Thursday, May 27, 2010


                                                        (Van Dyk's in Ridgewood)

To kickoff summer, I thought it would be great to do a column on ice cream shoppes—not just any ice cream shoppes—independently owned ice cream shoppes. In my search, I visited as many places as I could, and ate more ice cream than I can tell you—let’s just say it was a fun family adventure! I was shocked to discover that there is such a thing as bad ice cream. When it comes to ice cream there is no in-between—it either tastes great or it doesn’t. Here are my top three favorite places. I hope you take time this summer to try all of these places and, as always, support our local independent owners!
Van Dyk’s Ice Cream, 145 Ackerman Ave, Ridgewood:  VanDyk’s will spoil your taste for ice cream forever. Without a doubt, the most delicious ice cream I ever have or ever will taste. Their ice cream is homemade (made on premises), their prices are cheap, and the portions are HUGE! Take-out only, they have an extensive selection of distinctive homemade flavors such as Strawberry Oreo, German Chocolate Crunch, Cotton Candy, Cheesecake Crunch, and so much more. If you like Strawberry, VanDyk’s is sublime—as if you’re eating fresh strawberries and cream. How is it that you never heard of VanDyk’s? They’ve been around FOREVER, but they don’t advertise so unless you live in Ridgewood, got lost in Ridgewood, or someone told you about it, you’ll never find it. It’s located smack in the middle of a residential area, and has one wooden sign that’s not lit at night. Many moons ago I ran cross country and track for (pre-co-ed) Paramus Catholic and VanDyk’s was on our training course. Can you believe that I never went there for ice cream??? To get there take W. Ridgewood Ave. until you can go no further; turn right at N. Broad St, turn left at light and go under train trestle (this is Garber Sq); stay on right side of road (it turns into Godwin Ave) and turn left onto Ackerman Ave. VanDyk’s is on your left.
The Local Scoop, Schaler Blvd, Ridgefield (across from Café Tivoli): Independently owned by Jeff DiSimone, and having the nicest, most attentive, most polite servers, The Local Scoop is my new “close-to-home” go-to. Serving Hershey’s Ice Cream and 12 flavors of homemade Italian Ices, The Local Scoop is reminiscent of an old-time ice cream shoppe with small tables and chairs, and besides scooping great tasting ice cream, it’s kept meticulously clean. They offer custom made ice cream cakes, egg creams, frozen hot chocolate, sundaes, banana splits, ice cream cannolis, and so much more. They have a great selection of ice creams—in fact, my daughter is now a devotee of their “Playdough” ice cream. (It’s yellow vanilla ice cream with colored cookie dough. If you can get past the fact that it really looks like playdough—it tastes delicious!) Other flavors include Cotton Candy, Candy Bar Overload—(a must-have for the over-stressed), Cappuccino Crunch, Birthday Cake, Scout Mint, ‘Smores, and more. They also host birthday parties so if you’re looking for something different that you know the kids will love—give Jeff and his fantastic staff a call!
Bischoff’s, 468 Cedar Lane, Teaneck: A traditional old fashioned ice cream parlor and candy shop, Bischoff’s is the place to go if you want to completely satisfy your confectionary cravings. Their ice cream is homemade and made on the premises, but whereas VanDyk’s is a hidden treasure, Bischoff’s is a beacon on Cedar Lane. You can either eat your ice cream at the counter sitting on a swivel stool or you can sit at a table. Walking into Bischoff’s is not reminiscent of an old-time ice cream parlor—it’s been around so long that it is an old-time ice cream parlor. If you’re in a decadent mood, or just having one of those days, order the Battleship Sundae—words just can’t describe…Bischoff’s is a place that newer establishments try to emulate—do yourself a favor—come taste the original!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


(Mike DeGidio and John Litterini at Bernie's Deli)

Update: I’m still grounded for the entire summer. So, rather than stay home, I set out to get as many jobs as possible.
The first job I got by walking unannounced into Mayor Corbiscello’s office. His secretary, amused by my story, escorted me into his office. Having no blessed idea who I was, and humored by my chutzpah, he made a phone call and got me a job as a summer camp counselor. That was definitely the first, and perhaps the last, time I ever saw government in action!
          I scored my second job at the newly opened Haagen Dazs in Cardinale Square. Scooping frozen ice cream is undoubtedly one of the most labor-intensive jobs out there; by the end of the summer I was sporting Popeye arms. However, working with so many other high-schoolers was hands-down the most fun I ever had at a job. There was a sixteen-year-old boy, whom I christened Cheech, I was always partnered with. He was notorious for smoking in the freezer…and I don’t mean cigarettes; ergo the nickname Cheech. Whenever I had to go into the humongous walk-in freezer to fetch a new barrel of ice-cream, I was lost in a plume of herbal essence.
One particularly slow night, Cheech decided to hand-make one of his smokes on the counter in front of the ice cream case. My cry of “In-Coming” when a customer walked in freaked him out so much that he tossed his herbs into the ice cream case and ran. Unable to leave the register unattended, I took a scoop and mixed the “special toppings” into the ice cream. After handing the customer her scoop of rum raisin, she sat at a table, ate it, and then came back for more.  
          “I don’t know what’s in this batch of rum raisin, but it’s absolutely delicious!” she exclaimed. “Give me another scoop and a gallon to go! Make that two gallons.”
          Then there was Bernie’s Deli on the corner of Main and Anderson in Fort Lee where I learned the art of telling a good story from the Master himself, Bernie Jensen. On my first day, while demonstrating the safe and proper way to use the slicer, the tip of Bernie’s thumb went flying past my left ear and I watched in horror as blood squirted all over everything. Bernie jocularly laughed it off and told me, before driving himself to the emergency room, that if I found his thumb I should just toss it into the trash can.
          All the most important people I would meet in my life I first met at Bernie’s that summer. My counter partner, Mike DeGidio, although no Cheech, ended up being one of those people who would forever remain in my life. We’ve been through it all —bad relationships, bad choices, bad hair. He introduced me to my husband, and stood by me throughout all the years I’ve been married to the fire department. He also gave me material for some of my best columns. I thought I lost him the morning of 9/11 in the World Trade Center. I didn’t. For that I give eternal thanks. There are very few people who know all my secrets—Mike is one of them. Thankfully he survived to tell his story; I just hope to God he never tells mine!
          That summer set me on the path that landed me where I am today. Thanks to a librarian who turned me into a great reader, a pretty good writer, and an avid Times Crossword Puzzle fan; thanks to Mayor Corbiscello who gave his time and attention (and a job) to an anonymous young girl whose confidence I wish I still had; thanks to Haagen Daz for filling my summer with ice cream, laughter, and no trace of a criminal record; and thanks especially to Bernie Jensen who taught me the art of telling a good story…I strive to return the favor every single week.
          My parents set out to teach me a valuable lesson that summer of 1980, and I learned more than I ever dreamed I wanted to. But maybe they knew that all along. In the midst of my greatest confinement, I grew my wings; I found my voice.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


On June 11th, 1980, at approximately 10:00 p.m. (with the voices of Channel 11’s Action News Team, Bill Jorgensen and Pat Harper, chatting in the background) just one day into my summer vacation from Paramus Catholic Girls Regional High School, my parents grounded me for the summer. The Whole Entire Summer!    
            In retrospect, leading your friends past your house while one of them (Wally W., are you reading this?) is swinging a six-pack of Michelob Light in each hand and E.L.O.’s Greatest Hits is blasting from Sue’s boom box was probably a really boneheaded thing to do. I tried to convince my parents that I was only months away from the legal drinking age—albeit, 36 months, but still, come on! I even fessed up that the primary reason attendance was high for Holy Trinity’s evening Teen mass was because wine was offered with communion, turning mass into an under-aged Holy Happy Hour. We stood, chaperone-less, encircling Father Donald on the altar as the golden chalice of wine was passed hand-to-eager-hand and liberally refilled by the altar boys because Father Donald could never quite remember where the circle began or ended.
           I was confident that I could successfully grieve my situation to my union president father. After all, he was a fair man who had a great deal of respect for, and knowledge of, the process of law. However, in my case, the legal process was suspended and all petitions for writs of Habeas Corpus were denied—my parents were in full “possession of the body.” Yet, there was a stipulation to the ruling; I was eligible for work-release and, when not working, I had full library privileges.
          By the next day I had secured three jobs, and settled myself into the Fort Lee Library. I never thought of not following my parent’s rules. Remember, there was no DYFUS back then; fear had a lot of mileage because every threat had follow-through attached to it.
I walked through the double doors of the library and meandered down the ordered rows as the sound of the boys from Madonna pitching coins against the wall outside floated in through the windows. I occasionally paused to inhale the musty mélange of glue, leather and the indelible scent of the passage of time. All was quiet and peaceful until my senses were abruptly disturbed by the compositioned floral powders of Chanel No. 5. Walking towards me was the blond coutured Reference Librarian. She pointedly inquired what I was looking for.
“My old life,” I replied. I explained that I was going to spend my summer honing my writing skills at the library because I was going to be a great writer.
          She let her designer bifocals slip down the bridge of her nose and replied, “If you want to be a great writer you must first be a great reader. Follow me. Take notes.” She handed me her pad of yellow-lined paper and a pencil and guided me on a literary tour of every aisle in the library.
“If you want to learn point-of-view read Henry James; if you want to learn irony read Jane Austen; if you want to learn what Hell smells like read John Milton; if you want to understand the importance of using punctuation read Virginia Woolf—she wouldn’t know a period if it got up and introduced itself to her; if you want to live among the wealthy in old Manhattan read Edith Wharton; if you want to learn how timeless are the problems we mortals face read Shakespeare; if you want adventure read The Odyssey; if you want to write history, read history.  The New York Times Book Review will make you a master of all subjects; The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly will introduce you to the best living writers; and mastering the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle will give you a near perfect SAT score.  
“What if I want to learn about sex?” I queried in an effort to crack her composition.
“How about starting with Moby Dick?” she offered without effect.
“Call me Ishmael,” I replied. And with that, my sentence began.

Part Two: My Three Jobs (Spoiler Alert:  I’m still grounded.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


"A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world." - Louis Pasteur

“I think I’m gonna be sick.” –Ann Piccirillo

I was invited by my friend Kathy to dine with Lettie Teague, the former Executive Wine Editor of Food & Wine Magazine; presently the wine guru at the Wall Street Journal. I was thrilled! Not only would I meet an award-winning writer, but I would be dining with people over three-feet tall who wouldn’t ask me to cut their meat. How refreshing to sup with people willing to guide me to drink, rather than drive me to drink.
My love affair with wine began with a bottle of Boones Farm Strawberry Hill wine, and a boy named Michael who cut himself on the twist-off cap. I wondered if that story would amuse Lettie; or perhaps she’d be amused to learn that in my family it’s just not a party without a good box of wine on the table. With her pedigreed palate, her love affair with wine is akin to diamond-gifted trysts with a fabulously wealthy man at The Pierre Hotel; my love affair with wine is akin to waking up in a cardboard box next to a wino, whom I possibly dated in high school.
          I forced myself to push aside these oenophile musings to think about more immediate concerns—like looking my best. In this disastrous economy I’ve expertly learned how to cut corners.  I’ve gone from Lancôme to Avon, and, truth be told, my skin has never looked better. Anyway, while in the middle of ordering face cream the other night a screen popped-up screaming, “SKIN SO SOFT FRESH & SMOOTH HAIR REMOVAL MICROWAVE WAX KIT --A BARE NECESSITY!”  I decided to check the customer reviews; they were all five stars. It was on-sale for $10.99; what could I possibly lose except unwanted hair?  
          The box of wax arrived just in time for my dinner with Kathy and Lettie. I mean literally, just in time; it was delivered at 4:30 p.m., and dinner was at 7 p.m. I excitedly tore open the box and got to work. What happened next is best expressed by haiku:
“Wax goes on like fire.
Upper lip is siz-zle-ing.
Eau de burning flesh!”
          I positioned the linen strips atop the wax and ripped it off my upper lip. Screaming in pain, I looked to see if my lip was attached to the strip. However, when I looked into the mirror, NOTHING HAD COME OFF! Not even the wax. I scrubbed my lip with a washcloth, but all that did was turn my second-degree burn into a third-degree burn. Then I remembered I forgot to pull the strips off my eyebrows. Guess what? The wax worked on the eyebrows. The wax not only removed the unwanted eyebrow hair, but it took half of my left eyebrow off while leaving a thick residue of wax behind.
Frantically, I took a cotton ball dipped in oil and began to rub my lip and eyebrows. Disaster! The cotton was sticking to the wax leaving behind festive garlands of stringy white fuzz. I looked like an ancient Hasidic Rastafarian Rabbi. I continued to rub, and rub until I managed to remove most of the cotton fuzz, but there was no way to get rid of the thick mucus mustache I was sporting over my lip and above my eyes.
          Oh, no! Kathy was beeping outside. Quickly, I grabbed scissors from the cabinet and cut my hair to create bangs to camouflage my missing eyebrow. After the first cut I realized I had grabbed toe-nail scissors. I now sported bangs in the shape of Barney Rubble’s big-toe. To draw attention away from the flaws I applied lipstick, but the tube slid across my cheek and did a perfect figure-eight right into my ear. I looked like a Madame Tussaud’s Wax museum reject.  
          I’m happy to say that dinner was amazing, and the wine that Lettie chose for us to drink was spectacular. She even wrote about our dinner for the Wall Street Journal. However, she kindly left out my wax-encrusted upper lip and absent half-eyebrow. I don’t think the Wall Street Journal is ready to wax my kind of poetic…yet.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I wrote this on Mother’s Day, 2006.  

“Getting my daughter to love me is the hardest job interview I’ve ever been on. I think I possess the right qualifications, but I’m years away from knowing if I got the job. You see, I wasn’t graced with a daughter who came into this world armed with unconditional love for the woman who gave birth to her, fed her, cleaned her, changed her, and rocked her. At 16-months old my daughter was diagnosed with autism and, for her, love is a learned task.
There is a great deal of heartbreak in this; imagine having to teach a child to love you. However, there is also an incredible lesson to be learned. How do you teach someone how to give love? How to receive love? How do you even teach a child what love is? Does love reveal itself in the tone of your voice? Is it embodied in physical representations? My daughter rebuffs most physical contact so to lather her with hugs and kisses can prove to be rather traumatic. Can she feel my love in those moments when I remit to her silent, yet willful resistance to everything? Or does it linger in the steady repetition of structured days and nights? And while most parents struggle with trying to keep their children well behaved, I struggle to teach my daughter basic behavior. For those of you who have ever been a part of the world of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) you’re all too familiar with the mantras, “This is sitting,” “This is walking,” and “This is standing.”  Nothing comes naturally except frustration.
          I used to lay awake nights wondering why this has happened to our family. Now I have ceased asking “why,” and have surrendered to the fear. The fear of where the future will find my child. The fear of thinking, “Who can give her the care and attention that I do if something should happen to me?” The pulsating panic I feel when I realize that my life, my future, is as uncertain and unplanned as hers.
In moments of strength I gain great comfort in the realization that this journey that I’m on is preordained, and that the lessons derived from it will not only make me a better human being, but will take me to a place that I know I would never have arrived at if this awful pervasive disease had not come into my home. In moments of weakness I fall to my knees and weep.
          Currently there is a popular song that plays repeatedly on the radio called In My Daughter’s Eyes. I sob every time I hear it because reflected in my daughter’s eyes is a deep emptiness that mirrors exactly how I feel. Until last week when for the first time our eyes connected. For the very first time she looked at me with purpose and intent. My heart soared with unimaginable joy. In that moment her eyes revealed to me that there is a lifetime of knowledge hidden behind the perceived emptiness. Her eyes emitted the promise that over the long course of days she will reveal to me who I really am; who I am meant to be. But the lesson takes time, and in the interim I must let her teach me how to believe in hope.”   

          Kathleen has journeyed so far over the course of the last four years; she now has the language to tell me daily that she loves me. I am blessed.
          To my darling daughter, Kathleen; thank you for giving me the strength I never knew I had, and for bringing me to a place in my life I would never have had the courage to arrive at were it not for you.
Please take a moment this Mother’s Day to say a prayer for those mothers who untiringly journey beside me day after day after day who will wake up to no hugs, no kisses, no homemade cards or breakfasts in bed; mothers who will spend yet another day in a hospital room; yet another day administering therapy; yet another day laying flowers upon the grave of their child; yet another day soldiering on through their grief, never letting the world see them cry.