Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On Gobo: Food for the Five Senses

I wanted to take my husband out for his birthday, so I asked him to tell me what his absolute favorite restaurant in New York City is. As he is a meat eater, I expected him to name some Sushi restaurant, and was completely prepared to to chow down on avocado rolls for the night.

He answered: "Gobo." This is a vegetarian restaurant. So that says something.

I can't say enough about Gobo: Food for the Five Senses. I enjoy absolutely everything about it. It's much more in the vein of classy restaurant, compared to joints like Vegetarian Paradise just around the corner, with low lighting and waiters going around with bottles of wine. The dishes are a notch more expensive. But for the food and the atmosphere, it's worth it. My favorite thing about eating there is the communal way it is set up. The tables are all connected, cafeteria style, and the kitchen is open, so you can watch your food being prepared. There is such an openness, a togetherness about it, and paired with the low lighting and friendly staff, it takes on a sort of intimacy I haven't found in other establishments. I take everyone to Gobo when they are visiting the city, and I have yet to hear a complaint.

My favorites? The New England rolls are outstanding, large crisp rolls filled with vegetables that come with this delicious tangy sauce. My husband's favorite dish is also one of mine, the smoked seitan medallions in a sizzling citrus sauce. It comes out actually sizzling, cooked perfectly (which is a hard thing to do with seitan), accompanied by vegetables and a dark citrus sauce. My absolute favorite: I can't get enough of the shitake caps with mashed sweet potatoes and raisins. I never thought that combination would work, but it blew me away- the sharp taste of shitake is leveled by the subtle sweetness of the potatoes. The thing about the menu that impresses me is that they aren't trying to mock meat; they list exactly what you are about to eat rather than saying "chicken," and when they use protein products such as soy or seitan, they do so in such a way as to highlight their unique taste. The menu also features an organic juice bar, although I have skipped that thus far because it is a bit too on the pricey side.

This may be the only place I would say this for: Gobo is a must for any visit to New York City. Whether you're a vegetarian or not, it is the best way to experience urban vegetarian cuisine. Make a reservation, otherwise you aren't likely to get a seat in the main dining room; if you don't care, there is, in lieu of a bar, a cute but cramped little area called the "kitchen" off to the side where you can be served if there is no seating in the main room available.

Gobo is located on 6th Avenue, between Waverly and 8th Street. Many subways in the vicinity, including the West 4th stop for the A/C/E/B/D. http://www.goborestaurant.com/ for menu and information on their other location on the UES. Reservations recommended!! Call 212.255.3902 to make a reservation.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Brooklyn Countryside

Lately, I have been craving to get out of the city. The city can be so exhausting, subway to subway, street to avenue, apartment to apartment. The whole structure of city life is very different from the countryside, and, having lived here for a good six years or so, I'm used to it. But I think the jagged way we move through the city goes against our natural instincts- it's all corners and stairs, no open spaces.

Which is why riding a horse in the woods was a breath of fresh air, and I did it here in Brooklyn.

Unlike the horse rides in Central Park, the nice thing about riding in Prospect Park is that you go out really deep into woods, off the roads and trails, and find yourself transported out of the city; you can't hear cars, trains, people, anything. For $37 I got to experience an hour of a very rare thing in New York: quietude. Just gusts of wind and horses trudging through the autumn leaves. It was really a wonderful time, and while the winter is upon us, it would be a lovely way to celebrate the spring. Keep it in mind.

Kensington Stables (http://www.kensingtonstables.com/) on 51 Caton, just walk down Parkside alongside the park from the Parkside B/Q, and turn at the circle. They also offer lessons; what I did is called a "trail ride." Call for reservations: 718-972-4588.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Dao Palate

The other night I was eating a delicious vegetarian meal and realized I haven't reviewed it here, which certainly needs to be done, since Dao Palate is quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn.

Located in Park Slope, Dao Palate offers a lot of pan-Asian soy meat, but is actually quite different from the vegan fare offered at any of the restaurants I consider part of the Vegetarian Paradise Empire. Paying attention to quality, the dishes are smaller in portion and more delicately prepared, in the same vein as the upscale Manhattan vegan establishments (such as Gobo: Food For The Five Senses in the West Village and Candle 79 on the Upper East Side), but the meals are not nearly as expensive at Dao, which pleases my wallet.

What is really exciting to me is that Dao Palate delivers to North Flatbush. I don't know how far down they will go, but I know they deliver to me on Parkside and a friend of mine on Caton, for free. I have found other Park Slope restaurants willing to trek to the other end of the park to bring you your dinner, so it is always worth calling and asking.

I've had many of their dishes; I'm particularly fond of the sweet citrus soy protein, which comes topped with sliced almonds and served on a big bed of kale- the use of healthy vegetables in their cooking sets them apart from the grease-fest that Zen, Vegetarian Paradise, and the like tend to give you. Delicious though that grease-fest might be, I really appreciate the way Dao Palate balances their proteins with vegetables; the other night I had the Tofu Teriyaki which came with a large quantity of marinated bean spouts; it was delicious.

And if you do get to journey out and eat there, the atmosphere of the restaurant is a big plus as well. The decor and low lighting are very tranquil and comforting- while you are there, order a pot of tea; it comes with small metal tea cups that are beautiful and surprisingly heavy, somehow they make me more appreciative and mindful of the whole experience. If you can't get out to Park Slope, you can always try bringing the peaceful atmosphere of the restaurant home; brew some tea, get out the nice plates and chopsticks or silverware rather than eating out of the plastic containers.

Healthy, delicious, beautifully prepared, vegetarian- what more could I ask for?

Dao Palate is located on 329 Flatbush Avenue, right off the 7th Avenue stop on the Q, across the street from Vegetarian Palate.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Note: I have been traveling, through the Adirondacks and Pennsylvania, so there hasn't been much to note on as far as city life goes. I've spent enough time in the woods and should have plenty of reviews and urban musings up here soon enough...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Finding Your Sangha

I found myself returning to a beautiful entry in the NYC Urban Mindfulness blog today, called Sangha In The City. A clinical psychologist was returning from a professional retreat, training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a very powerful program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. She speaks in her entry about the sangha: this term originates in the Buddhist tradition, to describe the community of practice in which a lay Buddhist or monk resides for support, encouragement, and motivation. But these days, the sangha doesn't only apply to Buddhists- it applies to anyone who has decided to take up formal (or even informal) mindfulness practice as part of their daily lives. Jennifer Egert, the author of the post, finishes her entry by looking at the concept of Sangha in the context of urban life:

In the city, Sangha can feel less explicit, but is present nonetheless. Sangha is here on Urban Mindfulness. It is at the Yoga studio or at the gym. It is in our spiritual communities and meditation groups. It is also at school, the dog run, the playground, in the book club, among friends and family. But like mindfulness practice, building Sangha in the city requires intention, nurturing, and openness. It also feels so important to supporting the effort to waken to life.

I started to think about the importance of the sangha, especially in this community-starved city. I think it is crucial to have others along for the ride, to lean on, to teach and to learn from. Ask yourself: where is my sangha?

For me, my sangha is Friday nights, when I get together with a group of neighbors and friends and their guests in a cozy Flatbush apartment, eat a healthy, home cooked, vegetarian meal, and read prayers and readings from a large variety of religious and poetic sources, then discuss over Turkish tea how we can use mindful awareness, spiritual investigation, and wisdom to lead more compassionate, peaceful, joyous lives. Last Friday, I taught someone about mindful walking, discussed the aesthetics of Prospect Park, and learned from an artist visiting the area that happiness is scientifically shown to improve our immune system.

That, in my opinion, has all the qualities of a sangha. There might not be any meditation cushions, but I leave feeling physically and spiritually nourished, and my meditation the next morning is all the more sweeter for it.

So, my question to you: where is your urban sangha?
(If you don't have one and can't find it, you are always welcome at mine.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Mindlessness and Murder

I have to admit, I've been a bit distressed this week. Last Sunday, there was a shooting on Parkside Avenue, right in my area. I think murder must be one of the most mindless acts one can take, to purposely seek out to take the life of a fellow human being. Being a vegetarian, I believe mindful living involves a sense of commitment to life, a recognition of our responsibility to protect it. But the concept of taking the life of another human being just baffles me. It seems to me that a person must be so swept up in their limited perspective, their motives and unchecked emotions, that they cannot see that they are acting out against their own species. That they are destructing the world they are a part of, and therefore, are destructing themselves.

So I'm upset, clearly. But what is causing my heart to ache the most is that this murder seemed to be relatively motiveless. A guy just walked by the coffee shop below my building and decided to shoot aimlessly into it a dozen someodd times and run away. The innocent kid who died seemed to have no connection to any of it. I've been trying to figure out what could possibly have led the man to do this. Was it gang initiation? Had he completely taken leave of his senses?

Whatever the case, let me make this completely clear: this is not the Flatbush I know. The Flatbush I know is a vibrant, beautiful neighborhood, with a real sense of community that is rare in New York City. And when something like this happens, it is all too easy to start to fear your surroundings, to associate the act with the place. And to say, "If this is the state of the community, of the world, how can I possibly be a part of it?"

But that's simply delusion. I am an intricate part of it. So, on that note, here is footage of the shooter casually strolling by my apartment and shooting into the Parkside Coffee and Donut. Sure, it's disturbing, but you can't see the victims from this angle, and by watching it Flatbush residents will be able to help go on community watch. Think of it as a mindfulness exercise.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday night, I saw Thich Nhat Hahn speak at Beacon Theatre. Thich Nhat Hahn is a Zen master, and the founder of what is commonly known as engaged Buddhism, combining comtemplative practice with active service in the world. He calls this order of Buddhist practice Interbeing. Read more about him on Wikipedia; he is a very impressive and influencial person, and I greatly admire everything he has brought to the world. He's going to be 83 tomorrow, so I feel very blessed to have gotten to hear him speak.

The talk was fantastic. It was sponsored by the Omega Institute, which, personally, I find to be far too pricey for my budget, but if you can afford it, they offer a variety of meditation, yoga, and wellness retreats and classes in the city you might look into. Anyway, speaking of the name of the form of Buddhism he teaches, Interbeing, I find it astonishing how wide the scope of his vision is. He surprised me by spending a significant portion of time linking the Christian concept of the Kingdom of God to Buddhist teachings. "I don't think the Kingdom of God has to be such an abstract concept, necessarily," he said, "because in a way, I think you can touch this Kingdom in the here and now." In other words, we can experience real joy, real serenity, true understanding, simply through mindful awareness. He had a way of reframing things to make peace seem actually possible. I really recommend Being Peace as a good starter book to hear his simple, beautiful message.

And today, due to a previous commitment to having brunch with some friends this morning, I missed a day of mindfulness which occured, including a massive mindful walk through the Upper West Side. I found this blogger talking about their experience today.

Anyway, I hope their will be more beautiful souls like Thich Nhat Hahn to come in the future. We need more people to be aware of this need for a realization of our interconnectedness, of our mutual responsibility to the betterment of the world. Nhat Hahn sees plenty of suffering, damage and destruction around him, but he also sees himself an integral part of this broken world, and so are all of us. He actually wrote a poem about it called Call Me By My True Names that radically and intensely asserts his vision. I love this line:
"The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive."

And he's right, if you ask me. If we cannot be emblems of peace and wellbeing ourselves, how are we ever going to bring peace and wellbeing to this world? A simple, powerful message. I hope he will visit us here in New York City again sometime. In the meantime, Barnes and Noble has plenty of his work on their shelves. Pick up a copy and maybe sip your Tazo tea a bit more mindfully. Compassion and peace are possible, even in this crazy city, but you might start with actually tasting your Starbucks beverage. And breathing.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Having Dinner at the NYPL

So, my husband is, eh... intelligent. He's a mathematical physicist. And something called a Newton Fellow. Which basically means for me that every year an organization hosts a black-tie dinner for the fellows at some ridiculous location, and has famous mathematicians, members of Presidential committees on science, and so forth come and talk about international progress in mathematics. Last year, they rented out Ellis Island. The year before that, it was at the Natural History Museum. This week, it was at the New York Public Library.

The impressive thing about these dinners and this organization for me, and the reason why its even making a blog entry here, is that the founder, Jim Simons, always gives a speech that has to do with competing in the world economy and keeping up with the technological advances of China and Japan. But what a Newton fellow actually does is simply teach middle schoolers mathematics in public schools, and get treated like royalty all the while both monetarily and in the form of golden beet salads with goat cheese and dark chocolate truffles. I was pondering on the founder's unique vision, and found myself deeply admiring the expansiveness of his perspective. He knows that real progress isn't possible without a strong foundation, and that lies in the education of children, so while what he is actually concerned with is international development and world economy, he's throwing all his money and energy at the core of the problem.

I think we all need to have this sort of expansive perspective. There's a quote from the Baha'i Faith that illustrates that well: "Let your vision be world embracing." This is intricately connected to mindfulness. That sort of is what mindfulness is, after all: breaking free from the boundaries of our limited world view, to view things as they are, rather than as we judge them to be- and to realize the interconnectedness of our world, and our personal responsibility to act mindfully while we are part of it, because we are, quite simply, always part of it, whether we like it or not.

In fact, the only thing that I think illustrates the interconnectedness of all things as the study and practice of mindfulness in everyday life, is actually mathematics. Because, well, it is the foundation of everything. There isn't a thing in this world that isn't founded in mathematics, and, while sadly I cannot grasp it at nearly the level necessary to see the immense and intricate beauty in it, I know it through my husband's deep, undying love for it. In fact, leaving the NYPL that evening, I said to him that the title of the popular book of one of his former teacher's, Brian Green, was pure poetry to me. "The Elegant Universe," I said to him. "Why is it that mathematicians sometimes put things so beautifully, so poignantly?" And he responded, "Funny you say that." And read a quote on the back of the book he had been given as a gift that evening:

"I have always felt that mathematics is a language like music. To learn it systematically, it is necessary to master small pieces and gradually add another piece and then another. In a sense, mathematics is like the classical Chinese language - very polished and very elegant. Sitting in a good mathematics lecture is like sitting in a good opera. Everything comes together."

-Sun-Yung Alice Chang, mathematician

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Great Vegetarian Empire Review

I am about to review a whole lot of seemingly independent vegetarian restaurants in New York City that I am convinced are owned by someone who has monopolized the vegetarian restaurant business here. These restaurants are: Vegetarian Paradise 3 (China Town), Vegetarian Paradise 2 (West Village), Red Bamboo (West Village), Soy and Sake (Greenwich Village), Vegetarian Palate (Park Slope), and Zen Vegetarian House (Flatbush!!). I thought I might as well review them all at once since they have such similar menus. (I've never been to Veg. Paradise 3, so I can't offer a review on that, but I'm assuming it's related to Veg. Paradise 2!)

Most vegetarians in New York have heard of Vegetarian Paradise 2 and Red Bamboo since they are right next to each other in the NYU neighborhood, home to many vegetarian and vegan friendly establishments. Here is a hint (and the first evidence of there being an overarching empire): if you want to go to Red Bamboo, but its too crowded, go to Vegetarian Paradise and ask them for Red Bamboo's menu. No kidding. They'll just give you both menus, and you can order whatever you want. I can't certify whether the other restaurants are under the same ownership, but if they aren't, they are plagarising each other's menus to no end.

These restaurants are known for one thing, and they do it very well: fake meat. Everything on the menu is mock meat, so they don't even bother explaining it; it's common sense that it isn't actually duck or beef or fish if it's called Vegetarian Paradise. It's a *great* place for bringing meat-eating visitors and friends who think vegetarians eat twigs and nuts. It's also great if you used to eat meat and miss it. My husband is addicted to these restaurants, and he's a meat eater; he says it has all the flavor of meat but its easier to chew.

Now, these restaurants aren't exactly healthy... it's sort of like chinese food; greasy, fried, battered, saucy... but very, very tasty.

So, since many of these restaurants have the same items on their menu, I'm just going to list my favorite menu items, and list where you can try them out.

**Almond Coconut Chicken: Crispy soy strips, fried with almond slivers and shredded coconut, with a sweet chili sauce.
Available at: Red Bamboo
**Sugarcane Drumsticks: soft shredded soy with a thin fried shell, cooked on a stick of sugarcane, with sweet chili sauce. If you have a sweet tooth like me, press your teeth down on the sugar cane when you're done with the drumstick and suck out the sugar. Mmm...
Available at: Vegetarian Paradise 2, Vegetarian Palate, Zen
**Malaysian Pancakes: Thin crepes with a very sweet (but not tangy) curry sauce. I absolutely love the sauce.
Available at: Zen, Vegetarian Palate (I think Roti Canai at Red Bamboo is probably the same thing)

Yes, one of these establishments stands alone in this area: Soy and Sake. Thank you, Soy and Sake, for the most delicious vegetarian sushi experience of my life. The classic rolls are decent but nothing special; I didn't think too much of the spicy salmon roll. But the special rolls are really outstanding and huge, so come with your appetite.
**Hawaii Roll: Big, juicy roll layered with strips of sweet mango, filled with banana, avocado, and Korean pear. Oh, my, goodness.
**House Roll: Well, I never had chicken in my sushi in my meat eating youth, but I've had it in my vegetarian sushi! This roll features fried soy chicken, and has eel sauce on it, a sweet brown sauce usually served with eel rolls, that vegetarians often miss out on! Delicious. I still haven't figured out how to eat this roll. Huge sauced up pieces full of soy and avocado that barely fit in my mouth but don't stay together well when eaten in bites. It's worth the struggle, though.

I should note that it's hard to go wrong. The only thing I haven't enjoyed so far is the duck l'orange at Vegetarian Palate. But, especially in the beef and chicken sections of the menu, it's really hard to go wrong. Here's some stand-bys:

**Hawaiian Chicken/Sweet and Sour Chicken: Deep fried soy strips, Chinese style, with a thick, goopy, tangy, wonderful sweet and sour sauce. Most locations (not Zen) jazz up the sauce, adding lychees and pineapples. Very yummy dish.
Available at: EVERY LOCATION :)

**Mango Chicken: A ridiculous amount of sweet mango comes with this dish, making it a great value. It's definitely a mango-lovers delight. Chicken strips slightly healthier in cooking style, marinated in a mildly sweet sauce and the juice of the mango.
Available at: EVERY LOCATION :)

**Double Delight: A great combination of soy beef and soy chicken in a nice mild sauce, with lots and lots of steamed vegetables. I get this dish when I want a balance rather than an overload of fake meat. It is great for variety and comes in a nice, light sauce that tastes like thick sugar water. It's a great fall back choice for when you can't decide.
Available at: Vegetarian Paradise, Vegetarian Palate

So, go find the location nearest you, and enjoy a really indulgent, can't-believe-this-is-vegetarian meal.

Vegetarian Paradise: 144 W 4th St, Between 6th Ave & Macdougal St (near the BD, West 4th stop)
Red Bamboo: 140 W 4th Street, next door to Veg. Paradise
Soy and Sake: 47 7th Ave S, Between Bleecker & Morton St (near the 1, Christopher Street stop)
Zen: 773 Flatbush Ave, Between Clarkson Ave & Lenox Rd (near the Q at Parkside)
(Btw, Zen is a really delightful addition to this neighborhood. It seems a little out of place where it is located in Flatbush, but it seems to get good business. They have really fast delivery!!)
Vegetarian Palate: 258 Flatbush Ave, Between St Marks Ave & Prospect Place (near the Q-B at 7th avenue)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On What We Are

Watering my bonsai tree this afternoon, I remembered something that Dave Matthews said in his acceptance speech at Haverford, a Quaker university, the religion he was raised in, although he considers himself agnostic/atheist. I thought it was very beautiful and insightful, so I thought I might share it:

I do find myself praying a lot, and I don’t know what I pray to, but it seems like I pray to the undamaged things, to the natural things, to breasts before enhancement, to the way that a child runs across the lawn, to trees or to a forest. I pray to those things; to the mountain. That’s where I think God might be at least: the mountain next to Mt. Rushmore. Although Mt. Rushmore is impressive, it’s not as impressive as it was prior to the damage done to it. So, what is our obligation to this God I don’t really believe in? ...
God made you what you are, so why would he want you to be something other than you are? Why would he want you to pretend you are something you are not, because your heart is what God made it. And so, our responsibility to God, however difficult it is, is to be what we are. To be present, not to put up a façade that makes us feel safer. It’s not always easy. I’m faking it a lot of times. I wish I could fake it a little better right now. Although in a way you are more vulnerable and vile things happen to you when you experience joy, you get a mouthful of it, you know when you experience goods things. Because it comes right to you, you’re right there, because you’re not busy trying to make sure no one notices that behind that perfect, or average, or fitting-in façade is really what God made you. So be yourselves I guess is what I wanted to say. Be present. I have a little poem that I was going to read because I think that this guy was much more able to say what I said in the last five minutes—or ten if it feels like that—in just a couple of lines. I went to Australia and I found this poet that I don’t think has landed on these shores, and I thought he was kind of magical. And it’s May, and this is called, “A Prayer in May.” And it says, it starts,
“God relieve the dark unease.
God of valves untie my throat,
and God let sink the weight of mind to the belly of heart’s content.”
Thank you very much to everybody for having me today. So save the world now by being yourself.

(Note: Post title drawn from this song. This footage is from a Central Park concert!)

On Interconnectedness, and Dhara

A couple weeks ago, I joined perhaps the most eclectic yoga class ever. Well, this needs clarification. It isn't a yoga class. It isn't qi gong. It isn't meditation. It isn't a discussion group. It isn't a lecture. It isn't a wellness seminar. It isn't a group of people hanging out and eating fruit together in the late afternoon deep in the heart of Flatbush. It's all of those things. I stumbled upon a flier while trying out Third Root's free Wednesday morning meditation session (this is a place I spoke about with excitement in a past entry, and it certainly lived up to my own self-created hype), for a Young Adults Wellness Program. I am, just barely, within the age range, and, though I was worried I'd come face to face with a group of frenzied 14 year olds, I decided to drop my judgements and just be open to trying it. Turns out, most of the group is also composed of early twenties college age students, still making me a rare bird, a college graduate, but all the same, this is probably one the best experiences I've had so far in the city, and I'm sure I'll talk about it from many angles again in the future. The teacher, Jenna, has just returned from basically living alone in a cave in the middle of China for at least a year, and she is immediately engaging herself in non-profit endeavors (Her organization is called Dhara, and her website offers an introduction to one of the breathing techniques she uses. It's nice.) to put her learnings to work. In addition to a young adults program, she works with mentally ill students in a program called Six Weeks To Wellness (This program was featured in Time Magazine). She is such a calming presence, fully aware of how quirky and out of place she seems in this furiously active city, doing Tai Chi in Central Park, coming to class bearing Carribean fruits one week to celebrate the culture of Flatbush and apples and honey the next, explaining that in the Jewish tradition they eat this to symbolize the wish that "the fruits of your year be sweet." She's got a beautiful, magnetic soul, and her students follow her with total adoration. It's really bewildering; this young American woman with all the spirit of an old Chinese sage. Kind of turns your perceptions of culture and social standards on its head.

What is coming to mind at the moment about her class is that yesterday we practiced tree pose, first on our own, and then by standing in a circle together and touching palms. The pose was much easier to do with this subtle touch, and we all could feel the sway and struggle of everyone else in the group. Rather than creating a domino effect, it led to a gradual decrease in swaying, and near-total stillness. As one student put it in discussion afterwards, we felt both the strength of the person next to us and the responsibility of helping them stay stable by remaining stable ourselves. Jenna replied, "We're in our natural state in this way. Oneness. Interconnectedness. We just need to learn to feel like this all the time, out there in the world, because in reality, we effect each other just as much out there as we do right here."

What a concept. I won't even explain it, or attempt to explain it. Needless to say, there is, absolutely, a universal law of interconnectedness. Down to the atoms. I mean, really, what is keeping us apart? There is no break in the line of molecules leading from you to me. But you don't even have to go that deep. They say a butterfly flapping its wings causes a tsunami half way around the world. Could a peaceful stance, a loving attitude, somehow effect the day of all the someones inevitably connected to us in our urban everyday life, and bring peace to their family, to their work place, to their relatives and friends and organizations, bring perspective and balance and energy to their outlook, to their output, to the effect they have on this world?

Food for thought. Vital food for thought.

As for me, I kind of get caught in the awe of it, of that total interconnectedness, and maybe that's a good place to get stuck. In perfect, complete awe of this terrifyingly alive, terrificly interwoven city.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Subway Mosaics

Do you ever take notice of the beautiful mosaics in the New York City subways?

I do. Maybe it's the mindfulness practice. Maybe it's because I actually dabble in mosaics myself. But I find them stunning.

My favorite to date? The Delancey F/M/J/Z stop on the Lower East Side.

If you find yourself there someday, take a moment to pause and take in the rich textures the artist created out of shards of tile. Funny how instead of simple square white tiles, a bit of color and creativity can transform a dirty station stop into an apple orchard.

Maybe if you're lucky, they'll be a street musician there, too, like there is in this picture I found:

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Generosity

Last Wednesday, I began taking a one-month course at the Insight Meditation Center in downtown Manhattan. I was interested in deepening my formal meditation practice, and intrigued by vipassana meditation, the meditative tradition of Theravada Buddhism, the oldest and most traditional form of Buddhism. While I do not identify as Buddhist, I think meditation is an important tool, regardless of our religious and philosophical background, to cultivate mindfulness in our everyday life. This reminds me: mindfulness is actually in the title of this blog, so I might as well explain what that means to me. To paraphrase Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is essentially moment-to-moment, non-judgemental, openhearted awareness. Which means? In terms of living here in the city, it is the challenge of being open and alive in each moment, without placing judgement on what we see around us or feel within us. And it's incredibly important for city-dwellers to cultivate in particular, given that we are in a world of sensory bombardment, advertisement, persuasion, temptation, and are often too busy to even know where we are, or even what we are doing and why. When I am running to a meeting after downing my breakfast in two seconds and drowning the noise out with my Ipod and thinking about what so-and-so said to me last week, where am I?


So, mindfulness is important, and meditation is a tool to get more mindful more often, so why not draw from a tradition that has been studying this tool for ages.

All this said, when I arrived at the first session, the instructor, actually a woman trained by Kabat-Zinn named Elaine Retholtz, explained that we Westerners are getting ahead of ourselves trying to meditate. Apparently, when you study in Sri Lanka or Thailand, where Theravada is prevalent these days, they won't teach you to meditate for years. Instead, you sit around being told to contemplate deeply your intention to meditate, and, more imporantly, the concept of generosity.

This is fascinating to me, since often I find myself walking around the city, saying, "Be present, you have to be mindful, don't judge the situation, look at it with an open mind, be loving, be kind..." And all of these statements are about what I cultivate within myself, aimed at, what? Too often, at my betterment. At my happiness, contentment, even my sanity.

Yet, if you think about it, all those qualities- not judging, being present, being open and loving and kind- can also be looked at in a different way. Done right, it is for the betterment of others. I give my open mind to their perspective, and make them feel more at home in their world. I give them my ear for comfort, my time, for companionship, my love, for their wellbeing. Everything I do can be seen in this light, and sure, it benefits me, too, but also the woman selling me mangos on Flatbush Avenue, and the guy checking out books to me at the Brooklyn Public Library, and my husband when he comes home from a long, stressful day of work. By being mindful and happy myself, I bring that ever-needed sense of presence and belonging to the inhabitants of New York City.

It was an extraordinary lecture, to shortend it, and I highly recommend taking a course, going to a daylong retreat, or attending a lecture or sitting group at the Insight Meditation Center. You don't have to be Buddhist to practice meditation, so I invite you and encourage you to explore and use this wonderful tool, to be more alive and more happy, and therefore, shed light and happiness on the bustling, stressed, underslept, over-worked, starving-for-love world around you.

The Insight Meditation Center is located on 28 West 27th Street (10th floor). Go to http://nyimc.org/ to view the upcoming events there.

Monday, September 7, 2009

On Love For Rastafarianism

When I first moved to Flatbush, my first thought was, "Dear God. I will never make it here." The reason? I was overwhelmed by bakeries and shops advertising Jerk Chicken, Beef Patties, Curry Goat, and Oxtail Soup. It's a Caribbean/Jamaican neighborhood, and I quickly doubted if I would ever take part in their culture in any way, at least from a culinary standpoint. It was sad, because I really wanted to get myself mixed into the culture, learn about the music and the traditions (actually, as I write this entry the West Indian Day Parade is happening around and about the neighborhood, celebrating heritage and culture in a bold, boisterous, and colorful way. Check out the beautiful costumes!)

Then I read about a place called Strictly Vegetarian on a great blog I stumbled upon, Flatbush Vegan. And I discovered my culinary niche in this neighborhood: Rastafarianism!

Now, I don't entirely understand the religious backdrop to the Rastafari movement, but according to Wikipedia they believe the last Emperor of Ethiopia was an incarnation of God. Anyway, whatever the deal is, the ones in my neighborhood are fierce vegetarians, and follow an Ital diet, which is pretty exciting, given all the deep fried chicken shops around here:

Though there are different interpretations of ital regarding specific foods, the general principle is that food should be natural, or pure, and from the earth; Rastas therefore often avoid food which is chemically modified or contains artificial additives (e.g. color, flavorings, and preservatives.) Some also avoid added salt in foods, especially salt with the artificial addition of iodine, while pure sea or kosher salt is eaten by some. In strict interpretations, foods that have been produced using chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizer are not considered ital.


So, here are my reviews of the three Ital stops in the area I've eaten at.

Four Seasons: Four Seasons is probably my favorite Ital stop. From the outside it looks like a big Rasta clothing store, but don't be fooled; they have a full juice bar, baked goods, hot foods, bulk foods, and frozen fake meat products to cook with at home. I am a big fan of their dried mango. The small mixed plate of hot food is $7, and it's more than enough for two people. Menu changes all the time; when I ate there we had soy meat, lomein, some sort of chopped greens, rice, beans, etc. They just layer it all, one thing on top of the other, which is a little strange at first, but since all the food is mild it works fine; we asked for a paper plate and scooped things onto that to make more sense of the mountain of food. It's healthy, filling, and delicious.

Strictly Vegetarian: The guy that runs this place is really nice. It's right across the street from Four Seasons, and has a limited bakery and a nice hot bar. Same deal as Four Seasons, except $6. We liked the variety at Four Seasons a little more, but both places are great. Not so keen on pictures of half naked women on the walls, but if you can handle the atmosphere, it's a great place to stop in for a cheap, hugely portioned meal.

Scoops: Scoops is actually in Lefferts Gardens, but its totally worth the trip. Isn't open on Mondays. Like Strictly Vegetarian, it always seems to be the same Rasta guy in there running the shop. The food was great, $7 for a small mixed plate, portions slightly smaller, but the quality on par or even a little better. We had beans, rice, noodles, really great mango flavored hot sauce, and this amazing stuff they called "soy chunks" that was covered in some sort of barbeque sauce. The unique thing about scoops is the ice cream; they offer half a dozen flavors of Non-Dairy tofutti. I recently had the chocolate and thought it was very good, although the cone was a little stale, so you might go for a cup. Tiny, but there is a little bit of seating in there. Altogether, really great place.

So there you have it! Thank you Brooklyn Rastas, for bringing vegetarian culture to Flatbush!

Scoops is on 624 Flatbush Avenue, right near Fenimore Street, down from the Q-B Prospect Park stop or up from the Q Parkside stop.

Strictly Vegetarian is on 2268 Church Avenue, between Flatbush and Bedford, across from the post office.

Four Seasons is on 2281 Church Avenue, across from Strictly Vegetarian, next to the post office.

Monday, August 31, 2009

On Loose Change Yoga

One of the outcomes of my recent trip to Dunebuggy came from looking at their awesome community board outside the cafe. I saw a sign for something called "Loose Change Yoga" and was thrilled to see it was right next door, at the preschool next door.

I loved Loose Change. Loved. I seek out gratitude based yoga studios as a rule because, well, I think they work just as well at raising the funds required, while leaving doors open to those who can't afford to give much and otherwise would be unable to go regularly to class. I used to go to Yoga To The People because of my appreciation for this kind of payment system. However, YTTP was crowded and felt a lot like a city street- people packed like sardines into a small space, not speaking to each other or making eye contact outside of their social circles. It wasn't exactly the best yoga atmosphere, even if they had great instructors, vinyasa-flow style instruction, and mood lighting. Too many people, not enough personal attention to each student.

So, when I showed up at Loose Change, I was shocked to see that class would be composed of three students. It's because the program is new, of course, but until it gains in popularity, it's a Brooklyn jewel: inexpensive vinyasa-flow yoga with nearly one-on-one instruction. But I'll still want to go if the studio gets more popular for a number of reasons. Our instructor was so kindhearted, really illuminated the way you would expect a seasoned yogi to be, and added so many compassionate touches to the routine, from asking us where we're from and getting to know us by name, to making us hot green tea during the meditation portion. While it lacked the singing bowl that I loved at YTTP, we got to create the zone ourselves, with a recitation of OM. And she ended with namaste, which I think is essentially the most beautiful way to end a session. Namaste is a phrase traditionally shared between yogis, which basically means, "The divine in me honors the divine in you."

What a great thing to say to one another. When do we express our respect for each other that deeply in the outside world? Not nearly enough.

As much as I'm soaking up the personal attention from this blossoming little studio, I would love to see it grow. Here is the philosophy they share on their website:

Loose Change Yoga is a donation-based yoga studio located in Brooklyn, New York. The studio was created in response to the current economic downturn and its negative effects on people’s bodies, minds and spirits. The primary goal of Loose Change Yoga is to make yoga as accessible and affordable as possible so that money, or the lack thereof, does not hold people back from connecting to their inner selves. The studio offers Vinyasa–based flow classes with an emphasis on mindful breathing, muscle strengthening, and increasing flexibility and balance. Sharing its space with a pre-school, Loose Change Yoga classes are inspired by the innocent and truthful world of children. Through thoughtful sequencing implemented in an open, judgment-free environment, our teachers encourage people to reconnect with their inner child and release irrational fears and psychological walls.

This description couldn't be more true. We were encouraged to have fun with the practice, play around with our bodies and challenge ourselves in a lighthearted manner, breaking the tensions in our muscles with just as much laughter as deep breathing. It was a beautiful change from what I'm used to, and I definitely think I'll be heading back for more very soon.

Loose Change is on 21 Lincoln Road, right off the Q-B stop on Prospect, next door to K-Dog and Dunebuggy in the Maple Street Preschool. Classes Tuesday at 7pm, Saturday at 11am, Sunday at 5pm.

Friday, August 28, 2009

On K-Dog And Dunebuggy

I have had a really productive week. Wednesday I ran just over a half marathon (14 miles, and yes, I'm still a little sore), and today I finished the first draft of my first novel (which has taken me... well, longer than I think I'm willing to own up to.) And maybe by next week I'll actually be employed, considering after a dozen applications I finally received a request for an interview. I cannot credit myself entirely for the creative jolt. I have also to thank: a supportive husband, the music on my MP3 player, and, of course, lots and lots of coffee and tea.

Which brings me to discuss a little jewel in Lefferts Gardens called K-Dog and Dunebuggy. No, I have no idea what the name means, but I can tell you that the cafe is adorable and well worth a visit. Or many visits.

The great thing about Dunebuggy is that it looks like it belongs in Greenwich Village; great decor, great music, free wifi, low key staff, good food, good coffee, and great tea options (Check out this tea menu! Today I wrote the final pages of my novel while sipping Fiji Green Tea, which is papaya and pineapple infused and really unique.) And they have lots of outlets, and only ask you make a purchase of some sort for every hour you are there on your laptop. But on top of the downtown feel of Dunebuggy, it has a quintessentially Brooklyn characteristic to it: a local neighborhood atmosphere. The sign outside actually says "Coffee - Food - Neighbors" and like Vox Pop, they offer all sorts of events and have a play area for children. I love that the tables are actually decorated with pictures of local children. Half the people that come in are regulars, and in the course of my stay I saw the barista get into half an hour long conversations with patrons, and even walk over to embrace one of her regulars and ask her how her leg is feeling.

This cafe is very good news for me, especially since I'm a strong believer in cafes as a necessary part of urban living. Actually, I'm a believer in cafes in general. Because, even if you are out in the woods somewhere, cafes act as gathering places, and switch up our sensory load so that we don't start to habituate our living room and forget to appreciate simple things, like strangers laughing and pretty decor. If you are a writer or artist or yogi or meditation practictioner of any sort, I think cafes are absolutely essential for you. And if you are married, all the more so, since a little healthy distance goes a really long way. A little healthy distance, free wifi, and some caffeine, even better. Friendly, local atmosphere to boot? Call me a regular.

K-Dog and Dunebuggy is located on 43 Lincoln Road (between Flatbush and Ocean), right next to the Prospect Park stop on the Q-B.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Prospect Park, And Dappled Things

This afternoon I went for a walk with my husband, Nick, in Prospect Park. It felt strange at first to walk casually around, since I know Prospect Park primarily as a runner. It was essential to me when we were moving to Flatbush that we were as close to the park as possible, since I wanted the considerable miles and hours of my life I spend running to be scenic. (Coincidentally, the outer loop of the park is just over a 5K in distance. This is a really helpful website with all of the exact distances of the trails to help you plan your run.)

But anyway, today I wasn't there running. I was there to show Nick the spot I always pass and never, in all my athletic rigidity, allow myself to stop at before finishing a lap on the outer loop. It is a beach-like area on the lake, where all the geese gather on the sandy shore. The roots of the trees are all exposed and spread themselves out on the ground in intricate patterns, and in the late afternoon, the light is really stunning on the water.

It was really wonderful to sit out there on a tree root reading what Nick calls my "hippie books." In other words, I'm beginning another Julia Cameron book called Vein of Gold. A "hippie book" it might be, but I really enjoyed The Artist's Way, and she isn't positing any crazy theories, so it's more like a craft book for seekers of creativity. Anyway, the theme of the course is to live life artfully, which is convenient, considering that is what I am trying to do these days; dig deep, live mindfully, experience New York and all it has to offer me while I'm still here.

And in a simple way, I feel like I did live artfully today. I sat on a root watching the geese on the lake, reading a book, and listening to an Indian woman singing by the water side while the runners too diligent to stop ran by me. At one point Nick pointed to a bird and said, "That looks like a cow pattern. Isn't there a name for that kind of pattern?" I said, "Dappled. I know a famous poem praising dappled things. It goes something like, 'Glory be to God for dappled things...' and praises everything dappled, dappled cows, dappled light, all dappled things."

Late afternoon gives a great opportunity for appreciating dappled light since it hangs so low in the trees and leaves lacy shadows on the walk. If you are present enough you'll realize there is a lot of raw natural beauty hidden away right here in Brooklyn, ready for you to experience. To get to the spot where I was watching the geese, take a meditative walk to the park and enter from the Flatbush corner of Parkside and Ocean. Walk against the tide of runners and bikers (or, better yet, take the run-down walking path next to the road) until the road starts to bend and you reach a sandy beach area and four dozen some-odd geese, and experience the beauty of Brooklyn and dappled late afternoon light through the trees in Prospect Park. Maybe you'll find yourself living your day a little more artfully.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tofurky Part Two: On The Flaws of Inductive Reasoning

In my last post I said that there was no Tofurky in Flatbush, and that I had to trek all the way to Manhattan to gratify myself. Well, I should also mention that I am new to Flatbush, and I based my conclusion on inductive reasoning. There was no tofurky at any nearby stores, providing evidence that there was no Tofurky in Flatbush, period.

I am glad to say that I was very wrong.

Yesterday, I woke up wanting to explore deeper into Flatbush. I live on the border of Flatbush and Lefferts Gardens, so I haven't been too far down yet, or too far off Flatbush Avenue. I decided to take a stroll down Cortelyou, and here is what I found: a small micro-community of yoga loving, cafe loving, organic loving Brooklynites. It might have taken me twenty minutes to walk there, but I have a funny feeling I'll be there all the time, and in a second you'll probably see why.

The first thing I came upon was Third Root Community Health Center. Offers dirt cheap and by donation yoga, acupuncture, and meditation classes. Here's the mission of the center:
"At the Third Root Community Health Center, we strive to thrive and achieve social justice and community wellness by providing holistic, collaborative care in an accessible and sustainable manner. Our greatest intention is to watch students and patients walk out of the center with a heightened perspective regarding their own potential for good health."
Amazing. Really nice staff, beautiful entrance, lots of options for novice to advanced yogis, even a vinyasa flow class on Tuesday nights. I'll be there of course, dragging along my husband, next week.

The really cool thing about this area are the community-owned businesses. The market where I found the Tofurky, Flatbush Food Co-op, is jointly owned by all the members who support it. They had all sorts of locally grown organic products, in addition to a really nice selection of bulk foods. They even carry packs of seitan to use in your culinary adventures at home. I was really impressed by the selection, enjoyed the free samples (Mmm... mango salsa), and had to keep reminding myself I was in Flatbush.

So, inductive reasoning failed me. There IS tofurky in Flatbush. And an awesome neighborhood, too.

The other co-owned business I came upon was a cafe I've been hearing tons about from locals: Vox Pop. Vox Pop had a comfy, local feeling to it, which reminded me of Grounded in Manhattan, except way less crowded. They had seating indoors and outdoors, a large menu, friendly staff, free wifi, and an area for children to play in. They were out of everything I wanted that day ("Can I have a chai latte? You don't have that? How about a caramel latte? No? No, I definitely don't want peppermint flavored. Uh... Green tea? Ok...) And they were playing heavy screaming metal for the duration of my stay, which led to total sensory overload. Their was definitely a political vibe to the place, but it wasn't too intense, and overall it just seemed like a lot of locals looking to read a book or the paper or hang out with the staff. I love the neighborhood feel to cafes in Brooklyn, and this was no exception. I'll definitely be back, so stock your chai, Vox Pop.

Third Root is located on 380 Marlborough Road, just off Cortelyou. By donation meditation and vinyasa yoga is offered Tuesday nights from 8-9:30pm. Paid classes $10.

Flatbush Co-Op is located on 1415 Cortelyou Road and is open 7am-11pm

Vox Pop is located at 1022 Cortelyou Road. Open till Midnight weeknights, 1am weekends.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trekking for Tofurky

Instant gratification. I like it.

Lately, I can't get it in two areas of my life, and it's making me think that the conscious process towards gratification that often is undervalued and overlooked.

Usually, if we have a food need, the solution is quite simple. Need ketchup. Go to grocery store. Buy ketchup. Satisfied. One of my little vegetarian needs is Tofurky sandwich slices. They're delicious, come in a wide variety of flavors (My favorites are Italian and Hickory Smoked), and they give me another option besides a garden burger or a hummus sandwich for lunch. But the problem is, I can't find a grocery market near me that sells Tofurky. Even at the big Stop and Shop 15 minutes away from me sells only Smart Deli slices, which, as someone who remembers the taste of meat from younger years, taste like bologne no matter what flavor you get. Yum. Except not. Not yum at all. (What is in bologne, anyway?)

So I trekked to Whole Foods in Manhattan recently to pick up some Tofurky, and felt Flatbush had let me down. I had to go all the way to Union Square for deli slices?

But the thing is, not having it immediately when I wanted it didn't hurt me. I got to have my favorite Wheatberry Waldorf Salad while I was at Whole Foods, and in the meantime, I just had a hummus sandwhich, and I happen to have my hummus sandwich recipe down: since I'm not vegan, I just put a layer of shredded parmesan cheese on the hummus, layer it with sliced cucumbers and shredded carrots, or, as I had the other day, carrot chips for a nice crunch. It's a killer meal. And anyway, now that I have to trek for Tofurky, I find I appreciate it more. I prepare my sandwich more carefully, and enjoy it more slowly. So, Flatbush not carrying Tofurky, in a way, helps make me a more mindful eater.

It's like the guitar I'm trying to learn lately. As I type this, the four fingers of my left hand feel like they have third degree burns. I've been told that as soon as I get calluses, it will be clear sailing. But for now, I'm consciously pushing down my raw fingertips on thin wires. Ouch. I know the calluses are coming in, but slowly, nearly as slowly as my skills (my husband had to deal a couple days ago with hours on end of me singing "Let It Be" and twanging away at what are supposedly the chords to the song.) But trust me, I won't take those calluses for granted when they do come in. Not for a second.

I guess the summary of it is: never settle for instant gratification, don't take a good thing for granted, and be mindful of the end in the beginning. Or, in simpler terms: Don't buy Smart Deli. Trek for Tofurky.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vegetarian Dim Sum House

Yesterday my husband and I trekked into China Town in search of a bonsai tree for the living room. We're almost done putting up all the earthy-toned, Asian inspired decor we chose for the room, and its finally coming together. But I wanted a bonsai tree to top it all off before I host a gathering Wednesday night in my home, so I had to go searching, and China Town seemed like a good first stop.

Sure enough, we got our bonsai tree. More importantly, I had been dying to try dim sum for a while after it had been strongly recommended to me, so before we left we were looking it up and trying to find a place with those cute little carts full of dumplings that waiters roll around all morning along with endless pots of oolong tea. It became quickly apparent to me that dimsum is particularly not vegetarian friendly. It's a meat laden ordeal. Thus my excitement to learn that there is a restaurant in the heart of china town called Vegetarian Dim Sum House.


There were no carts. Rather you order by checking which things you want on a list, and they bring you your order while you drink tea and relax. The place wasn't very busy, so I can see how the cart system wouldn't work as well. The drawback to the chart is that you can't really see what you are ordering size wise- we ended up ordering way too much. Other than that, it was fantastic! My favorite was the steamed mock pork buns. The mock meat was subtle and well flavored, and everything was cooked perfectly. The only complaint I have is that some of the starchy items with taro and lotus root were ultra-rich and oily, like they spent too long in a deep frier. So, nutrition wise, I give it pretty much a half star, but it was altogether delicious. Finish off your meal like we did at Ten Ren Bubble Tea (Go for the Shredded Ice! especially Taro!) and you'll be happily stuffed to capacity.

Vegetarian Dim Sum House is located on 24 Pell St. Take the Q to Canal.
Dim Sum served all day, 10:30am-10:30pm, regular menu also available.

Q Train Meditation

I just googled to see if anyone is sharing my domain name, and found a really awesome meditation for the Q train from 7th Ave in Brooklyn, just a couple stops from me en route to Union Square, where I just so happen to be going later today. How convenient!

The website itself is incredible. It's called Urban Mindfulness: Finding Peace In The Middle Of It All, and includes a blog with multiple writers posting about mindfulness and meditation practices in New York City, along with book recommendations, an introduction to the topic, and downloads for meditation. Very cool.

I guess I'm meditating on the Q today if I get a seat.

(Speaking of the Q from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I think everyone visiting or living in New York should take the train into Brooklyn at least once- it's one of the trains that goes over, rather than under, the water, and from the Manhattan Bridge where it crosses you get an astounding view of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, especially at night.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

On The Difficulties of Urban Mindfulness

Taking the seemingly totally irrational approach, I thought the best way to start talking about mindfulness in New York City would be to talk about a very different city: Toronto. I just got back from a trip to Canada where I was presenting research at the American Psychological Association's annual convention, and I stayed right in the heart of downtown Toronto. Toronto is striking in a number of ways. First of all, it's clean and beautiful in a way that makes me question what a city should look like. On my first day there, I was scouring around for what New York has taught me is a trashcan - a little grated metal bin often overflowing (especially in dear Flatbush) with 7up drizzle and coffee cups and fried chicken combo plate remnants. I couldn't find one, but Downtown Yonge was somehow spotless. Not a ketchup packet to be seen. I thought- oh my God, Canadians are so eco-friendly, they must carry their trash with them all day and throw it out when they get home! No one is spitting and chucking drumsticks and ciggaratte buts on the street? Are they human? Finally I figured out that trashcans in Toronto are large rectangular bins where you can choose Paper, Plastic, or Rubbish. Every trash can comes with recycling options.


And the food was amazing, varied, and very vegetarian friendly at every level of cuisine. I dined fine a few times (BTW, Thaione on has some of the most innovative Thai dishes I've ever tried. Go for the Coconut Cashew Vegetables the next time you're in the area if you like it sweet.) and found plenty of veggie fare for me everywhere I went. But even the cart food is vegetarian friendly! Every single hot dog stand - and there were hot dog stands everywhere for some reason - offered 100% veggie hot dogs, with nearly a dozen toppings to choose from to sauce your meal with. So much for dry falafels with tahini and a mound of lettuce- this was personalized, and in my opinion, really good meat free street food.

But that is nothing, really, in comparison to the city itself. Oh, the aesthetics of that city. Every building was beautiful in a different way. I can't really describe it- you'll have to go there and be mindful of it for yourself. The infrastructure is in itself a work of art. I found myself thinking, as I took the subway (where a screen in the station tells you exactly how many minutes until the next train arrives, and the stop announcements are noticeably automated rather than yelled at you over a half-broken speaker system): if every city paid as much attention to beauty as to utility as Toronto seems to, well, everything would be different. The world would be revitalized. Because, if you ask me, beauty is transformative. And a society recognizing that is a society moving forward.

I digress.

The point is, several scratchy muttered subway announcements and a few overflowing trash cans later, I arrived back in Brooklyn, thinking about how challenging it is to be mindful here. Do we want to see all of it? Or just go to the Met for our prearranged by "donation" beauty (nothing against museums; the ROM was fantastic, thumbs up Toronto) and fancy restaurants for our cleanliness? What does it mean to live in a city where the bench I'm trying to read a book on smells strange and the woman next to me is feeding her infant child Mcdonalds french fries and Hawaiian punch through a straw? ... Yes, I actually witnessed that happen.

That's where New York City has a lot to offer, though. The challenge of holding all of it in our awareness with compassion, rather than bitterness and discontent, opens new doors. It stretches our craving for and ability to see and experience beauty. And I suppose that is what this is all about. Because New York is no Toronto. It's a rough, vibrant, dirty, bustling catastrophe, and a really hard place to just be in. But, rough edges and all, I adore it. The longer I live in this city, the more in love I fall with it, and the deeper I dive, the more I find there is.

So, considering that, as Iron and Wine puts it, our life is composed of endless numbered days, I'm trying lately to wake up a little less cynical, a little more aware, and most importantly, devoted to my intention: dive deep.

Wherever You Go, There Is Brooklyn

So, this is the story of a young, newlywed, vegetarian, part time health-nut, recent Flatbush transplant, blogging about wellbeing, spirituality, and mindfulness in New York. I'll be using this space to review everything from vegetarian restaurants to cafes to books to parks and benches good for catching a moment or two for quiet meditation between everything that makes up my overwhelmingly busy urban days. I'll also explore mindfulness and how it is challenged and enriched by marriage, friendship, culture, and city living.

How did this project begin? Well, this is, in some ways, a continuation of my previous blog, It Melts Into Wonder, which served as a long standing public diary sharing all the private details on my search for meaning and purpose in New York City. With my recent marriage and move to Brooklyn, I decided it's time to turn a new leaf. While before I blogged about the world of stirrings within me, I'm going to here try instead to blog the world around me. It's an experiment in urban consciousness, and if nothing else, it will result in a detailed review of just about every subway accessible froyo joint, vegetarian friendly restaurant, and beautiful patch of greenery the city has to offer.

So enjoy, and feel free share your mindful New York minutes with me, too.