popcorn chicken plus new york: part two

You’re here for the popcorn chicken – of course you are. Quite right too, because it’s bloody delicious and has the benefit of not using bloody Smash. But before we get to that, there’s the little problem of getting a New York entry in. As you know, my holiday trip reports are always fairly long, so you might wear out the scroller on your mouse if you’re desperate for the popcorn chicken. Ah well. Send the bill to the good folk at Cry Me A River Inc. and crack on. You’ll find part one of our trip  and, if you buy our book, all of our previous holiday reports are there in one place, including Corsica, Ireland and Germany, where I exposed my arse to a whole platform of waiting train passengers. Yes! You can buy that here. By the way – if you’ve already bought the book and enjoyed it, please leave us a review on Amazon – you have no idea how happy that makes me. Not as happy as you buying several copies and giving them out electronically to friends but you know, let’s make do. Let’s head back to New York, then…

twochubbycubs go to New York, part two

After landing at JFK and undergoing the most intimidating entry interview I’ve ever faced (normally I’m not asked many questions prior to anyone admitting me entry, rather just a plea to be gentle and to call them after) (pfft!) (or rather whoooooooo….) (work that out) (jeez, this is a lot of bracketed thoughts), we were on our way. We decided that, rather than paying a billion dollars for a taxi to our hotel, we’d be savvy and streetwise and take the subway, not least because the subway is famous and exciting. I say exciting, there was a TV playing in the station whose main headline was ‘SEVENTH SLEEPING SOUL SLASHED IN SUBWAY’. Now, I’m all for alliteration and sharp headlines, but knife attacks aren’t usually an enticement to travel. Nevertheless, we ploughed on, trying to figure out what ticket we needed to buy for the week to get us from JFK and then afford us travel throughout the network all week. God knows what we bought – I was hustled into buying something in a newsagent by a strident sounding lady who was more weave than woman. The tickets worked in the barrier (after much ‘PUT IT THAT WAY, YOU’VE GOT IT THE WRONG WAY, NO YOU NEED IT PARALLEL TO THE Y-AXIS, YOU STUPID POMMIE ASSHOLE!) and we were on our way. Hooray! At the risk of sounding like a hipster twat, I like to take the subway rather than taxis because I feel it adds to the experience.

Sadly, I was stabbed in the lung and spent the rest of the holiday in an American hospital being shook from my ankles until the coins fell out of my pocket.

I jest. After a couple of transfers and a brief interlude to watch a genuinely crazy man shouting and bawling into a litter-bin, we arrived at 34th Street – Penn Station. I don’t know what had caused the shouting man such ire but by God that bin had infuriated him. I find it remarkable that Paul and I can find our way around any foreign subway system given all we have to practice on up here is the Tyne and Wear Metro, which consists entirely of two lines and spends more time being apologised for than actually going anywhere. I used it briefly for about two months but eventually made it to my destination. Anyway, I digress.  We climbed a set of stairs, exited the station and goodness me, what a shock. Everything is so tall. That may seem ridiculous to you, I don’t know, but I hadn’t realised almost every building in the streets would be so many storeys – it creates the illusion of feeling a bit bunkered down – but not claustrophobic. I was expecting the streets to be busy, and they were, but I never felt as though I was in the way – which when you consider that combined Paul and I take up as much room as a modern housing development, is quite something. 

Our hotel, the Wyndham New Yorker, was over the road, and we hastened across, taking care to observe the flashing white man (who wouldn’t?) to permitted us to cross. Given my experience with the officers upon entry I didn’t fancy getting banged up for jaywalking, though it didn’t stop anyone else. The crossing was absolutely filled with cars coming from all directions, pedestrians, suitcases, people asking for money and a horse. Not people asking for a horse, rather, just a horse. Naturally. We had picked the New Yorker on a whim – it looked pleasant enough and the location was perfect, but that was the limit of our research. Well, it was delightful. It’s an art-deco hotel, opened in 1930 and not modernised too much – the lifts are grand, the lobby massive, the staff all well-to-do and pleasant and the plumbing clearly hasn’t been touched since the first brick was put down. I’ll touch on that in a moment. We checked in and were directed to our room on the 27th floor. I was sure that meant a penthouse or a decent suite but that was soon dispelled when we got into the lift and realised there were 43 floors. Boooo! We had sent ahead and mentioned it was our anniversary and I’d gone so far to book the room as Professor J Surname rather than plain old Mr, but nope. Ah well. Our room was perfunctory – pleasant, but nothing you’d write home about. You’d have a hard job given there was no writing desk or pens. The TV was small and the bed was so lumpy that I had to check we weren’t lying on top of the previous guests, but it was clean and warm and had an excellent view. We bravely set about emptying our suitcases into the tiny wardrobe (with four coat-hangers – we had to call down for more, I felt so stereotypical) and then immediately shoving everything we could possibly lift into the suitcase. It’s just the done thing to do.

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They did do this to the bed though. D’aww. Don’t worry, the romance didn’t last – the sheets looked like a Jackson Pollock within 10 minutes.

I wish I could tell you that we spent the evening out in the glitz and glamour of New York, but, somewhat jet-lagged, we opted to stay in the room watching Wheel of Fortune and eating Jolly Ranchers. We both feel asleep almost immediately and didn’t wake again until 6am the next morning, where I was alarmed to find a half-sucked blue raspberry Jolly Rancher had tumbled out of my sleep-open mouth and into my hair. I’m a classy guy.

So, at 6am in the city that never sleeps, where do you go? I’m ashamed to say we spent a lot of our holiday time doing the really obvious sites, but listen, you can’t go to New York and not take in the obvious. To that end, this whole trip report will be a series of ticks off the list. We started the day right by nipping into the Tick Tock Diner right next to the hotel for a breakfast – I showed British restraint, having only three eggs, corned beef hash, sausages, bacon (it’s not bloody bacon, it looks like grilled hangnails, but nevermind) and toast on the side. My eggs came covered in cheese which should tell you everything you need to know about breakfasting in New York. It was AMAZING. Paul had pancakes – great big lumps of dough and syrup which he seemed remarkably content with. His eyes glazed over, but I reckon that could have been the maple syrup pushing through from the back like shampoo on a sponge. We finished our meal, paid the bill with a slight grimace (I had forgotten it was obligatory to tip over in America – I nearly always do anyway, even in England, but I do so hate how I’m forced to tip) and we were on our way.

First stop – the Statue of Liberty, which immediately set Paul off going ‘I THINKA CAN SEE THE STACHOO OF LIBERTAAY AL-A-READY‘ like that tiny Italian man from Titanic. There were a lot of Titanic quotes on this day. A good friend of mine had recommended I book everything well in advance, so we had tickets booked for Statue Cruises which set off from Battery Park. Once on the island we had a choice of going up to her crown, just into the general minge level or walking around the outside. We had opted for the minge option (I think they call it Pedestal Level) and were very much looking forward to it, so much so that we arrived an hour early. Oops. I entertained myself by going for a poo in the park toilets, which is always a terrifying experience in America as they like to leave a giant gap down the side of the doors plus make the door itself the size of a postage stamp. This is just awful – you end up desperately trying not to make any eye-contact with passing folks as you’re busy pushing brown. I get that it’s to stop cottaging and drug-taking but come on, people like a bit of privacy whilst they poop. Just look!

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Actually, that doesn’t quite convey the creepiness. One sec.

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Brrr. After a poo each and a good cup of coffee, we noticed our boat was coming in and so made our way through the security check, removing our belt for what would be the first of many, many times throughout this holiday, and dealing with customer service people who hated their jobs and everyone involved in it. I wear this necklace:

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and the charming woman on security held it up for everyone to look at and asked me ‘it’s meaning’. I almost said OOHO IT’S A BIT OF VIV WESTWOOD LOVE’ but didn’t. I wear it because I like it, and it’s quite literally the only piece of designer anything I own. I’m too fat for designer clothes and too poor for designer furniture, so I can only have nice jewellery and shoes. And I buy my shoes from the same place I buy my toilet roll, so, you know. I wasn’t expecting to have to justify it to someone who had clearly only just remembered to have a shave that morning. She waved us through. Paul never gets any bother with security and he’s got half a bloody Meccano set keeping his arm together since he gashed it open on a discarded shopping trolley half-submerged in a ditch in Peterborough, or as they like to call it, a ‘child’s play area’. Our boat docked and about ten thousand people appeared from nowhere to disembark, pitching the boat at a perilous angle where I genuinely thought it was going over. Of course it wasn’t, but what’s life without melodrama. We boarded, seemingly with the entirety of China’s under 35’s, and were on our way in no time at all.

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The cruise, such as it is, takes fifteen minutes, which afforded Paul enough time to discover a snack shop and buy us a cup of coffee that had seemingly come fresh from the sun. My lips blistered just taking the lid off the cup. Let me save you some money – if you’re going to New York, unless you’re massively fussed about seeing the statue up close and finding out more about it in the  museum, you don’t need to visit the old bird. Take the Staten Island ferry and see it from the water – it’ll cost you next to nothing and you won’t have to push children overboard indulge in a scrum to get on and off the boat. We love a good nosey around a museum though so we were champion, cooing and oohing our way around various cases and replicas of her giant toes. She certainly didn’t have a problem with an ingrown toenail – oh how I envied her. If you’re squeamish, skip the next paragraph. In fact, I’m going to hide the next paragraph so it’s only visible if you highlight it!

I remember once holidaying in France with an ingrown toenail so bad that my toe actually exploded in my trainer on a hot day, showering my sock with pus and a dead nail. The relief I felt though – no sex has ever come close to that feeling. Not quite grossed out enough? I used to let the family dog clean my toe because I was told a dog’s tongue has antiseptic qualities and he seemed to enjoy it! Eee, that’ll be me straight to hell now. Still, he did a great job until he died of advanced sepsis two months later.

I know, gross right? I’m so sorry. Poor Oscar.

We bought a tiny replica of the statue, took a few upskirt pictures of the old bird and then fannied about with the telescopes for a bit. It was a lovely day – warm but springlike and fresh, perfect for the massive wool coat I was wearing. At least I had my magma-esque coffee to cool me off.  Then, back onto the boat for a short hop over to Ellis Island, an optional freebie excursion where you can see the famous Immigrant Inspection Station and the housing and suchlike. It was all very interesting indeed but at this point our crippling obesity was beginning to play havoc with our ankles and we needed a good old fashioned sit-down, so we went into the little restuarant and seemingly emptied my wallet in exchange for two club sandwiches the size of my arm. We sat down and immediately regretted it as we had a talker immediately to our left, an octogenarian with a lot to say. We couldn’t ignore him because he seemed lonely.  ‘So where you guys from’ was his opening gambit, and when I replied with ‘Newcastle, England’ he took such a gasp of air that I almost gave him his last rites, thinking perhaps an errant crisp had lodged in his windpipe. No, it was just genuine surprise which didn’t subside when I explained it really wasn’t that far and we didn’t row across the Atlantic. He then kept us at the table for a good half hour, clutching my arm every time we made to leave. To be fair, he was actually very interesting and my ability to make small-talk never failed me, so the time flew by, but we did miss our boat back, meaning we had to spend another hour on the tiny island, trying to keep out of view of this old chap. I felt like I was sneaking into America myself. 

After Ellis Island we got the boat back over to Battery Park and decided to take a walk over to where the Twin Towers used to be and where the new One World Trade Centre tower now stood. Let me say this – although it is easier to walk to places in New York rather than fannying about on their labyrithine subway system, make sure you gauge the distances before you set off. We ended up with feet like corned beef by the end of the holiday. It’s more interesting though, seeing a city on foot. That’s what I told Paul as he poured blood out of his shoes.

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Nothing can be said on the Twin Towers disaster that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll add my own thoughts. It’s always been something abstract – images on the TV or in the papers – and whilst utterly horrific and downright barbaric, I’ve never been able to actually get my head around it. Standing there then in the shadow of the new tower, with the two massive memorial pools in front of us, it actually hit home. Imagining not one but two of these towers falling into the street and the absolute mayhem and terror that would bring, well, we both actually got emotional. You need to understand – the only time I think I’ve seen Paul cry was when I hid his selection box at Christmas or when I clipped a peg onto his bumhair and accidentally nicked his sphincter. You stand at the bottom of this tower and look up and you can’t see the top. Imagine that the other way around and knowing you had to jump down to your death or burn. Horrendous. 

We entered the new tower and boarded the lift up to the 102nd floor which was an experience all in itself – 102 floors in less than 60 seconds, with the lifts being made from a 360 degree set of TV screens which model New York in front of you. I’ve done a shit job of explaining that, so here, take a look:

Come on now, that was something special. After leaving the lift, you’re taken to a row of cardboard cut-outs of skyscrapers in a darkened room, upon which a cheesy video about New York was projected. Naturally, being a cynic, I was about to moan to Paul that we’d paid $100 to watch a movie when suddenly everything in front of us rose out of view and was replaced with floor to ceiling glass windows, affording us the most incredible view. My flabber could not have been more gasted. It’s initially very disorientating as you forget you’re so high up until New York is revealed before you like a magician’s trick, but it’s genuinely wonderful. We spent an age walking around taking pictures that we’ll never look at again, like everyone else, before nipping up to the bar for a cocktail.

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Are you sitting down? Our two cocktails cost $58. Yes, you could get a glass of tap water but fuck it, we were on holiday and it was money well-spent, although such very strong alcohol combined with the natural swaying of the building leads to a slightly unsettling experience. Here’s a couple of pictures.

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The lift down was as fun as the lift going up and let me tell you, we were genuinely impressed with the whole experience. There was no gung-ho over-the-top patriotism like we expected, we weren’t forced to pay extra for stuff time and time again, and the views made it completely worthwhile. I’d recommend this in a heartbeat. We spent half an hour looking around the memorial pools and that’s another thing that seems odd – it’s so quiet. No-one is shouting or running around, just quietly paying respects. Roses are left pushed into people’s names that have been etched into the shiny black marble that surrounds the pools. It’s tasteful and thought-provoking. Not so much for a couple of very prissy knobheads who decided to treat the experience like a fashion show, lying across the memorials, draping their scarves on one another, squealing and clapping and generally being obnoxious dicks (and hell, that’s my job on holiday, surely?). We ruined a good number of their photographs as a petty revenge, walking behind them and into shot with stupid expressions on our faces, until I tired of the game and whispered loudly as we walked past that ‘they should show some fucking respect and stop being selfish boys’. I may not have used the word boys. I might have said something that rhymed with punts. The photographer of the two went squealing over to the other and they stalked off in a huff. Way man. A bit of respect, that’s all.

OK goodness me, we’ve hit the 3000 word mark. Let’s stop there! Popcorn chicken, then…this makes enough for two.

baked popcorn chicken

to make baked popcorn chicken, you need:

to make baked popcorn chicken, you should:

  • stick the oven onto 170 degrees and get it warm
  • cook the quinoa by tipping it into a pan with the stock, bringing to the boil and then covering and simmering for around 15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed – keep an eye on it mind
  • meanwhile, prepare a sandwich bag with your flour, onion powder, salt and pepper inside, beat your egg in a bowl and cut up your chicken into tiny bites
  • once the quinoa is done, let it cool for five minutes and then fluff the fuck out of it with a fork
  • then, begin the assembly – dip the chicken in the egg, then the flour and spice mix, then the quinoa, mashing it onto the chicken 
  • place all your coated chicken pieces on a grease-proof paper lined tray (or frylight it) and bake for fifteen minutes or so
  • serve with sides of your choice – we went with BBQ beans and chips
  • if you’re wondering where we got the fancy little chip basket, it was on Amazon – click here!

YES. You could make this with Smash but so what? You could build a house using dildoes and toothpaste, doesn’t mean you should. Follow the recipe and enjoy!

J