Friday, June 27, 2014

Amalia Eats Out -- (Diary of a Manhattan Toddler--Part Two)

There are dozens of restaurants within walking distance of granddaughter Amalia’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but not all of them welcome the sight of an almost three-year-old coming in the door.  Maitre D’s take one look at Amalia and have visions of food dropped on the floor, water spilled on the table and melt-downs that cause other diners to ask to have their table moved. (She’s done it all.)

So, after canvassing the neighborhood for child-friendly restaurants, Amalia has narrowed down her list of eating-out favorites to about ten. Here’s her Toddlers Restaurant Guide to the Upper East Side.
Strawberry ice cream at a table outside of Eli’s, on Third Avenue near 80th, is a hot weather favorite.  (It HAS to be strawberry ice cream, Amalia’s favorite because it’s pink.)  Here she is with beloved super-nanny Julia, who just got married on June 20 and embarked on a two-week honeymoon, which is why Yiayia Joanie stepped in for the first week and Abuela Carmen came up from Nicaragua to handle the second week.  The reason Amalia is looking with suspicion at the ice cream is because she doesn’t want chunks of strawberries in it—just uniform pink color.
Here is Amalia eating with Papou at his favorite restaurant, Dué, only steps from her door.  Dué counts as a serious, non-toddler kind of restaurant, especially at night, but during the day, when it’s not crowded, the staff lets Amalia in as long as she’s with Papou.  They know to immediately bring her a basket of Italian bread with butter and/or olive oil to dip it in, and she won’t ask for anything else.
At Tandoor Oven, at 175 East 83rd Street, they greet Amalia by name and always bring her pistachio ice cream for dessert.  For dipping, she likes Indian bread, naan,  just as well as Italian, and will share the Tandoori Chicken with whichever adult orders it.
Big Daddy’s at 1596 Second Avenue, calls itself a “blast from the past” and it’s a favorite with all the kids in the neighborhood, because it provides crayons and pages to color, trivia game cards (for older customers), penny candy machines,  and really big portions of glorified diner food.  Amalia usually orders the Mac and Cheese from the kids’ menu.
Every weekend, early in the morning, Amalia likes to go to her most favorite restaurant, Alice’s Tea Cup, which has over 150 kinds of tea as well as children’s books to read.  Here, as soon as Amalia comes in the door, she gets sprinkled with sparkly fairy dust and handed a pair of wings to wear.  

 At Alice’s Tea Cup Amalia always orders, in a loud voice, corn pancakes, which need to be slathered with butter and syrup and then cut into pieces under her direction.  (Unlike most brunch and breakfast restaurants, Alice’s opens at eight a.m. and if you come much later, you will find a line outside the door, waiting for seating.)
                                              Photo at the entrance to Alice's Tea Cup

Since Amalia visits Central Park almost every day, she highly recommends the Dancing Crane Café at the Central Park Zoo, Kerbs Boathouse Café on the Model Boat Pond (where you can feed the ducks), Le Pain Quotidien, just North of Sheep’s Meadow, and the elegant Boathouse restaurant (and less fancy Express Café at the Boathouse). They’re at East 72nd St and Park Drive North, and you can feed the fish in the lake or even rent a rowboat or hire a gondola and gondolier. 

But Amalia’s most favorite restaurant in Central Park is the Petrie Court Café and Wine Bar in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where her parents often take her.  It has a moderately priced ($37 with a glass of wine) prix-fixe three-course dinner keyed to one of the current exhibits, and although it’s an elegant restaurant, Amalia behaves there because, when she gets tired of sitting still, she can walk around and look at the statues or enjoy the panoramic view of Central Park.  Or turn her napkin into a hat. 

On a recent Saturday night, Amalia and her Mommy took Yiayia into the Met and up to the roof, where Amalia likes to run around, wending her way through the reflective glass walls of the Roof Garden Commission by Dan Graham with Gunther Vogt, which the museum describes as “part garden maze, part modernist skyscraper façade.”
The roof of the Met also has the Roof Garden Café and Martini Bar, and many folks were enjoying martinis  as well as the view, but it was too crowded, so Amalia led us downstairs to her favorite section—the Egyptian Wing with the Temple of Dendur-- where she always has to say hello to her favorite crocodile and throw coins in the water while making a wish.  Then it was off to the Petrie Court for dinner.

On our last day before returning to Massachusetts, early in the morning, Amalia and her Mommy put on nearly matching sundresses. 
With Abuela Carmen—who had arrived the night before to take over babysitting duties— and Papou, we all walked to Alice’s Tea Cup for breakfast where Amalia got sprinkled with fairy dust and put on her wings. 
Abuela Carmen helped Amalia cut up her pancakes and Papou told her scary stories while we all ate indulgent, calorific breakfast treats.
Finally it was time for Papou and Yiayia to load up the car and head home, while Amalia took another power nap, dreaming of crocodiles and fairy wings and bottles labeled “Drink Me” that make you very big, and pancakes with lots of butter and syrup.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Diary of a Manhattan Toddler—Part One

I just got home from a week of  following granddaughter Amalia, who’s nearly three, on her daily rounds on New York City's Upper East Side.  I served as social secretary, carriage pusher, snack provider and diaper changer, and although I was exhausted every night, (check out “How to Put A Toddler to Sleep in 100 Easy Steps”—I think “Honest Toddler” is eavesdropping on us),  I realized that—while New York toddlers can’t run out into the back yard for unsupervised play or catch tadpoles in the nearest pond,  Manhattan has more opportunities for toddler fun than anywhere else.

Here’s Amalia in her new (bigger) apartment—in the same building as before, but on a different floor.  After breakfast with dinosaurs, she’ll make her plans for the day.

Yoga at the nearby children’s store “Sprout” happens on Tuesday mornings and some Thursdays, and Hip Hop Dance plus Yoga happens at 4:30 on Mondays, with the same teachers: Rachel and Samara.  They can be found at

Toddler Story Time, ideal for rainy days, is at 10:30 every weekday morning at the Metropolitan Museum’s Nolen library, and it’s free and open to all!

Barnes and Noble on 86th Street is also popular on bad weather days—there’s a whole play area with toys as well as books on the lower level.

Here’s Amalia sitting in on a trial visit to Kidville, at 163 East 84h Street between Third and Lexington, which has every kind of lesson and playtime for preschoolers (for a price),  even summer day camp.  This lesson was called “Messy Lab” and while it was indeed messy, it was meant to teach about various properties of water.

Central Park is Amalia’s personal playground every day that it’s not raining. She’s crazy about the penguins and seals at the Zoo and has worked up the courage to ride on the chariot on the carousel (not the horses.) 

One day we encountered Nathan the Bubble Man who was making giant bubbles in front of the Band Shell.  (He says his secret is “Dawn” dish soap.)

Amalia was so excited about chasing after the gargantuan bubbles and popping them that we got Nathan’s phone number in case he might be available for Amalia’s next birthday party.

On the way back, we stopped to look at a horse and carriage and Bethesda Fountain—Yiayia Joanie’s favorite spot in Central Park.

And we threw bread to the ducks in the Toy Boat Pond.  (This is probably illegal.)

On another day in Central Park we managed to get an inflatable kite (featuring Doc McStuffins) up in the air.

As Amalia climbed rocks in her patriotic dress, passing Asian tourists snapped her picture.

With the hot weather—at last!--the sprinklers have been turned on in Amalia’s favorite playground in the park, and the little ones are flocking to them. 

One day Amalia came wearing her bathing suit and carrying her friends Nemo and Boots to see if they could swim. (They couldn’t.)

She changed into dry clothes and introduced them to the sandbox…

where she buried Nemo, but we managed to find him and dig him up.

After so much exertion, she wanted ice cream and we had to go to the front of the Metropolitan Museum to find it.  She chose the Hello Kitty ice cream bar (because it’s pink) but when she got it, she wouldn’t eat it, because the ice cream didn’t have yellow eyes like the picture on the wrap.

But at least we got to enjoy a free live concert.

Back home, Amalia had lunch and decided to take a power nap in her new bedroom before embarking on the afternoon’s activities, while her animal friends watched over her.

Next: "Diary of a Toddler Part 2"--Amalia's tips on restaurants and museums. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Greece is Going to the Cats

(This is a re-post from last summer's visit to Hydra.)

Five years ago I published a book called "The Secret Life of Greek Cats" based on feline photographs I'd taken over the years, which told about Greek history, myths, traditions and superstitions from the point of view of the cats who are so much a part of the Greek landscape.  As I wrote in the book: "Everywhere you go in Greece you will find a cat...Cats are the punctuation in Greek life...During their catnaps they dream of the days when they were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians and didn't have to rely on the kindness of strangers for food." (The book is still available--for $10-- on Amazon or  by clicking on the book cover to the right.)

Many of the cats in the book were photographed on the island of Hydra, including Vasili, the cat on the cover, who dreamed of jumping on one of the boats in the harbor of Hydra and sailing away to see the world.

On a recent trip back to the island of Hydra, I was curious to see if the economic crisis in Greece had affected the island's feline population.  The harbor cats were there, as numerous as always.  They were gathered to greet the tourists, patiently waiting under the taverna tables for handouts, and agilely avoiding being trampled by the donkeys in the harbor, who are the only form of transportation on the island.

Every time I'd comment that the Hydra cats seemed thinner than before, daughter Eleni would point out a fat cat who clearly enjoyed a regular meal schedule.  (Some of the Greek islands, including Crete, have  organizations which collect contributions to help with the spaying and care of the island's feral cat population.  As far as I know, Hydra does not.)

On many Greek islands the cats have become so numerous and so popular that they are now featured on touristic items like carrier bags.

The  best fed and happiest cats on the island are, of course,  house pets and store cats.

The harbor cats have a harder life, but they regularly greet the fishing boats as they come in in the morning, hoping for scraps when fish are cleaned.  They also keep an eye on the private boats anchored in the harbor-- to the point of mastering tightrope walking, if it will win a tasty bite.

Even the wildest of the feral cats, when the sun begins to set, have to stop a moment and wonder at the beauty of their island, and take a moment to wish for good hunting and a full stomach tomorrow.