you’ve never been there, perhaps you’ll be inspired to pay Espana a worthy visit.  Buen provecho! (Bon appetit!)

Follow me at @7thinnstretches

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