Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ocean City Boardwalk Classics

Growing up between beach towns on the Jersey Shore was pretty special. Our AIM profiles bragged, "our lives are your vacation," as we spent countless hours working on our tans in the sand over the summers. In high school, I frequently found myself watching the ocean waves instead of paying attention in Physics. While I was the absolute slowest person on the track team (no exaggeration), I enjoyed running on the boardwalk with the ocean breeze in my hair. But what I've always loved most about the boardwalk is the food.

I haven't been to the Ocean City boardwalk in a number of years as I've grown quite accustomed to the neighborhood firepit instead. But when I was home for Thanksgiving, I got quite a craving for the boards of my youth. There are only a few stores here and there open in the off-season, but luckily, they're all the best ones.

Manco & Manco Pizza

When I was younger, and for a number of years before then (since the 1950s), this place was called Mack & Manco's so that's what I'll refer to it as forever outside of this post. Manco & Manco is more than just your classic boardwalk pizzeria. This place works like a machine. It's best to sit at the counter, grab the special (2 slices and a soda for $6.25), and watch the show. The men behind the counter knead and flatten two squares of dough together, spin the pie up in the air, scatter tons of cheese on the dough adding a spiral of tomato sauce fresh from a hose, before popping it into the oven. Slices are served piping hot, so you'll definitely burn your tongue on the first slice. Only tourists get toppings, don't mess with the classic plain.

Johnson's Popcorn

Johnson's Popcorn has been around in Ocean City even longer than Manco's & Manco's, since 1940. It's classic caramel corn but it's about 1000 times better than that stuff you used to get during the holidays in the giant can with the three parts for caramel, cheddar, and regular popcorn. You know what I'm talking about. You can get this popcorn in an open bag to eat (for $4 or $7) while you're strolling the boards but a much better value is the tub for $8. If you're not saving it, ask for it open to fit in an extra few spoonfuls of popcorn. If you purchase it sealed, it will stay good for a few months. But why would you wait to eat it?! The best part about this popcorn is when you tell yourself "okay, only one more piece" after you've been gorging on it for a while, you can always find a piece that is actually 6 or 7 pieces melted together. It still counts as one.

Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy

Salt Water Taffy is a staple of the Jersey Shore and Fralinger's is said to be the original, with a history that dates back to 1885. The name of Salt Water Taffy is said to come from when the waves washed over a candy stand and soaked all of the candy there, which the disgruntled owner called "Salt Water Taffy" that day. The original Fralinger's is in Atlantic City. I have been enjoying Salt Water Taffy for years, but just discovered the chocolate-covered taffy Fralinger's offers on this last visit. It's definitely a nice twist as banana, raspberry, peanut butter, mint, and orange go fantastically with chocolate. I also made it out of there with a few adorable "sea air and sunshine-filled" boxes of the classic taffy to share with my coworkers this week, if there is any left tomorrow. I have a sugar-consumption problem.


I was a little disheartened that Kohr Bros. was not one of the classic stores open. Kohrs' is a Coney Island original that has been on the Jersey Shore for decades and has expanded to Key West, Virginia Beach, the less cool Ocean City in Maryland, and more. I suppose it would have been too cold to eat their peanut butter and chocolate custard on a cone on a brisk day in November. Maybe I will venture off from the wedding I'm going to in VA Beach in a few weeks in search of this treasure. Until then, more popcorn and taffy!


Monday, November 17, 2014

My Bologna Has a Last Name, it's Wilensky

Montreal is a city for foodies. Many of the recommendations I'd received from friends were for champagne bars and fancy French restaurants with several courses, foie gras, and lots of dollar signs on their yelp pages. But one of the best meals we had in Montreal was significantly more lowbrow than those establishments. I was told to explore the Mile End neighborhood, and I found a nearby place called Wilensky's Light Lunch to drag my family to one afternoon. 

We were ravenous from a day of exploration and when we first walked in, I wondered if we'd made a mistake. There were only a few stools to eat and they were full, not good for a girl with a broken toe, a cane, and a tired family. I thought maybe we'd have to take our sandwiches to go. But then, just like that, a group of four sitting at the bar got up and as my family sat down and I started looking around, I knew that it was going to be a great experience.

Wilensky's has been open since 1932 and there is history all around. A girl behind the counter asked us what we wanted and I said I thought we might need a minute as I studied the signs on the wall. But when she told us about the special, salami, bologna, and mustard on a pressed roll I said, "four, please," then checked to get my family's approval. They've learned to trust my ordering over the years - or maybe they were afraid I would give them attitude for wanting something else - so they just nodded.

Here's what one of the signs says about the special, which can explain why this is my kind of place:

When ordering a special,
You should know a thing or two.
They are always served with mustard,
They are never cut in two.
Don't ask us why, just understand,
That this is nothing new.
This is the way that it's been done
Since 1932.

I'm sure that my dad had some beef (bologna) with this poem since it rhymes "two," "two," and "two" and if it were a Beyoncé song he would've rewritten it, but we all were too hungry to judge. The sandwiches came out in what seemed like 10 seconds and we got a side of pickles and dug in. This sandwich is a perfect Erin sandwich. Perfect taste, no veggies, and pressed flat so it takes up less room in my tummy - is that how it works? I'm not a doctor. The sandwich surely doesn't look like much, but it does the trick, and does it well. We also each ordered a different soda which were mixed old school behind the counter. I got a cherry cola and it was definitely the best cherry cola I've ever had, and I am not even saying that because of how much my body needed that boost of caffeine at that time.

I'd read in my guidebook that the staff might be grumpy, but I felt welcome and even appreciated the entire time. Another amazing thing about Wilensky's is that the sandwiches are under $5. This is a far cry from the 12 cents they were in 1932, but still much less than I can find a sandwich for in New York aside from McDonald's. It's clear that aside from the prices, this place has not changed much in 82 years. But it doesn't have to. 


Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Irish Need Apply at the LES Tenement Museum

I've wanted to go to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum since Katie and I took a tour of the Lower East Side with Jeff from Walks of New York this spring. On that tour, I learned a lot about the history of immigration to the LES and realized that I currently live in an old tenement building.

When my parents visited last weekend, I thought it would be a great opportunity to finally tour this museum, especially because they hadn't been to the LES on any of their previous visits. There are a variety of options to tour the Tenement Museum (including food tours and visits with actors dressed as the occupants of the tenement from the 19th century), but the one that stood out most to me was the "Irish Outsiders" tour, because my dad and I are obsessed with being Irish and my mom is a good sport. 

We timed our visit perfectly to arrive at the top-notch gift shop a half-hour before the tour started. Unbeknownst to us, there is an informative half-hour movie playing on repeat on the side of the gift shop. The movie is a great introduction to the history of the Lower East Side and has specific details about the tenement building we were going to tour, 97 Orchard. 7,000 people lived in this tenement from 1863 to the 1930s, when the top floors were boarded up because the owner of the building couldn't keep up with safety regulations - specifically replacing the wood in the common area staircase with fireproof material.

{via the LES Tenement Museum}

Our "Irish Outsiders" tour started outside the gift shop with a brief introduction and a quick walk to the tenement building outdoor common yard, where the water pump (which only worked well in the morning) and the four toilet stalls were located. Our tour guide informed us that these toilets were only "flushed" weekly and were shared by the entire building. Already we were understanding that these living conditions were not ideal.

We climbed up to the fourth floor on a newer external staircase, with some on the tour group talking about how many stairs it was, but it was a breeze for me, since I'm on the fifth floor in my own walk-up apartment. We were brought to the Moore family's old apartment which has been restored to how it would have looked when they lived there in the 1860s. We learned about the family themselves, who only lived in this apartment for a year, and were the only Irish in a building of Germans. Our tour guide also told us about the history of the Irish people in America at this time and even played for us a few Irish Balladeers about the time period, my favorite being "No Irish Need Apply." I've been a fan of this saying for a while since my dad has this sign from an antique shop hanging in his office:

The song goes:

I started out to find the house, 
I got it mighty soon; 
There I found the old chap seated, 
He was reading the Tribune. 

I told him what I came for, 
When he in a rage did fly, 
"No!" he says, "You are a Paddy, 
And no Irish need apply." 

Then I gets my dander rising 
And I'd like to black his eye 
To tell an Irish gentleman 
"No Irish Need Apply." 

Some do count it a misfortune 
To be christened Pat or Dan, 
But to me it is an honor 
To be born an Irishman.


In the parlor, the Moore's apartment is set up how it would have been during the wake of their infant daughter who died of malnutrition while they lived in the apartment. It was complete with a baby-sized coffin, chairs where the women would sit closest to the body, and a shroud over the mirror because in Irish legend at that time, if you saw yourself in the mirror during a wake, you would be the next to pass on. It was sad to think of how much this family struggled to survive and how hard they worked for so little in return. It makes you want to thank your ancestors somehow for coming to this country with nothing so that you could complain about forgetting to DVR your favorite television show and it not being available yet on a machine you hold in your hands and on which you're able to contact Hong Kong in just 3 seconds.

We made our way back to my apartment after two stops - Katz's and a bar to meet up with Katie and Jake. My mom quickly turned into a detective and started comparing my apartment to the one we saw at the museum. She noted that my floorboards indicate that the small wall between my refrigerator and my living room must have originally been a full wall with a doorway, just as in the Moore's apartment. We realized that there must have been a stovepipe in the middle of my exposed brick wall. My living room has the same exact wall of windows as the "parlor" we saw in the Moore's apartment, which disappoints me because my window frames are painted an ugly white whereas they were clearly a beautiful wood at one point like in this picture:

{via the LES Tenement Museum}

The apartment I live in now is where I've lived the longest over the last ten years and is also the first New York City apartment of my own. It will always remain special to me. Now that I know a little more about the types of people who may have come before me and what they went through, it means even more. I can barely fit all of my clothes in my closets but at one point there may have been 13 people from multiple families living within my walls. It makes me feel thankful to have my own space, but even more thankful to have a bathroom that I don't have to share with 20 other apartments and that I can flush more than once a week.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Voluncheering for the NYC Marathon

Today I was asked if I ran the NYC Marathon on Sunday by four different people - three at physical therapy and one at Lululemon. I was completely honored by this question, as if *I* could ever run a marathon. It was due to the t-shirt I was wearing which shows the NYC Marathon logo on the front and then reveals the truth on the back, "VOLUNTEER." I sure did not have it in me to run the marathon on Sunday, nor probably will I ever (especially given my uncertainty with just a 7K last year), but I was a hell LOVE a volunteer, if I do say so myself.

I got involved in volunteering for the marathon because my amazing frousin Emily (who you may recognize from her recent appearance on Good Day New York) was co-leading the effort for the Mile 14 Water Station takeover by the November Project. If you haven't heard, the November Project is a free workout group that meets way before I wake up with tons of amazing people who love working out, being together, and inspiring each other. It's something that I've been tempted to try but since I've had foot injuries since July and now it is cold out, it may take some time still for me.

We committed to volunteering back in the summer, but it wasn't until two weeks before the marathon when I started to wonder what it was going to be like. Because I think too much about everything, I was wondering if it would be too cold, or raining, or if I'd be exhausted from having to wake up so early, or if I'd get completely soaked with water for the entire eight-hour shift. I can't imagine my thoughts if I had had to run the 26.2 miles with how much the thought of volunteering overtook my mind.

When Sunday came, I realized that the day was going to be awesome right away. My sister and I had both had tiring weeks so we ended up going to bed at 9:30 on Saturday night, which is probably the earliest I've gone to bed since 1995. We got the perfect amount of sleep to get up and get to Long Island City around 7 to meet with Maura, Austin, Davesh, and members of the November Project. I bundled up in two pairs of socks, rainboots, rainboot liners, two pairs of leggings, a short-sleeved t-shirt, a long-sleeved t-shirt, two jackets, gloves, a beanie hat, and a November Project trucker hat - could I *be* wearing any more clothes?! Why yes, I could, as they also gave us a long green poncho and blue gloves to top it all off.

We had a lot of setting up to do when we got there. My friends & framily decided we would take care of water rather than Gatorade. We filled cups up on a table on three different levels. I didn't have much confidence in this because I have forgotten all about physics at this point in my life and it just didn't make sense to me that these cups would stay put. I also was slightly concerned about the ridiculous gusts of winds that kept coming, but somehow, everything was alright.

Once the runners started coming, I stayed on the front line the whole day. Because of my weird long legs and limbs, I could still be touching the curb (a strict requirement that was broken a lot due to our excitement) and be pretty far out into the road for a runner to see me first. As I am the clumsiest person I know, I thought I would be dropping cups left and right and missing runners, but I did a pretty solid job. I was good at letting the runners know that we had Water (Wa-Ter, Agua) instead of Gatorade, making eye contact, handing off the cup smoothly, and giving them the best words of encouragement I could.

That's the greatest part of the NYC Marathon, the cheering. It's such an amazing feeling to be present for this incredible accomplishment in 50,000 people's lives. Marathon Sunday makes everyone happy - the entire city is in awe of what the human body and mind can do. It makes you think what you might be able to do if you can just put your mind and entire heart and soul into something. And to be just a tad selfish, it also does make you feel awesome when you see someone struggling a little and you're able to make them smile with a few simple words.

You're not going to catch me running in a marathon anytime soon, but you can for sure count on me to voluncheer again.

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