Happy Third Birthday, Florence!

It’s hard to believe that I’m entering the fourth year of living in Florence! Life in an Airstream continues to be a comfortable dream come true, and I couldn’t be happier that we made the decision to buy Florence three summers ago! 

Happy Birthday, Florence!


You can read the whole original story here.

The Best Restuarant

Everyone raves about Noma as “the best” restaurant in the world. Their pop-up restaurants (like the most recent Noma in Mexico) command just short of US$1000 per meal. 

I have to say, I’ve been to Noma twice and several of their spin-off restaurants. I wasn’t impressed. Eating fermented pine needles with froth (about which several critics raved) reminded me of pine needles with frothy saliva spit on them. They tasted like pickles and simply weren’t appetizing. I found the menu to be rigid and limited and frankly, for $1000, it just wasn’t worth it.

Noma “closed” in early 2017, so it didn’t place on the most recent list of the top 50 restaurants

I get it, eating at this level of restaurant is an art that requires a different type of thinking. The meal and its preparation are an art (or science) and are appreciated not for their satiating effect, but for small bites of sensory excitement.

It’s strange to me that all of the restaurants on the list are in or very near major cities. What about the thousands of restaurants that are off the beaten path? One of the most meaningful meals was made at a “restaurant” in Costa Rica, made from scratch by a woman and her daughter for two backpackers passing by (my friend Mark and myself.) I don’t think the restaurant had a name, I know it didn’t have a printed menu, but the food was outstanding and honest.

Housed in a splendid reclaimed warehouse, Aparaat is in a league of top restaurants around the world but their prices are much more fair.

Aparaat in Tartu, Estonia is another restaurant that is off the beaten path. It gets no significant press outside of Estonia, and consistently is one of the very best restaurants that I visit. The prices, on average are about 3300% (that’s not a typo) less than Noma and the meals are no less divine than any other “top” restaurant I have visited, and in fact are consistently creative and outstanding. The menu at Aparaat is flexible and accommodates all manner of eaters: vegans, meat eaters, gluten free eaters, localphiles, and on and on. That’s more than I am able to say for Noma.

I’m not a food critic, and I don’t have a fancy ranking system or list, but for my vote, I strongly recommend Aparaat. If I were making a list it would be at the top in the #1 spot.

Delicious carrot and beet salad with lentils and goat cheese with a local berry and greens sauce.

Unsafe: Delaware Park

Police and Fire vehicles like to zoom through Delaware Park on the ring road. Keep in mind that the fire truck weighs about 100x the amount of a bicyclist.

Shame, shame, shame. There is enough to go around in Buffalo.

Just over two years ago, Maksym Sugorovskiy was killed in a tragic accident in Delaware Park in Buffalo. His mother and sister were also injured. The story broke my heart, and each and every day when I run through Delaware Park, I say a silent prayer for little Maksym and his family.

The tragedy led to immediate—and unprecedented—political action by Governor Andrew Cuomo who downgraded the 198 expressway to a parkway and overnight changed the speed limit from 50 to 30. Neighbourhood proponents still stunned by the tragedy were pleased with the action. Later that summer, the newly qualified “parkway” was re-stripped, and crash barricades were installed along the park-side of the corridor. The New York State Department of Transportation promised to review the parkway and has since put forth a number of lacklustre plans that have been met with public disgust.

The problem is complex and it’s growing.

The first round of shame goes to Gov. Cuomo who scored political points for the immediate downgrade of the 198 and then never made another peep about it.

The second round of shame goes to the grossly disinterested, disrespectful, and disengaged DOT.

The third round of shame goes to the City and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Governor Cuomo mistakenly handed off the redesign of the 198 to the state DOT, which is both woefully under qualified and grossly negligent in its street design ability. Their significant failures litter the Western New York landscape and—frankly—make the streets of Western New York less and less safe. NYS DOT seems unable to plan, in any comprehensive manner. They approach planning as a street-by-street approach, which has compounded the problems surrounding the park. I could name a thousand examples across the region (and specifically around Delaware Park) but the dangerous concrete medians installed along neighbouring Main Street in the Parkside district are one example. These medians were installed with the intent of slowing traffic on Main Street. Instead, they have slowed traffic and provided an unsafe obstacle for motorists on icy and poorly lit roads to hit time and time again. The result is that rather than tool along Main Street at 30mph in stop-and-go traffic, frustrated motorists hemorrhage from Main Street to residential side streets to zoom by (and through stop signs) at 50mph in search of a “short cut” to their destination.

Vehicles race through Delaware Park ring road which is poorly striped and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
A vehicle taking a short cut through Delaware Park to bypass Parkside Avenue.
This parkway in Estonia has clearly delineated lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Olmsted Conservancy vehicles regularly drive large vehicles on pedestrian paths and thoroughfares.
Few safety precautions are taken by the Olmsted Conservancy. Most activities would not stand up to OSHA muster.
A leaky Olmstead Conservancy vehicle left behind puddles of oil, a hazard for children, pets, pedestrians, and runners.
More puddles from a different vehicle on a different day.

This problem was compounded when much needed traffic calming measures were implemented to Parkside Avenue, adjacent to Delaware Park. Yes, the bump-outs and narrowed lanes have slowed traffic. Parkside (for a two block stretch) is undoubtedly safer as a result. The problem is that the parallel streets have become high-speed thoroughfares for speed-demon drivers in the neighbourhood. Likewise, since the traffic calming measures have been implemented on Parkside, the 198, and Main Street, speedy motorists have taken to using the Delaware Park ring road itself as a high speed shortcut from Agassiz Circle to Colvin through Delaware Park. Perhaps most disturbing is that this shortcut seems to be favoured by Olmsted Conservancy, Police and Fire vehicles zooming through the park to avoid traffic as well as private speeders alike. So, while we seemingly have endless press about ridiculous proposals to build a golf course in Delaware Park, the real issues of pedestrian and park patron safety goes completely unaddressed and unmentioned.

Problem zones in and around the park are circled in red. Issues with the 198 are not addressed in this graphic.

The re-design of the 198 has been mired in controversy and has been more than adequately covered in other fora, but I will add my disgust, disappointment, and disdain to the ever-growing chorus of Buffalonians when I say that the most recent public hearing for the 198 redesign hosted at the Olmsted School by the DOT was disgusting. The event was poorly planned, with three DOT officials sitting at a long table on stage while the regional director talked at the audience. The three adjunct DOT officials said nothing, as they played games and laughed at funny social media posts on their smart phones. Safety is no laughing matter and their behaviour was grossly disrespectful to local residents and to the memory Maksym who lost his young life due in part to their inaction and inattentiveness. If Governor Cuomo truly cares about Western New York, beyond a quick political score following an unspeakable tragedy, these three men would (and should) immediately find themselves unemployed in light of their callous and brazen breech of public trust.

Like so many building, design, zoning, and planning issues in New York State, the problem is a decentralized decision making structure which aims for granular approval but misses the big picture. Why not take a neighbourhood approach to traffic calming and safety planning? More likely than not because the streets in question are a combination of State, City, and Park streets. (County streets it seems, in Erie County are, for the most part and in sharp constraint, impeccably serviced, always striped, resurfaced regularly, and are in decent repair.) When the State DOT implemented traffic calming measures on the Parkside stretch of Main Street, the 198, and Parkside, the City should have stepped in and added traffic calming—speed bumps, bump-outs, enhanced striping, rumble strips, or some combination—to the neighbouring residential side streets. They didn’t. The City and the Olmsted Conservancy should have taken the time and money to add basic safety measures such as speed bumps and stripes the ring road in Delaware Park. They didn’t.

Central Park in New York City has clearly separated and delineated lines for runners, bikers, pedestrians, and vehicles along with speed bumps every 1/4 mile.

It seems that most every other city in the world has recognized that painting stripes is a cheap and easy way at calming traffic as well as enhancing safety for bicyclists and other motorists. Despite this basic tenet of road design, the City of Buffalo remains asleep at the switch with more road surface than not suffering from faded lines, poorly discernible striping, and worse—roads with no stripping at all. I mean, seriously, how much can a can of paint and some time cost? I remember observing a work crew in St. Louis—prison work release folks—repainting stripes and arrows on the roadways. Why can’t New York State enact a similar measure? Are the citizens of New York not worthy of safe roads?

At the very least, the Olmsted Conservancy should be unabashedly ashamed of their lack of action. Despite several grants to improve road and path conditions in the park, absolutely no improvements have been made over the past two years. Again, seriously, how much could it take to stripe the 2.5km ring road around Delaware Park? Unlike sister Olmsted Conservancies like Central Park in New York City, or the Emerald Neckless in Boston, the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy has opted for the path of least resistance and inaction.

The resultant negligence opens the city and the conservancy to significant liability when the next eminently preventible tragedy happens and is patently inexcusable.

Call upon your elected officials—state, city, and local—to make your voice heard on this important issue. You wouldn’t settle for a uncooked pizza if it were delivered to your house… why would you settle for unsafe roads in your neighbourhood?

I Love SLA!

My “Green” Bowl (with shaved Parmesan).

One of the highlights of any trip to The Netherlands is a stop (or two, or ten) at SLA. SLA is a healthy-eating/salad joint that I just love. SLA has a special way of building a salad, which believe it or not, makes a big difference! 

Even a driving rain couldn’t keep me away from SLA!

SLA focuses on clean and healthy eating in a sustainable and environentally responsible way. Their shops are no-nonsense and comfortable and the food is consistently delicious. On my last visit, I bought the SLA cookbook, and many of the dressings and salad ideas have become staples and favourites.

According to the SLA website, SLA opened in 2013 as a family business – Jop, Nina and Ida – in Amsterdam. The SLA business focus on having as many people taste, experience and share how conscious eating affects life positively. 

“We believe that you are what you eat and that food can be a drug. SLA is our way of heart, head and hands to create an environment that inspires and encourages healthy habits.”

SLA has a new cookbook, SLA Easy, that came out recently. I’ll add it to my birthday list. You can get the cookbook here!


Check out SLA here. #ILOVESLA

 

Allium

I absolutely love these flowers. They are Allium which derives from the Latin word for garlic! They are actually in the onion, chive, garlic family and the flowers resemble the smaller purple flowers that appear in chives. The flowers don’t smell like onions or garlic, though. 


From Wikipedia: Allium is a genus of monocotyledonous flowering plants that includes hundreds of species, including the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. The generic name Allium is the Latin word for garlic, and the type species for the genus is Allium sativum which means “cultivated garlic”.

I bought a bag of Allium bulbs at Aldi last year and stuck them in the ground around Florence. This year, much to my surprise, I was surrounded by beautiful allium blooms that I just couldn’t help but to pick some. 

A New (Little) Shed

When you only have 68 square feet of living space, every foot counts. Having a jug of kitty litter reduces your living space by 2%. A garbage can, another 2%, a pair of shoes, another 2%. While I am not complaining about my small space, every item and every centimeter counts.

I have been thinking for a while about building (or buying) a shed…and I found this little one at Lowes. It was surprisingly simple to put together and seems decently sturdy. It’s really made for two garbage bins, but I’m using it to store a lawn mower, some outdoor chairs, a hose, and some kitty litter.

Truthfully. I could probably fit all those things in the rear (under bed) storage area, but I’ve filled that with fiberglass insulation, which keeps the airstream toasty warm.

Best of all, this little shed snaps apart and folds flat, so when I move, it will move with me.

So…one more improvement checked off the list!!

Summer Landscaping

I finally found a little time in my summer break to do some gardening, landscaping, and exterior maintenance at the Airstream! I have found, when full-timing, that on the north side of Florence, a green, slimy algae seems to grow on surfaces. Well, no longer. Thanks to my Aldi power washer, Florence got a very good bath (and waterproof test) today. The power washer blasted every last bit of slime and dirt from her surface, and even blasted some mold from the concrete around her base. The concrete looks brand new.

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The pots with little ornamental shrubs also look great. I filled the pots with dirt and weighted them so they won’t blow away or tip over (like the ones last year.) If I learned anything, I learned, go low not high with plants in buckets.

Against my better judgement, I sprayed weed killer around the concrete pad and in the cracks on the concrete pad. In the midst of doing it, a big bumble bee got in the way, and got a dousing. I feel terribly about that.

While mowing, my good friend, Monsieur LeFrog came back for a visit. He’s about twice his size from last year. Nice to see him again.

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After a thorough bath and power wash, I mowed the lawn and added some mulch around the trees I planted last year. Hopefully, the mulch will keep the weeds at bay!

My neighbor, Teddy, loaned me his hose to use with the power washer today, and I noticed he had planted a little garden. I never did, because I assumed the deer would eat it. He said that’s never a problem, so I might plant some tomatoes and/or lettuce for snacking.

Tomorrow, I tackle the patio and washing windows (inside and out!) Next week, I’m going to tackle the cracks in the concrete pad, and repair of the hot water heater (gulp!)