A Picnic on Liberty Island

Picnic on Liberty Island - Statue of LibertyI’m taking a little break today from my tastes of home theme to post my first recap of the NYC trip I took earlier this month. I’ll be posting recaps sporadically, covering various parts of the city. First up, Liberty Island.

I’ve been to New York three times in my life, and all three times I’ve visited the Statue of Liberty. For people who grew up around it, it may be a no-big-deal tourist site, but as someone who grew up in the landlocked center of the country, it was something I only knew by way of history books, photographs, and movies. Standing large and majestically, it was the stuff of storybooks.

Hopping on a ferry and riding across the water from Battery Park as the statue comes closer into view fills me with a kind of awe. Imagining all of the people who have found their way to it – from all around the globe – and the feelings they were experiencing makes it a must-see celebrity of the trip. As the Statue grows ever larger in sight, people crowd around the edges of the boat, speaking a myriad of languages, and taking photographs with the statue hovering behind them. With excited smiles, they beam, capturing the moment.

Statue of Liberty - a picnic on Liberty IslandAfter making one’s way off the boat, there are picnic tables, a gift shop, and bathrooms, and a huge lawn with a magnificent view of the New York City skyline.

New York City skylineNYC skylineOn my first trip to NYC when I was in high school, I made the long trek up the inner spiral staircase to the crown. I remember peeking through the tiny windows as more tourists waited behind me, quickly taking a photo as we passed. The second time I visited, it was just a few months after 9/11, and the crown was closed to visitors. This time the trip came up with fairly short notice, and the crown tickets had already been snatched up. (You have to buy them about three months in advance.) By the time I was ordering, there was just one ticket left to get to the statue’s pedestal. So I purchased one pedestal ticket and then just a general boat ticket to get to Liberty Island.

David and I were joined on the trip by our friend, Katrina, from Suburban Snow White. Katrina also was only able to get a boat ticket. However, when we got to the Will Call ticket booth, since one member of our party had a ticket for pedestal access, they freely gave additional pedestal tickets to the rest of the group. It was a really lovely surprise.

Picnic on Liberty Island Picnic by Statue of LibertyWe were going to be getting there around lunchtime, and I’d read online that the food options on Liberty Island were of the fast food variety and pretty uninspiring. So the night before, we all went to Whole Foods and picked up some picnic-worthy lunch items: a couple packs of baked tofu (that I opened with scissors before leaving since you have to go through an airport-style metal detector), roasted red pepper hummus, grapes, raspberries, crackers, and Cassucio, a nut-based cheese by Kite Hill. I’d tried their White Alder in the past, but this was my first time sampling that particular flavor.  It’s a squishy, mild cheese that was a tasty indulgence since it isn’t sold where I live.

After filling our bellies, we made our way to the pedestal entrance. Bags have to be checked and put into lockers, and no food is allowed inside of the Statue. We locked up our bag and headed up the 215 steps to the pedestal.  (There’s also an elevator option available, but we decided to skip the line.)

Statue of Liberty pedestalWhile the view is better from the bottom of the statue where you can take it all in, there’s something so bucket list-worthy about seeing it from the inside. It brings it all home that you’re really there. The area around the pedestal is a tight squeeze, and so I can see why they have to limit the amount of people who are allowed at one time. One high school girl was having a rough time of it because of the height and was sitting on the floor with her back up against the concrete looking positively ghostly.

Statue of Liberty face replicaWe headed back down to the base to walk around the museum inside. They have drawings and pictures of the statue being made, a life-sized replica of her face, and an area that features the responses of early visitors to the statue.

Finally, we walked around to the front of the Statue for more photos, waved goodbye, and took the ferry back to where our trip began.

Statue of Liberty

An Unforgettable Evening at Modern Love in Omaha

Modern Love OmahaAs we were gearing up for my birthday weekend, David and I had a few ideas of places to go for a road trip. We talked about Kansas City or Chicago, and then a notice came up on Facebook about a preview tasting for Modern Love in Omaha. I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s first restaurant for months. (I’d been hoping we’d get to try it when we visited Omaha in May, but it wasn’t open yet.)

They announced that there would be two tasting nights with different 6-course menus the following week. I’d already peeked at their menu and salivated over the many enticing options. One of the evenings had everything on my must-try list.  Their whole opening week in August was already sold out with reservations, and so I knew their tasting night reservations would go quickly. I sent David a message right away, asking if he’d be up for visiting Omaha a few days after my birthday instead of taking a trip that weekend as planned. He wrote back quickly with an unequivocal yes. It was on.

Modern Love Omaha - all vegan, upscale restaurant in NebraskaI quickly purchased tickets for two and was glad that I acted fast. 24 hours later both days were sold out. I was giddy with excitement and felt the way that other people must feel about front row concert tickets. I could hardly wait to experience the menu for myself. Before we left, I seriously tried on several dresses looking for just the right one that would look nice but would also give me room to enjoy all six amazing courses. If only I had a set of fancy sweatpants! ;)

Modern Love - an all vegan restaurant in OmahaAfter several hours on the road and checking into our hotel, we got ready and made our way to Modern Love. It’s a small space that’s adjacent to a sand volleyball court. Inside, it feels intimate and upscale cool. It reminded me of New York-style restaurants, with people seated at long, almost communal tables.

I’d been watching as the restaurant came together on Facebook, and was so impressed to see it in person. The walls looked like they were covered in wallpaper, but instead they were stenciled on with paint. The two rooms are in complimentary colors and contrasting patterns.

Isa greeted us with a hug, and the host took us to our table.  They don’t have their liquor license yet, and so we brought in our own bottle of wine.

Modern Love - vegan restaurant in Omaha, NebraskaModern Love Omaha - corn milkAt our tables, the napkins were folded into hearts, and we both had to admire the sleek silverware.  Every touch felt thoughtfully planned.

The server brought cups of corn milk to start. The small metal cups of corn milk were drizzled with chili oil and lime and dotted with cilantro flowers. They tasted like summer corn on the cob in juice form. They were a refreshing start to get the palate ready for what was to come.

The rest of the menu for this tasting night was shared – one full-sized portion for two people to split.

Modern Love Omaha - squash blossom appetizerThe first appetizer was a panko crusted squash blossom, which was stuffed with edamame puree. This is one of the dishes I was most eagerly anticipating given my love for squash blossoms, and it totally lived up. The hot, savory puree was soft and creamy underneath the crisp panko crust. It was garnished with cilantro, mint, and pea shoots, which complimented the blossoms perfectly. There were also several charred patty pan squash and a zucchini slaw. It all played together so well – far from being garnish that is just for show. Every bite was a revelation.

Modern Love Omaha - hummus plateThe next appetizer was the farmer’s hummus. The lemony hummus reminded me of the hummus in Isa Does It, which is my all-time favorite hummus. It was served with roasted tomatoes and radishes, rainbow carrots, cucumbers, and house made seasoned crispy flatbread. Roasting the radishes took away some of their nose-clearing heat and made the tomatoes even sweeter.

We polished off this plate, and it was then I realized I’d made a total rookie move. I was now completely full, and we hadn’t even gotten the salad or entrees yet!

Modern Love Omaha - raspberry lemonadeWhile we waited for our next course, we received raspberry mint lemonade. Fresh raspberries were blended with a simple syrup for a sweet contrast to the tart lemonade. The leaves of mint gave it a cool finish that balanced the sugariness of the raspberries.

Modern Love Omaha - Nicoise saladDespite my increasing full-ness, I powered through with this Modern Nicoise salad. A bed of greens was dotted with heirloom tomatoes, olives, and green beans that were fresh from Isa’s garden. The green beans had been grilled and had a wonderful smoky flavor. The salad was dressed in balsamic vinaigrette and served with a hefty dollop of chickpea salad. Instead of being made with an eggless mayonnaise, the chickpea salad tasted like it was tossed with the hummus from the hummus plate, which is a great idea.

On the plate there were several deviled potatoes. The potatoes with their skins still on appeared to be boiled and then scooped out in the center. They were then filled with creamy mashed potatoes that had been seasoned with eggy kala namak. They were absolutely divine, and I definitely plan on recreating them at home sometime soon.

Modern Love Omaha - Mac & ShewsNext up, the first entrée – mac & shews. I made the mac & shews recipe on the Post Punk Kitchen blog a few months back and loved it.  At Modern Love, it was even better. The creamy macaroni was topped with pecan crusted tofu, fragrant barbecued cauliflower, house made potato chips, and braised kale.

Modern Love Omaha - seitan marsalaThe second entrée was the standout dish of the night – seitan marsala. I took one bite and then had to stop, so that I could watch David’s face as he tried it. This dish absolutely blew me away. Tender seitan tasted like it had been marinated in mushroom broth and then grilled. It was served with mouthwatering mushrooms and braised leeks atop a root vegetable mash with fresh herbs and micro greens. It was outrageously delicious. I don’t know how I will ever be able to order anything but this dish at future visits.

Modern Love Omaha - cherry pieFinally, for dessert we had a choice of options, and we went with this cherry pie with ginger ice cream. The tart-meets-sweet cherry pie had large whole cherries tucked inside of it and melded beautifully with the creamy ginger ice cream, which was dotted with candied ginger. Although I never have coffee in the evening, I made an exception and enjoyed a fragrant cup of coffee to go with the pie.  Afterwards, we chatted with Isa about the opening and she gave us some tips for places to visit before we headed out of Omaha the next day.

David and I both agreed that even though our expectations for the evening were almost insurmountably high, they were exceeded in every way. It really was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. Even the music playlist going on throughout the night was thoughtfully considered, including of course, the inclusion of Modern Love. Omaha should thank its lucky stars.