Chiara’s Fifth Birthday Party: Eloise from The Plaza, NY

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There is a scene in the Sopranos in which Mrs Soprano tries to coax her teenage daughter out of her moodiness by suggesting that they go into the city and have tea at The Plaza with Eloise. I must have had some prior notion of the legend of Eloise and The Plaza from American popular culture, because Mrs Soprano’s suggestion made sense to me at the time. This time last year, my mom visited my sister in New York and was taken to The Plaza and introduced to the tale of Eloise. She returned with one of the Eloise storybooks and read it to Chiara over and over. For Christmas, my sister’s in-laws gave Chiara a copy of the original Eloise story, published in 1955, with a personal inscription by the illustrator.

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This is a story which for me, is very connected to my mom, and also to my sister,  living far away in New York. It is also incredibly cleverly written and amusing to read and has become one of my favourite children’s books. So it was a natural choice as a theme for Chiara’s 5th birthday party. Here are some classically precocious quotes which encapsulate the book’s spirit:

Eloise is a little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel in New York. She is not yet pretty, but she is already a Person. She is interested in people when they are not boring.

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Nanny is my nurse. She wears tissue paper in her dress and you can hear it. She is English and has 8 hairpins made out of bones. She says that’s all she needs in this life for Lord’s sake.

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Oooooooo I absolutely love Room Service. They always know it’s me and they say “Yes, Eloise?” And I always say “Hello, this is me, ELOISE and would you kindly send one roast-beef bone, one raisin and seven spoons to the top floor and charge it please. Thank you very much.”

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My day is rawther full. I have to call the Valet and tell him to get up here and pick up my sneakers to be cleaned and pressed and have them back for sure without fail. Then I have to play the piano and look in the mirror for a while. Then I have to open and close the door for a while and as soon as I hear talking and laughing I skidded out and run down the hall… Oh my Lord I am absolutely so busy I don’t know how I can possibly get everything done. Then I have to hop around for a while.

I started the party planning by choosing an Eloise invitation template on Etsy for $10. The designer, Nerdy Fox, is based in Georgia in the US. I placed the order with my custom text requests at night in SA and by the next morning, it was in my Inbox.

Eloise Etsy invite

Next up was inspiration from Pinterest. I basically got the idea that you can quite easily get the theme across just by using the right colours: cerise, black and white plus a bit of baby pink thrown in.

Eloise party pinterest screenshot

Next stop was The Party Spot in Woodmead to purchase all manner of things black, white and pink: from paper straws to napkins to pink and white sweets. I even found a set of suspenders for the birthday girl’s Eloise outfit. This picture was taken when we tried on the outfit a few days before. On the day, Chiara put the outfit on under great duress, before taking herself off to her room after about 10 minutes and changing into a bright orange dress. Not part of the theme, but it was her party, after all…

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Pinterest was also the source of novelty cake options. I narrowed it down to three and Chiara chose her favourite from these:

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Her favourite was this three-tiered cake which I ordered from Helen’s Cakes in Craighall Park.

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I did not, however, specify, dimensions when I placed the order – I only sent the Pinterest photo. When the cake arrived, the driver had difficulty carrying it as it was so enormously large and heavy. It would have dwarfed most wedding cakes, so it did come across as a tad OTT. Beautiful, nonetheless but will be sure to give measurements next time!

I couldn’t resist ordering some Eloise printables from Etsy. I hesitated before buying the water bottle labels because I wondered if I would actually sit there and glue them to the bottles the night before, but Pritt worked well and it went a little quicker than expected. “The Plaza” icon next to the “restroom” sign is part of a set of printables I ordered on Etsy.

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A few days before the party, I popped in to In Good Company in Parkhurst. I’ve learnt to head to The Party Spot first to try to get pretty much everything I need and then just to spend an indulgent hour at In Good Company to check if there’s anything I really can’t live without. I found some gorgeous pom poms in just the right colours. The cerise and baby pink table overlays were purchased on sale for an absolute song, during a previous excursion to the store and they were perfect additions to the Eloise decor.

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I ordered the adult snacks from caterer, Lindi Perrin*, based in Athol, and they were delicious, light and came on beautiful platters, replete with a note for Domestic Goddesses like myself, detailing how best to heat her fare.

Below are pictures of the main party table. The children climbed onto benches next to the table and helped themselves to sweets. My sister suggested throwing in some NY icons to add to the decor. We borrowed Joe’s NY cab (a gift from his New Yorker uncle, Justin), for example, plus some sidewalk souvenirs like a mini Statue of Liberty.

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In terms of party favours, I know kids love them. However, I’m not a fan. If you don’t want to cram your party packs full of more junk food (just what you want in your kids’ laps in the car when you’re leaving a party at 5pm), then you have two options: 1) trinkets from the Chinese markets which break instantly or 2) spend a small fortune on age appropriate gifts. I opted for balloons. The night before though, I discovered an Instax camera which I’d bought for David for Christmas (for “the man who has it all”). A polaroid photograph thus became our party favour. The kids were quite entranced by the idea of an actual hard copy photo coming out of a machine, so it was cute, but it was only a viable option because it was lying in our drawer, with two films already. (And yes, I did have many a puzzled child ask me where the party packs were…)

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If you’re intrigued by the character of Eloise, you can buy a set of four hardcover Eloise books on Takealot (delivery time is 10 to 15 working days). I highly recommend the stories. Oooooooo, I absolutely love Eloise!

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*Lindi Perrin can be reached on 082 572 4060

New York: 10 Tips for Surviving a Stay in Manhattan

View from the gym at The Standard
View from the gym at The Standard

In 2012, I took my first mommy vacation to visit my sister in New York. I arrived on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, so the Monday was a public holiday, and I left for JFK early on the Tuesday morning.

I loved, loved, LOVED Manhattan. At the time, my sister was living in a shared apartment in the West Village. I arrived in her tree-lined, facebrick, quiet, gorgeous street and decided that this was better than the movies. Not even hauling my suitcase up five flights of stairs could put me off. Naturally, her apartment – shared by three twenty-somethings – was minute. But it was irrelevant. We were hardly there. We had brunch at the Gramercy Park Hotel, ran in Central Park, shopped at Lulu Lemon, ate sustainable, free-range eggs at Bubby’s, dined on brown rice sushi at Dean & Deluca and swanned around The Met. It was divine.

When I returned to New York last month, however, all of my senses went into shock. Mainly my ears though. Manhattan on Memorial Day weekend was a very different place to Manhattan in late July. The place was LOUD. It felt as though the whole of Manhattan was “under construction”. My sister had moved to the “vibier” (read noisier) Lower East Side, and buildings were being razed right there on her road.

So the tips below were heavily influenced by my current phase of life: I hate noise, I don’t do crowds but I do love acquiring beautiful books, clothes and bags and eating yummy food in trendy establishments. This is how I’d recommend negotiating Manhattan for anyone with similar proclivities:

1. Tax

Like death, you can’t avoid the 8.875% New York sales tax. No matter what the dodgy midtown salesman tells you about not charging you tax but shipping your bill to your distant cousin in another state. (He forgets to mention that your cousin will be liable for the tax). The annoying part is that tax is not included in the marked price – unlike VAT in SA – so it’s hard to remember to include it when have your hand on a beautiful handbag that is borderline in terms of budget…

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Bloomingdales, however, has mercy on foreign shoppers. I was offered a 10% discount to negate the sales tax when a very proactive and helpful salesgirl picked up my accent.

Hotel taxes come to more than 8.875% – around 15-% if I’m not mistaken, which I omitted to factor in when I booked The Standard online. Sure, the site said the price quoted excluded tax but I figured the amount would be negligible. Ahem, not so.

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We loved our stay at The Standard (& yes, the logo is meant to be upside down – it’s art, okay?)

(My sister’s stylish French friend met us for lunch at Cafe Gitane at The Jane Hotel in the West Village and proffered this handy tip: The Jane costs around $220 per night – inclusive of tax – which is unusual for a boutique hotel in a fabulous location, within walking distance to the High Line and cute shops in the Meatpacking district. It’s also well-positioned if you want to go for a run along the Hudson River, all the way into the financial district. There are lots of runners but there’s also lots of place to run, walk and cycle and the area is well kept and clean.)

2. When You Gotta Go

My romantic notions of strolling along Fifth Avenue, holding David’s hand and exclaiming ” Oh my God, would you look at that gorgeous jacket/ bag/ dress!” were crushed in seconds. Sure, the shops are amazing but when you’re on the “sidewalks” you may as well be on London’s Oxford Street – ie it’s MANIC!!! This is where I figured out that the best places to “spend a penny” (the McDonalds staff keep an eye-out for non-consumers using their restrooms) were in the beautiful old department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodmans. (I could live in these stores). Which brings me to my next tip…

3. Books at Bergdorfs

On my way out of the restrooms at Bergdorfs, I happened upon the children’s section and couldn’t resist taking a peak. One item of designer kid’s clothing would feed our household for a month, but the books sell for the recommended retail price on their dust jackets and they are magnificent. I could run my hands over the silky paper all day. Here’s what I picked up for the kids:

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4. Shop till you drop

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So what if heels are last season? These still look sexy, I’m sorry…

Something I noticed was that some branded items cost exactly the same as they do in SA. I don’t know how this works with SA’s import duties, but a pair of Nike running pants purchased at Totalsports in Joburg in June compared with the exact same pair I saw at a sports store in New York in July, cost the same (give or take a few cents for the Rand/ Dollar exchange rate on the day). I also compared the price of an I-pod Touch which was a bit cheaper in New York, but honestly not a saving to write home about.

To shop at places like Zara & H&M, make sure you have your big girl panties on, because you are going to need them. I’m talking, chaos, crowd control, queues for change rooms, queues to pay… Not to mention the fact that I was literally policed by shop assistants for trying on a cardigan on the shop floor. Apparently this is not allowed. The prices at Zara in SA might be higher but I’d say it’s worth it for the shopping experience.

 5. Far From the Madding Crowds in the West Village

My neighbour did me a huge favour when she put in an order for a Marc Jacobs tote. My sister could see that I wasn’t coping well with the crowds and suggested that we hit the mini designer stores in the West Village instead. Sure, you won’t get the range that you’d get in a huge department store and not all the brands are there by far, but it’s a really pleasant experience compared to the madness of Soho, Broadway and Fifth Ave.

 

6. Sharing is Caring

The eensy weensy space between tables
The eensy weensy space between tables

Vanity aside, there is a reason there are no fat people in Manhattan (I blogged about this in 2012): it just isn’t practical. According to a 2013 census, 1.6million people live on the 59 square km island – excluding the additional 2.3 million commuters who come in on business days. Often, the tables in little cafes were so close together, I literally didn’t think I would fit through them sideways – or certainly not without knocking over my neighbour’s latte. So I had to get used to feeling like I was also having brunch with the table next to me. It is completely impossible not to hear every single word they say to one another but sometimes this comes in handy – like when they see you eyeing their banana bread, hear you and your sister contemplating ordering some and they feel obliged to share their experience of it with you. Hell, the setting is so intimate at one point I though they were going to offer us a taste and was inwardly panicking re the appropriate response. But that’s the other reason Manhattanites aren’t fat – the portions aren’t huge – so sharing does have its limits.

7. BYOB on Broadway

I’m told there are more affordable Broadway shows and less affordable ones. (I was told this after booking tickets). For the show Book of Mormon there are only two ticket prices: unbelievably effing expensive and literally double that. We got over that before leaving SA but thought nothing of grabbing a drink at the theatre’s bar before the start of the show. The damage for two average double whiskeys and a sparkling water was no less than $76. And when David balked and asked the barman to please repeat, he shouted back “That’s RIGHT! Seventy six AMERICAN dollars!” That, really, was the cherry on top and David vows he’ll never set foot on Broadway again.

8. The World of Water in the States

I absolutely LOVE the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for tap water in all types of American restaurants. And when you’re on the run, you can totally buy bottled still water anywhere. But sometimes, when I really want to let my hair down, I do like some bubbles. Unlike SA, however, where every affordable brand of still water (Valpre, Bon Aqua, Woolworths, you name it) has an affordable bubbly equivalent, in the States sparkling water equals Perrier equals imported from France equals really expensive.

8. Modern Art

Jeff Koons balloon dog
Jeff Koons: balloon dog

The beauty of New York is that most of the waiters/ bellhops/ hostesses/ receptionists double up as struggling actors/ writers/ artists. We learnt that Jeff Koons was having a solo exhibition at The Whitney thanks to a waiter at The Standard. The exhibition blew my mind. Jeff Koons chose a Polish-Italian porn star as a muse, fell in love with her and married her, she somehow became a member of parliament (only in Italy) and he shocked the world with their sexually explicit “art” (basically pornographic photography) but otherwise most of his work is fun, fabulous, playful, ironic, over the top and, in short, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I loved the experience.

Something to note is that The Met is moving most of its modern art collection to The Whitney and The Whitney is moving from the Upper East Side to new premises near the start of the High-Line in the Meatpacking District. As a result, there is currently hardly any modern art available to view at The Met (it’s all in the process of being packed etc) but then there is always the Guggenheim and MOMA which I am gutted I didn’t get to see.

9. Flats Are the New Black

My sister told me that flats are totally acceptable in lieu of high heels in NY and I must say I did notice a definite trend. Heels still seem to be the footwear of choice amongst girls fresh off the boat, lining up for the night club on the top floor of The Standard, but otherwise, I did feel kinda last season in my heels – tragic, as I only bust them out for really special occasions.

10. Top of the Standard

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View from the Top of the Standard

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful bar in the whole wide world. The almost 360 degree views of the city are just spectacular. Even the sexy little dolly bird waitresses in their silk mini dresses whom you just expect to be bitches are SUPER nice (and actually really fast and efficient). And then the foie gras mini burgers with truffle oil are possibly the most delicious of any food I have ever tasted. And thanks to the new fashion, you can even go in flats…

Finally, some quintessential NY pics:

My sister, hailing us a cab on the Lower East Side
My sister, hailing us a cab on the Lower East Side
An exhausted tourist catches a nap while waiting for his table at The Boathouse, Central Park
An exhausted tourist catches a nap while waiting for his table at The Boathouse, Central Park
Running over the Williamsburg bridge from the Lower East Side into Brooklyn
Running over the Williamsburg bridge from the Lower East Side into Brooklyn
At a food stall at a vintage market in Brooklyn
At a food stall at a vintage market in Brooklyn
Manhattan & the Empire State Building from Brooklyn
Manhattan & the Empire State Building from Brooklyn

Do Cry for Me, New York City

Yesterday, I spent several hours fantasising about being a high-powered career woman. The fantasy was brought on by Chiara’s incessant crying, moaning, general ill-discipline and toddler delinquency. In my fantasy, I would be wearing a pair of Kurt Geiger black patent leather stilettos – exactly like a magnificent pair I used to own before losing them at an office party where I’d removed them to dance, before waking up the next morning having no recollection of how I got home and finding myself sans cell phone and sans my beautiful shoes. Still, I don’t think the headache I had that morning rivalled the headache brought on by my unplayable toddler. Not even close.

Anyway, back to my fantasy in which one of my greatest dilemmas would be how I would make it across our company’s skywalk to get to a meeting and back in said stilettos which were not built for long distance… Another dilemma would be whether I’d make it to my Step class on time and which dinner invitation I’d accept for later that evening. Of course there’d be other dilemmas like deadlines, deliverables and office politics but this week, that all seemed a whole lot more appealing than a screaming toddler.

Besides my screaming child, the other reason I found myself in another world in my head over the last few days, was because I was quite literally supposed to physically be in another part of the world – in New York City, to be precise. I was supposed to be blogging on Bleecker Street, running in Central Park, sipping cocktails at The Standard, brunching in Brooklyn, shopping at Lulu Lemon, strolling around the Met and watching James Franco on Broadway. That was the plan. I would be a footloose and fancy-free 35 year old getting a tiny taste of my younger sister’s glamorous life in New York. But fate had other ideas.

On Sunday morning, David was man-down with what we thought was a stomach bug. By the evening, the nausea was so severe that I took him to the Emergency Room at Morningside. We were in a curtained cubicle for several hours while he was pricked, jabbed, tested and questioned. Separated by only a curtain from the bed next door, we couldn’t help hearing that patient’s violent vomiting every few minutes, nor could we help overhearing her explain her medical history to the doctor. She’d had a gastric by-pass and a history of stomach ulcers. I don’t know whether the by-pass made her prone to ulcers but what I do know is that I wouldn’t wish the pain and suffering she was experiencing on my worst enemy. Not even to be eternally thin. It was traumatising just to hear her.

By the next day, David appeared to be recovering but Chiara had been coughing her lungs out all weekend, had woken up at midnight complaining of a sore ear and needed to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed an ear and throat infection and put her on antibiotics. By Monday night, Joe was coughing his head off too. When he finally settled, I went back to my bedroom where David was in agony with stomach cramps. Our GP arrived at 11:30pm and by midnight I was in my car to find the 24 hour pharmacy at Olivedale Hospital. Imagine my horror when I was greeted by a sign at the entrance which explained that, on 31 March 2014 (that very night), the pharmacy would be closed for stock-take until approximately 1am. (Fortunately, they re-opened promptly at 1am and I was back home with much-needed painkillers by 1:30am.)

The next day – the day I was due to jet off to New York – Chiara stayed home from school with her persistent cough, I took Joe to the doctor and we waited to hear whether the gastroenterologist could perform an urgent gastroscopy on David. A couple of hours later my mother-in-law – who had gamely taken Chiara to Pappachinos followed by a trip to Sandton City, replete with pizza, ice-cream and any number of treats – phoned to say that Chiara was inconsolable and wouldn’t stop crying for mommy. So I went to fetch her and brought her back to the hospital where she played on her I-pad while I proceeded to pass out on David’s hospital bed. Apparently the head nurse was not amused.

Fortunately, David’s procedure went well and we were all home that evening. David and Chiara are back at work and back at school but poor Joe has thrown up three times in the last twelve hours, including once at 5am this morning when I was trying to tuck him into bed with me to convince him to go back to sleep. So much for that. I’m heading back to the doctor with him at lunch-time.

Chiara’s mood has improved and my fantasies of tripping down corporate corridors have become less intense… although my book club recommended Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” which, I have to say, is pretty inspiring. She’s obviously an exceptional case but she provides some study-based evidence about women who have families and careers, indicating greater levels of satisfaction within this demographic. Food for thought while I sign off this blog post and attempt to tackle the topic of the first derivative and differentiation for my Maths worksheet for Monday.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy weekend.

Natalie xx

 

 

 

On Cupcakes & Frozen Custard in New York

As friends and regular readers of this blog well know, I am fascinated by diets, weight, food, fat etc. So basically, I’m a girl 🙂 In all seriousness, I know thin girls, fat girls, slightly overweight girls, super skinny girls and obese girls and no matter our size, most of us obsess over our weight and/ or food in some form or another. I may be on the slightly more obsessive end of the scale, (if you’ll excuse the pun), but I’ve come to realise, over the years, that I’m a lot more normal than I used to think, in this respect. And so, it should come as no surprise that when I travel, I can’t help taking note of the food/fat phenomenon amongst other cultures (for example, on the ski slopes of Austria in 2010). My trip to New York at the end of May was no exception.

My main observation was: THERE ARE NO FAT PEOPLE IN NEW YORK! I looked and looked and searched and searched – purely out of curiosity –  and I honestly couldn’t find any. I’m sure they must exist somewhere, in some part of the city…(and no, I did not leave Manhattan) … but they weren’t making themselves evident during my three day visit there.

As a case in point, The Sister and I stood in a 45 minute queue at The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, trying to buy one of their famous burgers.

Home of delicious burgers in Madison Square Park, New York

The kind folks from The Shake Shack have a method designed to a) keep their long-suffering queuing customers in good humour in 30 degree New York heat and b) entice you with their yummy, junk food. What they do is they hand out free nibblies. The Sister and I got handed a tiny, teeny pot of something that resembled ice cream. For all my food weaknesses, I can usually say “no” to ice cream, but it had been a long wait and I decided that one little bite wouldn’t hurt. The waitress handed it to me and declared it to be “frozen custard”. Now, I have tasted custard, I’ve tasted yoghurt, I’ve tasted frozen yoghurt and I’ve tasted ice cream and I’d like to declare that the American innovation   known as “frozen custard” is un- frigging – believable!

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed in awe. “This is amazing!”

“What’s the difference between ice cream and frozen custard?” I asked The Sister (given that they look so similar).

Before she had a chance to answer, I heard a Southern drawl from the person next in line. She spoke as though she truly, in her heart of hearts, understood my excitement at my first taste of frozen custard and she explained the difference with a dreamy look in her eyes. I don’t remember the details, but I do recall her looking at me sadly and explaining that one of the key differences was that frozen custard had more fat in it, than ordinary ice cream. I believed her – frozen custard definitely tastes way too good to be true. The point is, this very sweet, very friendly Southern gal was the only person I saw who actually looked like someone who would know the difference between ice cream and frozen custard in the whole of Manhattan.

Instead of queuing for burgers at The Shake Shack, I saw New Yorkers with bodies to die for doing the following:

… sunning themselves in Madison Square Park, right next door to The Shake Shack

I mean, why wouldn’t you lie around in your bikini in the middle of the city if you look like a million bucks in your teeny weeny bikini?

… doing yoga in Central Park

…and running and cycling in Central Park and all around the city. Before I left for New York, I asked The Husband what he thought I should not miss out on, given that I had only three days there. Being the sports obsessed psycho that he is, on the top of his “to do” list was: a run in Central Park. And so, on my second day in The Big Apple, The Sister and I got dressed in our running kit, caught the subway to the Upper East Side and set off on a 5km run in Central Park.

Entering the famous Central Park for the first time…

It was a Sunday morning, overcast but not cold, so yes, it was a perfect day for some cardio but I have to say that never, ever have I seen so many people being so active in one area at one time. I kept on wondering whether we weren’t perhaps running “against the traffic” – we just passed jogger after runner after cyclist after walker after runner after sprinter after roller blader. The throng of exercise freaks seemed absolutely endless. Then, the next day, we took a stroll along the river, heading towards Wall Street and the Financial District. That morning was absolutely sweltering and yet, once again, we passed a constant throng of people running, cycling and playing tennis. Watching all of this was so exhausting that we were forced to stop for breakfast. This is what a place called Bubby’s in Tribeca ordinarily serves one person:

Breakfast for one, at Bubby’s, New York

The sight of all these ripped people (and the sight of our neighbour’s gigantic portion and the organic/ grain-fed/fair trade/ local farm-around-the-block price tag of $22 per portion) led us to share one between two…

Besides endless amounts of cardio, the other potential secret to New Yorkers have for limiting calorie intake is the institution of “brunch” over the weekend. On my first day, The Sister made “brunch” reservations for us – at 12:45pm. As far as I’m concerned that’s almost a late lunch, but as I would learn in the coming days, “brunch” in New York is basically any daytime meal eaten over the weekend. And you can’t eat two brunches in one day, can you? So, with a mere change in terminology, you have wiped out one of your three meals for the day. Pretty neat, huh?

Still, the extent to which New Yorkers are in shape is completely at odds with the extent of tempting yummies on EVERY street corner. Red velvet cupcakes, cheesecake, giant chocolate chip cookies… delish tasting calories are simply ever present in this town. And someone has to be consuming this stuff, or else the gazillion bakeries simply wouldn’t survive. The only possible explanation is that there are just SO many people that when you divide the calories up between everyone who can only but indulge from time to time, that leaves you with an insufficient number of calories for a red velvet cupcake boep… that’s my theory anyway.

Because cupcakes truly are the epitome of evil. I found this out when I picked up a stash of American magazines at the airport. According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, the state of Massachusetts had attempted to “ban school bake sales of non-nutritious foods”:

Long live the Great American Cupcake!

While people with mouths rejoiced in Massachusetts, The Sister and made like her fellow New Yorkers and brunched on brown rice sushi at Dean & Deluca after our run in Central Park. We couldn’t quite face the soy milk cappuccinos, though.

Maybe next time…

“Brunch” at Dean & Deluca

 

 

 

Velcome to America: My Bizarre Encounter With Immigration Official, Azov

As I think I’ve mentioned before, The Sister moved to New York in January of this year and I thought it a perfect excuse to spend a long weekend in a city I had only dreamed about, read about in books, or seen in movies, prior to last month.

I could have sucked The Husband’s frequent flyer miles dry and flown there on Business Class via London, but that would have wasted precious time away from my child which could have been spent shopping in New York. And so we scraped together our SAA Voyager Miles and I hopped on the 17 hour haul from Joburg to JFK in cattle class. The last time I had 17 straight hours ALL TO MYSELF to do WHATEVER I WANTED where I ONLY had to think about YOURS TRULY was in March 2011, before The Princess was born. So, yes, I was excited at the prospect of the flight!

And it turned out to be great: I read a book, I slept and slept and slept (no sleep aids or special pillows required), I wrote, I chilled. I didn’t even turn on the TV. Basically, I had a ball.

17 hours later, we touched down at JFK and I made my way to the immigration queue. I still had my ESTA visa waiver on my British passport from a trip two years earlier and so I handed this, together with my UK passport, to the immigration official. That was when one of the most bizarre interactions I have ever experienced, occurred with Azov, the immigration official.

AZOV: (Inspecting British passport). You live in England? (Raising furry one-brow).

NATALIE: Er, no. I live in Johannesburg.

I interpret a slight pause which I may be unfairly attributing to a prejudicial perception of Azov’s lack of knowledge of the globe.

NATALIE: In South Africa.

AZOV: Souss Africa! Humph.

Another pause. I figure it’s best to let the person with all the power do the talking – after all, he holds my girls’ weekend in New York in the palm of his hands – unless he asks me a direct question.

AZOV: Why you live in Souss Africa?

And here we have the direct question. Play it safe, here, Natalie. Just stick to the basics. Who gives a continental what an immigration official thinks of where you live?

NATALIE: Um… I was born in South Africa and most of my family is in South Africa.

AZOV: But why you not live in England?

NATALIE: Well, because South Africa is my home and (putting on fake smile and trying not to grit teeth) I like it there.

Another pregnant pause with Azov still staring at me intently and raising his furry one-brow.

Against my better judgement, I find myself growing annoyed and I give some more reasons to defend my choice to live in the country I was born in:

NATALIE: And because it’s exciting and there’s alot of opportunity.

AZOV: But you no like London?

NATALIE: (Deep, deep breath. Muchos patience required with this man). No….. I didn’t say that. I like London very much.

Azov looks confused and possibly even suspicious.

AZOV: I no like Africa.

NATALIE: To each his own, I guess.

This idiomatic expression appears to be completely lost on Azov, but he is undeterred.

AZOV: I travel to 30 countries, but I no like Africa.

Really? You don’t say? Tell someone who cares, dude!

During this lengthy interaction, he has intermittently been tapping a few things into his computer and now asks to take my fingerprints. I follow his orders, of course and there is the blessed sound of silence for a short while.

But I should have known by now that Azov was not the silent type…

AZOV: You say there are opportunities in Souss Africa… What you do?

Ha! Sneaky one! I honestly hadn’t seen this coming. You insult third world countries, get their economically active inhabitants travelling to America to bring up the topic of economic opportunity and then it’s only natural to enquire as to the nature of those opportunities… All of sudden, Azov no longer seems as idiotic as he’s been sounding.

I tell him that I have a small, part-time business but I realise that this is the one time I really need to play up the dreaded “Housewife” title. After asking what The Husband does, he drops the occupation topic and reverts to his favourite subject:

AZOV: So you stay three days in New York and you go back to Africa after?

NATALIE: That’s right.…(Unable to resist): As part of your 30 country experience, did you ever travel to Africa?

AZOV: No, but I no like to go. Except where big mountain is. Where that?

NATALIE: You mean Kilimanjaro in Kenya and Tanzania?

AZOV: Humph. Maybe. I see. Maybe one day.

Don’t do us Africans any favours, Azov!

AZOV: Okay! (handing me my passport). Have good time in New York!

And zat, dear readers, vas my velcome to America. A true story, believe it or not.

Man Cannot Live By Chocolate Alone

This is a magnet I’ve had on my fridge for years. I’m starting to think it may have been subliminally fuelling my love of chocolate…

It’s Monday today, which means my new diet starts today. (If I had R1 for every Monday that I intended to start a diet, I would be a bazillionaire.)

I think I need to change this slogan. I need a little inspiration from Little Britain’s Marjorie Dawes, the delightful Group Leader of her local Fat Fighters club. Here’s a quote from the rather voluptous Ms Dawes, who is trying to introduce her members to a new, zero calorie food substitute:

“Dust. Anybody? No. High in fat? Low in fat? Dust…It’s actually very low in fat. You can have as much dust as you like.”

Awesome. New motto:

MAN CANNOT LIVE BY DUST ALONE BUT NATALIE CAN

Granted, about a month and a half ago while I was standing on the Weight Watcher’s scale, holding my breath, sucking in my cheeks, wearing a dress so light it could be mistaken for a nightie… I had officially lost 10 kilograms since 22 July 2011. And yes, I remember that fateful day in July when I stepped onto the Weight Watchers scale and told the Group Leader that her scale was definitely broken as there was no way in hell that THAT number represented my weight.

But since the happy 10kg loss I have backslid somewhat a gained a kilo or so. Now, my goal of losing millions of kilos before leaving for New York on 25 May is no longer possible. Isn’t it amazing how time flies when you’re stuffing your face?

The Husband’s cycling buddy went on one of those insane diets where you lose like 5 kilos in 15 seconds. You know – those lovely diets where you inject yourself, eat two steamed peas for breakfast, drink a putrifying shake for lunch and snack on dust, air and your own saliva. She lost 5 kilos in two weeks, to be precise and went on to lose 14kg over three months. I know I should be happy for her but I am absolutely GREEN with envy. I decided drastic action was required.

So I checked out her diet and was really keen for a split second, but I’m just not big on jabbing myself daily like a druggie. And The Husband has been known to pass out at the sight of needles, so he’d be no help with my morning stabs. I also have an absolute abhorrence for shakes. Five months of Herbalife in first year varsity means I cannot stomach the smell of a shake – milkshakes aside, obviously. Five months of liquid for breakfast, liquid for supper. (The Herbalife plan allowed you to splash out and eat solids for lunch – YEEHA!). Of course I lost a fortune of weight but the minute I ate solids again – even just a freaking toasted sandwich now and then – I packed on the weight.

So that put paid to the 14kg in five minutes cycling diet, tempting as it was, seeing the results in the flesh.

I then voraciously consumed Tim Noakes’ theory which states that a high protein/ low carb intake is the business. But The Husband’s uber lean cycling friend who lives off things like chickpeas, lentils, wheat free Bircher muesli and fruit (and has body fat of about 7%), told me it was a bad idea. I trust thin, healthy people, so I took his word for it.

Okay, so then I checked out Dr Dukan’s diet on-line (“five million French people can’t be wrong”) but then I remembered reading a blog post last year by Mushy Peas on Toast. She started on Atkins, lost 2kg in a month, decided it was B.S and moved on to the Dukan Diet. Dukan is the diet that Tim Noakes implies Elizabeth Hurley got Fatboy Shane Warne onto. (Apparently Shane Warne is now looking rather ripped, but clearly I’m behind the times because I thought Liz Hurley was married to a Pakistani cricketer – can’t keep up with these celebs).

Anyhoo, so “Peas” from Mushy Peas on Toast tried Dukan with her colleague. Here’s what her colleague said about the experience:

Eating only skinless chicken breasts for 3 days made (me) go on a weekend binge fest that involved making love to vatfuls of cake.

Not ideal. With all the kiddie birthday parties The Princess get invited to I am confronted by alarmingly yummy butter icing cup-cakes. Mmmm.

So I scrapped the idea of the Dukan diet. I then got obsessed by a diet that my new mommy friend from down the road told me about: Healthpoint. I was ultra keen until a Google search revealed that this is an Amway product. I am not buying YET another diet. If I could get back all the money I have spent on diets and pills and shakes over the years, I’d also be a bazillionaire. So there went Healthpoint.

I then walked past the dieticians in Atholl Square and their first opening was this Thursday. Are you kidding me? No ways. First of all, you can’t start a diet on a Friday and second of all, this is freaking urgent, people!!!

Then I remembered a dietician I used to go to years ago. When she first handed me her diet plan I asked if she was trying to kill me. I later discovered that a friend of mine was also seeing her. She was referring to her as The Food Fascist and that set off a recognition trigger in my brain – OMG! Same girl! Aptly named, I have to say. Nonetheless, her very spartan diet did actually work, so I figured I’m going to do a combinantion of Weight Watchers and The Food Fascist’s diet and I’m going to go to my weekly Tuesday weigh-ins at Weight Watchers just so that I have an affordable policeman involved. There’s something about stepping onto the scale under the watchful eye of someone else, that can actually alter behaviour…

On The Food Fascist Diet I get to eat the following: (it’s so spartan, I can actually type it up for you in like 10 seconds).

BREAKFAST: half a cup of cereal with milk, 1 small fruit

LUNCH: 1 tin of tuna OR 2 eggs OR 2 small chicken breasts AND 2 teaspoons of margarine

SNACK: (Yeeha! I thought she’d outlawed snacking): 100ml Activia yoghurt OR 1 small fruit

SUPPER: same as lunch but can substitute with two hand size portions of fish

Veg (and dust) are free, but the good stuff like butternut and pumpkin are limited to one serving spoon full, so there goes my favourite butternut and avo salad from Tasha’s where they give you like half a butternut…

When I did The Food Fascist’s Diet in 2008, I lost 3.8kg in two weeks but I’ll settle for 3kg in 18 days. I’ll worry about the other 5kg post New York when I plan to drink my body weight in cocktails on top of the Empire State building or wherever it is that New York people drink cocktails. Everywhere – if The Sister’s stories are anything to go by.

Sounds like a plan.

Diets are always good in the planning stage.

Fortunately for my master plan, we had date night at DW Eleven-13 this Saturday night – i.e. BEFORE the commencement of The Food Fascist Diet. Oh my greatness, the food was amazing. And original. Normally, I am not a big fan of original and experimental. I like the food I know and like and I want it to taste GOOD. And I don’t want teeny, tiny French sized portions. And that’s what I like about DW. The overall cuisine and influence I would call French but the portions are Saffer size. Not ridiculously huge, but substantial. No room for dessert and side orders if you have a starter and a main which is just how I like it.

Plus, even though the chef and restaurant have won awards they are completely not up their own arses. They are so NICE – it’s really refreshing. When you call to see if they can squeeze you in last minute, they try their best. They don’t scoff and clear their throats and condescendingly tell you to call two weeks in advance.

Divine, divine up-market, fine dining restaurant. I highly recommend it.

Right folks, with the distant memory of DW‘s lamb and porcini lasagne, I’m off to measure out my half cup of All Bran. Eighteen days and counting…

Too Many Dudes, Dude.

The Princess and I are currently in Cape Town, staying with The Brother-in-law, The Sister-in-law and their one, two, three, FOUR (adorable) kids. Just after The Princess has had her very first bath with her six month old cousin, The Sister-in-Law casually asks if I’d mind babysitting whilst she and The Brother-in-law attend a parent teachers evening at their eight year old’s school. Now, we have every intention of giving The Princess a baby brother or sister one day, so I should be perfectly capable of sticking a dummy into the mouth of my beautiful niece, in the very unlikely event that she wakes up and cries. Right?

Right.

It’s 7:20pm – a full hour since I started giving The Princess her bedtime bottle – and she is still writhing in my arms, refusing to sleep. It’s been a rough afternoon visiting an unwell Father Figure and I am not in the mood for a fight with an eleven month old.

Enter The Princess’ crying six month old cousin.

No problem.

The Princess and I will just go next door for a dummy dash.

We stand next to the cot and a pair of large blue eyes stares up at eyes. This does not look like a baby in the throes of a deep slumber, merely in need of a dummy but I try anyway.

She spits.

I try again.

She spits and screams.

I try again.

Now she’s upset. And really screaming. Very, very loudly.

I panic. In the last day and a half I’ve spent with this little angel, I’ve never heard her cry. But now she is P*SSED off. She’s woken up in the middle of the night and she’s got some stranger who is NOT her mommy trying to shove her dummy in her mouth. Not happy.

So I pick her up and sink into the feeding chair next to her cot – The Princess in one arm and her cousin in the other. The Princess is smiling sweetly at her crying cousin and even reaching across to her as if to console her. It’s adorable but it’s not helping at all. Her cousin is going BALLISTIC now.

As my eight-year old nephew is roused from his sleep and walks in, offering to help, I realise I have failed dismally trying to take care of two small children and I ask him to please call his baby sister’s live-in nanny. Thank God for her. She’s in the bath but she’ll come as soon as possible.

Enter my darling little niece’s nanny and she stops crying immediately.

Phew.

I return to The Princess’ room and at once, the sweet, consoling older cousin version of her is gone and I am left with a screaming eleven month old, nearly an hour into her bed-time, refusing to go to sleep.

Finally, after what seems like years, but is “only” one hour forty minutes, I put The Princess down. She stirs and almost sees me standing near her cot, but she somehow doesn’t see me and she seems to roll over and at least attempt sleep. This leaves me on all fours, hiding behind the darkened side of her camp cot as opposed to the see-through, net side, trying to crawl silently to the door where freedom awaits…

I manage to make it out, collapse onto my bed and pick up my phone to read a mail just in from The Sister, newly settled in NYC. She’s forwarded me her party invite for this weekend:

Subject: heads up for Friday night
I’m having a few friends over to Le Parker Meridien near 56th and 6th Ave, 7pm – 10pm.
Heated rooftop pool + fun little suite. Cocktails and swimming etc.
Please come and bring a girl-friend. We have TOO MANY DUDES.

New York, Crispy Cassava Snacks & Kit Kat Singles

The Princess first started to display signs of separation anxiety around 7 months or so. I think around 8 months is text book or something, so I wasn’t too surprised when it happened. Yesterday, however, her separation anxiety reached new heights. I literally had to go to the toilet with her on my lap. Her reaction was so violent when I tried to put her down that I thought she actually might injure herself if I laid her on the floor – albeit right in front of me – with her toys.

Fortunately for me, around the time her separation anxiety started, she became a Daddy’s Girl through and through. There was about a week where she would cling on to me and then she started putting her arms out for her Daddy while I was holding her and refusing to come to me from her Daddy’s arms. Part of me is mortified by this, but in many ways it makes life easier. For example, the guilt at jumping on a plane bound for New York will be cushioned by the fact that she will be having a ball with her Daddy for the four days I am not here.

Yip, for four days I will be trying to keep up with The Sister’s glamourous new life in New York City. On Saturday, I got an e-mail saying that she was about to head off to a private party in a loft apartment in Tribeca and that she thought she’d wear her leather pants. My knowledge of New York has been almost exclusively gleaned from Sex & the City. I don’t know where Tribeca is and I don’t own leather pants. When I started writing this blog, it was 11:49 on Sunday morning and I was still in my pyjamas. Not because I went clubbing until 4am that morning but because The Princess and I were embroiled in a battle of wills from 8am to 11am. She was supposed to go down for her morning nap at 8 or 8:30 at the latest and she finally, finally passed out at 11am. That’s a three hour long sleep battle with a ten and a half month old and I felt as though I had just run a marathon. I can’t imagine anything more exhausting. I can’t imagine that a 17 hour trans-Atlantic flight and four-day jet lag can come close.

So, in some ways, I am very ready for New York at the end of May and in some ways, I am so far from being ready. When I booked my flight, I set myself a goal to lose 8.5kg in the 17 weeks before leaving for New York – an average of 0.5kg per week. Sounds healthy and feasible, right? But it’s now three weeks later and whereas I should have lost 1.5kg, I have  lost only half of that – 800g. So now I have exactly 14 weeks to lose 7.7kg. I may need to move the goal posts a little but many kilos are going to need to be shed before I see myself in leather pants…

Enter the dieter’s version of crack cocaine:

1) Crispy Cassava Snacks from Woolworths.

1 small 20g packet = 1 point on Weight Watchers, out of a daily total of 20. Not bad, right? The bonus is that there is so much sh*t on these bad boys that one tiny little packet burns the living crap out of the roof of your mouth, thereby making further eating for the day somewhat painful. A dieter’s dream. My personal faves are the “Cream Cheese & Chives” variant. I find the “Vinegar & Lemon Pepper” flavour tastes like a lemon and I’m also not such a fan of the “Lightly Salted Flavoured” type. Lightly Salted Flavoured: sounds wrong, I know, but that’s what it says on the packet.

2) Kit-Kat Singles.

1 “finger” = 1 point on Weight Watchers. Totally worth it to satiate those chocolate cravings.

I was about to eat the whole bag bag on Sunday as I sat in my pyjamas, hair unbrushed, feeling totally mangled by my sleep fight with The Princess, while The Sister must surely be tottering home from her Tribeca loft party in her heels, ready to sleep off a hangover until midday. Fortunately, for my waistline, The Sister called just then. She said the loft was amazing, there were waiters serving French champagne and little canape thingies. It was, however, mainly populated by thirty-something New York women, looking for husbands. (Evidently, you can say this when you’re 28, you’ve just moved to New York and you’re blonde and hot). Unfortunately for all females concerned, men were apparently thin on the ground and the uber eligible bachelor owner of the amazing Tribeca pad was firmly up his own arse.

And it is armed with this information about the trials and tribulations of New York singletons, that I find the strength to put away the packet of Kit Kat Singles, brush my hair, slap on some make-up and walk to Tashas with The Princess in the Jozi sunshine.