June 30, 2012

Vacation from Vacation

Oh, New York... I miss you already. I miss the sights, the smells, and by golly, I miss the food! I've been traveling for the past several months, so it's a bit hard to keep up my blogging. I'm ashamed. Really, I am.

Ok, not so much. You know me too well for that. It's hard to be ashamed of my slovenly ways when I'm out trotting the globe. From Ireland to Virginia,  from Virginia to Texas, and then Texas to the Caribbean! (oh my!) Life has been one adventure after another for the past several months.

But, at long last, the Hubs and I are back home. While we enjoyed ourselves immensely on this last trip, I need a vacation from vacation, seriously. For the next two weeks, I'll be reorganizing our space, doing the shopping and cleaning, and of course I'll be sorting photos to post here with all the details of my trips. Ireland is next on zee list! (Insert shouts of joy here from my captive audience? Maybe not). Here's a little sneak peak:

Glendalough, Ireland 

As much as I love it, returning home from vacation is always bittersweet. I love our home, and I love being here. Then again, I also love clear blue water and a margarita in my hand... but alas, vacation cannot last forever. And in the time we're away, things have started to pile up. Like laundry. And bills. And a thousand seemingly unimportant things which are suddenly screaming for attention. Not to mention the empty refrigerator, which the Hubs practically considers a sacrilege.

Of course, the last thing I want to do is cook right when we've returned home from a long vacation. But, I also don't want to eat any more takeout. I get enough of that while on vacation. Kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Despite my lack of cooking desire, there are a few dishes which won't overtax my vacation-lulled brain. Soup and salad rank uber-high on this particular list. If you're really not up to any form of cooking, I guess you can just open a can of whatever. OR, you could try out this super simple, super delicious creamy onion soup.

For all my onion hater friends out there? Just picture me sticking my tongue out at you, blowing some raspberries, and then walking away. This always makes me feel better. After that, make some salad sans the soup. I forgive you for your food prejudice, truly.

Creamy onion soup

I love this soup.

Let me just say that again. I LOVE this soup! So does the Hubs, which is always a good thing. It's relatively quick, inexpensive, and hits the spot after a long day. In fact, we love this soup so much, I usually make a double batch and freeze part of it for our next craving.

I'm bringing the final version of the soup here to you. It's been through several reincarnations as I searched for just the right balance of flavors. Now, it is (a) Perfect. (b) Extraordinary. (c) Outrageously good. (d) All of the above.

The answer would be (d) All of the above.

The ingredients needed aren't fancy, and they allow for substitutions if necessary.

When we've just returned from an extended stay away, my first grocery trip is usually short and sweet and to the point. I sweep through produce and dairy, then I'm at the cash registers. I only want enough food to survive our first few days before I make my normal sized haul.

Staples like flour, butter, chicken broth, bacon, and spices are always at my disposal. If you don't already keep certain items on hand, then I have a tip: Keep a package of bacon handy in your freezer. Not only can it stand alone, but it's great with eggs, slapped on a grilled cheese, or makes a quick BLT (plus a zillion other things). Bacon is definitely one of my staple items.

As I breeze through produce, I snag a bag of yellow onions (not the sweet ones, just plain yellow!) and some fresh thyme. You can use dried thyme, no problem. But I especially love fresh herbs when I have them, and since I'm stopping in the produce section anyway.... well, you see my point.

These particular herbs are my favorite. The thyme is actually still growing inside a little pot within that package! It doesn't get much fresher than that, unless you're plucking right from your own garden.

After produce, grab some milk or half-n-half, or even heavy cream. This all depends on your taste buds and how many calories you want in your final soup product. The Hubs and I have eaten this soup with all of the choices at different times, and they all work. My only suggestion? If you're using milk, then use whole milk. Anything less seems too runny, and the flavor of the soup suffers a bit. I prefer the whole milk (not as rich as the heavy cream, and way less calories), so that's what we used this time.

Once you get home from that quick grocery stop, your first step is to give your onions (about 4 or 5 of them) a rough chop. Don't get too fancy with your knife work, just make sure the pieces are all fairly similar in size, like this:

Everything else is a breeze from here. Chop five slices of bacon into 1-inch pieces, then add those to your soup pot over medium heat (For my vegetarian friends out there, no worries. You can skip this step and just head on to the next). Let the bacon cook for a bit, but don't let it get crispy, just enough to render the fat. Next, slide your onions into the pot with 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter.

You want to let the onions cook down slowly, becoming nice and soft. This takes about 15-20 minutes.  But it's not hard, I promise! You can do lots of other things while the onions cook, only be sure to give them a quick stir once in a while.

When the onions are translucent and just start to brown, you know they're done. Your pot should look a little something like this (maybe a little more brown, I was quick with the camera):

At this point, you want to turn down the heat to medium-low and add 4 tablespoons of flour into the mix. Stir it around to dissolve. Fair warning: this looks pretty goopy and gross while you're doing it, but it is all good. The flour and butter are going to combine, and this is what will thicken your soup as you add liquid.

Once the flour is all mixed in, you can slowly stir in the chicken broth, 4 cups. I sometimes use a bit more if I need to finish the end of a can, so you don't need to be too exact. If you keep chicken stock on hand that's even better, but I always have cans in the pantry as part of my staples.

Along with the broth, you want to add 1 bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Also, add a bit of salt to your taste. Stir the soup well, inhale the aroma, and let it simmer for 25 minutes.

This sounds like a like long time, I know. Especially when you're making 'just home from vacation food'. But, you could consider this a great opportunity to empty your suitcase and start a load of laundry!

Or, you could always crash on the couch and catch up on your favorite DVRed shows.

I went with option #2. Obviously.

Here's what my soup looked like as it simmered:

After your simmer time and an episode of the Real Housewives, remove the bay leaf from your pot. The soup mix should have thickened some by now, and your house should smell heavenly. It's time to stir in either your cream, half-n-half, or whole milk, about 2 cups worth.

It will only take a few minutes for the soup to warm through. Be sure the temperature of your soup is hot before the final step, an addition of cheese. I normally use a mix of Parmesan and Asiago, but either/or is fine. Asiago isn't easy to come by out here, so often times I only use the Parmesan. The most important thing is: Grate the cheese yourself! 

I have a handy dandy rotary grater, like the ones you see at Olive Garden, which are perfect for hard cheeses like Parmesan. Until you've grated for yourself, you can't understand what a huge difference it makes to your cooking. Those pre-shredded bags of cheese are coated with cornstarch to keep them fresher longer. All of those additives really change the flavor and texture of your meals. Trust me here, you won't regret it.

So, once your soup is toasty warm, stir 1 or 1.5 cups of cheese into the mix. Add slowly and taste as you go! Keep stirring until all of the cheese is melted. Give the soup a quick sample and adjust your seasoning as necessary. Then...

Viola! You are ready to eat.

If you're like the Hubs and myself, you won't have any leftovers. Serve with thick, crusty bread for dipping and a side salad.

What are your favorite, I-just-came-home-from-vacation meals? Lately, it feels as if these are the only meals I'm eating. Now that we're home, I'm excited to start cooking again. I'll be bringing you some of my tales from Ireland soon, and hopefully some new recipes to go with it!

Happy cooking!

The Standard Form:
 Creamy Onion Soup


4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 slices bacon, chopped into 1” pieces
4 large yellow onions (not Vidalia), coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon basil
Dash cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1.5 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt, to taste
2 cups heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk
1 cup Parmesan or Asiago cheese, fresh grated


Add the bacon pieces to a soup pot over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes, and allow the fat to render, cooking until almost crisp. Add the onions and butter to the pot, and sauté 10-20 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are transparent and just begin to brown. Scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot, stirring well.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the flour to the onions. Stir to dissolve.

Stir in the chicken broth, black pepper, paprika, basil, cayenne pepper, bay leaf, fresh thyme, and salt. Stir to combine, and bring to a simmer.

Simmer 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and the mixture thickens a bit.

Remove the bay leaf from the pot, then stir in the cream/milk. Heat through before adding the Parmesan cheese. Stir to melt.

Taste for seasoning, salt if necessary. Serve with thick pieces of bread for dipping. 

June 8, 2012

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 3, The Final Installment)

Alas, we've come to the final post (for now!) about the best place in the world, New York City... If you're entering the story a little late, be sure to catch up on the adventure before proceeding:

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 1)  and  Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 2)

After our first long day in the City, Becky and I took a day off to visit with my family. Truth be told, this is the reason I love NY so much. The city has magic and appeal, but when you add that to a wonderful, loving family? Nothing beats it.

Being married to the military has its advantages, but one of the major drawbacks is being separated from family, be it your spouse or extended relatives. What I've noticed, though, is the separation makes reunions that much sweeter.

So despite the glamour of city lights, my best moment in NY was when my dad (who lives 8 hours away from NYC), surprised me as I stepped off the plane.

Me and my dad

Yep, I cried. You would have too, don't deny it!

So, while the visit changed my plans a bit, it was all for the better. I was able to see my dad, my grandmother, my cousins, my aunt, and (as he'll tell you) my favorite -always picks me up from the airport - uncle. A break from the hustle and bustle was just what I needed before another busy afternoon in the city.

The next day, Becky and I hopped the train back to Manhattan, but this time we had a stowaway... my dad. His train was leaving from Penn station that morning. It's never easy to say goodbye, and (you guessed it), I naturally cried all over again. After breakfast together, my dad left for home while Becky and I meandered toward the Fashion District, snapping photo after photo as we walked.

The day was overcast, with rain expected at any time. We hurried down the streets, anxious to capture what we could while we could. Billboards and advertisements caught my eye, impossible to miss.

The sheer size of these promotions will blow you away. Billboards wrap around buildings, they light up or change colors. Everything that can be done to capture the consumer's attention, it is done and done big. Half my time in NY is spent apologizing, mostly because I tend to stare up at the buildings instead of watching where my feet are going. I'm probably really lucky that no one has pushed me in front of a cab yet!

Somehow though, we managed to make our way into the famed Fashion District. I would say I am definitely not a fashion expert, but I can appreciate those who are. I mean, hey... I watch Project Runway! (Feel free to snicker, point your finger at me, and then laugh uproariously. I understand, truly).  

Ok, so I know very little about fashion, and what I do know is based on various reality TV shows. However, I absolutely loved our impromptu walking tour. The advertisements, the shops, the fun things in the windows... it's worth a quick look-see, whoever you might be, regardless of your expertise (or in my case, inexpertness).

Seeing the City on foot is (in my opinion), the only way to fly. When you take too many cab rides and subways, you miss out on the pulse, the smells... the sheer life that's moving all around you. You may see the same thing more than once, but it's always from another angle, a new perspective.

Some of the sights we wandered past were:

See, it's worth some slightly sore feet, right? We walked past most of these sights in about 45 minutes of aimless meandering. Imagine what you could do with a plan...

Actually, Becky and I did have a plan. A vague one, to be sure, but a plan nonetheless. With storm clouds threatening overhead, our first goal was to hike the Brooklyn Bridge without getting soaked!

When Becky mentioned this on her list of "must do" things, I was... surprised. No one has ever asked this of me before. Usually, everyone has the same list (if you're thinking of visiting, I bet some of them are on yours!):
          1. The Empire State Building
          2. The Statue of Liberty
          3. Rockefeller Center
          4. Central Park
          5. Broadway and a show
          6. Ground Zero
          7. St. Patrick's Cathedral
          8. The Met

There are other things on the list, and they vary some from person to person. Some of these were also on Becky's list. But no one has ever included a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, at least on their first visit.

This is one of the many reasons why I love Becky. She thinks outside the box.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Despite the bit of rain falling on our heads, we loved our walk. In fact, this unusual request turned out to be my favorite part of the trip! Lesson learned.

The Brooklyn Bridge is only about 1.1 miles long, so it doesn't take very long to walk across. Residents probably make the hike in less than 25 minutes, because they mostly just want to get to the other side. Of course, a runner can cut that time down considerably. The bridge also keeps a bike path, so watch out! Don't cross the line to their side of the bridge, or you may find yourself flattened.

For the average tourist, I suggest blocking out an hour for the hike. You'll want to read the plaques, discover the history. The views from the bridge will beg you to stop for photographs. It's likely you will hail down passing strangers to take your photo in front of the skyline. Seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance? That easily adds another 10 minutes of oohing and ahhing.

Becky and I took our time, for sure. 

Of course, the bridge itself isn't the only benefit to the hike. On the other side is the borough of Brooklyn (hence the name, doh).

Although Becky and I didn't spend too much time in Brooklyn, there are many things to see and do there. Just as you exit the bridge, you see Brooklyn Bridge Park. Some of the park is still under construction, but there are many restaurants, recreation areas, dog parks, and playgrounds available for use.

Jane's Carousel

For example, I took this photo right off the side of the bridge. The carousel was donated in 1992 by Jane and David Walentas, and it is now operated year-round. I wish we'd had time for a spin, but Becky and I were on a mission!

Yes, that's right... a mission. A very important one, at that.

We were... in search of.... lunch.

I know lunch doesn't seem like an important mission, but it is when you're looking for Grimaldi's, known for some of the best pizza EVER.

The small restaurant is located under the Brooklyn Bridge, and it habitually has a line out the door. Even in the rain, a line quickly formed behind Becky and I as we waited for the pizzeria to open. Fair warning to all who stand in line: Grimaldi's is included on many of the city's sightseeing tours. There are busloads of people (literally, buses) that have lunch at Grimaldi's as part of their tour. SO, while we waited in the rain, a tour group piled in ahead of us, with no wait at all.

Luckily, there was still space for us! We took our seats at a table meant for four, but we weren't alone for long. Be prepared to share your table space with whomever was in line behind you! Grimaldi's packs them in, for good reason. The flow of people didn't cease whilst we were there.

But oh.... oh MY... the smell inside was heavenly. Tomatoes and basil, sausage and pepperoni... nom nom nom.You can watch your pie being made (translation for all the currently clueless: pie = pizza), or you can simply plop at your table and wait.

Becky and I were the plopping type. The rain soaked up some of our energy, and we were ready for a break. The pie didn't take long to be delivered, which was especially nice after waiting outside for the doors to open.

Our pie
Fresh mozzarella! Crispy crust! Chunky tomatoes!

I just wiped away a little bit of drool, seriously. You have no idea.

The pizza is hot, fresh, and yummily. Trust me here. If you happen to stop by this NY landmark, don't forget to carry cash... Grimaldi's doesn't accept cards. There was an ATM available for those who forgot, but you've been forewarned now. Try not to act like a tourist!

So, the pizza went a long way to revive mine and Becky's spirits. However, the rain was coming down all the harder as we stepped outside. Rather than risk pneumonia by hiking our way back across the bridge, we caught a cab. In this situation, catching a cab (if you can find one) is perfectly acceptable. I wouldn't lie to you.

What does anyone do after they've just eaten some of the best pizza New York City has to offer? They have dessert, of course!

THIS... this is one of my absolute favorite places in New York. Whether it had been on Becky's list or not, we were going. I never, ever miss a chance to eat in Little Italy. If I could, I would do nothing but eat here all day long. Awesome for my taste buds, not so great for my hips.

Another good reason not to take a taxi cab everywhere you go? The walking is good justification to eat whatever you want. At least, that's the reasoning I use!

Since we'd already eaten lunch, Becky and I stopped for something sweet. You'd be hard pressed to find bad food in Little Italy, so don't worry too much about what restaurant you're stepping into. Just follow your nose. For us, I really wanted to show Becky one of my favorite places for dessert and coffee, Ferrara's. Normally, I would sit outside and watch all the people wander by, but as a nod to the rain we wandered into the quiet interior.

A more traditional dessert might be tiramisu or cannoli (delish!), but I opted for carrot cake and a mocha cappuccino. My reasoning? The Hubs won't eat carrot cake, so I try to order it whenever he's not around. Sweet, right?

Well, whatever my justifications, that cake was worth it!

Once you've had your cake and coffee, take some time to wander the shops. They are total tourist traps, but you can find all of your 'I Heart New York' paraphernalia here for fairly decent prices. I usually pick up an item or two for whomever I've left at home.

From there, take a stroll around Chinatown... it's only a few blocks over.

Chinatown, NYC
Here, you can find more tourist shops with everything from traditional trinkets to watches and chopsticks. Don't be afraid to bargain! It's expected, and you can always get a lower price. If the shopkeeper won't budge, just head on down to the next shop. They will likely carry the exact same items, and may be willing to do a better deal.

Also be prepared for strange people to approach you on the street, whispering the names of fashionable designers in your ear... Prada, Gucci? You can find plenty of knockoffs on these streets. If you show an interest, you'll be led to a 'secret' place where you can peruse the wares. But be warned! I'm pretty sure it's illegal. Otherwise, why the secrecy?

If you haven't been arrested by this time, there are plenty of other sights to see in the City. Sadly for Becky and I, the rain continued to pour. After a bit of indecision, we snatched another cab and headed uptown toward the Museum of Natural History.

This museum is definitely worth a visit, rain or no. Anyone out there remember the movie, Night at the Museum, with Ben Stiller? This is the place. Oddly enough, the movie doesn't always resemble the museum, but there are some things that remain the same.

Remember this guy? He's still there. Along with dino-things, there are many other interesting exhibits. Of course, on a rainy day, everyone else has the same idea, so be prepared for some of the special exhibits to be sold out. If you arrive early in the day though, you shouldn't have a problem getting your tickets.

It seems an odd note to end our vacation on, but that was the end of our last day in NYC. Of course, Becky and I were off to Ireland the next day, so the adventure continued! No worries, I'll be getting around to that trip soon enough...

For now, though, I'd like to leave you with a few basic tips for your NYC experience:

1. It's always harder to catch a cab in the rain... take the subway if you can.

2. Eat in local restaurants... I know I've visited more than a few tourist traps on this particular trip, but venture outside of your comfort zone. It will be worth it, I promise.

3. When you're hailing a cab, be sure to look for the 'On Duty' light. Otherwise you're just wasting your time.

4. Don't try to do it all. Totally impossible, and you'll only get frustrated. Pick your top few spots, get to those, and be willing to explore a little.

5.  Your camera may not brand you as a tourist, BUT stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture will. Step to the side if you can.

6. Be smart... the city is not a hotbed of crime like some would have you think, but stay smart like you would in any other city. Don't flash a lot of cash, and don't let your purse strap dangle from your arm. I mean, really?

7. The natives aren't going to eat you. For some reason, people seem to think New Yorkers are mean/rude. This is simply not so. If you need directions, ask for them. 99% of the people are happy to help.

8. New York is more expensive than your home town. There is not a Walmart on every street corner. Deal with it, and try to avoid sticker-shock.

9.  Follow sidewalk etiquette... it's just like driving a car. Slower traffic stays on the right, and try to only walk two by two. Stay in your lane!

10. Pack your sneakers, get out and WALK! It's truly the best way to see this great city.

Walking down Broadway 

Have you ever visited NYC before? What did you think? If you haven't, what's on your list of must-see places?

Happy travels!!

June 4, 2012

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 2)

So, where were we?

Oh yes... the best city in the entire world, New York City!

If you haven't read the first half of this post, you can find it here: Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 1). For those of you who have read the post, you're just more awesome than most.

I left you somewhere in F.A.O. Schwarz, perhaps playing on the Big Piano or wandering among the stuffed animals. As for Becky and I, we spent a glorious 15 minutes in the Schweetz Shop, gathering our favorite confections. With a bag full of candy, we left the greatest toy store in the world to wander Central Park, munching on swedish fish and M&Ms.

Central Park
Central Park is one of my favorite places to see whilst in the city. I love how two worlds seemingly collide, lush grounds surrounded by towering skyscrapers. Even if you've never been, Central Park is featured in so many television shows and movies that it's a familiar sight to most.

The Park is 843 acres of trees, lakes, and lawns. Around each corner is a new experience; and for someone like me, a new photograph. I love spending an afternoon just moseying along (that's right, I said mosey!), stopping for a hot dog at lunch, or taking a ride on the carousel when the mood strikes me.

Unfortunately, for first time visitors, there usually isn't enough time to simply wander the paths. The park is so large, it's impossible to see it all in one visit. Unless, of course, that is your only goal. However, Becky and I were primed to see the Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), so we picked a few key spots to see as we walked in the general direction of the museum.

One of those key spots was Bow Bridge, featured in many, many movies. Not only a beautiful spot, but also a very romantic one. So, if you happen to be in Central Park with your Hubs, be sure to stroll by! As for Becky and I, we spent our time with our cameras, the other great love in our lives.      

Bow Bridge
Another romantic thing to do in the park, and one I've done before (with the Hubs, not Becky!), is enjoy a carriage ride. Just outside the park, near the Plaza Hotel, horse and buggies await you. The prices are fair, the drivers are knowledgable and funny, and any opportunity to snuggle with your love is a good one. Naturally, Becky and I did not snuggle up together (sorry to disappoint you)... BUT, we did take photos!  

Horse and buggy outside Central Park
There are many, many, many, many things to see in the park. A buggy ride gives you the opportunity to see some of them without wearing out your legs, and it also puts a time limit on your visit through the park. Otherwise, you could wind up like Becky and I, spending hours wandering around. Of course, that was mostly because we lost our way a few times, but still.  

Eventually we stumbled upon the Met. 

The museum is yet another spot where you could literally spend days. For the art lover, NYC is chock full of experiences just waiting to happen. Because we were already a little tired (all that wandering around Central Park!), Becky and I chose a few key exhibits that we wanted to see. 

Of course, once you start down the hall looking for one exhibit, you also start looking at the others you pass. Then, before you know it, 3 or 4 hours have gone by, and you're not even halfway through your visit. The Met boasts works from Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, O'Keeffe, Tiffany, and Seurat. It's nearly impossible to walk by and not stop for a few minutes at each display. 

Somehow, we managed to limit our time. This was mostly due to our grumbling stomachs, but you gotta go with whatever works. 

After an incredibly risky cab ride, in which my life passed before my eyes several times, we arrived in Times Square.

Times Square
Times Square... the name conjures up images of New Year's Eve, screaming crowds, and confetti. I've been once to see the ball drop at midnight, and it was truly an unforgettable experience.

Luckily, Times Square isn't just about New Year's Eve. The bustle and the lights, the noise and the crowds... those are there all year round. I love to see the city after dark, when the lights are so bright it feels as if the day never ended. 

Dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, New York was the perfect ending to our first day in NYC...

 ... or so I thought, UNTIL we saw this on our walk back to Grand Central Station:

 The Empire State Building lit up the night, surprising us as we turned the corner. The colors of the building change, based on what's happening at that time: 

When the Giants won the Superbowl (woot!), the building was blue, blue, and blue

For Valentines Day, the colors became red, pink, and white. 

As Becky and I crossed 5th Avenue the evening of April 20th, the green, green, green shone into the night in honor of Earth Day. 

The day was a long one, but well worth it. After all, it required two posts just to talk about it! We managed one more great day in NYC before embarking on our next adventure... but that's a story for another night, as it's now my bedtime. I hope you're enjoying the ride so far! 


June 1, 2012

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 1)

I've traveled to many places, and seen many things, but New York City is a unique experience. I've visited so often that I've lost count. And yet, I always discover something new to see and do. In many ways, the city is constantly changing, but somehow it remains the same year after year.

I can still buy a 'dirty water dog' on practically every street corner, and yellow cabs always crowd the road. Street performers work for change, and artists hock their wares. The sidewalks teem with people, the stores contain the best fashions.

And it's still my favorite place to be.

For me, New York means family. It's the Yankees and the Giants (don't hate!). It's the best pizza in the world, and the best shopping. The City is museums, and Christmas lights, and ice skating. It's the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Strolls through Central Park, and shows on Broadway.

I love watching people experience the City for the first time. And what an experience it is! If you've never been, pack your bags and go. Right now. A trip through New York City should be on everyone's bucket list.

It still surprises me when people say they have never been to NYC. When I discovered that my good friend Becky was one of those people, I knew we had to remedy the situation as soon as possible. Since we were already planning a trip to Ireland (which happened to fly right by NYC), I figured we should stop. I mean, why not?

We spent weeks thinking of all the things to see and do. With only two days to explore, I wanted her to see anything and everything, but I knew that wasn't possible. I fully expected to run through all the typical tourist sights: the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Ground Zero... you know the ones I'm talking about. Even if you've never visited the City, you know those places.
To my complete surprise, she didn't want to do any of those things!

Instead, we talked of museums and the Today show. She wanted to hike the Brooklyn Bridge! No one has EVER made that request before. This was, by far, one of the most unusual trips I've taken through NYC with a first time tourist.

Oh, we hit a lot of hot spots, don't get me wrong. But, we didn't stop at as many as I expected. I loved exploring with Becky. She understands my photo obsession... mostly because she has one herself. She was willing to walk the streets, and she climbed into a cab without fear. Even I can't do that!

We didn't see all there was to see on her first trip, because that would be impossible. However, in the short time we had, we saw a whole heck of a lot!

I stay with family when I visit New York, then I ride the train into Manhattan. So, whether they want to or not, the first place all my friends see when they visit with me is Grand Central Station.

Now an official city landmark, Grand Central is an NYC icon. How many of you have seen it featured in movies and commercials? Even if you don't arrive in the city by train, GC is worth a quick trip inside. Besides rail lines, the terminal boasts many markets, shops, and restaurants.

Upon stepping out of the terminal, I always tell my friends the same thing... 'Look up'. Simple words, yet effective. The height of the city can be overwhelming, but the view is worth it. The first thing Becky and I see is the Chrysler Building...


Even in the wee hours of the morning, NYC is bustling with life. At 5:30 a.m., we were wandering the streets, slowly making our way to the filming of the Today show.

I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but... I don't actually watch the Today show. Please don't think less of me! I was more than willing to stand in line for the experience, but I'm pretty clueless when it comes to this cultural phenomenon. Needless to say, I've never attended the live show. Though Becky was the first-time tourist, we were doing something that I myself had never experienced.

Though I'm not a habitual watcher, I really enjoyed seeing the crowd with their signs. The energy was high, and the people were friendly. One of these days, I might have to watch the show!

From the Today show, we moved on to wander the city. On nearly all my visits, I make the time to stop at Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Of all the city's attractions, this is one of my favorites. Between the skyscrapers and the traffic, St. Pat's sits regally amidst it all. The cathedral takes up an entire city block on it's own!

The cathedral is open to tourists, but be careful that you don't interrupt service. No one wants to hear the click of a camera shutter as they try to commune with God.

After our visit, the next stop on the list was Top of the Rock. Most people choose to visit the Empire State Building, but we were daring to be different! The views from the Top of the Rock are wonderful, including looks of Central Park and the Empire State Building. For the real adventurer, I suggest visiting both. They each have their own unique panoramas.

The Top of the Rock observation deck is housed inside of the NBC Studios building, in Rockefeller Plaza. Even in April, people were ice skating and enjoying the beautiful afternoon.

Rockefeller Center 
Just next door, the famous Radio City Music Hall offers tours and shows. We decided not to take this particular tour, due to time constraints. Instead, Becky and I chose to spend a few hours wandering the halls of MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. Within its walls reside several of my favorite paintings, including Vincent Van Gogh's 'Starry Night'.

'Starry Night'

The crowd around the painting 
For an art lover, this is truly a magnificent experience. The walls and hallways overflow with the work of Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali', Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, and Claude Monet (among many others!). It was nice to traverse an art museum without The Hubs whispering in my ear, "I could have painted that!"

After the museum, boy were we hungry! We hit up a cart for an authentic NYC hot dog (the best in the world!), and contemplated our options.

Ok, so we all know my OCD self had a list, a map, and a time frame. But we pretended to consider the options, and then we moved toward the next spot on the all-important list.... F.A.O. Schwarz.

This toy store is every kid's dream. They stock anything and everything. There are places to play, places to read, and places to play music. The sweet shop feels like Willa Wonka's factory. The Big Piano is available upstairs, for those of you who have seen Tom Hanks' Big. (If you haven't seen the movie, correct the problem immediately. Then go to NYC and jump around on the piano!)

Becky and I wandered in kiddie heaven for a while. We stopped for candy on our way out as an afternoon snack (no judgement here!). With bags in hand, we meandered toward Central Park....

And that is all for now! Mostly because I'm tired, but also because a city tour is very overwhelming, so I know it must be the same reading about it. More on our NYC adventure is coming soon!

If you've been to NYC, what are your favorite places to visit? What are your favorite things to do? Feel free to share in the comments below!