The Appalachian Trail

When I was a child, learning to play the piano, for many years my favorite composer was Aaron Copland. One of the first “serious” pieces of music I learned as a beginner was called “Sunday Afternoon Music“, and I played it endlessly. I loved that it was simultaneously simple and complex, that it broke the rules of traditional music but still sounded like one cohesive piece, and I loved the narrative feel of it. I remember it took some concentration for me to learn – there are some unexpected twists, especially for a young musician – but once I had it, both playing it and listening to it was so calming.

When delving further into Copland’s life and work, I, of course, came across his most famous work, “Appalachian Spring“. It feels like such a piece of Americana, like Woody Guthrie or Little House on the Prarie. It’s classic American, in that it feels like the exploration of something new, paying enough due to a root in traditional classical music, but still distinctly non-European in its sound. Discovering Appalachian Spring as an 11-year-old was the first time I had heard of the Appalachian Trail and the idea of someday listening to it while in the midst of Appalachia thrilled me. I always liked the idea of artists creating great works in their natural habitats – Louisa May Alcott writing in Orchard House with a half-eaten apple on her desk and rain pattering on the roof, Thoreau nestled against a tree beside Walden Pond, scribbling away in a notebook. Of course, I would later find out that Copland had no idea what his work would be called when he composed it (he just knew he was composing a ballet for Martha Graham), so the Appalachian Trail was hardly his muse. But still, there was (and is) something so inspiring about the idea of great works being born in simple homes.

Last weekend, I finally took a long-overdue break from hectic city life to disconnect for a few days. On Saturday, we took the Metro-North train up to the Appalachian Trail stop and got off to find that the trail crossed right over the platform.

After years of running through life in New York City, what a relief the view of those trees, water, and boardwalk were. It felt like I could catch my breath for the first time. (Honestly, being out of the city probably did mean I could breathe a bit better.)

We hiked for about 3 hours, to the Dover Oak and back. According to Google, this was an “easy” hike, but it was just right for me in terms of climbing up and down hills and trudging through muddy puddles, without losing the pleasantness and relaxation.

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When planning the trip, I thought “easy” meant we would be walking on a boardwalk the whole time, but most of the hike consisted of trudging along damp paths like these, following white markers like the ones on the trees ahead.

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The Dover Oak

After the hike, we purposely missed our train and hung around for an extra two hours to enjoy our surroundings. When we were walking, we did pause a few times to look at the landscape, but it wasn’t until we sat down to wait for the next train that we realized that this – just sitting – was both the hardest and loveliest part of the whole trip. We sat back, planned our dinner, watched the birds and insects flicker by us, tried unsuccessfully to look for fish, and tried unsuccessfully to put down our phones. I engaged in some amateur nature photography as a compromise with myself.

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Our seats. One points North, and the other points South.

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As we rode the train back, I thought about Aaron Copland and Appalachian Spring. I decided a few years ago that working towards an eventual happiness was not good enough for me – that I needed to do something professionally that would bring me happiness every day. Now, I think I need to go further than that. I need to better incorporate simplicity and peace into my daily life. I need to disconnect at night and not reconnect first thing in the morning, and I need to step away from all of it more often. As I’m writing this and reflecting on it all, I am reminded of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts“, which Copland famously used in his composition:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
      ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
      ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
      To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
      Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
-Elder Joseph

‘Tis a gift indeed.

Mummy’s Classic Chicken Curry

Sunday lunches in our house growing up almost always meant some sort of meat curry – mutton, fish, shrimp, or, most often, chicken. Mummy’s chicken curry is a favorite of everyone in our household, and I think after many attempts over the years and watching my mother carefully, I’ve finally managed to get pretty close. (There’s a very slight difference in taste, which I think I know the reason for, and I’ll explain it below.)

I think a major reason that my mother’s food tastes so good is that she makes the majority of her spice blends fresh from scratch. I’m sure that this is common amongst traditional Indian cooks, especially in India, but I’ve noticed that most of my generation relies on the ready-made boxed spices from Shaan and MDH found in Indian grocery stores. These can certainly make for great meals – I have another chicken curry recipe and a delicious biryani recipe that relies primarily on these spice blends – but they never achieve the complexity of flavor that a dish has when you start with raw spices.

Mummy cooks her chicken with 3 layers of flavoring – an onion for the base of the dish, a blend of spices and herbs for the marinade, and a dry roast of spices to add to the curry. There are a bunch of pieces and it takes a few attempts to learn how to do this efficiently so you don’t spend hours in the kitchen, but the outcome is completely worth it. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

  • Chicken thighs and/or drumsticks [1.5 lbs]1st Masala Blend (marinade)
  • Garlic [1/2 a head]
  • Cilantro [handful, washed, with stalks]
  • Ginger, peeled [1 inch]
  • Water [1/2 cup]
  • Sea Salt [1/2 tbsp]2nd Masala Blend (homemade garam masala)
  • Poppy seeds [1/2 tsp]
  • Cloves [3-4]
  • Cinnamon stick [1]
  • Whole black peppercorns [6-7]
  • Corriander seeds [1/2 tbsb]3rd Masala Blend (curry flavoring)
  • Large yellow onion, sliced into long wedges [1]
  • Frozen grated coconut* [3/4 cup]
  • Kashmiri chilis (for color) [2]
  • Pre-made spice blend for chicken** [1 tsp]Final Ingredients
  • Vegetable oil [1-2 tbsp]
  • Large yellow onion, diced [1]
  • Water [2 cups]
  • Red chili powder (laal mirch)*** [to taste]
  • Salt [to taste]
  • Pepper [to taste]
  • Cilantro leaves [for garnish]
  • Garam masala*** [for garnish]

*I buy mine pre-grated and frozen from the Indian store, but Mummy often grates and freezes her own. This may account for some of the difference in flavor. Also, it’s best if you leave the coconut out for 15-20 minutes before using it. It doesn’t have to be at room temperature, but it’s easier if it’s not a totally solid block.
**Mummy uses one from Bedekar’s, but I couldn’t find that so I used MDH Curry Masala for Chicken. It works, but I don’t love it, and I think this may account for the slight difference between my dish and Mummy’s.
***This is an addition that I sometimes make for an added kick of spice and flavor. For the garam masala, I either reserve some of what I made before or use a boxed one from Everest (just for the garnish).

Steps

Marinating the Chicken

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Ingredients for the marinade

  • Wash the chicken. If using chicken thighs, dice them into 1-inch pieces. Place in a bowl.
  • Wash the cilantro and add it (stalks included) to the blender. I use one from Bella that’s actually intended for making juices.
  • Peel the ginger and chop into a few pieces if necessary for your blender, and add to the cilantro.
  • Separate the garlic pods. I like to peel them completely, but Mummy actually leaves some of the skins on. Add to the blender.
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This is actually for making healthy juices but it works perfectly well for this recipe!

  • Add the salt and water to the blender and pulse until thoroughly blended.
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A vibrant green color, thanks to the cilantro.

  • Pour the marinade over the chicken and coat completely. Cover the bowl and set in the fridge while you prepare the other ingredients. (If you have the time, letting chicken marinate for a few hours always increases the flavor.)
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I trimmed almost all the fat from the chicken thighs, keeping a little on for flavor.

Making the Homemade Garam Masala

  • Add all the ingredients to a spice blender (this is the one I use) and pulse until you have a fine powder. Set aside.

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Making the 3rd Masala Blend – A Dry Roast into a Paste

  • Roast the onion in a dry (no oil) nonstick pan.
  • Once the onion is fragrant, add the grated coconut, Kashmir chilis, and homemade garam masala from above. Roast until the onions are translucent and slightly brown on the edges and the mixture is fragrant.

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  • Add everything from the pan to your blender, and add in the MDH Curry Masala for Chicken. If you have a powerful enough mixer, pulse until you get a paste. If not, add some water and pulse.

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Putting it All Together

  • Heat the oil in a pot.
  • Once the oil is hot, add the diced onion.

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  • When the onion is translucent, add the chicken and marinade. Let it cook, stirring from time to time, until the chicken is almost fully cooked through. (Mummy actually marinates the chicken in advance and lets the chicken cook while she’s making the 3rd masala blend, but I’m not quite up to this level of kitchen coordination yet!)
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Add the chicken and marinade to the pot

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Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is almost fully cooked through

  • Add the 3rd masala paste to the pot. Stir and add approximately 2 cups of water. (The amount of water may vary depending on how much you added to make the paste, etc.)

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Add two cups of water

  • Put the lid on the pot and let the curry come to a boil until the chicken is fully cooked. Then, turn the heat down and let it simmer for 15 minutes until some of the water has evaporated and you are left with a curry of medium-thickness.
  • Add salt, pepper, and red chili powder to taste.
  • Garnish with cilantro leaves and garam masala. Serve with white rice, chapaati (a common Indian flatbread), or even white Italian bread, and some dahi (plain yogurt).

 

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Do you have a favorite chicken curry recipe or a garam masala recipe/brand that you really like? Share them in the comments below! Happy cooking 🙂

Videos – Trying Something New

I’ve talked a few times on this blog now about how big a fan I am of Youtube. (See Sorted Food and Dulce Candy.) Well, meeting Dulce after 7 years of watching her made me realize that I had spent 7 years wishing I could do Youtube myself and being too afraid to actually do it. Like with most things in my life, I’ve had ideas that I stewed on for months or years before I finally decided this week to just put them into motion. I tried my hand at two small film projects.

The first is actually for Instagram, not Youtube. As a creative challenge to myself, I wanted to see if I could make something interesting involving dance in the span of a 15-second Instagram video. This was the result:

I’m hoping to post something like this weekly with #DanceVignettes.

The second is a (slightly) longer vlog-style video for Youtube about an afternoon Proma, Radhika, and I had in the city last week.

As you can see, I don’t even really show myself in the video, and the music I used is a standard iMovie track, but the project was more about trying my hand at editing together film clips I took in a way that’s hopefully interesting! I’m definitely more comfortable writing (in fact, it’s kind of taking all my courage to post this just now, haha), but it was fun to dip my toe into something a little different. Also, if you read my first post on this blog, “Patrick“, you’ll see that video was something I was planning on incorporating from the beginning, so it was nice to come back to it from another angle.

What new things are you trying this week? Are you a vlogger or filmmaker? Do you have any feedback on my two little projects? Let me know in the comments below!

Storm King

Saturday was perfection. I took a solo trip about an hour and a half upstate to Storm King Art Center. Storm King is a beautiful parkland and outdoor art exhibit. I love New York but I was really starting to feel cooped up in all the concrete. I’ve been itching to get out of the city for a while now, and this day-trip was just what I needed. I mentioned in my Washington Sq. Park post that I have a goal to take 3 small trips this year, and I’d heard about Storm King years ago, and finally decided to go. I don’t have a car, but luckily Storm King and Coach Short Line buses have partnered to offer a day-trip service that’s quite convenient. I’m so glad I went. The greenery, fresh air, and open landscapes were revitalizing. Even the weather was cooperating. It was probably the best day of the summer – mid-seventies to eighties, and the most glorious end-of-summer breezes. Everything felt peaceful and beautiful, and the giant sculptures were unexpected and added interest to the landscape. I think this is a visit that’s really best described in pictures, though, so here are my favorites from the day:

The hills are alive... with art and culture

The hills are alive… with art and culture

Part of Lynda Benglis's "Water Sources", silhouetted against the sky

Part of Lynda Benglis’s “Water Sources”, silhouetted against the sky

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A spiderweb forms on Chakala Booker's "A Moment in Time". Art is placed in nature, nature grows upon it.

A spiderweb forms on Chakala Booker’s “A Moment in Time”. Art is placed in nature, nature grows upon it.

A bright pop of color

Rotating circles

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"Ear" by Tomio Miki. I think it belonged to a giant.

“Ear” by Tomio Miki. I think it belonged to a giant.

My grandfather used to tell me a story about a giant who showed how fearsome he was by describing his teeth and spit and hair. I imagine that his hair looked something like this.

My grandfather used to tell me a story about a giant raakshasa who showed how fearsome he was by describing his teeth and spit and hair. I imagine that his hair looked something like this.

The giant left his marbles out

The giant left his marbles out

Glowing geometry

A different vantage point

A different vantage point

One mode of transportation around the park, although I preferred just to walk.

One mode of transportation around the park, although I preferred just to walk.

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Bridge to Nowhere

I found this earring dangling from a tree, fluttering in the wind. Clearly someone created their own art.

I found this earring dangling from a tree, fluttering in the wind. Clearly someone created their own art. 🙂

Another panel on this piece had the Italian words "Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso," engraved in it. That means "You know : I have to lose you again and I can not."

Another panel on this piece had the Italian words “Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso,” engraved in it. That means “You know : I have to lose you again and I can not.”

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Naturally artful

"City on the High Mountain" by Louise Nevelson

“City on the High Mountain” by Louise Nevelson

Part of the "Three-Legged Buddha" by Zhang Huan

Part of the “Three-Legged Buddha” by Zhang Huan

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My dream backyard

Take me home, country road

Country road

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Sometimes the juxtaposition of art and nature was a little too odd

Sometimes the juxtaposition of art and nature was a little too odd

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Amongst fields of summer

Amongst fields of summer

Chasing butterflies

Chasing butterflies

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Serenity

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The road home

The road home

The High Line

Ever since I moved to Manhattan, a little over a year ago, I’ve been hearing about the High Line. It’s become a common conversation in New York: “What did you do last weekend?” “Oh we got brunch, walked the High Line, it was really nice.” Somehow, though, I had never been. Well on Sunday, after a weekend spent indoors, I decided I was going to go and see what all the fuss was about.

A few postcards I picked up showing the High Line in its various forms – (clockwise from top) prior to opening in 2000, a map showing the entire pathway, people strolling down the boardwalk

A few postcards I picked up showing the High Line in its various forms – (clockwise from top) prior to opening in 2000, a map showing the entire pathway, people strolling down the boardwalk

The High Line is a stretch of old railroad track running along the west side of Manhattan that connects the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Hudson Yards. Trains ran along its tracks from 1934 to 1980, after which residents in the area (particularly Mr. Peter Obletz) fought for it not to be destroyed. After decades of work, in 2009, the organization “Friends of the High Line” opened the first section to the public. Today the High Line is a mile-and-a-half of walkway surrounded by plants, the city, and quirky pieces of artwork. It’s situated in quite a fancy part of town (ads for $20 million residences and the offices of Giorgio Armani line the walkway) but it’s an area for all New Yorkers (there are free events constantly and even a play area for children).

It was 93 degrees that afternoon in New York, so I probably could have chosen a more comfortable day to visit, but I kind of had that mentality that if I didn’t go then it was never going to happen. Surprisingly, even though it was swelteringly hot, the walkway was crowded almost the whole way through. Luckily, the creators of this little city garden have thoughtfully incorporated water fountains and sitting areas all along the path to help you cool off.

A variety of sitting areas along the High Line, each providing a moment of solace from the bustle of the main walkway.

A variety of sitting areas along the High Line, each providing a moment of solace from the bustle of the main walkway.


On a day as hot as Sunday, it was nice to be able to kick off my sandals and step in some cool, flowing water

On a day as hot as Sunday, it was nice to be able to kick off my sandals and step in some cool, flowing water! (BTW, can you tell I’ve gotten some sun this summer?)


There were a few of these funny amphitheater-like seats along the way. The show playing? Live traffic in the streets below!

There were a few of these funny amphitheater-like seats along the way. The show playing? Live traffic in the streets below!

I had expected the High Line to be another little oasis. However, unlike Washington Sq. Park, the creators of the High Line haven’t made a bubble within the city so much as they’ve made a garden that grows within and among it. As you walk through, the city leaps out at you as much as the plants and artwork do.

Construction and scaffolding are commonly seen along the High Line, but so are more scenic views of the Hudson River and the West Side Highway.

Construction and scaffolding are commonly seen along the High Line, but so are more scenic views of the Hudson River and the West Side Highway.

The High Line has been constructed the way it has very consciously. Rather than tearing the old railroad down completely to build something new, Friends of the High Line focused on an eco-friendly approach by simply repurposing what was already there to create something new. As a result, touches of the old rail system can be seen throughout the walk.

I'll admit I was a bit dismayed by the amount of construction visible surrounding the High Line, but I found scenes like this – with the shrubbery growing all over the old tracks – positively charming.

I’ll admit I was a bit dismayed by the amount of construction visible surrounding the High Line, but I found scenes like this – with the shrubbery growing all over the old tracks – positively charming.


Iron details

Iron details


The end of the line at Hudson Yards

“The End of the Line” at Hudson Yards

The art installations along the pathway incorporate the city and rail themes as well. Embedded amongst the greenery, they’re often easy to miss. Here are a few that stood out to me:

One of the first pieces you'll see are these busts painted in traffic-sign yellow and seated on dark metal shelves.

One of the first pieces you’ll see are these busts painted in traffic-sign yellow and seated in stacked, dark metal crates.


Two visitors find their home on a 3-D recreation of Manhattan

Two visitors find their neighborhood on a 3-D recreation of Manhattan


Did you think it was graffiti? They're actually sculptures made out of bent rebar by artist Damián Ortega – part of his series called "Physical Graffiti".

Did you think it was graffiti? They’re actually sculptures made out of bent rebar by artist Damián Ortega – part of his series called “Physical Graffiti”.


Some of the artwork that can be seen along the High Line isn't actually part of the High Line itself.

Some of the artwork that can be seen along the High Line isn’t actually part of the High Line itself.


A giant mural like a page out of a graphic novel covers the wall of one of the adjoining buildings. This is just one small section of it.

A giant mural like a page out of a graphic novel covers the wall of one of the adjoining buildings. This is just one small section of it.


A remnant of the railroad or an art piece? It's unclear.

A remnant of the railroad or an art piece? It’s unclear.


The Collectivity Project by Olaf Eliasson is one of the coolest installations. It's a community-generated lego-building frenzy. It's always changing, but when I went I saw intricate towers, a tribute to the Ukraine, a profession of love, and much more. Anyone can add to it, so if you come here be sure to stop by and leave your mark!

The Collectivity Project by Olaf Eliasson is one of the coolest installations. It’s a community-generated lego-building frenzy. It’s always changing, but when I went I saw intricate towers, a tribute to the Ukraine, a profession of love, and much more. Anyone can add to it, so if you come here be sure to stop by and leave your mark!


My personal favorite piece (which I think technically isn't even part of the High Line) was this sassy portrait of Einstein, continuing to solve the world's problems.

My personal favorite piece (which, again, I think technically isn’t even part of the High Line) was this sassy portrait of Einstein, continuing to solve the world’s problems.

The High Line is primarily a bit of green space in the city. Various trees, shrubs, self-seeded grasses, and flowers grow all over it. A built-in irrigation system helps the plants retain water (and helps guests cool off like in that picture of my feet above). When I visited, the plants were at the peak of summer vibrancy and already starting to sense the coming change of season.

Bright flowers soak in the sunshine

Bright flowers soak in the sunshine


Dark, berried leaves bring winter to mind

Dark, berried leaves bring winter to mind


A touch of fall has already arrived

A touch of fall has already arrived


Drying summer wild flowers

Drying summer wild flowers

My favorite part of my visit to the High Line actually came on Tuesday night when I went back to look at the night sky. I have a slight obsession with the night sky – it’s one of the things I miss the most from growing up in the suburbs – so I was thrilled to learn that the High Line hosts the Amateur Astronomers Association every Tuesday night from dusk till 11pm. The astronomers bring their telescopes and show whomever is interested what is going on in the sky that night. When I went, there were long lines already formed to see Saturn and the moon.

Crowds gathered to look through telescopes

Crowds gathered to look through telescopes


A cheap view of the night sky – this visit really made me want to get into proper nighttime photography!

A cheap view of the night sky – this visit really made me want to get into proper nighttime photography!


This astronomer – Alric (doesn't that just sound like a stargazer's name?) – preps his telescope for us to look at Saturn. I couldn't believe we could actually see the planet with it's ring around it! Alric told me that the first time he showed his dad the same thing, he was so surprised he fell off the back porch.

This astronomer – Alric (doesn’t that just sound like a stargazer’s name?) – preps his telescope for us to look at Saturn. I couldn’t believe we could actually see the planet with it’s ring around it! Alric told me that the first time he showed his dad the same thing, he was so surprised he fell off the back porch.

All in all, the High Line makes for a nice quick walk in the city. It’s not quite the oasis I thought it would be, but it definitely has lots of interesting things to look at and talk about.

Have you ever been to the High Line? What are your favorite walks in your city or town? Photographers – do any of you do night-sky photography? What equipment do you use and what are your tips and tricks? Let me know in the comments below!

Washington Square Park

I’ve wanted to travel for as long as I can remember but I haven’t yet been able to do it on my own. One of my goals for this year is to “take an epic trip for myself” (which to me means travel abroad on my own) and to take 3 smaller trips or days out with friends. So far, I’ve just taken one smaller trip with my friends to Cape Cod, and I’m in the process of planning a couple more upcoming adventures.

So what does this have to do with Washington Square Park? Well, in thinking about all these trips, the travel bug has hit me. I can’t quite jet off whenever I wish, so I’ve been looking for places in my own city to explore more thoroughly. I’ve done a bit of that this summer, exploring the sweetshops on the Upper East Side with Sorted Food, but I wanted to go beyond eateries. My friend Radhika suggested Washington Sq. Park. I was skeptical because I’d been there before, and while it’s pretty, I didn’t think there would be much I could say about it. However, last Sunday I took her advice, and found that it’s a treasure trove of interesting characters.

An entrance to quintessential New York

An entrance to quintessential New York

As I mentioned, the park is beautiful. It has plenty of green spaces for people to hang out in the shade or the sunshine. It’s a throughway for a lot of foot traffic with the West Village and Union Square within walking distance. The park is well-sculpted and made up of a variety of smaller, interesting areas.

A shopper enters the park on his way elsewhere.

Walking through the park makes for a lovely commute on a sunny day.

Park-goers lounge in the sunshine – a classic American park scene

Park-goers lounge in the sunshine – a classic American summer scene

Another classic scene – the hot dog and soda cart. There were surprisingly few of these in the park... others stationed themselves just outside on the sidewalks.

Another classic scene – the hot dog and soda cart. There were surprisingly few of these in the park… others stationed themselves just outside on the sidewalks.

Gorgeous yellow flowers greet you at one entrance. If you look closely, you can see a couple friends chatting just behind them.

Gorgeous yellow flowers greet you at one entrance. If you look closely, you can see a couple friends chatting just behind them.

One of my favorite things about the park is the beautiful trees. There are all different kinds – strong oaks and maples, mulberries, a huge sycamore, and something graceful and sweeping that I think might be a willow. (Help me out, nature-lovers!) Radhika mentioned to me that cherry blossoms bloom there in the Spring – I definitely want to come see those next year.

This knotty old tree stump seems to be a mini-tourist attraction within the park. I found myself looking at all its twists and turns for several minutes.

This knotty old tree stump seems to be a mini-tourist attraction within the park. I found myself looking at all its lumps and bumps for several minutes.

I loved that there were still flowers in bloom all around the park.

I loved that there were still flowers in bloom all around the park.

A variety of trees make a rippling pattern of green wherever you look.

A variety of trees make a rippling pattern of green wherever you look. You can nearly forget you’re in a huge city!

This picture reminded me of a scene you might find in Disney world – there's a touch of magic and a touch of romanticism, don't you think?

This picture reminded me of a scene you might find in Disney world – there’s a touch of magic and a touch of romanticism, don’t you think?

This was my favorite – a lovely sweeping tree that provided the perfect amount of shade. Does anyone know what kind it is?

This was my favorite – a lovely sweeping tree that provided the perfect amount of shade. Does anyone know what kind it is?

Amidst all this beauty, was a melting pot of people enjoying the sunshine. The park is layer after layer of subcultures, jarringly juxtaposed, but somehow fitting together, very much like the bizarre jigsaw puzzle that is New York City itself. Framing the park is the stately architecture. The most iconic piece is, of course, the grand archway. However, there is also a stunning fountain just in front of it, and several statues peppered along the walkways.

A tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for a unified Italy in the 1800s. Some research tells me that there is an NYU finance new students' tradition of tossing a penny at the base of the statue for good luck.

A tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for a unified Italy in the 1800s. Some research tells me that there is an NYU finance new students’ tradition of tossing a penny at the base of the statue for good luck.

A statue of Alexander Lyman Holley who was a 19th century engineer best known for propagating the use of Bessemer steel in the US and abroad.

A statue of Alexander Lyman Holley who was a 19th century engineer best known for propagating the use of Bessemer steel in the US and abroad.

The fountain and iconic archway.

One of the many odd juxtapositions of the park: a stately archway in the background and people cooling off barefoot by the fountain. 

Details on the arch

Details on the arch

The back of the arch has two statues of George Washington, called "Washington at War" and "Washington at Peace".

The back of the arch has two statues of George Washington, called “Washington at War” and “Washington at Peace”.

The powerful Freedom Tower can be seen through a space in the buildings if you stand just next to the archway.

The powerful Freedom Tower can be seen through a space in the buildings if you stand just next to the archway.

The park isn’t that large, so at any point you could hear two or three musical acts floating through the air towards you. They ranged from dignified classical musicians to college-aged bands to people whose story it was impossible to guess at when you looked at them.

I heard this drummer rat-a-tat out a march, fittingly just as I was looking at the statues of George Washington on the arch.

I heard this drummer rat-a-tat out a march, fittingly just as I was looking at the statues of George Washington on the arch!

Someone managed to bring this grand piano into the middle of the park. Some days there is famously another grand piano that is played under the iconic archway.

Someone managed to bring this grand piano into the middle of the park. A couple violinists stood chatting in the background, so they may have just finished their set. Some days there is famously another grand piano that is played under the iconic archway.

This four-piece band attracted the attention of many passerby.

This four-piece band attracted the attention of many passerby.

The piano had a printed sign on the front that said "Five ex-wives and piano teacher to support".

The piano had a printed sign on the front that said “Five ex-wives and piano teacher to support”. I wonder what the stories are there!

The park is also used for modern-day political and social activism. On the day I was there, Christian volunteers in bright yellow shirts were asking people for blood donations (you can see them in several of the pictures). Joggers tried to avoid (or in some cases, purposely didn’t) running across chalk drawings in support of presidential candidates. Because of the beauty and grandeur of the park, there was an air of natural rebellion or amplification to each of these statements.

Someone incredibly talented drew this picture of Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter

Someone incredibly talented (Hani Shihada) drew this picture of Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter. Go check out his stuff on Instagram by clicking on this picture – he has some incredible pavement art. 

Next to Mr. Shihada's work was this slightly trampled chalk-poster for Bernie Sanders. There were a couple of them in the park.

Next to Mr. Shihada’s work was this slightly trampled chalk-poster for Bernie Sanders. There were a couple of them in the park.

A web of scaffolding didn't stop this nearby church from proclaiming its message.

A web of scaffolding didn’t stop this nearby church from adamantly proclaiming its message.

Not sure who the intended audience was here, but the message is pretty clear...

Not sure who the intended audience was here, but I suppose the message is pretty clear…!

Washington Square Park doubles as a sort of academic quad for New York University. NYU buildings surround the four sides of the park, including one block that is mostly taken up by Bobst Library.

Washington Square Park doubles as an academic quad for NYU students.

Washington Square Park doubles as an academic quad for NYU students.

The entrance to NYU's prestigious law school

The entrance to NYU’s prestigious law school. A quote on the building reads, “To what purpose should our thoughts be directed to various kinds of knowledge, unless room be afforded for putting it in practice, so that public advantage may be the result.” (Sir Philip Sidney) An interesting though on the idea of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

The sculpture outside NYU's Bobst library. (More church volunteers in the background)

The sculpture outside NYU’s Bobst library. (More church volunteers in the background)

Ironically, just outside the library was a wizened old man selling books that looked just as old. He freaked out a bit when he thought I took his picture. (To be honest, I did, but when he got upset, I deleted it.) He wasn’t the only whimsical character in the park that day, though.

A man sold paintings on a nearby sidewalk.

A man in a flower shirt and hat that reminded me of Dopey the Dwarf sold paintings on a nearby sidewalk.

A fellow photographer checks out a man selling instant poetry for $10.

A fellow photographer checks out a man selling instant poetry for $10.

A pigeon-feeder, reminiscent of the old lady in Home Alone. When I look at this picture, Mary Poppins sings in my head: "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag..."

A pigeon-feeder, reminiscent of the old lady in Home Alone. When I look at this picture, Mary Poppins sings in my head: “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…”

Thanks to NYU, the streets that border the park are beautiful and interesting as well. It’s a quick and fascinating walk to go around just looking at the doors on all of the buildings.

My favorite doors. Walking around this area and through the West Village can really make you dream of a grand life.

My favorite doors. Walking around this area and through the West Village can really make you dream of a grand life.

This was Eleanor Roosevelt's residence from 1942 to 1949.

This was Eleanor Roosevelt’s residence from 1942 to 1949.

Finally, my favorite part of any park is seeing the little children playing. This is especially true in New York, where there is limited space for running around. Once again, though, NYC remains true to form, creating a little oasis within the metropolis, just like with its street fairs. I love that within this small park, the city has created a few different play areas geared towards kids.

A classic playground structure – the jungle gym.

A classic playground structure – the jungle gym.

They may be in a big city, but that doesn't mean these kids don't get to play in rolling hills! (Even if the grass here is fake...)

They may be in a big city, but that doesn’t mean these kids don’t get to play in rolling hills! (Even if the grass in this area is fake…)

A little girl contemplates running through the sprinkler alone.

A little girl contemplates running through the sprinkler alone.

Thus concludes my Washington Square Park adventure! NYC people – have you explored this park? What other areas of the city do you love to visit? Let me know where I should go next! Everyone – have you ever tried being a “tourist” in your own city? What was the experience like? Let me know in a comment!

Dulce Candy

I’ve talked about Youtube a little bit on this blog before (check out my post on Sorted Food), but I haven’t really gone into why I love it so much. I think it’s an incredible platform that’s taken its time coming into the mainstream (in fact, many would say it’s still not quite there), but has somehow, quietly, become one of most powerful messaging services in our world today. Youtubers, at their best, are real people who talk directly to real people. They show who they are, share their interests, and get conversations going.

A prime example of this is Dulce Candy Ruiz. She started on Youtube as “DulceCandy87” in 2008, fresh out of a military tour in Iraq. She was one of the first of a large population of Youtubers known as “beauty gurus”, sharing tips and tutorials on how to apply makeup, do hairstyles, and put together outfits.

Dulce Candy Ruiz

Dulce Candy Ruiz

When I first discovered her, I was fascinated by the tutorials she and other girls were putting up. I learned so much about makeup just from watching them. As time passed, I felt like I got to know them better, and in my loneliest hours in college, I came to rely on their videos almost as friends. This sounds sad, but I think it’s actually a positive thing that has helped millions of viewers over the past 8-10 years. When I was at my lowest, I was able to watch people who were working hard every day to make their dreams come true and, slowly but surely, their dreams were actually coming true.

Dulce’s newest video: The Evolution of Dulce Candy | The Sweet Life

Dulce's note in my copy of

Dulce’s note in my copy of “The Sweet Life”

Yesterday I got the opportunity to meet Dulce at the launch of her first book, The Sweet Life, at the Youtube Space NYC.

The set-up for the Youtube livestream, before it began

The set-up for the Youtube livestream, before it began

“The Sweet Life” by Dulce Candy Ruiz (yes that is her real name!)

It was incredible. It really only struck me how long I’ve been watching her when I was there. I realized that I hardly watch her videos for make up tips anymore. Instead, my viewing interests have shifted to decor, filmmaking, and vlogs. However, I’ve continued to avidly follow Dulce because, as I mentioned to her, even as her filming, presentation, and editing quality has improved drastically with time, she still comes across as completely genuine. In fact, I think in some ways she seems more real now than she did 7 years ago. She speaks honestly about her failures and mistakes and explains how she had to change her mindset to overcome the roadblocks she put in her own way. It’s a powerful message for anyone, but I think it speaks to me especially because the biggest obstacle in my life is my tendency to internalize and overanalyze doubts other people have about me. Fear is a hard thing to overcome, but Dulce is an example of someone who has worked toward overcoming it little by little, year after year, (and continues to do so) to amazing success. One of the things she said was that “you can really achieve anything you want to achieve”, which sounds like a cliché, but when I look at the trajectory of her life and think about how she got to where she is today, it’s clear that there was nothing really involved besides her hard and continuous work.

During the livestream, I got to ask Dulce what advice she would give to creative people in terms of focusing their passions. She responded that it's important to know and do what you enjoy and just keep working on improving that.

During the livestream, I got to ask Dulce what advice she would give to creative people in terms of focusing their passions. She responded that it’s important to know and do what you enjoy and just keep working on improving that.

Dulce watches

Dulce watches “The Evolution of Dulce Candy”

One of the things I love about Dulce’s book tour is that she’s paired it with a sort of “good will” mission. At each book tour stop, she’s working with a local organization to do a bit of good in the area. For example, in New York, she had an event working with kids through the Police Athletic League on Monday. (I wanted to go but had to travel for business!) Her comment on it was, “I feel like if God blesses you with something, he does it for you to give back to people.”

Another bit of thoughtfulness – providing a delicious dinner from Los Tacos No. 1! (Not pictured: an on-theme

Another bit of thoughtfulness – providing a delicious dinner from Los Tacos No. 1! (Not pictured: an on-theme “Dulce de Leche Martini”)

A sweet treat – see what I did there? ;-)

A sweet treat – see what I did there? 😉

The event sponsor, Shea Moisture, sent everyone home with a goodie bag of their Fruit Fusion Coconut Water shampoo, conditioner, and body scrub

The event sponsor, Shea Moisture, sent everyone home with a goodie bag of their Fruit Fusion Coconut Water shampoo, conditioner, and body scrub

When I got to speak to her for a few minutes, I told her how much I appreciated how real she is in her videos. I mentioned this blog and she immediately looked up from signing my book and said “oh wow! What was the inspiration for that?” I told her that a lot of it was about the things she’d talked about – overcoming fear – which in my case was connecting with new people and sharing my writing with others. She told me she’d read and follow when I sent her the link which was unexpected but so sweet. When I mentioned my blog, she could have just given the obligatory “oh send me a link” response, but instead she paused to have an actual conversation about it. That was pretty cool.

It's a very cool thing to get to talk to someone you've followed and admired for so long

It’s a very cool thing to get to talk to someone you’ve followed and admired for so long

Dulce speaks to another viewer, and a new friend I made, Liliana :)

Dulce speaks to another viewer, and a new friend I made, Liliana 🙂

I’ve started reading The Sweet Life now and it will most likely be my next “Books I Read” post (even before Go Set a Watchman) because I’m zooming through it.

Do you watch Youtube? Have you gotten a chance to meet someone you truly admire? What was that experience like for you? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂