Volume 79, Number 29 | December 23 - 29, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photograph ©2009 by Mark-Woods.com

Poets House librarian Maggie Balistreri helping a patron — NOT contemplating scotch.

Holiday Oddities
Offbeat observations from our favorite neighborhood pundits


The Villager regularly draws on a variety of experts and eccentrics to fill the weekly pages of our Arts & Entertainment section. Recently, we consulted some of them — not to mine their expertise, but to get some holiday thoughts and tips which fall absurdly outside the realm of their job description. Sure this article comes out two days before Christmas — when most holiday shopping, baking and decorating is done — but this information will still be valid next season and for years to come (at least until December 21, 2012 — at which point all bets are off). 

This winter roller blading architect and planner has lived and worked in Tribeca and SoHo for the past 30 years. Among his local designs? The new Staten Island Ferry Terminal and the new NIKE store in SoHo. He writes:

“For five years, I was in charge of the day to day design of Westway — the wider, smarter, greener grandfather of Hudson River Park. Over the winter holidays, I love to roller blade along the majestic river for as long and as fast as I can (best during snow before it sticks). It’s quiet and empty and especially beautiful at sunset. If I’m lucky, I hear a flock of geese going south and see the blinding reflections of a hundred golden suns on a skyline of infinite windows.  

Executive Director of Manhattan Youth

“For the holiday season, my family goes to my favorite place in town: Ghee Whiz Restaurant on Warren and Greenwich — a Tribeca institution for almost twenty years.  Not star rated and obviously a Coffee Shop, the food is superb. Andy and Pete are always greeting customers like home.  It may seem quirky to have your holiday meal here, but the place feels like home. While it closes early (3:00 p.m.) on December 24 and is closed Christmas day, I will be bringing in “take out “from this fine restaurant for those days. I especially look forward to their matzo ball soup. Family is often community and there is no better place in my mind that eating at Ghee Whiz our neighborhood diner. Oh, and for the holidays I wore a tie!”

Balistreri is the librarian at Poets House — a 50,000-title poetry library in Battery Park City. For her librarian school thesis, she created a thesaurus for single-malt whisky. (No “e” [whiskey] for scotch whisky; only for bourbon, rye, Irish, etc.). Below, this self-professed “quality, not quantity drinker” and “methodical sipper” describes her thesaurus research as “…rigorous. It involved choosing a scotch off the menu, noting differences among regions (a peaty Islay versus a Speyside’s fragrant heather), and learning terms from the distillation process.” The result? Balistreri’s list of eight “scotches that should prove a warming to anybody on your gift list.” They are: Highland Park 12; Ardbeg 10; Lagavulin 16; Macallan 12 or 18; Bruichladdich; Balvenie (try to get the 17); Bunnahabhain; and Caol Ila. 

Executive Director of the Village Alliance reacalls:

“My parents were theatergoers who married on Christmas day — so to celebrate that, we came into the city as a family to go to a show and have dinner. That’s where my interest in theater started. The holidays in New York are a great time for families to go to the theater and support many of the Broadway and Off Broadway productions that may be closing after New Years. There are a number of shows out there that are terrific for anyone wanting to do something special. One of my all-time favorites is “Finian’s Rainbow.” The music is outstanding and strongly sung. “Superior Donuts” is well written and acted. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is spectacular and wonderful.”

Other participants were egged on to chime in with a slightly naughty contribution, but nobody took the bait. Thank heaven, then, for performance artist Karen Finley — who handed in, unprompted, this pithy missive: “Here is a holiday tip that I call ‘The Panty Pouf.’ Save your pine needles and create a sachet for your underwear drawer. It is both ecologically responsible and economical. You can bundle the needles into a small square scrap of thin fabric, cheesecloth, or use old nylons. Tie it shut with recycled or leftover holiday ribbon. Your panties will smell like pine well into the new year.” 

“As education manager of the Merchant’s House Museum, I spend most days immersed in the 19th-century. Come nighttime, I trade my quill pen for a mouse, and hit the online shopping sites. Since I’m also a web designer, I have pretty high standards. I prefer to browse sites that offer a little something extra: unusual items, creative ad copy, or best of all, free downloads. Here are a few of my favorites:

Vermont Country Store (www.vermontcountrystore.com). Where else can you find black jack gum, white shoulders perfume, and 52 different styles of muumuus?

Archie McPhee (www.mcphee.com). You’ve seen their devil duckies, but you’ll be awed by the sheer volume of other questionable products.

Jas Townsend & Son (www.jas-townsend.com). For all you fellow history nerds, or anyone that’s ever longed for their own leech jar. They also sell tomahawks.

Knit Picks (www.knitpicks.com). In addition to gorgeous (cheap) yarn, they have an online community with tutorials, free patterns, and more.

OTR.Network Library (www.otr.net). Pay what you wish — or nothing at all — for access to an amazing collection of Old Time Radio MP3s. Forget Hulu, this site has 486 episodes of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Now that’s entertainment!


FINALLY, The Villager’s beloved Arts & Entertainment editor hoped some of our participants would contribute a favorite holiday recipe. Nobody did. Fortunately, Stiffler’s mom generously shared what we promise is the hands down best recipe EVER for peanut butter cups. Just follow these simple instructions — courtesy of the best mom in the world (Carol Stiffler) — who writes:

“Melt a ten pound block of Zurich chocolate in a double boiler. Make the water warm, but don’t bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, then put the chocolate in and let it melt. Then, put the melted chocolate in a pan and let it sit until it’s cool to the touch. Using a teaspoon, put a little chocolate on the bottom of a candy cup (little paper cups). Put in a little blob of peanut butter, then fill the cup with more melted chocolate. Put the cups in a cool place for ten minutes.” Eat a peanut butter cup, then repeat the process until satisfied.

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