The month of January progressed as swiftly as drips of sugar molasses on the plan to establish a presence in Charleston, SC. While tutoring and consulting are happening, it’s been a slow move towards the goals anticipated prior to relocation, and promises from December of a secure job and place to live now appear to have as been as solid as coconut flan. Conversely, a long weekend in New York and New Jersey proved to be the perfect getaway to meet with inspiring and motivating friends, as well as reassess the situation at hand.
Arriving on a Thursday evening to traffic and grey skies over Newark, the glitter of red and white lights as New York City commuters headed home was somehow calming among the rush. The next morning, a powerwalk in Watsessing Park among brisk northern air, swirling leaves and rustling tall trees evoked the image of a true January day.
Passing the small brick building that houses the East Orange Public Library and Jersey Explorers Club, and on to the athletic field and track, this large urban park revealed grassy fields glistening under icy dew in the sunny hours of the early day.
Saturday, after viewing the presidential inauguration for several hours on different networks and contemplating the photo comparisons from 2009’s turnout, it seemed fitting to indulge in a meal of authentic Mexican food.
A pleasant drive down Bloomfield Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the charming downtown and into adjacent Montclair, led to El Matador Mexican, a tiny unassuming restaurant with delicious handmade dishes.
The limited menu of El Matator includes tasty standards like tacos and tostadas, as well as more traditional dishes like sopes and hurraches. While the drink selection is small – Mexican Coke, Jarritos sodas or homemade horchata – the eatery does allow patrons to BYOB.
Sunday was a relaxing but historic day of watching the Womens’ March on Washington, with its more than tripled participation of the inaguration and television coverage taking up most of the days’ attention. Images of staggering crowds sending “a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights,” (source: http://www.womensmarch.com) interspersed with Sunday football playoffs (go Falcons) mixed nicely with reading a great book and organizing assignments.
The following night, dining out at landmark establishment Noches de Colombia brought tears of joy as well as sadness at the taste of familiar dishes, having recently left Colombia after three years. Ordering a cold maracuya juice meant instant nostalgia for the flavor of this forbidden fruit; despite the beverage being made with frozen pulp, it was tart and refreshing.
While it was tempting to order several dishes off the detailed menu, including the traditional Bandeja Paisa or Morjarra Frita, the Camarones al Ajillo won overall, arriving hot and bubbly with delicious tostones, sweet plantains and a side salad.
With the weekend digs being located close to the New Jersey Transit, a damp walk in the drizzly Monday morning air, warmed by a piping hot coffee, led to a quick ride into New York City’s historic Penn Station.
Arriving at the station a dozen times before, more foot travel above the station to meet a friend in Chelsea was an effortless adventure.
Selecting from several Indian restaurants within a block, Pongal Indian Cuisine was an excellent choice, with its modern decor and relaxed atmosphere. A special menu of chef’s choices mixed nicely with fresh mango drinks, and we indulged in shared platters of vegetarian samosas, pakoras and bhajia.
Following lunch, a tall pint of Belhaven Scottish Ale on draft made the most of an early happy hour at The Churchill, named for the famous British leader. A dark, classic bar with heavy wood details and speeches from Winston subtly piped in over speakers the bathrooms, the crowd began to thicken as we made our way out to the NYC evening streets.
Catching the subway in New York is always a thrill for those who don’t use this amazing mass transit on a daily basis. As commuters swirled around turnstiles and formed swift-moving seas over concrete, a few stops and a shuttle away was Times Square, the mega-lit mecca of merchandising and advertising. After meeting a friend who works in the heart of the square, we headed through chilly rain and blinding lights to a tiny Thai place nearby.
With it’s friendly servers, fast preparation and fresh dishes, Pongsri Thai Restaurant was the perfect spicy, savory meal for a chilly New York night before heading back out wrap up this NYC day trip. Making a quick stop at Grand Slam NY, a souvenir shop with three floors of everything New York, it was easy to score a few items for friends before heading back to Penn Station.
The next day, flying out of Newark airport, with computer-glitch aided delays from United airlines and spotty WIFI due to the blustery Nor’easter on the way, it was concluded that a long weekend in New Jersey and New York were the much-needed distraction from securing work and adjusting to life in Charleston.
On a final note, it was difficult not to notice within a span of five days, the cuisine consumed included Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Colombian, India and Thai. Honestly, the USA does enjoy its variety of cuisine, culture and customs, while blending together the love, weather, sports and political events to make this country the viable melting pot it truly is. Let’s hope it stays this way for many years to come.