Tag Archives: Memories

I Ate the Best Burger of My Life Outside in the Dead of Winter

Find this and eat it!

I celebrated my 35th birthday this weekend! My wife very kindly arranged for a hotel staycation in New York City, along with an outstanding meal. But there was one little problem. All indoor dining is closed in NYC. And it’s January.

I used my winter camping experience to my advantage, swaddling myself in a base layer, down jacket, winter coat, and a fur hat fit for Siberia. We hustled to the Upper West Side.

I was afraid we’d freeze solid, but we arrived at Bar Boulud to find a beautiful outdoor setup. They basically built a building on the sidewalk, with one side open for ventilation. That side faced the sidewalk, not the street, so no wind entered, and we were surrounded by huge heaters that kept us very comfortable. I was encouraged to see every table booked!

We both ordered the outstanding Frenchie Burger. The flavor of the beef was intense, especially for someone like me who rarely eats meat, and it was topped with unctuous pork belly and oozing melted raclette cheese. A triumph! If you’re in the New York area and like burgers, this is a must-have.

As we sipped coffee, I looked across the street to Lincoln Center, where my wife and I had enjoyed ballets and symphonies in the past. It occurred to me that being outside right now was not a hardship, but rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There will be no outdoor dining next January. This beautiful structure will be taken down and never seen again. This was our one chance to enjoy this winter wonderland. And we savored it.

I encourage you to think of today’s situation as not merely negative. To be sure, many are suffering now, and we must do what we can to help. But there are also unique experiences available today that will probably never be seen again. Get out there and enjoy them! Make some memories!

Outdoor dining, even in the 28 degrees we found ourselves in on Saturday, is very doable and really quite fun. We were only slightly chilly, which was quickly overcome by hot coffee and delicious food. The fancier restaurants in particular have amazing outdoor setups that make the experience comfortable and memorable. My friend Jim* recently had a business dinner at Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn in a private little cabana and found himself entirely comfortable.

Give it a shot and make a happy memory in this unique time!

*Not his real name

How I Know Virtual Christmas Will Be Special

Photo: My great grandfathers Will (left) and John putting the world to rights. Connecticut, approximately 1987.

My family has always been spread across the country. When I was little, we moved away from my mother’s side in the Northeast to Wisconsin. My father’s side of the family lived in Kentucky. We had no relatives within 500 miles. And for a while, we didn’t have any friends either.

On Christmas day, I’d open my eyes to a sea of presents, despite my mother’s modest resources. She must’ve saved all year to give me that moment in the morning. Then, once the last gift was opened, the phone calls would start.

We’d usually begin with Granny Mary and Grandpa Jim in Kentucky, continue to Aunt Carol and Uncle Tony in Connecticut, and then on to Grammy up in Maine. Last was Will, my great grandfather. You didn’t have a short conversation with Will. You dialed 10-10-321 (leave a comment if you know what that is), punched in the rest of the digits, and connected to Stratford, Connecticut.

My part of the conversation was generally short. I remember he would always tell me at the end, “Pay attention in school, and learn all you can!” Will had worked as a trapper and later in a factory making asbestos brakepads. He did not have the opportunity to go to college. But he clearly wanted something different for us.

Even into his 80’s and 90’s, he read widely about ancient man, mammoths, and astronomy. In different circumstances, he might’ve been a professor. For me, he was a kindly grandfather. Maybe that’s enough.

Then, I’d hand him back to my mom. She would stand near the receiver, ever closer to hanging up, but the conversation would continue like that for hours, or so it seemed. I wondered when we might ever watch a movie or play.

After about 4 hours, they’d finally run out of steam and call it a night.

Those calls always felt like a marathon, but they also gave us a wonderful feeling of connectedness to a family spread far and wide. We didn’t have the money to fly to visit anyone, but we did what we could do. This year, a lot of people will be finding ways to connect without being in person. I can tell you it’s possible and it can be truly satisfying and joyful.

Many of the people we called then are gone now. Some remain. They’ll be on my list to call this Friday. And I’m adding someone new: my mom, whom I cannot safely go see this year. Maybe we will be on the line for 4 hours. If so, that’s fine with me.