Tag Archives: food

Surviving the polar vortex

parkGreetings from the Arctic North! Or at least, what feels like it to my imagination. We have reach the bleakest of bleak times: the dead of winter. I don’t know how anyone here is faring well with their New Year’s fitness-related resolutions because I’m pretty sure the only thing these continuous weeks of below-freezing temps, snow and icy winds are good for is wrapping up in a blanket and drowning your sorrows in Netflix marathons and hot cocoa.

snow 2

snow 1I still find myself enchanted by the utter transformation of Central Park in the snow. It emerges as a miniature Narnia; you can half-expect to see Mr. Tumnus come plodding along the wooded paths, umbrella in hand and invitation to afternoon tea perched on the lips, at any moment. See this bench in the Shakespeare Garden here? On one of the blissful days when I had secured my job but hadn’t yet started working, I spent a whole August afternoon curled up in that exact spot, reveling in the dappled sunlight and the campiness of Valley of the Dolls.

The actual streets and sidewalks one has to navigate each day, however, are an entirely different story — one filled with many lost hopes and dreams and plenty of dirty slush. People only seem to be out and about when absolutely necessary; on the weekends, the sidewalks are eerily deserted, only a brave few navigating the rock salt rubble and goop.

pancakesI am incredibly eager for spring: for the daffodils that seem to peek up from every crack in the sidewalk, to shed my puffy down coat (and hat and gloves and scarf and boots), to breakfast on scones at the Conservatory Boat Pond again. The last two weekends have been so brutal, we’ve cozied up in the apartment and made oatmeal banana pancakes instead of moseying on over to our favorite corner diner. Surprise! Our pancakes are better. (:

I do believe I am starting to develop cabin fever though. I think that has to do with it getting dark by the time I leave work combined with the hurrying extra-fast from Point A to Point B to avoid getting frostbite. The first round of this beast known as the Polar Vortex, I couldn’t feel my thighs by the time I got to the subway station — it was -15 F with the wind chill! I saw people sprinting in the direction of the train station from blocks away, which was an amusing sight, despite the bitterly cold circumstances. To solve the frozen thigh problem, I took to wearing tights under my pants last week, which was effective for the outdoors, but made me feel like I was sweating out all my toxins at a sauna once I got to the office. (On blistering hot summer days when I sweat off all my makeup and deodorant by the time I arrive in the morning, I have to wear a cardigan indoor to prevent goosebumps. You can’t win in that place!)

aliAll this time cooped up indoors has motivated us to explore out-of-the-ordinary hobbies. Sean has started picking up his guitar again, and I’ve busted out both the yoga mat and some French grammar workbooks. There’s the pancake-making, of course, and I’ve decided to finally tackle that intimidating Western epic of a novel, Lonesome Dove. We’ve also started watching The Wire on DVD, which is a crime drama about the street drug trade in Baltimore, and will keep us quite occupied from here until next New Year’s.

And to stay warm, we’ve been exploring all varieties of foods that can warm a person from the inside out. I’ve made taco soup and shepherd’s pie, but on the weekends, we’ve been trying out a world of “chicken noodle soups.”

First off, we decided to visit an authentic ramen-ya to see what all the fuss is about, as we had brushed off ramen as overly salty and reserved for a poor college student’s dinner. We went to Ippudo in the East Village and after waiting for what felt like FOREVER (ramen is very popular in the cold), we were led to a large communal table and all the servers greeted us joyfully in Japanese! We both ordered the “Akamaru Modern,” which is pork soup noodles topped with  “umami dama” miso paste, pork chashu, cabbage, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. Not your boring old microwaveable Cup ‘O Noodles! It was a giant bowl of delicious.

ramenBut this past weekend we found a real gem! Cafe Himalaya, a Tibetan/Nepalese hole-in-the-wall, with cheap, piping hot eats. Here we tried the thukpa, a traditional Tibetan noodle soup with lots of veggies and hearty pieces of tofu. Once you mix in the house-made spicy chutney, this stuff will clear out your sinuses really well, I promise. I guess the mountain dwellers would know how to make an incredibly satisfying winter’s meal. For $6.99 and easily over two servings in one order, we will definitely be back before we see the other side of freezing up here. And next time, I’m getting the hot tea! Give me all of the warm.


How do you keep warm on frigidly cold days?

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1-Skillet Southwestern Dinner with Black Beans, Zucchini, and Sweet Corn

I know the only picture I have of this meal doesn’t exactly look appetizing, but I promise you it’s really, really good. I’m not much of a recipe-repeater (outside of hummus, of course), but this one is a keeper. I’ve adapted this recipe from Red Set Eat, but I originally came across it by way of my newspaper friend Megan’s blog a while back, or maybe one of her Pinterest boards, I can’t really remember. I’m just glad I found it!

I like this recipe because it combines a whole meal — meat, veggies, carbs, and a little dairy — all in one skillet. And when you don’t have much kitchen space or energy after work like me, that sounds like the recipe for success. I also like that this recipe includes two ingredients I am currently obsessed with: black beans (like I’ve mentioned before) and zucchini.

Also it is vaguely Tex-Mex. Hooray!

1-Skillet Southwestern Dinner with Black Beans, Zucchini, and Sweet Corn

Serves 4-6

skillet dinner


  • two boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces (optional)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small zucchini, quartered and sliced thin
  • 1/2 medium-sized green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 15-oz. can reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn, thawed
  • 15 oz. (or roughly 1 3/4 cup) chunky style salsa, such as Pace Picante
  • 1 cup water + 1 sodium-free chicken bouillon cube (or 1 cup chicken or veggie broth/stock)
  • 1 cup uncooked rice (I use Basmati white)
  • 2/3 cup shredded cheese (I use mostly reduced fat sharp cheddar and a little regular pepperjack)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Tip: I like to have all my ingredients prepped beforehand — all the veggies chopped, cheese grated, seasonings at hand — so once I heat up the skillet, it’s all pretty easy from there. This might seem fairly obvious, but I’ve learned these things over time.


  1. Season uncooked chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet, add chicken and sautée until mostly cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add minced garlic, chopped zucchini, and diced bell pepper. Sautée until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add beans, corn, salsa, water + bouillon (OR broth/stock), and cumin. Increase heat and bring to a boil.
  4. Add rice, stir well. Cover, lower heat, and let simmer for 15 minutes (NOTE: follow the directions for your particular type rice so it will be cooked properly). Stir occasionally. Once most of the liquids are absorbed, remove the skillet from heat, leave covered, and let sit for 10 minutes. (These were the directions for Basmati rice.)
  5. Once the rice is fully cooked, stir in cheese. Add additional salt and black pepper, if needed. Enjoy!

Substitutions: This recipe can be adapted for a vegetarian diet by leaving out the chicken and substituting veggie broth/stock for chicken broth/bouillon. Substitute a 15-oz. can of roasted tomatoes for the salsa if you have a milder palate. Those feeling extra-healthy can change out the white rice for brown, of course.

I think the leftovers would be great wrapped up in a tortilla. Everything is better in a tortilla though. That is a gospel truth.

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Neighborhood love.

photoThe winter has made us a little stuck in a rut where it is hard to motivate ourselves to go anywhere and do much besides watch rented movies and read at home. I think it’s nice to have a month or so of “hibernation” time. We’ve been lamely staying in the UES for much of the weekend. Which is fine by me, because I love our neighborhood. I love all the dogs in sweaters and little kids in snow boots.

IMG_3850On Saturday, while venturing out to our favorite corner diner a few blocks away, we noticed that Ottomanelli’s Cafe 86 had reopened after five months of mysterious deadness. It was a great discovery. Ottamenlli’s Cafe is a true neighborhood gem: a too-narrow restaurant that serves up extremely reasonably priced Italian dishes that taste like your mama made them. If your mama is Italian, that is. Mine isn’t, but I imagine the hearty, simple meals there could be served in some Italian mom’s home kitchen. I love their spaghetti bolognese. And their lasagna. All of the meat in their dishes is delivered fresh daily from their meat shop down the street.

The Ottomanellis have a sort of meat empire across the city. They’ve been a big name in the butcher business since 1900, but the sons (grandsons?) have since split up and staked out territory in different neighborhoods. One of their butcher shops is across the street from us (at 82nd and York Ave). It’s more pricey than what you can get at the supermarket, but it’s definitely quality. We bought some freshly ground beef here for Sunday’s dinner, and it was much better than chuck. Also, all their beef is from grass-fed cattle, which is good to know. And people who work there know their regulars by name, and call new faces “sir” or “ma’am.” The floor is checker linoleum. Need I say more?

We ended up dining at Ottomanelli’s Cafe on Saturday night, and it did not disappoint. It’s a bit out of the way for everyone else, but it’s a Yorkville favorite. The place was hopping, and people kept having to wait in the cramped entry way for a table to open up. Throughout dinner, we kept hearing people telling the two servers how glad they were the place was back open for business.

lOn Sunday, we went to Beanocchio’s Cafe, our go-to hangout spot these days for when we get need to get out of the apartment. This place is SUCH a breath of fresh air in a city full to the brim with Starbucks and Coffee Bean. There are little figurines of Snap, Crackle and Pop (you know, the Rice Krispies icons) and Archie Comics characters on the back shelf next to the assortment of tea bags. There’s a stuffed Pinocchio doll, naturally. The menu, which includes breakfast items and sandwiches, is painstakingly written by hand on a giant chalkboard. You almost feel like the gang from Friends could come walking in at any moment to catch up.

We just get two black coffees and a muffin (all of their muffins are awesome, none of that dried-out Starbucks nonsense) to split, and then linger there for an hour or so. This Sunday, we couldn’t get a two-person table, so we had to sit at the large kitchen-type table at the back with — gasp! — strangers.

It turned out to be a really pleasant time. We ended up swapping sections of the Sunday Times with a gray-haired couple and randomly chatting with two women about Downton Abbey — our unanimous entertainment choice for that evening over the Super Bowl.

And they say you never meet your neighbors in New York.

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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.


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



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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.


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.


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:


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:


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

Answer? Your kitchen!


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


  • 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.


  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



  • 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.


**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.


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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Thanksgiving Week Recap

Didn’t you know Native Americans love pie? This is some charming artwork from my 6-year-old cousin. I mailed her a Thanksgiving Day card last week with a few sheets of these festive stickers, and this evening I got an envelope filled with some seasonal artwork in return!

My four-day holiday weekend turned out to be just what I needed, full of rest and also fun. Here’s a recap:

Tuesday: I played pub trivia for the first time with Sean and one of his female coworkers and her friend. I don’t know why I’ve never played pub trivia before, as I love random information and impressing others with said-random information. Team My Twinkies for Your Ho Hos just barely made it into the top half of the rankings of a 33-team competition, but I will say that Sean and I dominated the “Louie-Louie-Louisiana” and “In the News” categories. And there’s always next time.

Wednesday: I worked, but I got to leave at 3. Sean and I attempted to go see where they blow up the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade over on the Upper West Side. The number of strollers on the crosstown bus on the way there should have been a clue that this was the WORST IDEA EVER (sorry, Sean). There were hoardes and hoardes of people gathered to see half-inflated (half-deflated?) balloons. I cannot even fathom gathering to watch the actual parade. We left for our sanity’s sake. The subway ride out of there toward downtown was the worst I’ve ever experienced.

But! Then we went to see the Icelandic (Icelander? Icelandish?) band Of Monsters and Men play at Terminal 5. And all was right in the world again.

Here are these cute people speaking in cute accents and playing music in their living room:

Thursday: We put our little kitchen to work. We made: baked Virginia ham (with this wonderful citrusy-Dijon mustard-brown sugar glaze), parmesan garlic mashed potatoes, traditional green bean casserole and cranberry sauce/Jell-O fruit salad. And sourdough from Orwasher’s Bakery.

Everything was made of deliciousness. It pays off to know how to cook. 🙂 And even though we didn’t have the traditional turkey, we passed out after. From all of that cooking…and the thought of cleaning up with no dishwasher after!

Friday: Although we did briefly get caught in the Black Friday madness on Fifth Avenue (accidentally, I swear), we didn’t really do any shopping. We did, however, spoil ourselves with not one, but two desserts from Two Little Red Hens, probably the tastiest place in the neighborhood.

We got a peanut-butter-and-fudge cupcake (my pick) and a slice of apple crumble pie (Sean’s pick). To make up for the lack of homemade dessert, you know. (As an aside, this place has the BEST cheesecake in the world, but they are often out when I go.)

Saturday: We learned history and stuff at the Museum of the City of New York, a quaint little museum within walking-distance of our apartment. We explored their street photography exhibit, activism in NYC exhibit, and watched the half-hour movie they show throughout the day about New York’s history. Did you know that Wall Street is named such because there used to be a physical wall there to keep out intruders? It sounds so obvious, but I never thought of that!

Also, did you know that Manhattan was purchased by the Dutch settlers for US$24? Crazy!

Later on we entered The Book of Mormon on Broadway ticket lottery for bazillionth time…and lost for the bazillionth time. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost any money to enter. To compensate, we ate at one of our favorite Thai places, Room Service — in Hell’s Kitchen.

Sunday: I went to Target in East Harlem in the afternoon. The place was ransacked from the Black Friday sales! I did manage to find a cute knitted winter hat, one of the things I came to buy, and some affordable Christmas ornaments (the main reason I went). OK, OK. And some festively-scented candles that were on sale. You can never go to Target and ONLY purchase the things on your list.

So then I coerced Sean into helping me decorate the horridly gaudy tabletop tree I bought. I guess all the other New Yorkers bought the “normal” mini trees. Whatever, I think it’s cute in its own tinsel-y way. Plus, once you cover it with sparkly ornaments, you can’t tell how shiny the tree itself is. I mean, not really.

In other news, I got to spend the looong weekend sleeping in, retreating to my happy place (a.k.a. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, as I re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the gazillionth time), watching Modern Family, and learning about credit default swaps on subprime mortgage-backed bonds (whoooo!) — thanks to Michael Lewis’ surprisingly fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the U.S. economic collapse of 2008 in The Big Short. Yes, I am married to an accountant.

Oh, and we hung out with the cat. Good times were had by all. Happy holidays!

(Aren’t they cute in their matching plaid? I thought so.)


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Smorgasburg: How to be a foodie (for a day)

Fancy-pants grilled (gruyere) cheese from Milk Truck.

This past Saturday, as part of a weekend of birthday festivities, Sean and I went to check out a cool event called Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition to being a play off of one of my favorite words of all-time, “smorgasbord,” Smorgasburg is made of yummy-ness and fun. The New York Times called it “the Woodstock of eating.” Needless to say, I was pretty pumped.

Smorgasburg takes place every Saturday afternoon, in rain or shine, in the summer months through mid-November along the East River, nestled up next to East River State Park. Basically, this is a collection of food tents–most of which typically operate as either food trucks or brick-and-mortar dining establishments. And you can walk around and eat all kinds of food! Most of it is street fare, from gourmet takes on American classics like the grilled cheese sandwich or pigs-in-a-blanket to the more refined, like artisanal soy milk and vegan kale chips.

I think it’s something that visitors to NYC would love because you get to sample all kinds of great food you can’t find in any ol’ town (or fancy-schmancy adult versions of the foods you grew up with), and you get to enjoy a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline across the river.


Smorgasburg, as seen by birds, not me.

Here’s a few quick tips for any locals or out-of-towners heading to Smorgasburg for the first time:

  1. Bring cash! And an ample amount of it, too. Because it’s all the vendors will take. And you WILL eat more than you know you should.
  2. Bring a friend (or two! or three!)! This way you can try many different things. Order the smallest size of everything, and split it. This is definitely the sort of place where you’ll want to taste all the things and will be very sad if you fill up on just one — albeit very yummy — item.

    You really can’t beat this view for your culinary adventures.

  3. Bring a blanket to sit on. We didn’t do this, but I wish we did. There’s a grassy area next to the lot of tents, where people quickly took up all of the benches to enjoy their Smorgasburg purchases. A wise person would think ahead and bring a towel or picnic blanket. Go ahead and make it the most gourmet/artisanal/hipster picnic of your life. (Unless you’re one of those people I’ve seen in Central Park before, consuming “picnic lunches” consisting entirely of Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods purchases. P.S. If you’re one of those people, can we be friends? And can you invite me to one of your picnics, pretty please?)
  4. When you first arrive, stake out the “lay of the land” (“lay of the land” is one of Sean’s favorite phrases). Walk up and down all the rows so you’re not tempted to just spring for the first booth you see. And trust me, you will. Go where your nose, taste buds, and stomach lead you.
  5. Throw ideas about meal conventions out the window. When we arrived, we got a toasted coconut donut from the Dough stand, even though it was nearly noon. Then after eating our way through the lunch foods of the world, we finished off with gourmet s’mores from S’more Bakery. On second thought, throw your ideas about “nutrition” and “balanced meals” out the window, too. At least for this one special, magical time. It is a fair of sorts, OK?
  6. A pleasant surprise!

    Don’t be afraid to try things you think you wouldn’t like. I tried a free sample of those kale chips. They were OK. I also tried fried chicken with a cheddar waffle in maple-vinegar sauce and LOVED it. I never understood the “chicken & waffles” establishments in the South, but now I totally do. It’s two comfort foods together. Fortunately, we did not get a Southern-style portion of this fried goodness.

  7. Give into the pretentiousness. Be a foodie for a day! Yes, we paid as much for one panini-pressed grilled cheese as it would probably cost to buy a whole loaf of sandwich bread and pack of Kraft Singles (in any state other than NY, at least), but you know what? It was about 10x yummier than Wonderbread and a Kraft Single. And I also plan on repeating the experience zero more times. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not a habit.
  8. Take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan! For $4 a person, you get to go on a decently long boat ride while looking at the skyscrapers of Manhattan on one side and the hodgepodge of Brooklyn on the other. Plus, the subway ride under the river always makes my ears pop.
  9. Before you leave, absolutely get a donut from Dough. Best. Donuts. Ever. I heard the blood orange is a favorite, but Sean has something against citrus-y desserts. So YOU should totally get the blood orange donut, and tell me how it is!

Interesting graffiti on the walk through Brooklyn to the ferry port.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, sans a somewhat sticky situation involving my s’more (see what I did there? “Sticky situation?” I crack myself up). Smorgasburg is definitely a once-a-year or so venture because the cost of all that artisanal, gourmet food can make it add up a lot quicker than other casual lunches.

But it is a great idea for those of us who love to eat yet are indecisive about what we want to eat! You’re presented with so many appetizing options, you can’t help but want to try them all. Which brings me to my last and final Smorgasburg tip:

10. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach! I’m still working on that one.


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Walking adventures in upper Manhattan

So as I curl up with a steaming hot mug of Organic Apple Red tea (caffeine-free, guys, don’t worry!), it truly is beginning to feel like fall here. I still haven’t unpacked my sweaters, but it is definitely jeans-and-a-cardigan weather, which don’t you know, is the best kind of weather! To embrace the crisp fresh air before it turns frigid, Sean and I embarked on a fun meandering throughout upper Manhattan this past Saturday. We did have a final destination, but you know what they say about the journey being the best part.

We began by fueling up with brunch at The Mansion Restaurant, one of those classic little diners with a novel-like menu. I ordered “The York Ave,” because I had to wonder what one of my cross-streets tastes like, which is apparently two eggs and ham with cheddar on toast with a side of home-fries. After eating our way through a feast of breakfast-foods, we walked over to The Met, where we scored free admission thanks to Sean’s place of employment. Fun fact: The admission prices listed at the museum are only SUGGESTED donations, so you can technically give $1 and get in. You might receive a dirty look from one of the volunteers, but you can’t deny people their art, OK?

You aren’t allowed to take pictures in this exhibit, like I said, so this is borrowed from the Internet. (source)

At the museum, we mainly checked out a newer modern photography exhibit (a.k.a. How to Do Awesome Things with Photoshop) and the newest “Regarding Warhol” exhibit, which featured pieces by both Warhol and a number of artists directly influenced by him. This particular gallery was super-packed of people who can’t read “no photography” signs, but it was also a super-cool exhibit. I mean, the last room featured Warhol’s psychedelic cow-covered wallpaper design and helium-filled “silver clouds” (shiny rectangular balloons) floating around to The Velvet Underground. Um, hello? Can we talk about how awesome that is?

After we grew weary from all those political statements and bright colors, we meandered out to the Rooftop Garden, which I’d yet to visit. It was more of a Rooftop where you could buy overpriced drinks, but you could see over the treetops of Central Park and a bit of the sweeping city skyline and a gloriously cloudy sky. Also, I inhaled some of the freshest air I’ve inhaled in a while. You don’t know fresh air until you’ve learned what fresh air is NOT by walking by some rotting garbage on the streets here.

A cloudy Saturday that made way for a beautifully sunny Sunday. (Haha…”sunny Sunday.”)

After a quick pit stop at a pretzel stand to become properly caffeinated with Diet Coke, we walked aaaaalll the way across Central Park, by way of one of the cross-streets because the actual park was closed for a concert. Boo. And kept going aaaalll the way to Riverside Park, alongside the Hudson River. Along the way, as we went through the Upper West Side, I saw some lovely brownstones that reminded me of You’ve Got Mail, and also a lot of dogs. Always dogs, everywhere.

A sailboat on the Hudson, don’t you know.

I’d never been to Riverside Park before, but it is nice. A little noisy because there is a highway next to it, but you can smell the clean, salty river water and see New Jersey on the opposite coast. Not that New Jersey is especially beautiful in that area, but it’s nice to be reminded of life beyond this compact island.

The more elevated portion of the park had a few trees with leaves that were beginning to turn colors, and some leaves had already fallen and it smelled like AUTUMN! There were dogs running around being happy, bikers biking around and being happy, little kids on scooters scooting around and being happy, and walkers (like us) walking around and being happy.

This is Sean. He walks a lot faster than me (I have short legs/short everything), so this is frequently what I see as I walk around the city, haha.

Once we made it pretty far into the “upper” portion of the Upper West Side, we decided to go on the world’s shortest tour of Columbia University, a.k.a. “walk across Columbia’s campus to get to our real destination.” I’ve never visited an Ivy League campus before, so that was exciting. Nothing quite says “fall” like school, right?

P.S. Their campus is full of old, gorgeous buildings.

Here is a reenactment of our reactions to Columbia’s campus:

“It’s…it’s so…so beautiful.”

“Yeah, but these undergrads have to be the most spoiled kids on earth.”

“Hello, my name is Columbia, and I am gorgeous.”

“Yeah? Yeah! Columbia sucks.”

“It sucks!”

*both secretly wishing we’d gone to Columbia instead of a public university on scholarship*

More pretty Ivy League buildings.

Theeeen we cut through Morningside Park (we had to go to ALL of the parks, OK?), where we heard what sounded like a Gospel Revival. “Can I hear all my Harlem people say ‘AMEN!’?” “AMEN!!!” Oh, and we also enjoyed the park’s wildlife, like this pretty little tuxedo kitty.

“Meow! Didn’t you know city parks are my natural habitat?”

And then, FINALLY we emerged in west Harlem, a mere couple of blocks from our final destination: Zoma. Cue my first encounter with Ethiopian food (and Ethiopian “honey wine”). Ugh. So good! And what a wonderful excuse to eat with your hands! (After washing them, of course, after all that city-nature-exploring.) You basically take this mysteriously spongy flat bread and rip it apart into bite-size pieces and shovel all sorts of curried and spiced meats and veggies onto the bread and shove it in your mouth. WITH YOUR HANDS.

Feast of Kings. Or Ethiopians. Whatever.

This seems like as an appropriate a time as any to promote my friend Bernard’s blog, as he is currently serving with the Peace Corps in — where else? — Ethiopia! I hope he gets to eat like this often. I doubt it, but one can only hope.

So there you have it: one Saturday’s random explorations! I believe the best way to discover New York is to wander around its streets aimlessly. You never know what you’ll discover.

Disclaimer: We totally took the subway and then an MTA bus home. One can have only so many Manhattan walking adventures in one day.

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The Great Hot Dog Rivalry: East Side vs. West Side

Having survived closing out my first issue of one of the magazines I copy edit at my new job last week — and the longest issue of the year, mind you — I am happy to return to blogging more regularly. No, I did not work until the obscene hours my accountant husband has these past few months, but even just working an extra hour or so killed my spirit for wanting to look at words at home too much. Not even leisurely reading (gasp!). One night I came home, ordered Chinese food online (how lazy can you get?!?) and watched what felt like a half million YouTube videos of late ’90s and early ’00s music videos. I mean, you can’t watch just ONE Britney video. Trust me.

Sometimes, I really cannot explain or excuse my behavior.

Ahem. To the point of this post. On Sunday afternoon post-Mass, Sean suggested we grab a light lunch. “Where?” I asked. “I was thinking…hot dogs.” And then, because our hearts and minds are just so in sync, I just knew where we were going.

Papaya King.

Behold! The glowing yellow delights of Papaya King. (Photo not mine because I feel awkward taking pictures of food in public. I should get over this.)

Actually, I think that whole mind-/stomach-reading thing was less due to love and more due to common sense. I mean…where else are you going to get a hot dog in New York?

Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) know what’s up. They dig a NYC hot dog here and there.

Yes, you can buy one for dirt-cheap from one of those carts in Central Park or Time Square or wherever tourists are (this is what Tina Fey does on 30 Rock, so it’s OK, I promise!), but here’s a little tip: check out a neighborhood favorite! I first learned this when I came to visit the city during spring break my senior year of college while my then-boyfriend/now-husband was interning up here, and we went to check out Gray’s Papaya in the Upper West Side.

We’d heard about it on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations NYC episode, when he raved about “the recession special,” which boasted two hot dogs and a tropical drink for $4 or something equally ridiculous. I was also pumped because this is the brightly colored joint where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meet when their characters become friends (and are unknowingly in love with one another) in You’ve Got Mail. Oh, and Ted takes Robin there on How I Met Your Mother when she gets really hungry on New Year’s Eve. It’s a hopping place on TV.

Previously, I considered hot dogs a “specific occasion food,” as in, they were acceptable to eat at a professional baseball game or a backyard barbecue, but other than that, forget about it. Then I tried Gray’s hot dogs and they had this wonderful bite/crunch to them, plus I really dig the combination of the saltiness of the hot dog with the bitter/vinegary-ness of the traditional NYC toppings (sauerkraut, onions, and spicy brown mustard). However, once we moved up here and settled in the UES, getting over to Gray’s Papaya isn’t so easy. But good news! We have Papaya King:

There it is, right on 86th and 3rd, in all its colorful glory!

I’ve determined that I like this place more than Gray’s Papaya, so it’s all good. And I’m not just saying that to show my Upper East Side pride. The papaya drinks here actually taste like papaya, and not just thick sugar-water, so that’s a definite plus. Also, you can get a variety of hot dog toppings, like an onion-crunch dog or a chili-cheese dog. I still go with the classic toppings, but my favorite combo is “the 1932” (not so coincidentally, the year this fine dining establishment was founded), a balanced and nutritious meal consisting of one hot dog, a tropical drink, and an overflowing cup of curly fries for around $6. Like, I said you’ve got all the food groups covered.

It’s a teeny-tiny place with little counters by the windows where you have to stand to eat your food, just like we see Meg & Tom demonstrating in the You’ve Got Mail screencap above, or you can take it on the go and enjoy a meal in all of a New York minute. If you do choose to stay inside, I like to read the various news clippings on the wall. According to this collage of media, Julia Child proclaimed Papaya King to be her favorite NYC hot dog, and Chef Anthony Bourdain — a current UES resident, if I haven’t mentioned that half a dozen times already — said the Papaya King special (two hot dogs and a tropical drink, our pick this past Sunday) is the best meal you can get in the city for under $5. Uh, apparently, Bourdain is not very loyal with this hot dog stands. Which one do you really prefer, Tony?

Apparently, chef/author/TV host Anthony Bourdain has no discrimination when it comes to his NYC hot dogs. Here he is pictured in front of Papaya King (you can see where it says “King’s Special” on the sign behind him). I would love to run into Bourdain at Papaya King. Can the gods of the universe arrange this for me, please?

The restaurant itself boasts all kinds of ridiculousness, from “our frankfurters are tastier than filet mignon” and “papaya promotes heart health.” The last one might be true, except for when consumed with curly fries and hot dogs, of course. You can’t blame them for trying.

So how exactly did these two seemingly random foods, papaya juice and hot dogs, end up irrevocably paired together? As the story goes, the founder, Gus Poulos, fell in love with papaya while on a tropical vacation in Miami. So then he opened several successful tropical juice stands in the city. One day Gus fell on his roller blades and a young German-American woman (hopefully she wasn’t a Nazi spy…you know how Yorkville was back in the day) named “Birdie” helped him up and nurtured him by bringing him traditional German food, including…frankfurters! (This also explains the sauerkraut.)

Needless to say, “Birdie” and Gus were married, and he soon introduced the frankfurter to his juice stand. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a food legend was born.

Sorry to post a gazillion pictures of this guy, but “OH HEY! I totally stood in that same exact spot this past weekend and ate my hot dog.” Sadly, Bourdain was not there to stand and eat with me.

So maybe you’re a UWS resident with a fierce and undying loyalty to Gray’s Papaya.* Whatever your preference, I hope you relish (hardy har har) your classic New York meal! According to some statistic I saw while enjoying my hot dog, it takes about 5 bites for the average American to down a frank. So be careful: your meal could be over before you know it. Good thing the menu is cheap and the calorie counts aren’t displayed, right?

*…but we all know Papaya King is where it’s at.


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