Four Hours in Las Vegas (Airport)

22 12 2009

I have been traveling all day. And I’ve been having some pretty terrible travel luck. Perhaps my complaints about Aruba made for bad travel karma? Let’s recap the course of events…

I had a pleasant afternoon of packing yesterday. Having resigned myself to checking a bag, I went for the big suitcase, and stuffed it to the brim, though only (please be impressed) half with clothes. The key to traveling home, I learned over the summer, is to travel bearing gifts. Items that stay there make for room in the suitcase on the way back, fruitful for shopping trips to stores we don’t have in New York (Nordstrom, Ambiance…) or simply taking advantage of errand-running with a car. At any rate, yesterday I took my time, mapped out a few options for Christmas outfits, and filled my roomy suitcase, all to alternating Christmas songs and Gilmore Girls reruns.

Last night, I braved the cold and met up with Libby (and later Tiffany) for some yuletide, er… beers at McSorley’s before heading out. While warming near the ancient stove, I tried umpteen times to call my favorite Brooklyn car service, Arecibo, to no avail, but finally managed to book my car online. I was home by 12:30 am, in time to do some final cleaning and double check with Arecibo, who assured me that a 7:30 am pick-up would be plenty of time to get to JFK by 8:00. (Note to self: do not listen to the guy on the phone.)

Monday morning, 7:00 am. I wake, dress, and proceed with my morning routine, beyond excited that it’s finally the day I’ll be going home. Monday morning, 7:30 am. I am standing in the entryway to my building, waiting for my car. The minutes drip by. I call Arecibo, and no one picks up. I call, again and again, with alternating results of busy signals and no answer. I call Mexicana cab, who answers and puts me on hold. I wait two minutes, then hang up, call back, finally get through and beg not to be placed on hold. I’m told a car will be to me in five minutes.

Monday, 7:45 am. A car with a Mexican cab drives past my building but doesn’t slow, and is turning the corner by the time I am able to get out of the building, realizing, as the door slams behind me, that my keys are in my bag, insside the locked building door. In my only stroke of luck that morning, another tenant leave the building a minute later, thereby letting me back in, to stand and wait some more. More phone calls. More waiting.

Monday morning, 8:00 am (the time I wanted to be at the airport to make my 9:30 am flight). I’m on the phone, after being placed on hold, again, with Mexicana cab, begging for a car, when the Arecibo driver rolls up. She stops, and the two of us have to hoist my massive, book-laden suitcase over the giant snowbank that is my sidewalk. I clamber into the cab with wet feet and try some deep breathing.

We arrive at the airport at 8:50 am (the woman at Virgin has told me during my frantic call to her from the cab that the gates close a half hour before the flight is scheduled to depart). I run, stand in line, jump when they make the last call for Las Vegas, apologize humbly when the attendant reprimands me for my tardiness. Lucky for me, security line is short, and I scramble through with plenty of time to spare.

My first flight was uneventful. Thanks to Google’s offering free Wifi on Virgin flights as a special holiday treat, I was able to get a little work done in addition to catching up on my New York Magazine reading. We wait a half hour before taking off since several runways are still blanketed in snow, but still landed in Vegas on time.

I had a two and a half hour layover to start. It’s not 4:30 pm and I’m still in the airport, waiting for my 3:55-scheduled flight to begin boarding. I’ve wandered the Vegas airport twice over, eaten a pretzel, wandered through Brookstone, contemplated trying my luck at the slot machines that checker the airport, but, given my day, I’m guessing that would be a waste of some quarters.

I thought I had evaded the weather delays in New York. Pleasant San Francisco, it seems, has had such bad luck that the entire runway in San Francisco airport has been closed for an hour and a half. And so I sit, contemplating the city that I was so happy to come home to, and the city that I currently loathe. Groan.

Recipe: Pizelle (Italian Waffle Cookies)

18 12 2009

I’ve been giving some more thought to all those international holiday cookies. Another on that list is one of my family’s favorite traditional cookies: the waffle cookie. Pizzelle is said to be the oldest, most prevalent cookie in Italy. It’s a thin wafer cookie made on a special cookie iron, which gives it the look of a very thin waffle.

Pizelle is the primary cookie in myriad festivals throughout Italy, as well as at weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and all holidays. In short, they are so tasty that Italians look for any excuse to eat them.

The name itself simply means “little pizza” (pizza in Italian means “round” or “flat”), but it’s also known as ferratelle (after ferro, the heated iron on which the cookies are baked). The first pizzelle makers were made of iron,and were held over the open fire by long handles. Most bore the family crest and were passed down through the generations.  Today, pizelle irons are made with aluminum alloy and tend toward electric, with floral or snowflake patterns.

The basic recipe is based with eggs flour and sugar, but beyond this, pizzelles are flavored with anything from vanilla to anise to rum. The Russo family version uses orange flavoring:


6 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup oil

Juice of 1 orange

½ bottle orange extract

1 ½ cups flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

Beat eggs, then add sugar, oil, juice and extract. Sift flour, salt and baking powder and add slowly to the egg mixture, mixing well. The batter should be thick enough to drop from a spoon in a ribbon within two to three seconds. If too stiff, add a few drops of water, or if too thin add more flour slowly.

Substitution options for the orange flavoring

1)      2 tsp Vanilla extract and 2 tsp anise extract.

2)      1 ½ tsp anise extract, plus the zest from 1 orange and the zest from 1 lemon

3)      1 shot whiskey, 1 tsp anise extract, 1 tsp vanilla

Before each use, coat your iron with vegetable oil or melted shortening and then heat for a few minutes prior to cooking. Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop sells both types of irons, and in the old tradition allows for the possibility of personalizing them with an etching.

Christmas Cookies Around the World

15 12 2009

A round-up. The season is in full swing and I’m getting more and more excited for my impending trip home to California. My father informed me this morning that he has already stocked up on Peppermint Stick ice cream, my all-time favorite ice cream flavor and a holiday tradition, one, I’ve found to my dismay,  that does not exist in New York I’ve visited countless markets to reach the sad conclusion that the seasonal flavor is not sold here).

And so this week I’ve been thinking about all the yumminess that is the holiday season, namely peppermint stick ice cream, and all the cookies my father and I would turn out year after year, far more cookies than even our massive brood could eat. And so, in honor of our cookie tradition, I thought I’d take a look at some of the Christmas cookie traditions around the world.

I found an extensive  list, and was not surprised to discover that the best cookie of all time, the alfajor of South America (about which, I just discovered, I’m not the only one to write an ode, of sorts), was present on it. I found nine recipes for my favorite cookie, so perhaps I’ll have to attempt  a second go at making them. Some others on the list:

  • Pepparkakor (Sweden):  a ginger-flavored cookie, traditionally cut into heart shapes. One recipe calls these Sugar and Spice cookies, and is very similar to a Russo-family recipe of the same name. Ours, however, are sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, and it was always my happy duty to sprinkle the cooled cookies.
  • Kourabiedes (Greece): each of these powdered sugar-covered cookies is garnished with a clove to add a savory element and recall the wise men and their spices.
  • Zimtsterne (Germany): You don’t get much prettier than these star-shaped cinnamon-nut meringues, also called erstesternen.
  • Nanaimo Bars (Canada): decadent (no bake!) bars with three decadent layers: a crumb base, topped by custard buttercream and finished off with smooth chocolate.
  • Galletas Maria (Costa Rica):I’m not a particular fan of coconut, but the peanut butter in these may just be enough to win me over. They’re named, according to the Food Network, for a grand duchess of Russia (how this correlates to their popularity in South America and Spain is not a question I can answer).

More holiday cookie traditions

Christmas cookie hub

Aruba Recap

9 12 2009

Aruba was warm and the people were kind (save for the crazy Dutchman, who shall remain nameless, who yelled at me), but I must say it was a bit of a tease. I continuously drove past gorgeous white sand beaches and that pristine Caribbean turquoise blue, but didn’t have much time to enjoy it.

Such is the life of the travel writer. If I seem a little “woe is me,” it is not because I spent a few days reveling in warmth and gazing at gorgeous ocean. It’s because I spent a few days lost on tiny roads, trying not to freak out. I generally have a great sense of direction, but Aruba was like an abyss to me. Few of the streets are on the maps, which makes little difference since even fewer actually have signs marking them. Instead, locals give directions via landmarks, turn left at th Wendy’s and right at the Dunkin’ Donuts. Except that this gets confusing when there are three Wendy’s and two Dunkins on the same street (noticing a trend? there is also a Tony Roma’s, a TGI Fridays, oh, and a Hooters).

I sought out some music, but Saturday (strange?) turns out to be a bad night for live music on the island, and being always lost in the day time, I wasn’t feeling super comfortable venturing too far after nightfall anyhow. Turns out there is a good music scene, I just happened to miss it (more in the guide).

So in all, not to whine, the trip was a bit of a bust, though highly productive from a work standpoint, and I did get to see some cool buildings downtown. Oh, and, but in chilly “27 feels like 9” degree New York, that sun brings some pretty happy memories… (More photos here.)

Sundresses in December: Priceless

3 12 2009

I’m gearing up to head to Aruba tomorrow. I will be scouting hotels there for my friend Alex, who has a great new site,, with budget accommodations and cool guides to the Caribbean islands. I’ve been packed for nearly a week now. Typically I’m a last minute packer, but the prospect of getting reacquainted with my warm weather clothes was just too exciting to warrant procrastination.

Though I’ll mostly be working, I’m excited for gorgeous beaches, warm weather, and hopefully some good Latin musica. Updates on Aruba to follow…

Shameless Self-Promotion: Gifts for Men

1 12 2009

So apparently I’ve unintentionally (but happily) become something of a gift guru. I wrote three guides for, the relationship site:

The New Relationship Gift Guide

Gifts for Every Type of Guy

Guys Reveal the Best Gifts Ever

Included in here, are some things I think are great, like adopting an olive tree from Italy (the foodie guy will love receiving oil made from his own tree), a community immersion/volunteer trip (a rewarding, enriching gift for you both), and the fun book Bed in a Tree (cool, unique hotels around the world).