Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fin Sushi & Sake Bar

I was craving sushi last week, so Andy, Edith and I went to Fin Sushi in Lenox, Massachusetts. I'd never been to Lenox but heard it was nice, and it was only an 11 minute drive from Pittsfield.

I found Fin Sushi & Sake Bar on Trip Advisor which is a site I have used often (usually when traveling outside of the US) and the place had good reviews. I think these reviews must all have been created by staff and friends of the owners.

Overall, the food wasn't terrible but the experience was so disappointing that I will never go back...and was inspired to write this post to encourage others not to go, as well (in the event you happen to be looking for sushi in Lenox or Western Mass).

The Fin Sushi menu was not available online. But because it was in Lenox, and it was sushi, we decided to go for it. One review said it wasn't "as expensive as NY sushi."

Being from NYC I've had great sushi at not crazy-expensive prices. I will typically pay $4-$6 dollars for a roll (my usuals are Eel Avacado or Spicy Salmon). And usually I'll get gyoza or shumai for about the same price.

Fin Sushi was the only open spot on the street, and it had about half of its tables occupied. We were seated and reviewed the menu. Gyoza was $9. I didn't see shumai, perhaps I missed it but I don't think so.

Entrees like chicken teriyaki ranged from $20-$23. That's pretty pricey, but maybe it was spectacular. Based on the food we got, though, I doubt it.

Edith and Andy chose off the "Soups, Noodles and Salads" list.
Andy got the udon noodles with vegetable tempura for $10.50. We didn't realize it would come as a soup, but it did. The broth was okay, decently spicy. There weren't too many noodles and the tempura was nothing special.

Edith got the Beef chukka something for $14.50. When she asked if it was a soup, the waitress described as having a broth, and specifically used the word "savory" to describe it. Of course it ended up being sweet and really not savory at all. Nice waitress, but poor description.

Sushi rolls ranged from $5 to $9 per roll (6 pieces). The cheapest were avocado or cucumber. The eel avocado was $8. I got that and an avocado roll. There was nothing special about the sushi - and the fact that the sushi roll was rolled so pathetically that it was not closed completely and falling apart, was quite frankly a disaster. I mean, are you a sushi restaurant? Then roll your rolls properly. Come on. It really pissed me off.

Of course, it wasn't a surprise that the rolls were sucky, since the sushi guy was chatting with some customers instead of paying attention to the sushi. I had to wait for the sushi and didn't get it till about 10 minutes after Edith and Andy got their food.

Afterward, we waited for a while before we could flag someone down to get a check. At this point there were only four other tables. There was no teamwork between the two servers, so the other waiter passed us about five times (and even looked at us!) before our own waitress finally asked if we wanted the check.

If the food had been great I would have been fine with everything. But, again... poorly rolled sushi! Yuck! With everything together we were all disappointed and we won't go back. Sorry Fin Sushi!

Sad sushi

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Healthy Living, Budget Living

Before we get to the healthy living and budget living portion in this post, you need some background.

In case you didn't know...

Back in July we up and left the United States and took a long vacation to the Czech Republic. We then returned to the U.S. this past February with no home and no jobs, and big dreams of relocating to, and buying a house in, Western Massachusetts (Northampton or Amherst or somewhere in the area).

Needless to say, things have been crazy.

We left our old lives to start new ones. This is crazy. This is exciting. Sad. Fun.
Scary as sh*t.

To add to this mish-mash of emotions, we also know that we want to start a family.

Ha! That's right! For those of you who thought we'd get knocked up as soon as we were married, we surprised you, didn't we? We've gone almost eleven years (with the dating and all) of being baby-free, but now we are looking to go there.

Because we want to procreate we know
we have to get healthy.
This has been an ongoing theme in our lives (and most others, I'd think). Lose weight, get healthy. Not smoking. You know.

So, we're not smoking. For exercise I'm using the workout room downstairs in our building since it's free and no one is ever in there. (And there's a big TV. Nice.)

Because we are living on only one income right now (more on that later), and times are tough for everyone, we are on a budget. I'm hoping that some kind of "back to basics" food life will help our weight as well as our wallet. This goes along with my whole anti-preservative and chemically-laden, pro-whole foods talk back when we got to Prague (and I did lose weight while there, despite eating baked goods and butter).

So, I find myself channeling my inner Donna Reed right now as I search for good deals in grocery stores and cook things myself instead eating lots of frozen or packaged processed foods (to a degree - I'm not psychotic and am still using bottled and canned things as components in my homemade meals).

I'm feeling my inner Donna Reed today, that I'm about to make a spreadsheet for my own personal use to compare prices of items at different stores.
Don't laugh.
I've been saving my receipts from Stop & Shop, Target, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Guido's (a market here in Pittsfield) and am totally gonna save money by studying where to go for what. It's research! It's fun!
Don't laugh.

Anyway, I'll let you know how our healthy living and budget living attempts go.

In the meantime, here's some links and suggestions that I've found entertaining and/or helpful.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver I've never read anything by her, but heard about this book and was intrigued. Considering that locavores are alive and kicking in Western Mass, this book about the author and her family living for a year off only what is grown on their land and neighborhood (resulting in each meal costing only 50 cents for a family of four), seemed like it would be an interesting read and good for my own healthy, budgeted living.

A Year of Crockpotting This is a great blog with great recipes for the crockpot. I love my slow cooker (it's the same thing, in case you weren't sure. Crock Pot is just the brand name. It's like Kleenex or Bandaid). No matter what I put in there, it always ends up good. And there's always enough for leftovers.

Great Depression Cooking with Clara
If you don't know about Clara, you must watch this now.
She's great, her recipes are simple and cheap and look very tasty, and her stories are wonderful. I love Clara!

Finally, for the celebrity gossip-loving a-hole that I am (and you know you are, too!), enjoy this site:

Celebrity Body Gossip
I know one of the writers and she's snarky, witty and great. And what better way to spend my time not working out or being healthy, by reading about (and judging) celebrity body issues ? You know you love it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Funny Thing

Something kind of funny happened a couple weeks ago.

We were in Michigan, visiting Nana, and I got message through Facebook. It said:

"Subject: Was Steve Cronk your dad?

I used to write for Steve and learned recently he'd passed away. If you're his daughter, I wanted to write a bit more to you about my positive experiences working with him.
I have a facebook account, but I never look at it. I only used it as a means of finding you. Please respond to ---. Thanks!"

Wow, I thought. Yes, Steve Cronk was my dad. And yes, it's true, he died a few years ago. Who is this? Did this person really write for my dad, or could it be that my father had another family and this is his son? (Dad and I used to joke about that.)

Well, it turned out this person is not my father's illegitimate child, and really was a writer for him. For those of you who don't know, my father was the editor of "Teddy Bear Review" magazine. Funny, right? We thought so, too. Teddy Bears. But it's true! Anyway, the work my father gave him ultimately led to professional and personal growth.

This man wrote to me that a woman who'd worked with him and my father had told him that dad died. She sent him a memorial article that had been written, that mentioned his only daughter -me. He wrote to me that he has four daughters and thought of writing to me. So he got himself on Facebook, did a search and there I was!

He ended his email with: 'My sympathies to you, Allyn, now almost 3 1/2 years later! I'm a richer man in a number of ways for having had the privilege of working with Steve Cronk. If you have the inclination, I'd be interested in having my very narrow perspective of your dad widened a bit.

I knew this would be an emotional letter to write, and I finally did it today. I thought I would share it here with you. Some of you knew my dad. I know I didn't capture everything about him... how can you reveal a whole person in just a few paragraphs? This is just a snapshot of my dad, who I miss lately more than ever.

Dear Mr. Lee,

It's so hard to know what to focus on, about my dad, so forgive me if I ramble.

My father was from Anderson, Indiana. He was an only child and loved to play chess. When he was young his parents dealt with any rowdiness by having him run around the (small) house a few times.

When he was a teenager he had a 12 string guitar that he carried around with him all over the place. This is something people who knew him then remember about him. He loved folk music and loved Simon and Garfunkel. When I was growing up he took me to the Paul Simon concert in Central Park in 1991, when I was 13. He once got into an argument with my mother about who was more influential to music: The Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel. He felt it was Simon and Garfunkel.

He went to Purdue University and became an English teacher in Indianapolis. The Christmas before he died he told me one of the greatest moments of his life was when he heard that a couple of really tough kids he taught told someone that "Mr. Cronk is a cool guy".

He then taught at Anderson High School, where my mother had just graduated from, but her younger sister was a student. My aunt used to tell me that all the girls were in love with him (I've seen the pictures from that time - his thick 70s sideburns looked great!).

He and my mom, an aspiring singer and actress, met, got married and moved to NYC together. They both had always wanted to get the hell out of Anderson, IN, and so they did. They lived in Greenwich Village while my dad went to NYC for his graduate degree. While in school, he worked at The Strand book store.

This was an important time for my dad because he was always into beatniks and writers who based a lot of writing in the village. And it was rumored that Bob Dylan had lived in the same building a few years before. The building is at the corner of MacDougal and Bleeker streets, over the recently closed Le Figaro cafe.

After he finished school he and my mother moved back to Indiana because that was the only teaching job he could find. In 1978 they had me (he was 30) and about two years later they got divorced.

My mother moved me back to NYC in 1983, and my father and his girlfriend (they were together until 1992 I think) moved to Hoboken, NJ, to be close to me. My father had various jobs, and when he started working for Collector Communications he started at the bottom. He worked his way up, working a lot on "Collector Editions" and finally becoming the editor of "Teddy Bear Review". He'd never considered the idea that he'd be working in an area of teddy bears and collectibles, but he enjoyed it.

He did this for years, and worked on his own poetry writing but wasn't really published. Finally, in about 2000 or so, he left the company and did some freelance work. A year or so later he went back to Indiana to take care of my grandfather, whose health had declined (my grandmother had died a couple years before). So, my dad was back in his childhood home in a town he wasn't crazy about. But he took care of my grandfather, who died a year before dad did.

I hated my father being there, so far away. At this point he was single and I worried about him. But he was fine, just kind of in an early retirement and having a good time.

Soon, though, he told me that it looked like he had liver disease, and then he ended up in the hospital. My husband, who dad loved like a son (Andy and I have been together for 11 years now), and I drove to Indiana and were with my father as we found out he was about to die. This whole thing went on for about a week, while he was in the hospital. Being the only child of him, also an only child, he talked me through getting things sorted out and everything. He knew he was going to die and he was very calm and everything. I am very much like my father, including an English teacher and book lover, and we talked about things like the one book I need to read before I die (Ulysses, he said). My mother came to help and they reminisced about living in the village. We all got to say our goodbyes and he seemed at peace. When he died I was with him.

My father had a great sense of humor. He was sarcastic and sardonic and self-deprecating. We were able to turn everything into a time chance to laugh and joke around, so even when he was in the hospital, we truly had a jolly time.

My dad was also very funny and had a great ability to set people at ease and was just easy going and fun. He was also so smart, and was a very sensitive and emotional person. He was always reading and had such an appreciation for stories that were about life, and those that were dark or sci-fi too. He loved Raymond Carver, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies and Saturday Night Live. One of his favorite movies was "A Christmas Story," especially because Jean Shepherd was a Hoosier, like us.

He was a great dad, my best memories are of him taking me bowling or to play pinball, and to movies. Because he was a "weekend" dad (I lived with my mom and saw him every other weekend), he always made an effort to entertain me. But he seemed to have a great time. We always played board games and checkers and chess and everything. Don't get me wrong, he wasn't perfect. He drank too much and would get into ridiculous arguments, or play "House of the Rising Sun" on his guitar. He lived in his head a lot. He was a poet, to the core. But with a wicked sense of humor.

So, in a (lengthy) nutshell, that's my dad.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Truth Be Told

Condo living is weird. Mainly because we came into this lovely space and were all impressed by it and it's all open and chic and a bit trendy...

but really, all it is is an apartment.

Yeah, it's got a 2nd floor bedroom/bathroom loft. But we don't use it, because it's easier to have everything on one level, and we like the shower in the downstairs bathroom better (it's a walk-in standing shower with no tub, which we're all about. We don't care for tubs. Tubs kinda suck. This probably comes from having no hot water in our apartment for years... who had a chance to even fill a tub halfway?? Not us!).

And it's loud!

As I write this it's 11:24pm on Monday night and we're getting ready for bed and our neighbors are clearly living it up. There is a part-tay going on over there. Their living room shares a wall with ours and we can hear everything.

Speaking of neighbors, we've met a bunch of them. Since the Clock Tower Condo building is this new fancy place in Pittsfield, it's not yet a fully occupied building. There are two sides, or wings (that sounds very fancy so we'll go with that) and a lot of the apartments (or should I be saying "condos"? Do condo people get all riled up if you call it an "apartment"?) are still under construction.

As explained to us by the couple we're renting from (she's from Queens, he's from Long Island, they've lived in Mass for a long time now), some of our neighbors are here full time and some are weekenders.

All of our neighbors seem to know each other. Or, if they didn't know each other before they moved in, they seem to become instant friends.

We've deduced that our building is a hot spot for recently retired nature-lovin', natural (i.e. no one covers their grey hair) people who like to ski. After all, we can see two different slopes from our windows: we are in the heart of the Berkshires.

I'm sure we're the youngest people in the building. That's fine. But it just makes the whole experience even more surreal than it already is.

Don't let my cheery and optimistic writing fool you. (You weren't fooled, were you?) It's strange here. And when I say strange, I just mean different. One thing I've learned about myself over the years is that I'm not one for change. I like stability. I'm sure it comes from being a wild child. Don't get me wrong - I'm enjoying the whole change of surroundings and I love Northampton, where we want to move (but, mind you, is not where we are currently living). But that's all okay. It's an adventure.

But, you know what I miss so much? About NYC?
This is besides my friends, my family, favorite restaurants and all the obvious.

I miss New York 1 News. You know, channel 1.

We just watched the local news here, and it was just not the same. I also realized that here in Massachusetts I won't see my normal local news people.
It's the little things that throw me off the most.

We're off to bed now, hopefully able to fall asleep amongst the rollicking time the neighbors continue to have.
Middle-aged hippie skiers apparently know how to party.
On Mondays, no less.

What do they care, I suppose?

First Week in Massachusetts

We have survived our first week here! It had its ups and downs.

Some Ups were:
- I got my first job as a freelance writer (I'm writing 4 months' worth of motivational weight loss emails - hilarious, since weight loss is such a bone of contention in my family/life, etc).
- We have been house hunting and it's been pretty eye-opening.
- I've gotten some good driving experience.
- Getting to know the area a little better.
- Awesome weekend weather!
- Good thai curry in Northampton!

Some downs were:
- Andy and I having a huge nasty fight while I was driving, resulting in me throwing the key at him and walking home.
- Apparently spraining my ankle yesterday, not knowing how or when and now being in a fair amount of pain and hobbling around.
- A crazy experience at an open house in Southampton.

I know you want to know about the crazy open house experience. Let me preface it by saying the house was beautiful. A colonial farm-housey house, so quaint and cute but big... lovely. We wanted to see it Saturday but were told they were doing an open house on Sunday, and couldn't we come then? Sure, we said.

We pull up to the house right when the open house starts. The house is lovely.

There is a truck on the road, and a car in the driveway. There's a for sale sign in the yard. There's a man on the porch. 50s-ish, bald, a little frumpy, sitting on the steps.
We get out of the car.
Loud music is coming from the house. Hm. Interesting. Different approach to an open house. Hm.

I wave at the guy as we walk over, and Andy says "Is this where the open house is?"
The guy looks at us, but says nothing.
We get a little closer, I say "Is this the open house?"
We get a little closer.
He finally says (shouts over music), "You'll have to speak up, I'm deaf!"
We see a small handwritten sign on the door as he says, "Debbie's inside!"
We feel relief, sure that Debbie is the realtor for the house. We say "Ok!" And knock and push the door open.

It's a tornado. Clothes and stuff just everywhere. Disaster.
Andy peers around a corner and shouts over the music to someone "Is this the open house?!"
A 50-something skinny, trashy blonde woman (kinda made me think of Veronica, for those of you who know who I'm talking about) comes over with a hairbrush in her hand. "It's cancelled! But you can look around if you want!"

She looks weird. Off. She looks crazy. She comes up to us as Andy says "ok" and she says "just don't walk on my stuff!" The crazy is coming out in her voice.

She looks at me.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Allyn" I say.
She looks at Andy.
"I'm Andy" Andy says.
Nothing. Blank stare.
"We're looking for a house" I say.
"Alright, walk around" she says.

The house is a mess, and it stinks like cigarettes. Music continues to blast.

Andy starts to go up the stairs because we literally can't walk into the living room.
We get to the top of the stairs and stand at the entrance of the door to the bedroom.
The woman comes up the stairs and stands next to Andy and points to the upper corner of the bedroom. "That's where the camera is. I don't know if the microphone is on! Right there!"

Andy backs away. He looks away and says "ok, oh, here's the bathroom!" We try to focus on the bathroom in the face of madness.
The woman stands between us and places the bristly-part of the hairbrush into her mouth.

She starts talking again, I can't focus I just want to run, so I hear nothing. I pull Andy's arm as I go down the stairs. We start walking quickly down the stairs, saying "thank you!"

She follows, saying loudly, "Don't you like the house?"
"Um, we'll see it anther time" Andy says as we walk out the front door.

"One dollar! You can tell them I'm selling it for a dollar" she shouts (remember, the music is still playing).

We get to the bottom of the steps of the porch. We're making our way back to the car.

"And you can have it for one letter! F! As in..." [yes, you've guessed it!] "FUCK it for a FUCK!"

"Uh, Bye!" (We're so polite.)
We leave.

Scarred. And scared. Terrified.

As we leave we see the open house sign says "Open House Canceled".
Serves us right for not reading the sign I guess.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Twilight Zone

Don't get me wrong - I love "The Twilight Zone"... I was raised on that show, my father being a major sci-fi & TV junkie. So, when I compare our first 48 hours living in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to the show about twisted and dark realities, I mean no harm.

But, it's just strange, being here. Andy and I both feel a little discombobulated.

We moved here on Saturday -Mom and Harvey came with us (Andy drove Earl, I drove Samantha w/ mom and Harvey came in his car), each car loaded with our clothes, books and necessities that we can't live without. We brought our stuff up to the apartment and then high-tailed it out to Northampton to meet our realtor and see 4 houses. That's right - the house hunt has begun!

We saw two houses in the town of Northampton and one in Goshen and one in Chesterfield. The one loved and asked to see, in Noho, was a dark Victorian that we fell in love with months ago when it showed up on the listing website. It's gorgeous but in our visit we found out that the roof needs to be replaced (not a huge deal) but then we saw that the roof is actually being held together with cords, strung up in every room upstairs, holding the damn house together. Madness. We don't want to buy a place that will fall on our heads... literally.

The house in Goshen was 120 years old and awesome - huge, too, at almost 3000 square feet. But there was water in the basement and it's likely that with all the repairs we would be looking at some major money. It was a really cool old house, though, and it's kind of stuck in my mind, so we'll see what happens with that. The other two houses were not options for us (sterile, too small, etc).

Anyway, after we house hunted we went to Chef Wayne's Big Mamou in Williamsburg for an awesome cajun lunch, and then looked around the Williamsburg General Store where I bought some cheap herbs and maple sugar candy.

Mom and Harvey left, we went food shopping in Hadley to Trader Joe's, came home and basically passed out. Yesterday we continued our shopping (stocking up on groceries when you've got nothing is pretty crazy - and pricey!), bought slippers at Target (the floor here gets cold... we are in the Berkshire Mountains, you know), came home and chilled.

We're getting used to it, but we definitely don't yet feel at home here in the condo or the town. When we woke up yesterday morning we felt like we were on vacation... in a hotel, in a strange town, not sure what to do or where to go. Or how to get there. But, it's getting better.

Now Andy's at work - his first day at the hospital, but it's just the orientation. I've applied to a couple jobs, one customer service working from home handling calls for a Nursing Agency, and the other in the circulation department at the Berkshire Eagle, which happens to be right next door to our condo here.

We'll see what happens next!

Here's some pictures of the loft-like condo (check out the wood beams - remember, the building was an old stationery factory), and me in our new car (in New Paltz).