Monday, August 11, 2014

New York State of Mind

Note to self: Next time you plan a big huge project, it may behoove you to take a vacation from your project the week after your actual vacation.  Otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to something as seemingly insurmountable as sum of the entire state of New York in one blog post with post-vacation glow (and chaos) getting in the way.

On that note followers of our little project, I beg that you bear with me as we take on “The Empire State” this week.  I was forward thinking enough to start my New York research before we left last week but even then was a bit flummoxed trying to determine what direction to take this week in and what was most important to share with the kiddos.  Like Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana (New Orleans) and Nevada (Las Vegas) I really didn’t want to make it all about New York City, but there’s no denying that is what most readily comes to mind when someone says “New York.”  I mean, honestly, to many people the two are synonymous and people forget about the rest of the state.  So I’m again striving for balance this week because there is plenty more than “The Big Apple” to the eleventh state to join the Union.

Behind only Ohio (with 7) and Virginia (with 5), New York could be considered a cradle for the Presidency as four of New York’s residents eventually became the country’s Commander in Chief.  Martin Van Buren, the eighth President, was born in Kinderhook and is actually the first President to be born a US Citizen, since all seven before him were subjects of the British crown before the American Revolution.  Van Buren was a key figure in forming the Democratic Party.  Thirteenth President Millard Fillmore was born in Summerhill.  Fillmore was the last Whig President and assumed the office upon the death of Zachary Taylor.  Two of the most iconic and influential Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also claim New York as their birthplace.  The fifth cousins were the nations Twenty-Sixth and Thirty-Second presidents respectively.  Theodore (known as “Teddy” from an incident in Mississippi – remember??) was known for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements and his “cowboy” persona as well as expanding the National park and forest system and his work on the creation of the Panama CanalFranklin, a polio survivor, was elected to the Supreme Office a total of four times!  Responsible for leading the country through the struggles of the Great Depression and World War II, FDR is considered to be one of the country’s greatest presidents.

Proposed in 1807, with construction officially beginning ten years later and taking until 1825 to complete, the Erie Canal is said to be the “most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America”.  The Canal stretches approximately 524 miles across Upstate New York, connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie through a series of 36 locks.  While the engineering feat was mind boggling, the economic potential it opened to the nation was just as important.

When it comes to natural splendor, New York offers everything from the beautiful Finger Lakes region to the rugged Adirondacks Mountains to sandy beaches along the Atlantic.  Its most recognizable natural wonder, though, is most likely the one it shares with our friends to the north in Canada, Niagara FallsNiagara Falls State Park (the oldest State Park in the country) is the home of 400 acres of protected wildlife and unique landscape.  There are three main components to the Falls (Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls), all of which can be seen from the US side of the Falls, located in the City of Niagara Falls.  There’s plenty of debate over which side gives you a better view, but no doubt that it is a true wonder.  I found lots of fun facts about the Falls (which I have seen from both sides) to share with the kiddos and I have a feeling we may be doing something “Falls” related this week that you won’t want to miss.

While Niagara Falls is no doubt iconic, when it comes to a symbol to represent New York (and the whole country for that matter) no one does it better than Lady Liberty herself.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago when we were celebrating New Jersey, there is some debate where she’s technically situated, The Statue of Liberty has sat on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor since being gifted to the country by France in 1886.  Since then she has stood greeting the masses bedecked with “The New Colossus”, a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, with the instructions to “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The statute was a beacon to the massive influx of immigrants to the country in the late 1800 and early 1900’s, most of which passed through the immigration inspection station house at Ellis Island.   The Island, which is now part of the Statute of Liberty National Monument, was the site of the busiest immigration station in the nation from 1892 until 1954.  It is estimated that nearly 40% of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island.

My sports loving crew would have no shortage of options of teams to cheer for if we lived in New York.  (Though let’s be honest here, you can take the girl out of the Mitten but you can never take the Mitten and her teams out of the girl).  A huge fan, my brother Scott, could of course tell you the New York Yankees are the winningest franchise in the American League since its inception in 1901, and the New York Mets represent the National League for the state.  Plus, the Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown.   If baseball isn’t enough, three NFL football teams, the New York Giants, the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills all call New York home.  Well, kind of.  You may remember that the home stadium for the Giants and the Jets is actually located in New Jersey.  Basketball fans can cheer for the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets (formerly the New Jersey Nets.  Are you beginning to get a feeling that New York is out to usurp New Jersey?) and if you like hockey you’ve got the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres to root on.

Besides tourism, one of the most important industries to New York’s economy (which ranks 3rd in the US behind California and Texas) is printing and publishing.  Since 1850, New York City has been the center of the publishing industry for the US. Interestingly, according to the book Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, the initial reason New York became such a mecca for publishing was because of its location a as a port city, drawing interest from across the Atlantic so that “the big money, however, came from pirated copies of English authors (who didn’t yet have to be paid royalties because the United States government refused to as yet to recognize foreign copyrights)”  Publishing continues to be a huge addition to New York’s economy with more than 200 newspapers and 350 consumer magazines having an office in the New York City and the book-publishing industry employing about 25,000 people.  In addition, all four major news networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) are all headquartered in New York.

All the media, printing and publishing people who call New York home owe a debt of gratitude to native son George Eastman.  Founder of Eastman Kodak which is headquartered in Rochester, his use of roll film helped the art of photography become more mainstream.  Further, roll fill became the basis for motion picture film, which if you’ll remember from a couple weeks back, was further pioneered by “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, Thomas Edison.  (Another Jersey tie in – this is getting weird!)  So the next you have a “Kodak Moment” think of it all starting in New York!

Alright, I suppose I can’t ignore it any longer.  I was OVERWHELMED when it came to someone narrowing down NYC in an effective way to share with my twosome.  I thought it was important to tell them about the five distinct boroughs that make up the city; Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.  Even I was surprised to learn how distinct one area is from the other.  Then I decided to choose a handful of iconic landmarks and discuss one with them each day this week.  After much debate, I narrowed it down to Times Square, Wall Street, Central Park, the Broadway Theater District, the Empire State Building   and the Bronx Zoo.  And while I’m still struggling with the best way to discuss it with them, I do think that any discussion about New York City has to include the World Trade Center.  The scar that the destruction of the “Twin Towers” left on the City and the nation is something they deserve to be aware of, even if they can’t really grasp the full impact.

I’m not letting vacation take over, but am jumping in with both feet on our New York culinary adventure tonight.  (We have company coming in this weekend so I’m going to lose at least one New York meal opportunity this week and I had so much fun coming up with meals that I didn’t want to cut any further)  In New York City the pushcart is the go to place for a quick meal.  Hot dogs with a special onion sauce are found everywhere!  And since we’ve paid tribute to hot dogs from a few other states now, I thought it was important to get the New York version in as well.  So tonight I made the onion sauce from these Ritz Push-Cart Hot Dog Bites.  I actually served them as full out dogs, but I think the mini version would be fun, too.  This was a fun way to start the week (and easy post vacation!) and it paired well with New York Waldorf Salad.  The dish was invented in 1896 at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  For dessert, I stuck around New York City, most specifically Brooklyn, and made Egg Creams.  The drink was allegedly created by  late 19th-century candy store owner Louis Auster in Brooklyn.  There were no complaints around here on day one of New York cuisine!

So there you have it – my vacation hazed New York summary.  As I said when I started, there is just too much to cover it all!  I’ve done my best to hit some of the highlights and hopefully I’ll convey ALL of the important aspects of the great state of New York.

New York Fun Fact of the Day:  The first capital of the United States was New York City. In 1789 George Washington took his oath as president on the balcony at Federal Hall.

This morning, I told them we had to go grocery shopping - instant tears.  I asked what was wrong and both said that I had told them it was going to rain after lunch and that if we went grocery shopping there would be no time to get Queen Anne's lace today.  They so make me smile I couldn't resist post-poning groceries for a bit so we could hunting

A rainy afternoon was play-doh perfect.  They made a ton of different snakes (some had sunglasses) and were playing "Chopped" at one point.  Love it!

Waldorf Salad

Push Cart Hot Dogs

Chocolate Egg Creams

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