Friday, May 30, 2008

Cookie Monster

During this year’s annual Girl Scout cookie drive, one 15-year-old in Dearborn, Michigan sold 17,328 boxes of cookies on a single street corner, enough to win her whole troop a trip to Europe. The feat is especially amazing when you consider the total population of Dearborn is fewer than 98,000.

The mind boggles when you think of what that teenager could have done on a New York street corner. Although there are supposedly 2.7 million Girl Scouts in this country, I have never seen any of them in Manhattan, even though—during cookie season—I’m on the lookout. I want to stock up on Trefoils, a shortbread cookie that 9% of us cookie buyers like the best. (It runs a distant fifth to Thin Mints, the preference of 25% who apparently enjoy eating a cookie and freshening their breaths at the same time.)

Although you can not officially purchase Girl Scout cookies online, your local troop may have their own website where you can print an order form to send in through the mail ( If you would rather receive your Do-si-does or Tagalongs directly from the Scouts you should visit to find the contact information concerning the selling locations for the troop nearest you!

Each Girl Scout troop decides when they will be selling their cookies for the school year, so contact them quickly. You may not have much time to stock up on cookies for the summer!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Sweetest Cake in Town

If you have a sweet tooth like I do then you may understand my frustration in the quest to find a perfect treat to satisfy my cravings. I am continually on the search for the most delicious desserts around town, and I believe that I have finally found the best cakes in New York and they are located at Betty’s Bakery.

As you step through the door, if you are not convinced of the bakery’s potential by the whimsical scene that surrounds you, the unique spoon iced cakes that line the walls and counters will get your mouth watering. The two cakes that have recently won over my taste buds are Betty’s Red Velvet cake and Carrot cake with cream cheese icing. I have yet to try the numerous other sweets that Betty creates, but if you are in need of a perfect dessert to serve after dinner, for a wedding, or simply for an afternoon snack, I would definitely recommend Betty’s.

Betty’s Bakery
448 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Gift of Fondue

Along with the approach of summer’s warm weather brings pool openings, and trips to the beach and the ability to spend more time with our family and friends. One of the perfect gifts that you can buy for someone this busy season is a cast iron fondue set.

Originating in Switzerland in order to make use of hardened cheese, the fondue pot has also been used for cooking meat and, my personal favorite, for melting chocolate! Fresh strawberries, bananas, delicious chocolates and five of your closest friends creates the perfect scene for a fondue party.

Even Williams-Sonoma is joining in on the summer fun by creating 1lb. tins of chipped bittersweet chocolate for ideal chocolate melting. Today, when fondue is made so simple, why not take a trip to the store and check out the endless options available?

Before the heat of the summer arrives, go out and purchase your friends (and yourself) their very own fondue set!

Found at:

Crate and Barrel
650 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10022

110 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Friday, May 23, 2008

Honoring the Flag

In honor of this Memorial Day weekend I decided to blog about one of the most prominent symbols of our country - our flag.

Our country has a very special attachment to its flag. Only the U.S. has a national pledge of allegiance to the flag and a national anthem that honors it.

The original design included a stripe for each of the 13 original colonies and a star for each state. As states have been added, the star pattern has changed—most recently in l960, when Hawaii became the 50th state.

Home and businesses began to display the flag only after the Civil War, and since then, a code of etiquette has been developed about the handling and hanging of a flag.

On Memorial Day, for example, you should raise flag all the way to the top of the pole, then lower it halfway and leave it there until noon. A flag at half-mast is always a sign of mourning.

When it’s hung over a street, the stars should face east (on a north/south street) or north (on an east-west street). In a window, it should be hung vertically, with the stars to the left of anyone viewing it from the street.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bring on the Barbeque

How can you start summer without a Memorial Day barbecue? Mine always includes baked beans and meat from the grill with barbecue sauce.

The secret ingredient in my baked bean recipe—as of now, no longer a secret, since the entire recipe is below—is baking soda. To be honest, the baking soda doesn’t affect the flavor but definitely is connected to good taste: it very effectively counter effects the beans’ effect on your GI system! (We used to say, “It removes the gas and the unwanted guest.”)

I have no barbecue sauce recipe to share because, why bother? There are so many great bottled sauces, often concocted according to regional differences. From Maine to North Carolina, the sauces are usually vinegar-based; going west, they usually incorporate tomatoes. They add mustard in central South Carolina and northern Georgia, and the people in Texas and Tennessee add sweeteners like molasses or brown sugar. My favorites are Speedy Pig, and Texas Best.

And I do have a tip regarding barbecue sauce—actually two of them. Don’t put the sauce on the meat until after you’ve cooked it. And stock up on the napkins.

David Monn’s Awesome Baked Bean Recipe

1 large can B&M Baked Beans
1 cup Heinz ketchup
½ cup Grey Poupon mustard
2 large Spanish onions, chopped
1 lb. Boars Head bacon
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Combine ingredients, bake in 350° oven for 30 minutes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bug Off!

Now that summer is almost here, I am introducing my Summer Weekend Gift Tips. Every Monday from now until Labor Day I will post some gift ideas that will hopefully provide an answer to the common challenge of what to bring when you are a guest at someone’s home.

With Memorial Day coming up this weekend, I thought I would share a great little secret I wrote about in my Departures column last summer. These incense sticks—smaller than the ones I originally wrote about—ward off insects without giving off that terrible chemical odor. They are available in 3 scents: citronella, lavender and geranium, and they also easily camouflage into any backyard’s landscape.

Last year when I wrote about these they sold out in merely days, so beat the rush (and the bugs) this summer and buy yours today.

Encens Geant: 7 sticks in a tube for $28.00

Found at General Home Store
100 Park Place
East Hampton, New York 11937

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Breath of Fresh Air

Though summer is coming, I know that many inner-city kids will never have the fun of running barefoot through fields, paddling in a lake, or sitting outside in a night silence broken only by the sound of crickets.

But 1.7 million children have had just such a chance, thanks to one great idea proposed by the minister of a small Pennsylvania parish. Some 135 years ago, he asked his congregation to host the neediest children of New York City on country vacations. That program continues today as the Fresh Air Fund.

Some l0,000 kids a year participate, half at one of the Fund’s five camps, 3,000 at year-round programs, and 2,000 staying with host families. First-time visitors, ages 6 to 12, come for a week or two. Over 65% are invited by host families to return, often for longer visits and until they “graduate” from the program at l8. I love the idea of giving young, impressionable kids a glimpse at the possibilities life can offer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Being the Best

Of course I’m a perfectionist—it’s a virtual requirement in my profession. And I have lots of opinions about the superiority of certain flowers or color schemes or fragrances over others.

But sometimes I make the assumption that there are categories where everything is pretty much the same. Occasionally, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that I’m wrong. It happened recently with, of all things, pancake mix.

In a gift package of kitchen specialties from Georgia, I found Nora Mills’ Grandma's Favorite Biscuit & Pancake mix. It made fluffy pancakes of the most perfect consistency I’ve ever been privileged to top with butter and syrup. But even better than I love eating these terrific pancakes is how much I love the lesson they teach: Whatever you may do, you can aim to stand out from the rest.

Nora Mill Granary, Inc.
7107 South Main Street
Helen, GA 30545

Monday, May 12, 2008

Keeping the Pace

After work, I leave my apartment in Chelsea and go for a run along the Hudson, all the way to lower Manhattan. The run opens my lungs, clears my head, and frees my imagination. It's a remarkable way to be private and feel a sense of openness in a city that's mostly about crowds and density. I often come up with my best ideas as I jog beside the river.
In the past, there were days when mustering the get-up-and-go was harder than others, but I've found an amazing solution- the Air Zoom Moire running shoes with a small sensor in the sole that connects wirelessly to an iPod. Number people probably like the fact that it can record your distance, time, pace and calories. What I like is that if you're slowing down, the iPod knows-and it picks up the pace of the music accordingly. It's like having a personal trainer and a personal D.J all in one.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Sound Idea

We hear a lot about Venezuela’s political upheavals, but not enough about its publicly funded music education program, El Sistema. As a music lover and a supporter of any program that helps kids, I’m really impressed by this one, which rescues impoverished youngsters from drug abuse and crime. It’s won bipartisan support, achieved amazing results, and inspired at least one country (England) to emulate its success.

El Sistema trains kids to play classical music while also giving them a feeling of community, a safe haven, skills and purpose. The program had 11 students when it began in l975; today it serves 250,000. And some real talent has emerged. The Bolivar Youth Orchestra, made up of some of the most talented graduates aged 17 to 24, played at Carnegie Hall in the fall, and professional orchestras have hired El Sistema “graduates.”

Researchers say the benefits of music education range from teaching teamwork to helping kids focus academically. I think we could focus on it more in the U.S. (For more information, see

Click on the image above to watch a special 60 Minutes did on El Sistema's wonderful program.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bakeries on Wheels

The owners of high-end food trucks that park curbside and sell their fare for sidewalk eating prove that you don’t need atmosphere or service to draw customers…just a great menu.

New York has two. The Treats Truck vehicle makes regular stops in midtown, and occasional ones elsewhere in Manhattan and in Park Slope (the schedule is at Four kinds of brownies, caramel cream cookies and home-made Oreos are among the temptations. At the Dessert Truck (, parked permanently at University Place and Eighth Street evenings except Monday, the specialties du truck are more sophisticated, like goat cheese cheesecake with fresh blackberries, rosemary caramel, and walnut crisp. But there’s plenty of chocolate for traditionalists.

(Naturally, the New York trucks focus on desserts. Who needs comfort food more than we do?)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Getting Organized

In the spirit of spring cleaning, organizing and reducing closet clutter is a great place to start. One trend many people are getting into is having a professional organizer deal with your closets, kitchens, files and albums. This will soon be as commonplace as having a personal trainer, predicts Gail Furgal of, and I think she’s right. Professionals remove your guilt about throwing things out and know how to find space you never knew you had.

I shared with her my favorite closet-organizing tip: attaching mirror tiles to the ceiling so you know what’s on the high shelves without hauling out the ladder. “Great idea,” she said, “—assuming you know where to find your glasses.”

Friday, May 2, 2008

They've Got Rhythm

Don’t walk, don’t run, hip-hop to it! Gotta Dance, a documentary playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, is about a hip-hop dance team that performs at New Jersey Nets games. What’s special? The dancers’ ages—displayed on their jerseys—range from 60 to 82.

The first NBA senior dance team was sponsored by The Houston Heat, and now there are seven others. The spunk and enthusiasm of these performers—and the way they handle grueling practice sessions—make a no-words-needed argument against age discrimination.

Coincidentally, in the New York Times this week, Jane Brody wrote about how effectively exercise keeps you young. I guess you’ll never think of yourself as over the hill if you can dance up it!

The last two TriBeCa film festival showings are tomorrow at the IMC on 19th Street at 12:30pm and 6pm. (Rush tickets go on sale an hour before the showing.)

If you can not make it tomorrow watch the video below.