Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Future is Now: Amazon Lockers

I didn’t think I could love Amazon more than I did when they offered free Amazon Prime accounts to everyone with an .edu email address a few years ago. Having a Prime account allowed me free two-day shipping, effectively making buying textbooks online cheaper than scouting them out in the stores, and making the whole process fast enough to merit skipping the long lines altogether.

But they’ve outdone themselves again. Introducing Amazon Lockers…

1272460_Amazoncoop1Amazon Lockers sprang up about a year ago in Seattle (Amazon’s home base), New York City, and Washington, D.C., effectively ending many a package delivery woe.

I never had package delivery woes before living in a city, but you see, UPS — which Amazon tends to rely on quite often — will not deliver packages without a signature. Yet they, of course, only come by our building during our work hours. And since we are not rich enough to have a doorman, they never get a signature. On the fourth attempt, they leave you a note telling you to go to UPS.com and make further arrangements to obtain the item you already paid for.

What this note does not tell you, but UPS.com will, is that it costs an additional $5 to either pick up your package at a UPS Customer Services Center — which, naturally, is at least 40 blocks downtown of your apartment and on the opposite side of Manhattan — or to send it to another address, such as your office.

One way to avoid this is to send Amazon packages directly to your office, but I know people who have still managed to lose packages this way, as they can get lost in large buildings’ mail rooms, and I remain a little wary of turning someone else’s full-time job into a quest for my personal belongings when that is in no way in their job description.

Sometimes USPS and FedEx will leave packages in the (unlocked) entrance to our building, where the letter boxes are, and one of the neighbors will be lovely enough to move the package into the locked entry area, where the packages are safe from theft and muddy shoes. But it is impossible to predict if (1) the delivery person will risk leaving the package in an unlocked area, and (2) other people will be nice and move it in. We’ve had at least one package never turn up when it was posted as “delivered” in online shipping tracking.

Amazon Lockers solves these problems. When placing an order, simply locate the nearest Amazon Locker to your apartment/office/gym/whatever. These can be found in drug stores, groceries, and in my case, a 24/7 7/11 two blocks away. Each Amazon Locker set has a unique name (mine is “Argu,” haha), as well as a listed address for the business in which it resides. When your package is delivered to the locker, you automatically receive an email and/or text message with a special code.

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Then, like a character out of a James Bond film, you discretely enter said-7/11/Duane Reade/D’Agnostino’s and enter the code into the Amazon Locker touchscreen. Bam! One of the compartments magically opens, revealing your package, safe and sound, just waiting for you. True, you do have to carry your package home, but it sure beats not knowing when or if it will ever end up in your hands.

Bravo, Amazon. You’re the bee’s knees.

P.S. The one con of this system is you can only use Amazon Lockers for purchases made from Amazon.com, not from an outside seller who retails through Amazon.com. So yeah, this basically eliminates all used books from going to the Lockers. You win some, you lose some.

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Hello, Winter.

IMG_0703It snowed a beautiful snow Friday evening. Glittery, dry powdery snow that didn’t melt on the heavily salted sidewalks, but formed a soft carpet that looked like it belonged in a miniature Christmas village display on someone’s mantle. Snow like this snow makes New York a magical, quiet place. Fewer people go out to begin with, and the footsteps of those who do wander about are muffled. Even the noisy, ceaseless traffic sounds seem to fade away.

Don’t get me wrong though. It has been very cold here. The kind of cold that stings the face and causes the legs to go numb. The kind of sub-freezing temperatures that make a person ponder if it is possible to suffer hypothermia of the eyes. Thank God for cashmere-lined leather gloves, down-filled parkas, and fleece scarves. There will forever remain little to be done about the nose, unfortunately.

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We warmed ourselves up on Friday with a Sri Lankan dinner at one of our favorite hole-in-the-wall places, Sigiri. Full of fragrant spices and clear-your-sinuses heat, our stomachs were warm all the way home, full of kottu roti, a popular roadside dish in Sri Lanka (I am 99.9% certain Sigiri is the “cramped restaurant squashed between two obnoxiously iridescent, LED-lacquered Indian restaurants” mentioned anonymously in the linked article).

When we got home, I put on my new moccasin-style slippers (faux fur-lined, mmmm!) and made a steaming hot pot of hot cocoa on the stovetop.

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The next natural thing to do was, of course, curl up with my favorite feel-good movie, You’ve Got Mail. Sigh. Don’t even get me started. Meg Ryan’s character has my dream life: adorable Upper West Side apartment, classic wardrobe, charming neighborhood children’s bookstore, butterfly-on-the-subway sightings. And Tom Hanks is impossibly charming in this film. The Pride & Prejudice references! The NYC scenery (H&H Bagels, Grey’s Papaya, Riverside Park, etc.)! The not-quite-quotable, but oh-so-true lines: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. […] So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!”

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We spent the vast majority of the weekend inside, although we did brave the cold to get a couple of scones to-go from Alice’s Tea Cup, Chapter III  and coffees from Oren’s Daily Roast for cheap and delicious brunch. (I wish every meal could be brunch. Brunch is the best. Brunch needs to be a thing everywhere, to the extent that it is a thing in New York.)

I also journeyed through Middle-earth a lot with Frodo and the gang, and their hardships made my winter coldness hardships seem a lot more bearable.

In other winter news, I finally put the microfleece blanket we got as a wedding gift on our bed, right between the T-shirt sheets and the fluffy comforter, officially transforming our bed into the most comfortable bed of all time. If only I could master Ali’s level of lethargy, and sleep 18+ hours a day without ever feeling much more energized.

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Here’s a Winter-song for you:

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NY Restaurant Week: Delmonico’s Steakhouse

IMG_0700Now through Feb. 8 is winter Restaurant Week in NYC. “Week” is used loosely, as it lasts a lot longer than just seven days. Restaurant Week is a special time when middle class citizens get to feast like royalty and try out some of their city’s fine dining that they would not otherwise be able to afford, as you can score a 3-course dinner for $38 (or lunch for $25).

I realize $38 is not cheap, but on the regular menu, the filet mignon I ordered goes for $48 alone (as in, no vegetables, much less no appetizer or dessert). So yeah, from that perspective, it’s a steal!

delmonicoSean and I decided to go to Delmonico’s, a historic steakhouse located in the Financial District. Delmonico’s has existed in various locations, a number of which burned down, but has existed in some operating capacity since 1837 and was once known as one of the finest restaurants in the country. The likes of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens were known as Delmonico’s patrons. Wilde was quoted in a newspaper as saying, “Indeed the two most remarkable bits of scenery in the States are undoubtedly Delmonico’s and the Yosemite Valley.”

There you have it.

I didn’t know all this until after we ate there, but there’s a definite sense of history in the gorgeous dining room. Maybe it had to do with huge paintings of diners of yesteryear occupying the walls? (Haha…Occupy. Walls. Ha. And the restaurant is near Wall Street? I give up.) We went to their oldest currently operating location, here:

DelmonicosNeedless to say, the food, service, and ambiance were some of the best I’ve experienced in the city — no, in my life — to date. We got there a little early after work for our 7:15 reservation, so we were lucky and got seated in the main dining room, and not in the basement or side rooms like a lot of the other Restaurant Week diners. You easily could tell who the, uh, “regulars” were: the women in glamorous floor-length fur coats and the men in immaculately tailored suits. I imagine this is where the Wall Street bankers unwind after a long day’s work.

Anyway, we tried a cavatelli pasta with wild mushrooms and lobster bisque for our two appetizers. We both got filet mignon with harvest vegetables for the main course. And for the finale, we dug into their Baked Alaska, because they claim to have invented it; at any rate, there is proof that the restaurant named the dessert in 1876 shortly after the U.S. acquired the Alaskan Territory.

Let me tell you what I knew about Baked Alaska prior to this evening: on the computer game Sims 2, only after your Sim has acquired all 10 possible points of Cooking Skill can they prepare Baked Alaska. In the game, it is an unidentifiable dessert that somehow incorporates fire.

Needless to say, I had high expectations for this mysterious, sea-urchin looking thing they presented to us.

I don’t know about all Baked Alaskas, but ours was essentially a glamorized cousin of banana pudding. There was a layer of walnut cake, topped with apricot jelly, a generous bit of banana gelato (mmmmmm), then ample amounts of meringue and an unidentifiable but yummy sauce. I guess the gelato part represents Alaska? In that case, I have discovered a new appreciation for our icy 49th state.

I am now a huge fan of Restaurant Week. I felt quite fancy without all the guilt. Well, at least the money kind of guilt. I forgot to mention we shared both the Baked Alaska and a NY-style cheesecake. So calorie-guilt might be in effect right now.

Cheers!

(This is the face you have to make to fit in these kinds of places, by the way. Channel Gatsby.)

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Book & Pub Club and other literary explorations

As part of an effort to meet people who are not my co-workers nor accountants (a.k.a. Sean’s co-workers) nor Aggie transplants, last Monday I attended my first Upper East Side Book & Pub Club meeting. It’s basically a traditional book club for younger people that keeps it young by meeting in various neighborhood bars during happy hour. Yes, really.

I found out about the group on Meetup.com, which I was really skeptical about at first, but my friend, fellow Aggie New Yorker, and former Battalion-er Jeff suggested I check it out. He met some great people through a craft beer club he found on the site, and while anyone who knows Jeff knows he becomes instant BFFs with everyone he meets, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out. I mean, it’s not as intimidating as online dating, or anything.

If you haven’t heard of Meetup.com, it’s a site where people can organize groups of people who may or may not know each other previously who then get together to indulge in common interests, from cocktail hours and early morning runs to nerdy board game marathons and crochet circles.

For my first UES Book & Pub Club meeting, we all read this recently published book, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

gone-girl-review_320This is not my usual reading material, as it is a suspense/thriller/crime novel, but I surprised myself and really enjoyed it. Ms. Flynn is a great writer — not just an engaging storyteller — and it makes all the difference. I felt that the book jacket synopsis was horridly written, so I’ll summarize the novel for you here: A married couple moves from NYC after losing their print media-related jobs to the husband’s dying hometown in Missouri, where wife Amy quickly grows bored and dissatisfied. Then on the day of their fifth anniversary, she mysteriously disappears. And husband Nick isn’t really coming off as totally innocent either. So what happened, and why?

Let me be frank with you: This book is MESSED. UP. There wasn’t really much to debate or argue about over this book, so most of the meeting was everyone just excitedly reliving the book because it’s one of those books that is SO. MESSED. UP. you can’t help but want to talk about it. We spent at least five minutes marveling at the jacket cover photo of the fairly normal looking young lady who wrote this book. This book that was SO. MESSED. UP. yet so brilliantly planned out. (I give it 4 out of 5 stars.)

We spent the first hour of the book club discussing said book, the next 15 minutes casually dividing up into smaller groups still sorta-kinda discussing the book, and then spent an hour discussing Downton Abbey, the Life of Pi film adaptation, and the disturbing phenomenon that is the widespread use of a nanny for child-rearing in the UES. In short: I found my people.

I have always thought joining a book club would be right up my alley, and I did participate in the mail version of such this year with Lech-brary, but I felt like most in-person book clubs were aimed at retirees, seeking an outlet between volunteer work and doctors visits. What about those of us in our 20s and 3os, out of college, but still eager to learn, to discuss?

I found these people, my people, in the Book & Pub Club: about a dozen women (all young, except one friendly, maternal middle-aged lady who came off to me as a high school English teacher) and two clearly gay men. There was a disproportionate number of young newlyweds, including one UT graduate who moved here a year ago from Dallas. There were people with 9-5 office jobs, a waitress, a bartender, a stay-at-home mom. And everyone loves to read. So, basically, it was the best. I can’t wait for February’s meeting!

The group alternates between reading fiction and nonfiction books each month, so next month we’re reading this, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose:

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I’ve already read about 70 pages of it, and it’s really great. Witty and observant, but also surprisingly…non-biased. This is a journalistic endeavor of a fairly agnostic college student from liberal Brown University who spends a semester “study abroad” at Liberty University, a fairly new Baptist college in Virginia founded by a mega-successful televangelist. It’s almost uncanny how much the student culture of LU reminds me of A&M, although fortunately, our professors were typically anything but conservative. I’m sure the discussion for this one will be interesting, as anything concerning religion and education ought to be.

Update: Kevin’s name sounded so familiar. Turns out he is currently a staff writer for New York magazine, whose website I obsess over daily, and is also a New York Times alum. Go figure. I should have gone on an undercover journalism mission in college, too.

In other reading news, I recently finished my first non-fiction book of the year, working toward my goal of 20 nonfiction books in 2013. I read a book that was already on our bookshelf and that Sean recommended, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson.

9938498This is a nonfiction account of the American Ambassador to Germany, Dodd, and his family during Hitler’s rise to power. Through the outsiders’ perspective, Larson attempts to answer the question of “How could the world sit by and watch such evil spread? How did no one see this coming?” It is a deeply fascinating tale that reads rather novelistically. Although we all know how this unfortunate story ends, it is intriguing nonetheless to watch the plot thicken.

Did you know that Ambassador Dodd’s daughter, the free-spirited and flirtatious Martha, dated a number of young Nazi officers? Did you know that Dodd was mercilessly teased by his fellow diplomats in Germany for his modest automobile choice of a Chevrolet (and later, a Buick)? Did you know a number of Americans, including the Dodds, openly expressed anti-Semitic beliefs prior to the outbreak of WWII and the Holocaust?

Chances are if you are anything like me, you hadn’t even heard of Dodd until you heard of this book. It’s definitely worth a read to discover a new chapter of often overlooked American history. My only complaint is that I am horrid at imagining the proper pronunciations of any of the German names.

I’m also attempting to read the entirety of the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the thousandth time. I’m about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring, and oh my goodness … I cannot believe I am writing this … but. But. I am really, really enjoying it. I totally understand why there were entire college courses devoted to Tolkien. You have to be in the right mood to read thorough descriptions of all of the hobbits’ meals and bathing-songs, but there’s no denying it’s a classic.

NenyaGoldFotRBookCoverCoEP.S. I need more hobbies.

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Flushing culinary adventures, Pt. 2: Hot pot

I guess the doldrums of winter have gotten to me lately, because I haven’t been motivated to do much of anything at all, much less use my brain after work hours and write. I mainly just want to curl up under the covers and hibernate until at least March. I realize these are all distinguishing characteristics of a clinically depressed individuals — or perhaps an average teenager — but they are also typical of persons experiencing their first true Northeastern winter. The high for today was 20 degrees, feels like “10 degrees.” The high.

Anyway.

A few months ago, Sean and I went with a group to try out Korean barbecue in Flushing, Queens. This past Saturday we returned to that Asia of America for another foray into authentic, DIY ethnic cuisine: hot pot.

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It all started in December, when I read this New York magazine article raving about Little Pepper Hot Pot. What is “hot pot,” for those of you, who like me, feel like most of your encounters with “Chinese” cuisine comes from the likes of Panda Express? It’s more or less the Chinese version of fondue.

A boiling hot cauldron of seasoned broth is served on a tabletop hot pad, in which the diners place a variety of sliced meat and veggies and then fish them out with little wire nets for consumption. We got the “normal” broth/spicy broth combo hot pot that comes with sliced fatty beef (haha, “fatty beef”…mmm) and a HUGE platter of vegetables: cabbage, bean sprouts, watercress, unidentifiable Asian mushroom/fungus, and corn on the cob — my favorite. We also ordered an additional plate of fatty lamb, and were served complimentary bowls of this amazing tangy/sweet sauce (pictured above, topped with sliced chives).

This was the perfect dinner to warm our bellies for the chilly winter. Everything was so tasty. The broth really did a lot for even the more bland ingredients like the cabbage. The spicy broth was truly, truly spicy, filled with dried chiles and Szechuan peppercorns. The peppercorns were really interesting, because they release a lot of capsicum, which creates a numbing effect on the tongue, which some believe makes the burning sensation of the chiles less, well, painful — allowing one to fully appreciate the flavors of the food.

My favorite were the bits of corn on the cob that we let cook for a while in the normal broth. I already love corn, but the broth made it extra-flavorful. Side note: I have mastered the art of picking up corn on the cob with chopsticks. Gotta put that skill on my resume.

We both left feeling stuffed, and we only ordered one additional side dish. There were two other couples there enjoying a large afternoon meal, and they each ordered whole tables of meats and vegetables to boil up in the broth. I couldn’t believe it. I swear Chinese people have hollow legs. (Please, no one take that offensively. I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration.)

I also loved that they played Korean soap operas on TV (with Chinese subtitles, of course) the entire time we were there. So mesmerizing. I loved that the whole family that ran the restaurant took advantage of the afternoon slump to enjoy a quick meal — what appeared to be a giant soup pot of random leftovers — together. And I also really liked this distinguishing sign for those of us who can’t read Mandarin:

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After our feast, we (somehow) found room in our stomachs for a Thai peach bubble tea from one of the many cheap bubble tea places along Flushing’s Main Street. Bubble tea is to Flushing as Starbucks is to Midtown, basically. Then we meandered into the mysterious New World Mall. The only thing it had in common with other malls I’ve been to is a Macy’s. There was a store called J-Pop that only sold Hello Kitty merchandise and posters of Japanese pop stars. There was a grocery called J-Mart that smelled overwhelmingly of fish, and had aisle after aisle of my favorite Japanese childhood snacks, like Pocky sticks and Hello Panda cookies. There was also a place called, quite plainly, “New Bra,” which made me laugh more than it should have.

And then there was the food court. Here is a photo I found online:

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Aside from one juice stand, everything was so Asian. There were at least two places where you could get the fast-food version of hot pot (everything already dumped into a giant bowl of boiling hot broth), a place where we witnessed a guy make string-thin noodles with his bare hands, places with menus of plastic food, and a place where you could get a whole lobster on top of some noodles for $10. And more bubble tea places, you guys.

We did eye a place that served ice cream crepes, as in sugary pancakes wrapped up cone-style around generous scoops of unusual flavors of ice cream. It was so un-Asian and so very Asian at the same time. Then I observed two teenage Asian girls spontaneously burst out into the “Gangham Style” dance — no joke — and I was fully content with our little venture to the end of the 7 line.

Until next time, Flushing.

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5 Date Night Movies

500 Days movie theaterMovie date nights are my favorite. I love going to the theater and the overwhelming buttery popcorn smell and the loudness of it, but I also like watching movies on our couch with a blanket and unlimited snacks. Sometimes it can be hard to decide on a movie that both of us want to watch, however. I think when it comes to rom-coms — the classic date night movie genre — the key is to find films that have strong male leads, not just the cookie-cutter Perfect Boyfriend of chick flicks, as well as the type of female protagonist you’d want to be friends with yourself.

Here are 5 of our favorites, listed in order of release date from most recent on:

Silver Linings Playbook (Dec. 2012)

Silver-linings-playbookWe just went to see this last Thursday, to see what all the Oscars hype is about. It was a really worthwhile movie. Sean hated the ending (I loved it), but we both definitely enjoyed everything up until then. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a psychiatric hospital with a late diagnosis of bipolar disorder and is living with his parents while he tried to get his life back together, including making up with his estranged wife. Then he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow dealing with emotional issues of her own. The two quickly become friends, and it soon becomes clear there is a little something more developing between them.

I love how real the two protagonists in this film were. Neither was anywhere near perfect, but you couldn’t help but liking them and rooting for them to end up together (our theater actually applauded at the end of the movie, haha). While any movie dealing with mental illness is going to have some heavy overtones, there are many laugh-out-loud scenes. And don’t even get me started on Jennifer Lawrence. She is perfection in this film, and she completely deserves her Oscar nomination.

Moonrise Kingdom (summer 2012)

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Wes Anderson’s most recent film is my ideal summer movie: whimsical and nostalgic. Suzy and Sam develop a romantic plan to run away together, setting off a lot of parental concern. While it’s clear that the two kids have a definite affection for one another — and identify together in their “outsiderness” — it’s also funny to watch them develop their relationship by the book because they have no idea what they are really doing. Moonrise Kingdom is a fun, carefree movie that is sure to bring a smile to your face. I promise. It’s also one of those films that’s just really beautiful to look at.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Film Title: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

This might be more of a “guy movie,” but I love it. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a loser who plays bass in a bad rock band and lives in a basement apartment with his much wealthier, gay roommate when he meets Ramona Flowers, a mysteriously cool girl from the States (Scott’s Canadian) with neon hair and a crazy past. Before he can date her, he must first defeat her seven evil exes. Based on the quirky graphic novel series, which I also loved, the film combines elements of comic book and video game storytelling. It’s quite creative, I think, and has so many quotable lines that you’ll catch yourself repeating for years to come (our favorite is “BREAD MAKES YOU FAT?!?”). I’m 100% for any movie that is timelessly quotable.

500 Days of Summer (2009)

500-days-summer-2009--large-msg-130281966589My roommate didn’t like this movie because it doesn’t have the stereotypical Hollywood ending, and also she thought the two main characters were “weird.” Whatever. I know a lot of guys who really love this movie, and I know that every girl except my roommate will love it because it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Tom (JGL) falls head-over-heels for Summer (Zooey Deschanel), his new co-worker, and everything seems like it’s going great…until things fall apart. You know the relationship is doomed from the beginning, because the story is unconventionally told in nonchronological order (and you know, that whole “500 days” thing in the title), as Tom desperately tries to reason out what went wrong.

Some feminists critique this movie because Summer isn’t a fully fleshed-out character so much as the manic pixie dream-girl stereotype, who cutely flits in and out of the frame as Tom works his life out. I think this is true, but I also think that’s kind of the point. Tom had fallen in love with the idea of somebody, instead of the girl herself. Fun fact: The filmmakers chose a very blue-centric color scheme for Summer’s wardrobe and a lot of the sets (like Summer’s apartment) to emphasize the color of her blue eyes. This not only makes visual sense but also thematic sense to me — for Tom, the entire world has been constructed around this girl. He sees no one else out there for him, even if he should.

Annie Hall (1977)

Annie HallThis movie is a classic, with good reason. New York comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) falls for ditsy, whimsical Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Their banter is charming and awkward. This film also does so many groundbreaking things for its time, like breaking the fourth-wall by having the characters directly speak to the camera, and incorporating the contemporary characters into flashback scenes and having them comment on the memories as they walk through scenes of yesteryear. So good!

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Where can you find good Tex-Mex in New York?

Answer? Your kitchen!

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No, really. If you can buy cilantro, avacado, cumin, tortillas, and other essential Tex-Mex ingredients, you’re good to go. Even if your kitchen is barely large enough for two people to stand in at the same time and has an oven roughly the size of your childhood Easy Bake Oven (just kidding…kinda), you can produce the tastes of the Great Ol’ State of Texas right in your own Manhattan apartment.

Here are two simple and satisfying (and fairly healthy?) recipes I made this past week to cure our homesickness for…a type of food.

Cilantro-Lime Chicken Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • juice of one lime
  • 12-oz. of salsa (or 3/4 of a 16-oz. jar, for the math-challenged)
  • 1/2 1.25-oz. package reduced-sodium taco seasoning
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and membranes removed, finely chopped
  • shredded pepperjack cheese, to taste
  • 8 flour tortillas

IMG_0653This is the salsa I used. I purchased “hot” salsa because this is our store brand, and the store chain is based in New York City. I know. I know. “NEW YORK CITY?!?!” *cue 90s Pace Picante sauce commercial* You should stew me for this, for this purchasing of salsa made in New York City. But it was a whole $2 less than the salsa brand made in El Paso, Texas. And $2 in NYC money is significant savings.

In its defense, Fairway makes yummy: bagels, baguettes, olives, olive oil, hummus, and kosher desserts. This probably should have been my sign, as not one of those foods is anything like salsa. In New York’s defense, there are few lunches as simple and wonderful as an everything bagel with lox spread. It almost makes up for the salsa.

Anywho, let me tell you some more about this salsa. It is not “hot.” It is not “unbelievably good.” It is not “chip’s best friend.” It is made of mainly tomatoes and lies. But it does work well in this particular recipe due to its rather saucy (read: liquid) nature. And I made it hot by adding those jalapenos, so there. Anyway.

Directions:

  1. Combine salsa, lime juice, cilantro, taco seasoning, and jalapenos in a small bowl.
  2. Place chicken breasts at the bottom of a crockpot (I have a cute, little 2-quart one for my cute, little kitchen). Then cover with salsa mixture.
  3. Cook on low in slow-cooker for 6 hours. Spend the next 6 hours dipping chips in the leftover salsa, remarking how bad it is, then dipping chips in said salsa again, just to see if it got any better over time. (It didn’t.)
  4. When the chicken is fully cooked, remove and place on a plate, shredding with two forks. This should be very easy and weirdly fun. Then place the shredded chicken back into the crockpot of sauce, and stir around.
  5. Meanwhile, wrap the tortillas in foil and heat in the oven at a low temperature. Shred some cheese, too, while you’re at it.
  6. Assemble your tacos! Spoon the cilantro-lime chicken onto a tortilla, sprinkle on some cheese, roll-up burrito style, and enjoy! De nada. (That’s Spanish for, “Aren’t you glad New York salsa tastes better after you mix it up with a bunch of other things?”)

Sorry, no picture of the final product. It was too good to wait to take a photo.

Roasted Red Pepper and Black Bean Soup

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Ingredients:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 (15 oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock/broth
  • 3 roasted red peppers, chopped*
  • 2 roasted poblano chiles, chopped*
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 cup corn (I used thawed frozen)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional toppings: sliced avacado, fresh chopped cilantro, shredded pepperjack cheese, sour cream, crushed tortilla chips

*To roast peppers, chop in half and remove seeds, stems, and membranes. Place on a cooking sheet or baking dish, cut-side down (see below). Broil in oven for 10-20 minutes, until the skins have blackened.** Place the peppers in a large, SEALED freezer bag for 20 minutes, until cool enough to handle. The skins should then be able to easily peel off, and the peppers are ready for chopping and cooking.

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**Your smoke detector will probably HATE you for this, despite the fact that there is no smoke, no burning, and definitely no fire. She will yell loudly, “FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE!” And you will stand on your fold-out stool, hopelessly flailing about at the smoke detector because you are 5’2″ and still too short, and of course your husband isn’t home yet and of course the heavy tax accounting books you used to use as that final boost of height are at his office now. Or maybe these things only happen to me.

Directions:

1. Heat oil in the pan.

2. Add onions and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Then add garlic, cumin, and chili powder, and saute until fragrant, about a minute.

3. Add the beans, tomatoes, corn, peppers (red and poblano, both), chicken stock/broth, and oregano, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove approximately half of the soup and pour into a food processor or blender, and “chop” it up a few quick times to give it a more pureed texture, while still leaving a good portion of the soup hearty and chunky. Or use an immersion blender. I hear that works, too, and is much easier.

5. Serve steaming hot, with toppings of choice (or none at all).

This soup, while meat-free and quite healthy, is surprisingly hearty and filling. We ate it three days in a row and then wished we could eat it some more. Roasting the peppers really adds a nice smokey flavor (ha, smoke detector, you’re getting the last laugh now!). It’s also quite delicious scooped up on tortilla chips, which makes it less healthy but even more filling.

For the perfect remedy for a chilly Northeastern evening, eat this soup, then curl up with a blanket and good book, and coax your cat into curling about your feet and warming them. You’ll completely forget that it is colder than freezing outside. Or that you’re in a place that is known for making really bad salsa. I promise.

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