Hillary Reeves

A blog about living and eating in New York City.

Uncovering Family History

One of my favorite memories is from when I was maybe about five or six. I was visiting my grandmother’s house before she passed away and was digging through the depths of the guest room closet. In there, I found a mildewy old box that clasped together on one side. I snapped it open to find a bald Barbie doll (I’d later be corrected that this was “Midge,” Barbie’s brunette best friend). She came with a collection of wigs and you could try out different hairstyles on the doll as you pulled one wig off and placed another one on. I loved how particular the doll felt to such a specific time and place. I excitedly told my mom about my discovery and she told me how the doll had been hers as a girl — my aunt Cindy got to have Barbie because they were both blonde and my mom had Midge.

I’m not sure where that doll ended up, but even when I was little, I felt transported by touching the doll’s hair. Gently replacing the wigs one-by-one brought me back to 1959, when my mom would have been my same age, playing with the same doll.

I get the same sensation when I read my great grandfather’s journal. Somehow this journal landed in my hands despite my disconnection from my father’s side of the family. I recently found a handful of my aunts and cousins on Facebook (my father was one of nine kids, and I’ve got 30+ cousins on that side) and every time one of them pops up in my newsfeed, I guiltily wonder if they know that I’ve inherited the precious item. I’ve also got two portraits painted by the same man– the images of the two different women used to haunt me as a kid, but now I hang them proudly in my tiny apartment. When I run through emergency life scenarios in my head (What if this house went up in flames and I could only grab one thing?) they’re always the three things I think of saving first.

My great grandfather, Erel Guidone, was a Harvard graduate and medical doctor. He lived in Hartford, CT as a young man, and moved to the Boston area when my grandmother was growing up. He worked in hospitals in Boston, but also wrote, painted, played the bassoon in an orchestra with other doctors, illustrated books and traveled quite a bit.

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Reading his journal from 1912-1913 illuminates the time before he’d started medical school. It seems like he wrote the diary in his late teens/early 20′s; a class graduation photo is tucked into the back page of the book. Nine stern faces face the camera, and he’s the tenth graduate with a slight, mischievous smirk. I don’t know much about his personality other than what he says about himself, but it’s nevertheless fascinating to open to a page that was written on today’s date, 102 years ago to see what he was up to. There’s lots of looking for work, visiting the nearby screw factory to collect paychecks, records of receiving a letter from a friend named “Shep,” driving in “the machine” to New York City, nights spent at O’Connell’s (O.C.’s) playing cards, dates with a “dame” named “Flossie,” trips to see shows at The Palace, and, etched on the back page, a list of names, addresses and numbers, including one for Helene Clark of New Jersey who eventually became my great-grandmother (I believe!).

I revisited the journal this past weekend and then attempted to Google some of the names and places he’d mentioned visiting in July of 1912. Eventually, I came across this article about his sister, Elvira Dolores (what a name!) who ran away from home when she was fifteen. The family searched high and low, placed missing ads in newspapers and presumed that she was kidnapped. A few days later, though, she telegraphed home to say that she’d boarded a train to Boston seeking adventure, and was ready to come home now. One article even supposed that she wanted to become an actress and that’s why she ran away, which I love.

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Elvira Found

Anyway, that’s that story which totally made my week. I love how tough and fearless “Dolly” was and I like believing that I have a little bit of that blood in me.

Reading the diary, I feel such a rush knowing that this same page was looked at and written on a century ago. It makes me wonder: do objects transport you at all, or do you feel like they don’t hold any greater power than their object-ness? I listened to an interesting podcast by Radiolab a few weeks ago on the topic. Find it here, and let me know what you think if you listen! Also, if anybody has any tips for digging deeper into family history, I’d love your tips!

Starting My Yoga Home Practice

14668689313_6aca1e5ab4_zMy family is a super athletic group of people. One of my sisters woke before the sun rose this Saturday for a bike ride that I’m sure was probably 20+ miles long. The other sister and her boyfriend run marathons, albeit not as fast as my uncle and brother-in-law who have run the 26.2 miles in less than three hours. My mom was an avid swimmer growing up and took up kickboxing well into her fifties. In the above photo, they’re comparing the foot injuries they’ve acquired from running too much; I’m not joking. And then there’s me.

I’m not an inactive person. I have a gym membership, I walk to and from work every day, I run a couple miles a couple times every week. But when we all get together for family vacations, I might as well be Jabba the Hutt. That’s less a comment on my size and more a comment on how comparably stationary I am to my always-moving family.

I’ve never really been fit, but that’s not something that’s ever truly troubled me especially. I’m so pale that my bathing suit fears have way more to do with my skin burning to a crisp than any unsightly pudge. However, the most in-shape my body’s ever been was during one winter break from college. Me and my best friend/roommate were both spending the break in the dorms, and we made a vow to each other that we’d go to a yoga class every day. We were broke, so we walked both ways (despite the deep freeze that had settled over NYC that January), about a hundred and twenty blocks, or about six miles. Every day we did it, for a bit more than a month.

The exercise routine wasn’t vigorous, but it made me feel good which was a totally new thing for me. I was used to avoiding exercise because it meant running on a treadmill (ugh) while watching a communal gym TV that someone always had on CNN or ESPN (??). Our yoga situation was perfect and by the end of the five weeks off from school, I was lean, my heels touched the floor when I did my down dog, I was meditating every day, and I had the added benefit of hanging out with my best friend the whole time.

Sadly, I can’t always be on winter break, nor do I have 3+ hours to devote to exercise nowadays. The yoga studio I like isn’t terribly inconvenient to get to, but when you’ve got a hungry corgi waiting at home for you after work, it’s tough to find the time to fit it all in.

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When my family was on our recent family vacation, though, my oldest sister inspired me to start my yoga home practice. She’s a yoga instructor (I told you I’m the slug of the family), and she was telling me about how much her practice changed and improved once she started practicing at home, following her breath and coming up with her own sequences. She, of course, has way more training than I do in knowing how a sequence should go, or knowing what to work toward, but I still felt like this was something I wanted to  try.

So, I decided that for the next 100 days, I’m going to try to work on my home practice. I have a calendar with empty days ready to be x’ed off as I track my progress. That said, I’m only on day two and I already have 1,000,000 questions. Luckily, Leigh (yoga instructor sister who is also philosophy professor) has to love me no matter how many texts I send her about asanas, so I have a FREE, eloquent, well-educated resource for answering all of my “wait, so how many sun salutations should I be doing?”-type questions. I’ve already sent her a handful of topics that she generously responded to, so I thought I’d share some of her insights with you all as I get my “100 Days Project” underway!

For starters, she says, “ I bet that you’ll find that once you’ve begun this, it’ll get easier, more natural, and you’ll answer almost all of your own questions yourself.” Spoken like a true yogi….

You can follow my sister here and if you live in the Buffalo area, I highly recommend checking out some of her yoga classes!

Anyway, look out for part two of my yoga experiment in the next week or two! And I’d love to know: Do you practice yoga at home? Do you have any tips you could share? Let me know in the comments or tweet at me. I’d love to hear about your journey!

This Week’s Essentials – 7/9

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As I mentioned in my recent entry about cheesecake, I’m getting bored of writing recipes, plus it’s been way too hot to cook all the time. For a while, taking vegetables from stiff and irritating organisms to butter-covered, edible treats really turned me on, but the love affair has faded and I’ve found myself interested in a whole ton of other things. For better or worse, I think I might just try blogging more about my life, and little interests of mine, rather than focusing just on food and recipes.

So,  today, here are nine favorite things I’ve come across so far this week.

1. Amy Sedaris interviewing Justin Theroux for Interview. I’ve always adored Amy Sedaris’s absurd hilarity. When I first met Dan, I remember telling him that I love Strangers With Candy. Dan’s very picky about his comedy and I could tell he wasn’t a fan, but I think him knowing that I loved Jerri Blank helped answer a lot of those early relationship questions. Anyway, I had no idea that Amy and Justin were such close friends following his role on the show. Until reading this article, I knew practically nothing about the guy, except for that he’s dating Jennifer Aniston. The interview is great, silly, and you’ll want to learn more about writer/actor Justin Theroux. You’ll also wish you were part of their club.

2. Tom Lehrer. Do you guys know Tom Lehrer? I’d heard of him before (Daniel Radcliffe has mentioned in numerous interviews that Lehrer’s one of his idols and obviously I watch a lot of Daniel Radcliffe interviews because he’s both a boy wizard and a Broadway star, two things I aspire to be one day), but I’d never really taken the time to learn much about him… until this week when I went down a total Tom Lehrer internet rabbit hole. Witty, brilliant, dark, and a damn good songwriter, I highly recommend learning more about this comedian-songwriter-mathematician. Such a cool life and fascinating mind.

3. Poking A Dead FrogI find few things more interesting than hearing comedy writers talk about their jobs. Comedy writing, as a career, sounds like a constant, creative, deadline-fueled slumber party. I’ve read a few excerpts of the book and look forward to finishing it.

4. These Pants. Is this what normcore is? Pants that allow your outfit to perfectly transition from cool chick workwear to pajamas in the time it takes to remove your bra? I wore these $10 hunnies throughout my entire vacation in the Catskills and, though I’m fairly certain that with another wash or two, they’ll start fraying and falling apart, I’m OK with that cause they cost less than an average Seamless delivery.

5. Drawing? As evidenced by the little sketch of NYC brownstones I did above, I’ve been enjoying drawing this week. I’m not sure if this is something worth blogging about, but I recommend trying to sketch out some of your thoughts. I’m not much of an artist (though one time in high school, I drew a portrait of a lady and it was stolen at the school art fair cause some hoodlum thought it was so good– one of my proudest/crappiest moments), but sketching out little pictures always makes me feel better. Maybe I’ll turn it into a thing I do when I don’t have photos for my blog.

6. Bleachers. I am all about Lena Dunham and Jack Antonoff. I want to be their neighbor cause I really think they’d invite me to some great Super Bowl parties and that sort of thing. Jack’s latest music project is fun and poppy and just presses all the right buttons in my brain on a slow-moving afternoon at work.

7.  House of Cards. Oops, I only just got to season two. But yes, you were all correct. It’s fantastic. One day I want to ooze expensive haircuts like Robin Wright does as Claire Underwood.

8. Claudette. Another day, another French restaurant I see someone Instagram. How lovely does this village spot look? I’m dying to go. I’ll let you know how it is!

9. Liv Tyler in this shirt. I need this shirt. Both because I support HRC in the White House and I would enjoy wearing a shirt with my own name on it.

Blackberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars

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It’s been nearly a month since my last post– whoops! June got the better of me. Between planning a family vacation, not feeling like cooking much and, well, not feeling like blogging much, I totally fell behind.

I’ve actually had this recipe for cheesecake bars ready to go for a while. I made these for coworkers months ago. When a handful of them realized I diaried my cooking adventures, it was only a matter of time before I was tapped to cook something and prove my chops. I enjoyed having the pressure turned on, and liked having a handful of eager new tasters. Though, I’m sure they’re way more likely to say nice things about the free cheesecake left out on a Monday morning at the office than my official taste-tester Dan might being force fed the fifth, then sixth attempt at a new recipe for blackberry swirl cheesecake bars.

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That said, if I’m making something to bring to a friend or desserts for my colleagues, obviously I have to make a batch to leave at home. In this case, I made a round cheesecake for home and a square version to cut into bars and bring to the office. Because this recipe has about a 2:1 cheesecake to graham cracker crust recipe, it definitely worked out better as bars. When I eat a slice of cheesecake, I kind of expect a towering slice with barely any, if any, crust. So while both versions tasted the same, the experience of picking up a square of cheesecake to munch while I drank my morning coffee (there’s nothing wrong with that, right?) was way more pleasant than digging into a triangle slice that wasn’t about to topple over under its own weight.

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To get the swirl effect on top, spoon the blackberry mixture on top of the cheesecake in stripes, prior to baking. Then, using a toothpick or chopstick, drag the point through the lines, perpendicularly. The blackberry mixture will drag along, creating a lovely little design on top!

I also replaced about half of the sugar you’d find in a traditional cheesecake recipe with honey, which made me feel a little bit better about snacking on the bars at 9AM, for better or worse. This recipe would work well with any cheesecake recipe you might have, but mine uses ricotta since I had a ton leftover in the fridge!

Anyway, part of the reason I’ve felt uninspired about blogging recently is that writing recipes can be such a drag. Luckily, this one wasn’t really an original creation, but was more of an amalgamation of four different recipes. If my posting the following links in lieu of a traditional recipe feels terrible offensive or confusing to you, please let me know so I can stop being lazy and start getting real (The Real World – Hillary’s Blog, *falls on couch with six strangers*). Maybe this feels complicated and messy, but maybe this also will give some people insight on how to go about creating a recipe of your own, using others’ work as a guide, like I often do!14057166345_461e8be5f9_z

For the assembly and baking instructions, I used this recipe from Ree Drummond. I especially like her tip for turning off the heat on your oven, but leaving your cheesecake bars in there to slowly cool. This will prevent your cheesecake surface from cracking, always a dreaded fate! For the actual cheesecake recipe, I used a recipe from Giada. I love that it uses ricotta and honey, making the cake not too sweet, and not too dense. I cut the orange zest, though, since I’m not crazy about citrusy desserts (unless we’re talking a perfect lemon tart, and then I am ON BOARD). For the “swirl” part, I used this recipe as a guide, but then replaced the blueberries with blackberries and added a shot of bourbon. You don’t really taste the bourbon, but it makes your house smell so nice. And for the crust part, I just ground up half a box of graham crackers, poured in a stick of unsalted melted butter, combined with a food processor, and then pressed the mixture into a parchment paper-lined baking vessel. For a more precise recipe, any of the above links will work great!

Restaurant Review: Taboon

As new friends and coworkers become privy to my blogging, I get asked more and more often why I don’t write more restaurant reviews. My answer is always that I don’t want to be that person keeping the table from eating, fork and knife at-the-ready, while I say, “wait, just one more photo!” I also feel uncomfortable bringing my real camera to a restaurant; there are already so many negative feelings about food bloggers entering restaurants with their DSLR and expecting fancy treatment (or, free food) and I definitely never want hardworking cooks and servers to feel that way about me.

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But these reasons seem to be less convincing than I think they are in my head. “Can’t you just snap some quick photos on your iPhone?” Well, yes. I am usually Instagramming great meals qualm-free, so why not give my photos a bit more attention and try to get a blog post out of it! The snaps I ended up getting this weekend at Taboon are not quite as nice as I’d like, but it’s probably a good thing for me to learn to let go of some of my control freak tendencies– often I only cook recipes for my blog on Saturday mornings; that way I can be home to photograph it around 3PM, when the light is just right, ha!

It’s a little unfortunate that I can’t do Taboon’s food a little more justice, because it’s fantastic. Dan and I first went to the Hell’s Kitchen spot for Valentine’s Day in 2010. A restaurant owner friend with particularly great taste in Middle Eastern food recommended the restaurant, which has actually been around since 2004. I can remember thinking, upon our first trip, that I would love to return to the crisp, rustic setting for a summertime meal, the dining room outlined with french doors waiting to be opened.
We had an amazing meal on our first trip. So much so that we actually could remember the food we’d eaten for months, even years later. But nothing stuck in our mind as much as the Sambusak, a loaf of bread cooked in their signature taboon oven (a large, clay, firey oven which greets you as you enter the restaurant) and stuffed with milky feta cheese, diced jalapeno and onion. Since the last bite of that loaf four years ago, my mouth waters just thinking about it, to the point that I began to believe that my memory of the dish was fogged by happy memories and was probably more of a personal fairy tale than actually one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten.

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Luckily, it wasn’t a dream. Dan and I returned this weekend and were equally as blown away by the meal. The bread, which is rich, yet just the right size and has the perfect balance of tang and spice, was again the highlight. It’s crusty on the outside and hot and chewy inside, with a similar texture to a really good pizza dough. The feta cheese is fresh, so it’s milkier and a bit less salty than feta that’s been aging. Then, there’s a perfect amount of fresh jalapeno mixed into the cheese, cutting the milkiness with a bright burst of heat. It’s honestly in the top five best bites of food I’ve ever had in my life, so it’s a good thing that Taboon is tucked away on 10th avenue and 52nd street, otherwise I’d be there stuffing my face full of Sambusak way more often.

We also had an incredible chicken entree that we ate too quickly to get a picture. Lemony, crispy chicken skin and succulent (I hate that word, but that’s the best way to describe this chicken’s perfect juiciness) chicken breast, also cooked in the taboon, was laid atop an Israeli couscous pilaf, finished with a drizzle of reduced chicken stock and a sprinkle of crispy breadcrumbs. There were also the herby cocktails which were perfect for the warm night and a deliciously messy mushroom and greens salad that I can’t wait to try and replicate.

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We finished with a rum-soaked date sponge cake that was recommended to us by our delightful, amazing waitress. Eaten along with some strong, rich Turkish coffee, the cake was rich, dense and moist. Almost resembling a sticky toffee pudding, which might be one of my favorite desserts ever, the cake combined that sweet, syrupy Anglo-style cake that I love with the nutty, dried fruit flavors of the Middle East.

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I’d also recommend the restaurant if you’re looking for a nice outdoor dining experience. While I usually hate hot, crowded, noisy sidewalk seating you usually find all over NYC, this restaurant is over on 10th avenue, so the traffic is a little calmer and the sidewalk feels a little less dusty. Plus, even sitting indoors, you get a real breezy feel thanks to the airy decor and those floor-to-ceiling french doors!

Taboon: 773 10th Ave, 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019,(212) 713-0271

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