AMBER SEXTON New York City 917-207-2375

Monday, May 27, 2013

Citibike -Day 1

image by Amber Sexton

I’m just going to give a preliminary review of the new bike sharing program we just christened here in NYC, Citibike, which launched today. This is a cross eyed picture of me returning my first ever bike.

My first impression of the bike is it’s extremely well suited to it’s purpose. The bikes if they stay in this condition, are well thought out and great rides for short hops. They are easy to adjust, 3 speed bikes in which all the speeds are fairly easy. I was often on the highest gear which gave me good speed for city traffic yet you can’t get too fast on. Lever hand brakes were good, grips are big and cushioned, all cables are covered under plastic shells to keep them from sabotage. The front ‘basket’ with bungees held my purse really well. The bike is heavy at 45 pounds. This is not really the drawback it may seem. The somewhat heavy bike is balanced pretty well, though heavy in the front, and very stable on the road when you are seated, so it’s good for riders of a wide range of skill levels. The main drawback of a bike that weighs a lot is getting it up and down stairs, into the subway and adding the weight of your heavy lock to your overall load. That’s not a factor with a bike that docks at street level that you never have to get into your home or on the train. They do not want people to fly down the street at crazy speeds on these, but you can really go as fast as you need to in the stop and go NYC traffic. Standing up on pedals makes it less easy to control than a lighter bike in the same scenario, but still impressively smooth and fun to ride.  The lights are automatic and pedal powered which is interesting, but I didn’t get the impression they were very bright.

My first experience was trying to use the station behind my office in the Time-Life building on 51st street. The phone app said all the stations in NYC are inactive, which was confusing. I tried to get a bike out and could not at lunchtime. I put my key into two bike docks, I kept seeing the yellow light and hearing a beep, but never the green indicator that the bike could be taken out. This actually does take a few seconds it turns out and the sun was very bright, so perhaps I just wasn’t seeing the light, though I pulled on the bike it didn’t come out. I went back to my office and read more about it, heard that people were using the bikes, and saw a short video which emphasized lifting the seat when removing the bike. I don’t actually know if the kiosk was having a problem or it was just me because when I tried in the evening I had no problem getting the bike out.

I was worried about being too short for a comfortable ride, I am 5’ and used the #1 setting, and it was fine, and you can go lower than that to put the seat flush with the top tube even. I looked at the phone app for a station near Astor Wines and set the timer on the app, even though I was confident it would not get close the 45 minute ride limit. I got to Astor Wines and it was closed so I checked the timer and saw it had taken 22 minutes to get there from Rockefeller Center and swung up to Union Square to return the bike and get the train home.

When I got to Union Square, the station on University was full. But one block over on Broadway it was nearly empty and I returned the bike. One of the things I think is confusing is knowing that the bike is properly locked on return. Everything I read said there was supposed to be a green light on return too, but that’s not the case. The help portion of the app mentions this green light, but on the Citibike blog post for today, it just said “Redock the bike firmly to ensure it is secure and that your trip is closed.” You just stick it in until it locks and try to pull it back out to test it, if it stays you are good. After eating dinner, I realized the L train wasn’t running, I went to get second bike at a completely different station there was a red light showing when I put my key in. I was never able to get this particular bike out but the rack had plenty of others. I’m really curious if it was flagged for repair. I had a theory that if I bike is returned recently you can’t get it back out again for a few minutes but that’s probably wrong.
image by Amber Sexton

People asked me questions about the bike as I rode it and the main complaint and fear folks seem to have is that the ride times seem really short to them. They feel they would never get the bike back in the rack in time. I was not worried about this because as an experienced NYC cyclist I know that most trips in town take 15-20 minutes. Most longer distance trips are still 30-45 minutes. People have got to adjust their minds to a different idea of a bike loan, this is not a bike to have all day, if you need one of those you probably have one. If you are a tourist and want that you need a bike shop rental and a good lock. Most rides you want to take are going to easily fit in the 45 minute time window for annual members, especially once all the stations roll out in Brooklyn and north of 59th street. You can easily return and pick up another bike, also realize overage to 60 minutes is only $2.50 for members for those rare occasions. I think the biggest hurdle for people to get over is realizing how ample that time period is for trips these bikes are intended for. People considering the program who are not experienced city cyclists may genuinely overestimate how long it really takes to get places on a bike. This is something that the city should emphasize in later communications about the program. Show people taking some test rides and publish likely ride times.

The worst part of the program so far is the app, which is a shame because it’s a crucial piece. It really needs tweaks because it’s an essential tool for using the program. A temporary problem is that it lists all the kiosks as inactive at this point. Which is confusing, and made me think none of them were allowing bikes to be used. But it really means that the kiosks that allow day rentals are not on yet, as soon as next week rolls around, I assume just the kiosks that are actually not working will show as inactive. If you are an annual member you don’t really need a kiosk, the key is all you need unless you return a bike right as your time is up and the station is full and you need to ask for extra time to find another place to return it. At any rate, the app shows how many bikes the stations have but don’t indicate things like “full” and I did arrive at a full kiosk. The app also has a timer which is less than wonderful. First of all you need to get used to that it doesn’t work like the iPhone timer which counts down to zero time left and then plays whatever alarm you choose. The Citibike app counts up to the time limit. This is a good idea actually because it lets you be able to learn how long your regular trips are going to take, the time is actually saved when you stop it until you reset it. The real bad thing is the timer goes off and barely makes a sound. It’s like a Twitter alert. It’s not like an iPhone timer which goes off until you turn it off and vibrates as well. This alert really can’t be heard in your bag, or in traffic, though the next time you check your phone there’s a ‘helpful” visual alert that your time is up.

image by Amber Sexton

I recommend using your phone’s timer until they make a more noisy alert, perhaps in addition to the timer in the app. The reason I suggest using both at once is that the app timer keeps running when your time is up. Then if you do go over your time, you will know how long your total ride took, and how much overtime you are going to get charged. (For members it’s only $2.50 if your ride goes up to an hour) It also can help you figure out how much you need change your route or habits to shave off time if you do a ride often that is at the edge of the limit. Anyway, most of the problems with the app are not features, they are glitches. The timer is my only beef with a feature.

The worst error is that I got home and now the map won’t show me any stations at all, (though in Greenpoint I’m not near one until the second stage rollout.) I had this happen on the website once as well and it’s really frustrating. Clicking on the one station I put into favorites takes me to the middle of some body of water, or whatever an entirely filled screen of blue symbolizes.  This is the useful regular function of the app being broken, I actually wanted to take captures of the station distances and number of bikes but now my app just shows that there’s nothing out there at all. I can’t figure out how to fix it, if it doesn’t reset itself tomorrow I will delete and re-install. You really need the app to plan what station you are dropping the bike when you pick it up and think about your route to your destination. It’s really necessary because many convenient stations are not in immediate eyeshot. So I hope the bugs can be ironed out because it’s really your lifeline when using the bikes.

On the left you see the misleading “inactive” and on the right the blue screen of nowhere.
image by Amber Sexton

One other little snag. The package with my annual membership key includes a coupon for $10 off a new helmet purchased at a NYC bike shop. I went to my local bike store, which was listed as participating in the program in the resources section of the website and it was news to them they were participating in the helmet discount program. But they were game to accept a coupon, however, they had none of the three helmet brands the coupon was good for. I realized later looking at that resources tab that they just list all the bike shops they can find, no one has been warned in advance about the coupons or carrying the helmets. The coupon is only good at a NYC shop so I don’t think online works. There is also a coupon to give a guest a free 24 hour ride pass in there, it’s done with a code so I just took a picture of the coupon that way I don’t need to keep track of the tiny slip of paper. That’s a great way of reaching more people I think, having someone try the bikes with a member.

I’m very excited about Citibike and it really solves a problem for me. I love being able to take a one way trip and not be stuck with my bike all day, mostly I make the decision not to ride at all in those circumstances. There are nights I work late and could never consider riding to work as I take a car service home. There are plenty of mornings I can barely get out of the house on foot but would love to ride on my lunch hour or bike home after work. This post should certainly read as an endorsement of the program. My overall emotion when using it today was that of a childish thrill, a feeling of empowerment, that I had options to joyfully go to more far flung places and to see more people and do more errands because I had the flexibility of a bike I didn’t have to look after and could just leave. I plan a lunch run tomorrow. I seriously love new things and this is like a present. Enjoy.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/27 at 10:04 PM
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Long delayed post on Chef’s Night Out

image by Amber Sexton

So, I was lucky enough to win a facebook contest from Bluecoat Gin and got two free tickets to Chef’s Night Out which they are a sponsor of. This was held in the basement of the Plaza hotel and is connected with the James Beard awards. I brought my friend Alexandra who is a pastry chef and we got to business immediately by making nuisances of ourselves in the lobby of the plaza and taking photos before the event. Like this.
image by Amber Sexton
And this:
image by Amber Sexton
Then we diddled around, checked out the bathrooms (natch, we are ladies after all) and then hung out in the lounge before the event opened.
image by Amber Sexton
So after this we waited on line and finally the event began. We were confronted with an overcrowded bar immediately, that we knew was a suckers game. We snarfed up some pastries and chocolates. Alexandra wanted to go savory after that initial taste, and I knew my vegan choices would be slim and perhaps there would be some slippage.
The first free drink we helped ourselves to was a Woodford Reserve “Manhattan”. Now..they tried to give us a giant cocktail glass, with a pre-mixed Manhattan loaded with ice. We were all…uh…please strain, we’ll take it up. It was good, though very watered down by whatever ice treatment they gave the pre-mixed drinks. Still, it was free, like everything we had so who is complaining?
image by Amber Sexton
At this point we began to look for stuff to eat. I confess trying several non-vegan macarons. (I won’t compound the shame by including photos.) I was meanwhile looking for the gin, knowing that the Bluecoat people were here and a sponsor and therefore there had to be a gin drink on offer. We got waylaid by these truffles, both of which were cocktail flavored, the orange one was supposed to be a Mai Tai. It was yummy but I’m not sure it totally succeeded with that.
image by Amber Sexton
Then I got cheese free pizza with caramelized onion and eggplant, and Alexandra got a short rib sandwich of some kind. There was fruit and hummus and olives and I kept stuffing my face with that. As my friend made a round to look for more things to gather I settled in to chow down. There were a lot of annoying rich people, some of which got annoyed when you were too near them. But again, this was free, I was eating and drinking for free in the Plaza, admittedly the basement but still, gift horses, mouths that you don’t glance at.
image by Amber Sexton
Then…the good stuff started to happen. First I met a lovely person who actually won a James Beard award for her children’s cooking magazine, Chop Chop, she was so nice she’s sending me an issue and the website is lovely with beautiful photos. Definitely getting children into cooking real food is an important mission.
Next I found the pumpkin ravioli, which I asked for without cheese at the same time as finding the nicer back bar which had the gin cocktails. Eureka. I proceeded to eat about eight samples of the noodles and saw that to my surprise one of the sponsored gin drinks was a Bronx cocktail!!!
image by Amber Sexton
(check the pretty out of focus Bluecoat bottles in the background)
I had really heard good things about Bluecoat, from my friend Amy but honestly the stores around me do not carry it. However after some poking around I realized that I have the absinthe by the same distiller Vieux Carré. That is a topic for another time but lets just say I am a fan already. Anyway, I was thrilled to get a Bronx, though again it suffered from having sat in ice for a bit, however they did serve it to me up as asked, and I drained that thing. Amen.
I got a gin and tonic that was also lovely. There was a tequila sponsor, and don’t ask me why every place has to ruin a margarita, but this was a Tommy’s margarita and it was terrible. So I won’t say what tequila or anything it was because the drink was a watered down kool-aid tasting mess, which I could barely have two sips of. Here have some more gin.

image by Amber Sexton

At that point we actually met the reps from Bluecoat, and they were genuinely fun people to hang out with and I am so appreciative that I won the contest and got to meet them and talk about cocktails and have gin with them. Lovely. Alexandra and I head upstairs to poke around the vacant Palm court before we leave. image by Amber Sexton
So the final point of the night, my friend Jeff who had been following my facebook updates, texts to dare me to take pictures of myself lying on the carpet upstairs with my green hair against the red rose patterns. Which I absolutely say no way to. I mean forget it, the security guard was breathing down our necks and it’s not happening. So…
image by Amber Sexton
And then…
image by Amber Sexton

Thanks Bluecoat and Chef’s Night Out, Alexandra and a shout out to carpet lint for not getting in my hair too badly.

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/16 at 06:57 PM
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Saturday, May 11, 2013

I’ve done two book reviews at my freelance job

Hey I did two short book reviews at People.com.
image by Amber Sexton

image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 05/11 at 11:32 AM
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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ward 8, Two Ways

image by Amber Sexton

So been on an extremely Wondrich-y kick, just finishing up “Imbibe!” getting to the appendixes which are very worth reading. Anyhow, when I first got the book, I looked up something with rye and grenadine and that’s how I learned of this one. Then my Boston friends said basically “Duh.” But really it’s one of the drinks which appears can certainly be credited to Boston, since so many cocktails are of hazy, conflicted and apocryphal origin, this is pretty firm I understand.

Anyway I had been making them according to book, which calls for mint, in fact the oldest citation calls for creme de menthe, when I looked at his Esquire blog post and saw it had none in that recipe. And I wondered…what sort of Wondrichery™ was going on here. Then it was clear, Imbibe! is presenting drinks in an original form, or showing you how to approximate that original form, the Esquire blog is showing you how to make drinks in a fairly modern context. You know for dudes, because it’s a men’s mag.

So, I decided to try and drink it both ways.  The most significant difference is that the modern recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of grenadine and has less rye, and the older adapted version calls for 1/2 ounce, more rye, and includes mint, lightly shaken with drink and as garnish. He also suggest adding seltzer and making it a cooler of sorts, serving with ice in.

Here’s the contemporary one
image by Amber Sexton

The recipe linked above as follows:
2 ounces rye whisky (I used Redemption Rye, which is 92 proof, and frankly is not my favorite thing I’ve picked up at the liquor store. Use Rittenhouse, Bulleit, or something else you like)
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce orange juice
1 teaspoon grenadine (home made)

Shake with ice, strain into chilled glass. Delish, but very much in the whiskey sour family. A whiskey not so sour. Lovely.

So in the book, the oldest citation of the recipe he gets from a book by G. Selmer Fougner, Along the Wine Trail. It’s too long for me to type out and you should buy Imbibe anyway. But it calls for bourbon, creme de menthe, orange bitters, sugar, grenadine, seltzer and garnishes of orange, pineapple and cherries. Then it goes on to suggest using fresh mint if in season, and juicing an orange instead of using the bitters. However Wondrich then clarifies that it’s supposed to be rye rather than bourbon. His adaptation follows which I used for my second version right here (this is verbatim from Imbibe, I’ll note where I deviated):

image by Amber Sexton

Juice of one lemon
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 barspoon superfine sugar (I omitted this, soo much grenadine was enough sweetness)
Stir until sugar dissolves and add:
3 oz Rye whiskey (same rye as above)
1 sprig of mint

Add ice, shake gently so as not to brutalize the mint and strain into a large goblet containing 1 or 2 large ice cubes, add grenadine to taste (a half-ounce should be plenty) and fill with chilled seltzer. Fruit as above. End quoted passage, my notes below.

Soooo. I shook this with the grenadine, rather than stir it in later after straining. This time I tried just rubbing the mint in the glass, and frankly I like it lightly tamped down and shaken with the drink better, which I’ve done before. Also I freaking dunked the whole thing into the glass without straining…sue me for saving ice. This is also a double because my lovely new #8 tumber is huge at 12oz. So after the picture was done, I plunked in a second fun metal straw and me and my pal Molly Weiss shared it. There was little room for seltzer because I misjudged, but I’ve made this quite a bit before in my smaller glasses spritzed it up to dilute it. Anyway YUMMEH…, much better way #2, ward #8.


(I took this one before I decided to garnish with an orange peel as well, which I do recommend)
image by Amber Sexton

Posted by Amber Sexton on 04/27 at 06:51 PM
Cocktails • (2) CommentsPermalink

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I love to chat with cab drivers

image by Amber Sexton

This is Hassan who is from Bangladesh but he’s been here over 15 years and driving a cab for over 10, he was a student when he left his home country. I took a photo of his license but it’s not readable because of glare or I might try to contact him again.

I’ve got to start taking more pictures of drivers when I’m in taxis. Unlike that HBO show, Taxicab Confessions or whatever it was, cabbies usually talk to me. But also I ask, because often they have had really interesting lives in the country they are from. Sometimes they are professionals, have advanced degrees and come to work here in a cab and it’s still worth it. I remember a guy from India who was a mining engineer when he was there, I was totally shocked he could not find any work in that field in the US but his degrees never translated and he made four times the salary he had made driving a cab. I’ve had some of these conversations get very intensely personal. To the extent that a middle eastern cabbie once ended up telling me a lot about his sexual history. I wish there was such a thing as a cell phone back in those days, because I don’t remember his home country and I certainly didn’t have a camera or notepad to record any of it, he parked the cab in front of my apt with the meter off and spoke for at least 45 minutes mostly intimate details of his sex life, though he had started by saying some slightly homophobic things, he eventually confessed to me having sex with people of both genders, especially in his home country he had sex with men. He was also totally hitting on me and said I was the nicest person he had ever met in his cab.

I’ve also had cabbies freely confess their racial and ethnic prejudices to me. One particularly unforgettable moment was a female cab driver in the 80’s who had a blonde gun moll look to her. We started talking and I’ve blanked out on most of the conversation to this point, because she asked me eventually if I was Jewish. I normally answer the question no, not only because I’m not a believer, but officially in the jewish religion only my dad is Jewish, so that means that I am not. The fact that I answered “no” meant that she was free to tell me this story about a passenger she didn’t like who she referred to derogatorily as a “jew boy” the entire time. I really was too stunned to get into an argument with her, and also I felt a bit curious to hear her anti-semitism so open and flip that I didn’t stop her. I guess I feel free to keep my principles to myself in a cab, and not argue, just let them keep talking because it’s a window into a world I don’t usually get to see. I get to judge them privately, and then the transaction is over and they drive away.

Since I’ve been taking cabs my entire life, being from the West Village, (or just Greenwich Village as it was called in the 70’s when I was a kid) they were a necessary form of transport aside from the bus and walking the short distances between school and my moms job and our apartment, or my grandmothers store. I miss the days when really our entire lives played out in this small area, and cabs were a huge part of getting around in that little place, which has tons of subway stops that mostly serve to get you out of the neighborhood. Anyway cabbies change over the years, and I’ve enjoyed each new generation of them, usually it’s an immigration wave from a particular group of countries, you wake up and all the cabbies are Iranian, then they are gone. Lately it’s western African nations and frequently Bangladesh, like Hassan. Who was listening to the Nets, and also telling me how corrupt things are in Bangladesh. A good conversation.

 

Posted by Amber Sexton on 04/21 at 12:36 PM
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