New York, New Jersey + a bit of Canada

Rob and I reached the commercial strip that is the Canadian side of Niagara Falls just before dusk. Driving in, Rob was astounded by his first glimpse of the falls and its associated massive spray cloud. Luckily, we were late enough to find a free place to park and enjoy the view. The timing was perfect as we got to see the falls by daylight and then an hour later, watch as multicolor spotlights illuminated the water.  We then crossed over to the USA (no $ spent in Canada) and splurged for a $26 KOA campground so we could spend the morning checking out the American side.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Bundled up for the journey into the falls on Maid of the Mist

Bundled up for the journey into the falls on Maid of the Mist

The next day, we visited the American side suited up in our Goretex rain gear for the Maid of the Mist tour. This is pretty much a boatload full of tourist clad in transparent, blue plastic ponchos that is driven by the American Falls into Horseshoe Falls and back, soaking everyone on the deck in the process.  It was pretty neat to witness the force of the spray and wind from the falls up close. I can’t imagine what the falls must have been like before they started to regulate the flows and divert water for hydropower (they turn the falls down at night and during the off-season). After quick stops at Whirlpool State Park and a dam visitor center (amazing displays about electricity that Rob loved), we headed to upstate New York to visit Bill, Cat and their 1.5 week old daughter, Emily.

Bill, one of Rob’s college roommates, and his wife, Cat, moved from Austin to upstate NY about a year ago and we’d been meaning to visit them. Even though they had just become parents, they still invited us for a visit. It was great to meet adorable little Emily and she behaved while we were there (so apparently we’re welcome back). Since we had been on the mid-west diet (lots of sausage) and they had been on the Bill’s cooking diet (pizza/pasta), we decided to mix-up it up and make them tacos for dinner (+leftovers 🙂 ). With Emily down for a nap, we managed to fit in some Bell’s beer tasting before hitting the sack.

Bill with his daughter Emily and Rob. I love the expression on Emily's face.

Bill with his daughter Emily and Rob. I love the expression on Emily’s face.

The next morning, we set off for NYC for John and Jess’ wedding that night. Leaving the Volvo in a park and ride in Seacaucus, we boarded a bus through the Lincoln tunnel then the subway to Brooklyn. Rob’s cousin, Emily, and her husband, Josh, live near Prospect Park. They are awesome and it’s always great to visit them when we’re in the NY/NJ area. Their wedding was the first big Smith family event that I attended. We caught up a bit with Emily, who was busily working on plans for a large wedding, before leaving for ours.

John and Jess had a beautiful outdoor wedding near Columbia University where they met during undergraduate. We had a great time seeing them so happy together, catching up with our friend, Ted, a Rice/Seattle friend who now lives in the Bay area, and busting some moves on the dance floor. Rob and I briefly hit after party at the “Columbia undergrad bar” before calling it a night. The only casualty of the night was Rob’s suit pants, which caught some late-night gooey pizza cheese.

Ted, Amanda and Rob with John at his wedding in NYC.

Ted, Amanda and Rob with John at his wedding in NYC.

Sunday morning, Rob’s brother, Brian, who lives in Manhattan, joined us along with Emily and Josh out in Brooklyn for a family brunch at the Prospect park Smorgusburg. A number of food trucks and restaurants set up food tents in an area of the park, so we brought picnic supplies and tried some different things. The only bad item we had was the teriyaki balls, which turned out to be tempura batter covered, deep-fried hot dog pieces drizzled with fancy mayo.

Brunch with the NYC Smiths

Brunch with the NYC Smiths

Returning to our car afterward, we managed to get out of the lot despite losing our parking ticket stub then got on the NJ turnpike south for exit 8A. My parents were happy to see us and has a number of projects for us to work on.  My mom’s birthday was a few days prior to our visit, so with my sister, Margo, Rob and I cooked a Greek feast (greek salad, pita bread, tzatziki,  spanakopita and chicken souvlaki) to celebrate.

The next night, we met up with Lili, one of my best friends from HS in NJ who’s now doing neuroscience grad school at Princeton. A few of her Princeton friends were excited about the prospect of dosas, too, so we had a good group for south Indian food in West Windsor. Our group was the only non-Indian group in the restaurant and most of Lili’s friends hadn’t had dosas before so we ordered a wide variety of dishes (dosa, idly and a pancake-like dish I can’t remember the name of). So good! After, we ventured to the Princeton grad “De-basement” bar for some foosball, Euchre and cheap beer. The night ended with some group karaoke to “Hey Jude” and a ride on the Princeton U night shuttle back to our car (pouring rain).

Hanging at the Debasement bar

Hanging at the Debasement bar

For our last day in NJ, I started an ambitious cooking project while Rob attempted to update/fix my mom’s and sister’s computers. My dad has always loved sticky rice. My great-aunt would make it all the time for family gatherings in the Chicago area when my family lived in Racine, WI. He’s made it for himself on occasion and will get in a restaurant if it’s on the menu. I’ve always meant to try making it, so I went for it as an early birthday present. (Here are two recipes that I mashed, http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Sticky-Rice-Dumplings-Wrapped-in-Bamboo-Leaveshttp://forums.egullet.org/topic/88644-pictorial-joongjongzi-sticky-ricebamboo-leaves/). They took so long that we had them as a late night snack. They were pretty good that night, according to my dad’s quality control, they were even better the next morning. I might have to make more next time.

The first sticky rice packets from the steamer moment of truth. I though about putting a birthday candle on top.

The first sticky rice packets from the steamer moment of truth. I though about putting a birthday candle on top.

On to Washington D.C….

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