Sunday, December 28, 2014

a hell LOVE a year, This 2014, Here

2014 was kind of a cloudy year for me. The beginning of my year was clouded by two huge exams I had to pass to keep my day job and my obscene stress-level related to them. The next few months were clouded with confusion regarding something that was beyond my control, no matter how hard I tried.

This year, I also felt a lot like Kristen Wiig's character in Bridesmaids, where everyone elses' lives were "going off and getting perfect and mine's just like..." (Kristen sticking her tongue out, dejectedly). Maybe it's weird to admit that in the public domain, and I promise, I am genuinely excited for you all, but I also couldn't help wondering when it would be my turn for my life to "get perfect". Not to say that I'm necessarily looking for everything that I see many people my age getting into, I can't even imagine having a dog right now or owning anything more expensive than my computer, but I'm not NOT looking for it either.

I've been awesome lately, but I'm still looking forward to this year ending because I could use a clean slate. I have a refreshed outlook and a new life plan - one that I'm as excited about as my life plan many years ago to move to New York. That has probably been the best decision of my life so far so I have a good feeling about this plan too. This one needs to remain close to me for now, but I'm sure I'll be advertising it soon enough.

Here are some of the things I'll remember about this year with a smile, in no particular order, and with relevant blogpost links:

  • Random weekend nights out with friends that started out as nothing and ended up as everything, by simply asking Brits in town to help with a crossword puzzle, or starting up a conversation with people from Arkansas as McSorley's is closing.

  • Three weekends of bachelorette party celebrations, starting with friends coming up to NYC to play Twister, eat pizza, and attend a drag show - continuing in Newport, Rhode Island with a mimosas and lighthouses tour, salad in jars, and tiaras - and ending in the Hamptons with a workout class, a trip to a farm to pick out a chicken, and multiple games of Celebrity.

  • A 29th birthday celebration that made me feel incredibly loved since it was the tenth rainiest day in NYC ever recorded but still there were tons of people who showed up to one of my favorite West Village bars after work on a Wednesday.

  • Becoming an adult about my health and starting to work out more, eat healthier, and actually make a point of drinking water (unlike on my hike in Hawaii).

  • Feeling like I'm on a team at work for the first time since 2009. Becoming real friends with the people I work near and with closely and genuinely getting excited for work trips.

  • Celebrating my mom's retirement from teaching and getting to see how much she enjoys it while continuing her yoga practice, relearning how to paint, and walking the boards along the ocean.

  • Joining the team at Trivia AD. Hosting and coming up with questions for our inaugural Girls HBO night and 1990s Nickelodeon night. Hosting and scorekeeping for several other fun themes over the months (Disney Movies, Friends, Sex & the City, Mean Girls). Getting third place in Game of Throne Trivia when I finally got my friends together to play. You really should come see me host sometime. Wink wink nudge nudge.

  • Dancing the night away at four weddings in Rye, NY, Basking Ridge & Jersey City, NJ, and Virginia Beach, VA. Being a bridesmaid in two of those weddings. Reuniting with old work friends, friends from growing up, and friends from UD. Losing my scarf at Ruby Tuesdays, getting Avril'ed after Dry Bar totally messed up my hair, being a witness, eating Ice Dream at Chick Fil-A, and playing with the most perfect dog in the universe, Riley.

  • Spending a weekend in Maryland visiting a two-year-old who may already be smarter than I am. Playing with Disney princesses, picking pumpkins, and eating clam chowder at a dairy.
  • Welcoming two adorable new babies to our growing family and hearing news of another one on the way. Frousins (Friends + Cousins), the Next Generation is in full swing.

  • Becoming more involved in the travel community by getting business cards, attending travel festivals and networking events, and becoming real-life friends with some of my favorite bloggers. Making plans for future travels.

  • A Thanksgiving for the history books, both with my own family and the after party with my second family down the street which involved a Mary Chapin Carpenter and Taylor Swift singalong that I think someone has digital proof of somewhere.
  • A smaller but more-extended-than-usual Christmas with some of the best folks I know. Live-tweeting "It's a Wonderful Life," walking the trail for 3.3 miles, splitting my jeans when getting into the car, bowling in NJ for $5.50 a person, a trip to Firkin, and hearing my cousins' compliments to me while hitting number 4 in "Cheers to the Gov'ner".
After writing this list, I'm starting to think that instead of waiting for my life to "get perfect", I need to recognize that my life is perfect just the way it is. Maybe 2015 will help me to feel that way. 

Thanks for another amazing year. A hell LOVE a lotta love to you and yours.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

a hell LOVE a Gift Guide for Travelers (or Anyone!)

If you're as bad at holiday shopping as I am, then you probably don't have a lot of yours done at this point and you'll scramble over the next few weeks and end up paying a lot more for express shipping than you would if you planned ahead. But, if you happen to have a traveler in your life, I have a list of great ideas for gifts, all tried and loved by yours truly!

~~~ Accessories ~~~

Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf

{via Lululemon}

I buy workout clothes more often than I work out, and Lululemon is one of my weaknesses. I purchased their Vinyasa Scarf this fall, thinking that it would be a great accessory when traveling. It is comfy, warm, and has snaps so you can wear it in a variety of ways, although my family has teased me because I only really know the one way. It's perfect as a blanket on a draft airplane or to cover up a little more if visiting a temple in Thailand. This scarf is so versatile that there is a video on all the different ways to wear it on the above link. I'm sure I'll figure it all out at some point. It'll set you back $48, but that's a steal for Lululemon.

Cuyana Travel Accessories

{via Cuyana}
{via Cuyana}

Another one of my major weaknesses is the website Cuyana, whose motto is "Fewer, Better." They source accessories that you'll want to own your whole life from different countries around the globe. For example, I have a leather tote from Argentina, a robe from Turkey, a ring from Bali, among lots of other things. It's an obsession.

If your traveler is anything like me, she'll want sophisticated leather travel toiletry and cosmetic bags as well as a matching passport holder to look cool while waiting in security lines and to keep track of boarding passes and itineraries. I have both in blue. The travel case set is $95 and the passport holder is $55. Oops.

~~~ Noms ~~~

I'm pretty well-known for snacking at my office and it is there where I get two snack subscriptions delivered. Not only do these subscriptions save me money and allow to me to snack smarter and healthier at work, they come in handy while I'm traveling too. I now always have healthy snacks on hand so that I'm less tempted to get a huge cinnamon bun or Twizzlers at the airport. Subscription boxes are great as gifts because everyone enjoys surprises in the mail months after the holidays.


{via Graze}
Graze is four individual servings of snacks which I receive weekly. You can also select the every-other-week option if you're not a glutton like me. Graze chooses which snacks to send, but you're able to evaluate each snack as "trash," "try," "like," or "love." You can also select certain types of snacks if you don't want any nuts or anything over 100 calories, for example. These snacks are the perfect size to bring along while you're sightseeing and have helped me postpone a lunch stop more than a few times.

Graze has a number of gift options, 1 box at a time, or vouchers for 3, 5, 10, and 50. All gift options are currently $6/box. If you'd like to try out the subscription for yourself, use this referral code: ERINF9XHP and get your 1st and 5th box for free.

Nature Box

{via Nature Box}
Nature Box is a monthly subscription where you can choose which healthy snacks in full-sized packages come to your door. Once in a while, the snacks in your "pantry" will be out of stock and you may receive a substitute or two, but I've had good luck with their customer service team if I haven't liked something. Boxes and prices vary, but I personally subscribe for $19.95/month for five full-sized snack bags.

Use this referral link for $10 off your first box.


Rick Steves' European Guidebooks

Me and "Rick" in Rome
My family and I are obsessed with Rick Steves. His European travel guides are the absolute best. If I hadn't known about him, I wouldn't have been as comfortable wandering around London and Amsterdam by myself. He writes kind of like me, like a human, and his guidebooks are so much more than just listings of places to see. Rick gets into what you're supposed to take in at every landmark, what you should skip, and has amazing walking tours. He guides you through different neighborhoods, places of interest, and even picks out the top 10 or 20 pieces of art so you don't become overwhelmed in a ginormous museum. I actually am a little annoyed when I travel outside of Europe and have to do research with other brands of guidebooks. I would love for Rick to expand into other areas of the world. HINT HINT RICKIE POO. Spoiler alert: I am receiving the Rick Steves Spain 2015 book for Christmas this year.

"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed

You probably already know how I feel about this book, if you've ever talked to me, read this post, or seen any of my recent tweets regarding the new movie adaptation with Reese Witherspoon. I plan on rereading this in the new year. This book is the ultimate inspiration for a solo journey, which I (and the author) think everyone should take at some point in their lives. Cheryl Strayed's beautifully written memoir of her solo hike of 1,000 miles up the Pacific Coast Trail at a harrowing point in her life will be meaningful to any traveler.


Walks of New York

While I do clearly love everything above, I'm a much bigger fan of experiences than things. If you need a gift for a traveler and you happen to be local to NYC, I'd recommend a tour with Walks of New York. I went on the Lower East Side tour in April and learned so much more about the neighborhood than I ever expected. I'm hoping to make it on their Mario Batali Greenwich Food Tour this winter, which includes exclusive visits to two of the Croc-wearer's restaurants. Tours are also available at the Met, on Broadway, and beyond. There are even some special Christmas-themed tours this month.

Email for gift voucher details.


Scratch-off Map

{via Urban Outfitters}

Anything with a map on it is a good gift for a traveler. A map where they can track where they've been is the ultimate. I received this scratch-off map from my sister two Christmases ago. It's up to you to decide if you should scratch off the entire country or just the region of the country you've been to. I felt a little guilty scratching off all of Brazil for just one weekend spent on the border of Argentina and Brazil at Iguazu Falls, but I do like seeing all that purple revealed. It makes me feel like I've conquered more of the world than I have. 


Here's to hoping the above items and the extreme motivation to travel more help me and the traveler in your life scratch off more of those countries soon.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ocean City Boardwalk Classics

Growing up between beach towns on the Jersey Shore was pretty special. Our AIM profiles bragged, "our lives are your vacation," as we spent countless hours working on our tans in the sand over the summers. In high school, I frequently found myself watching the ocean waves instead of paying attention in Physics. While I was the absolute slowest person on the track team (no exaggeration), I enjoyed running on the boardwalk with the ocean breeze in my hair. But what I've always loved most about the boardwalk is the food.

I haven't been to the Ocean City boardwalk in a number of years as I've grown quite accustomed to the neighborhood firepit instead. But when I was home for Thanksgiving, I got quite a craving for the boards of my youth. There are only a few stores here and there open in the off-season, but luckily, they're all the best ones.

Manco & Manco Pizza

When I was younger, and for a number of years before then (since the 1950s), this place was called Mack & Manco's so that's what I'll refer to it as forever outside of this post. Manco & Manco is more than just your classic boardwalk pizzeria. This place works like a machine. It's best to sit at the counter, grab the special (2 slices and a soda for $6.25), and watch the show. The men behind the counter knead and flatten two squares of dough together, spin the pie up in the air, scatter tons of cheese on the dough adding a spiral of tomato sauce fresh from a hose, before popping it into the oven. Slices are served piping hot, so you'll definitely burn your tongue on the first slice. Only tourists get toppings, don't mess with the classic plain.

Johnson's Popcorn

Johnson's Popcorn has been around in Ocean City even longer than Manco's & Manco's, since 1940. It's classic caramel corn but it's about 1000 times better than that stuff you used to get during the holidays in the giant can with the three parts for caramel, cheddar, and regular popcorn. You know what I'm talking about. You can get this popcorn in an open bag to eat (for $4 or $7) while you're strolling the boards but a much better value is the tub for $8. If you're not saving it, ask for it open to fit in an extra few spoonfuls of popcorn. If you purchase it sealed, it will stay good for a few months. But why would you wait to eat it?! The best part about this popcorn is when you tell yourself "okay, only one more piece" after you've been gorging on it for a while, you can always find a piece that is actually 6 or 7 pieces melted together. It still counts as one.

Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy

Salt Water Taffy is a staple of the Jersey Shore and Fralinger's is said to be the original, with a history that dates back to 1885. The name of Salt Water Taffy is said to come from when the waves washed over a candy stand and soaked all of the candy there, which the disgruntled owner called "Salt Water Taffy" that day. The original Fralinger's is in Atlantic City. I have been enjoying Salt Water Taffy for years, but just discovered the chocolate-covered taffy Fralinger's offers on this last visit. It's definitely a nice twist as banana, raspberry, peanut butter, mint, and orange go fantastically with chocolate. I also made it out of there with a few adorable "sea air and sunshine-filled" boxes of the classic taffy to share with my coworkers this week, if there is any left tomorrow. I have a sugar-consumption problem.


I was a little disheartened that Kohr Bros. was not one of the classic stores open. Kohrs' is a Coney Island original that has been on the Jersey Shore for decades and has expanded to Key West, Virginia Beach, the less cool Ocean City in Maryland, and more. I suppose it would have been too cold to eat their peanut butter and chocolate custard on a cone on a brisk day in November. Maybe I will venture off from the wedding I'm going to in VA Beach in a few weeks in search of this treasure. Until then, more popcorn and taffy!


Monday, November 17, 2014

My Bologna Has a Last Name, it's Wilensky

Montreal is a city for foodies. Many of the recommendations I'd received from friends were for champagne bars and fancy French restaurants with several courses, foie gras, and lots of dollar signs on their yelp pages. But one of the best meals we had in Montreal was significantly more lowbrow than those establishments. I was told to explore the Mile End neighborhood, and I found a nearby place called Wilensky's Light Lunch to drag my family to one afternoon. 

We were ravenous from a day of exploration and when we first walked in, I wondered if we'd made a mistake. There were only a few stools to eat and they were full, not good for a girl with a broken toe, a cane, and a tired family. I thought maybe we'd have to take our sandwiches to go. But then, just like that, a group of four sitting at the bar got up and as my family sat down and I started looking around, I knew that it was going to be a great experience.

Wilensky's has been open since 1932 and there is history all around. A girl behind the counter asked us what we wanted and I said I thought we might need a minute as I studied the signs on the wall. But when she told us about the special, salami, bologna, and mustard on a pressed roll I said, "four, please," then checked to get my family's approval. They've learned to trust my ordering over the years - or maybe they were afraid I would give them attitude for wanting something else - so they just nodded.

Here's what one of the signs says about the special, which can explain why this is my kind of place:

When ordering a special,
You should know a thing or two.
They are always served with mustard,
They are never cut in two.
Don't ask us why, just understand,
That this is nothing new.
This is the way that it's been done
Since 1932.

I'm sure that my dad had some beef (bologna) with this poem since it rhymes "two," "two," and "two" and if it were a Beyoncé song he would've rewritten it, but we all were too hungry to judge. The sandwiches came out in what seemed like 10 seconds and we got a side of pickles and dug in. This sandwich is a perfect Erin sandwich. Perfect taste, no veggies, and pressed flat so it takes up less room in my tummy - is that how it works? I'm not a doctor. The sandwich surely doesn't look like much, but it does the trick, and does it well. We also each ordered a different soda which were mixed old school behind the counter. I got a cherry cola and it was definitely the best cherry cola I've ever had, and I am not even saying that because of how much my body needed that boost of caffeine at that time.

I'd read in my guidebook that the staff might be grumpy, but I felt welcome and even appreciated the entire time. Another amazing thing about Wilensky's is that the sandwiches are under $5. This is a far cry from the 12 cents they were in 1932, but still much less than I can find a sandwich for in New York aside from McDonald's. It's clear that aside from the prices, this place has not changed much in 82 years. But it doesn't have to. 


Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Irish Need Apply at the LES Tenement Museum

I've wanted to go to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum since Katie and I took a tour of the Lower East Side with Jeff from Walks of New York this spring. On that tour, I learned a lot about the history of immigration to the LES and realized that I currently live in an old tenement building.

When my parents visited last weekend, I thought it would be a great opportunity to finally tour this museum, especially because they hadn't been to the LES on any of their previous visits. There are a variety of options to tour the Tenement Museum (including food tours and visits with actors dressed as the occupants of the tenement from the 19th century), but the one that stood out most to me was the "Irish Outsiders" tour, because my dad and I are obsessed with being Irish and my mom is a good sport. 

We timed our visit perfectly to arrive at the top-notch gift shop a half-hour before the tour started. Unbeknownst to us, there is an informative half-hour movie playing on repeat on the side of the gift shop. The movie is a great introduction to the history of the Lower East Side and has specific details about the tenement building we were going to tour, 97 Orchard. 7,000 people lived in this tenement from 1863 to the 1930s, when the top floors were boarded up because the owner of the building couldn't keep up with safety regulations - specifically replacing the wood in the common area staircase with fireproof material.

{via the LES Tenement Museum}

Our "Irish Outsiders" tour started outside the gift shop with a brief introduction and a quick walk to the tenement building outdoor common yard, where the water pump (which only worked well in the morning) and the four toilet stalls were located. Our tour guide informed us that these toilets were only "flushed" weekly and were shared by the entire building. Already we were understanding that these living conditions were not ideal.

We climbed up to the fourth floor on a newer external staircase, with some on the tour group talking about how many stairs it was, but it was a breeze for me, since I'm on the fifth floor in my own walk-up apartment. We were brought to the Moore family's old apartment which has been restored to how it would have looked when they lived there in the 1860s. We learned about the family themselves, who only lived in this apartment for a year, and were the only Irish in a building of Germans. Our tour guide also told us about the history of the Irish people in America at this time and even played for us a few Irish Balladeers about the time period, my favorite being "No Irish Need Apply." I've been a fan of this saying for a while since my dad has this sign from an antique shop hanging in his office:

The song goes:

I started out to find the house, 
I got it mighty soon; 
There I found the old chap seated, 
He was reading the Tribune. 

I told him what I came for, 
When he in a rage did fly, 
"No!" he says, "You are a Paddy, 
And no Irish need apply." 

Then I gets my dander rising 
And I'd like to black his eye 
To tell an Irish gentleman 
"No Irish Need Apply." 

Some do count it a misfortune 
To be christened Pat or Dan, 
But to me it is an honor 
To be born an Irishman.


In the parlor, the Moore's apartment is set up how it would have been during the wake of their infant daughter who died of malnutrition while they lived in the apartment. It was complete with a baby-sized coffin, chairs where the women would sit closest to the body, and a shroud over the mirror because in Irish legend at that time, if you saw yourself in the mirror during a wake, you would be the next to pass on. It was sad to think of how much this family struggled to survive and how hard they worked for so little in return. It makes you want to thank your ancestors somehow for coming to this country with nothing so that you could complain about forgetting to DVR your favorite television show and it not being available yet on a machine you hold in your hands and on which you're able to contact Hong Kong in just 3 seconds.

We made our way back to my apartment after two stops - Katz's and a bar to meet up with Katie and Jake. My mom quickly turned into a detective and started comparing my apartment to the one we saw at the museum. She noted that my floorboards indicate that the small wall between my refrigerator and my living room must have originally been a full wall with a doorway, just as in the Moore's apartment. We realized that there must have been a stovepipe in the middle of my exposed brick wall. My living room has the same exact wall of windows as the "parlor" we saw in the Moore's apartment, which disappoints me because my window frames are painted an ugly white whereas they were clearly a beautiful wood at one point like in this picture:

{via the LES Tenement Museum}

The apartment I live in now is where I've lived the longest over the last ten years and is also the first New York City apartment of my own. It will always remain special to me. Now that I know a little more about the types of people who may have come before me and what they went through, it means even more. I can barely fit all of my clothes in my closets but at one point there may have been 13 people from multiple families living within my walls. It makes me feel thankful to have my own space, but even more thankful to have a bathroom that I don't have to share with 20 other apartments and that I can flush more than once a week.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Voluncheering for the NYC Marathon

Today I was asked if I ran the NYC Marathon on Sunday by four different people - three at physical therapy and one at Lululemon. I was completely honored by this question, as if *I* could ever run a marathon. It was due to the t-shirt I was wearing which shows the NYC Marathon logo on the front and then reveals the truth on the back, "VOLUNTEER." I sure did not have it in me to run the marathon on Sunday, nor probably will I ever (especially given my uncertainty with just a 7K last year), but I was a hell LOVE a volunteer, if I do say so myself.

I got involved in volunteering for the marathon because my amazing frousin Emily (who you may recognize from her recent appearance on Good Day New York) was co-leading the effort for the Mile 14 Water Station takeover by the November Project. If you haven't heard, the November Project is a free workout group that meets way before I wake up with tons of amazing people who love working out, being together, and inspiring each other. It's something that I've been tempted to try but since I've had foot injuries since July and now it is cold out, it may take some time still for me.

We committed to volunteering back in the summer, but it wasn't until two weeks before the marathon when I started to wonder what it was going to be like. Because I think too much about everything, I was wondering if it would be too cold, or raining, or if I'd be exhausted from having to wake up so early, or if I'd get completely soaked with water for the entire eight-hour shift. I can't imagine my thoughts if I had had to run the 26.2 miles with how much the thought of volunteering overtook my mind.

When Sunday came, I realized that the day was going to be awesome right away. My sister and I had both had tiring weeks so we ended up going to bed at 9:30 on Saturday night, which is probably the earliest I've gone to bed since 1995. We got the perfect amount of sleep to get up and get to Long Island City around 7 to meet with Maura, Austin, Davesh, and members of the November Project. I bundled up in two pairs of socks, rainboots, rainboot liners, two pairs of leggings, a short-sleeved t-shirt, a long-sleeved t-shirt, two jackets, gloves, a beanie hat, and a November Project trucker hat - could I *be* wearing any more clothes?! Why yes, I could, as they also gave us a long green poncho and blue gloves to top it all off.

We had a lot of setting up to do when we got there. My friends & framily decided we would take care of water rather than Gatorade. We filled cups up on a table on three different levels. I didn't have much confidence in this because I have forgotten all about physics at this point in my life and it just didn't make sense to me that these cups would stay put. I also was slightly concerned about the ridiculous gusts of winds that kept coming, but somehow, everything was alright.

Once the runners started coming, I stayed on the front line the whole day. Because of my weird long legs and limbs, I could still be touching the curb (a strict requirement that was broken a lot due to our excitement) and be pretty far out into the road for a runner to see me first. As I am the clumsiest person I know, I thought I would be dropping cups left and right and missing runners, but I did a pretty solid job. I was good at letting the runners know that we had Water (Wa-Ter, Agua) instead of Gatorade, making eye contact, handing off the cup smoothly, and giving them the best words of encouragement I could.

That's the greatest part of the NYC Marathon, the cheering. It's such an amazing feeling to be present for this incredible accomplishment in 50,000 people's lives. Marathon Sunday makes everyone happy - the entire city is in awe of what the human body and mind can do. It makes you think what you might be able to do if you can just put your mind and entire heart and soul into something. And to be just a tad selfish, it also does make you feel awesome when you see someone struggling a little and you're able to make them smile with a few simple words.

You're not going to catch me running in a marathon anytime soon, but you can for sure count on me to voluncheer again.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A #1 Meal in the Buff(alo)

Earlier this month, I was heading to Buffalo, New York with just enough free time for a meal. Per usual, I did extensive research and found the number-one-rated restaurant in Buffalo, Martin Cooks, on TripAdvisor. I was intrigued by reviews touting "Foodie Heaven," "Perfection Every Time," and "Most unique dining experience in Buffalo." To see that the lunch was actually affordable with all these great reviews solidified my decision.

My dining companion and I arrived around 12:30 for lunch and as soon as we walked in, we looked at each other and said "yep, this is going to be awesome." The building looks industrial and Brooklyn-y and is actually home to a few other restaurants as well, with apartments on the floors above. I found out later that day that one of my twitter buddies lives in the building. What I would do to live in this building now that I've experienced Martin Cooks...

The brick walls, the exposed pipes, and the open kitchen make for a comfortable, inviting atmosphere. We decided to sit on the stools at the bar so that we could watch the chefs at work. I asked the gentleman who brought us our menus, waters, and meals if he was Martin, he quickly said, "No, Martin cooks!" and gestured toward the open kitchen to Martin. "You want to talk to him? Go ahead and say hi." We walked a few steps into the kitchen and exchanged a few words but Martin was quite busy seasoning a beautiful porchetta so we went back to our stools quickly and gushed about how great this place was, even before we had a chance to try anything on the menu.

The menu had a handful of delicious-sounding items as "Apple, Bacon, Cheddar, and Peanut Butter Sandwich," "Acorn Squash, Quinoa, Swiss Chard, Red Onion, Bacon," and "Meatloaf Patty Melt with Smoked Onions, Swiss & Cheddar Cheese." We wanted to make the most of our experience, so we decided to get three meals and share. When we ordered, I started to say, "Can we please share..." and the gentleman serving us said "You don't want to share" in a teasing manner. I quickly continued, "but what if we get three meals??" and he smiled and said he would allow it.

"Our Signature Green Pancakes with Raita & Harissa" came out first, separated kindly onto two plates. What made them green was spinach, jalapeño, green onions, and cilantro. They came with a yummy white yogurt sauce (the Raita) and a chile pepper paste (the Harissa) as well as some more greens on top. The pancakes were phenomenal. We each had to force ourselves to stop eating 3/4ths of the way through to save room for our other two lunch items but I wanted badly to go on. The limitations of my stomach are more of a detriment to my life than anyone realizes.

Our next two dishes came out at the same time. The "Braised Short Ribs with Rice & Pickled Vegetables" were so tender and perfectly seasoned, but as I've had short ribs a number of times, I did not find them especially different than others I've encountered.

The "Porchetta on Ciabatta & Fried Egg" was just to die for. There was also a hint of spicy mustard on this open-faced sandwich. This was now four major food items together that I love but had never had even two of at the same time. This dish was just gorgeous and I felt bad cutting it (poorly) in half to break the yolk and make a mess of it. I made sure that even after I couldn't fit anything else in my belly, I took one last bite of this one.

I am 100% returning if I find myself in Buffalo again, especially given that the menu looks like it changes frequently. A meal like this stays with you, and not just for the afternoon afterward when you feel like you'll never be able to eat another thing for the rest of your life. 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Get More NYC | "Welcome to New York"

Taylor Swift and I lead pretty different lives. She doesn't host trivia or have a blog or drop her phone twelve times a day, at least as far as I know. She has a cat and way more followers on Instagram than I do. But today I discovered that T Swizzle and I actually do have something more in common than a sorted dating history.

We both felt the same way when we moved to New York City - like NYC had been waiting for us to arrive, like we would change the second we moved here, like we belonged. Tay Tay's new track, "Welcome to New York," from her forthcoming album, 1989, touches on this feeling of arriving in the city where you've been dying to live, while learning to accept that the city is not always going to love you back as much as you love it.

{YouTube link} <--- if viewing from a smartphone

"Everybody here wanted something more,
Searching for a sound we hadn't heard before"

"Welcome to New York, it's been waiting for you"

"Everybody here was someone else before"

"The lights are so bright but they never blind me"

"Like any great love, it keeps you guessing,
Like any real love, it's ever-changing,
Like any true love, it drives you crazy,
But you know you wouldn't change anything"


Monday, October 20, 2014

Global Bites without the Flights: Ukrainian Cuisine at Veselka

The last time Kat and I found ourselves in the East Village on our way to Big Gay Ice Cream, we passed Veselka at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 9th Street. We both expressed desires to try the spot famous for serving Ukrainian food to the masses for the past 50 years. I made a mental note of it for our next date *and* the return of my favorite foodie feature, "Global Bites without the Flights."

That next date came a few weeks ago when a catch-up session with my favorite neighbor from college was long overdue. We dined al fresco as there won't be many more nights you can comfortably sit outside for a whole meal and a cold beer. The beer of our choice was of course a Ukrainian one, Obolon, fresh from Kiev, which we both enjoyed.

When thinking about Ukrainian cuisine, pierogis come to mind quickly. At Veselka, there are eight varieties on the menu. Since Kat and I did not want to make some of the pierogis feel bad about themselves, we ordered a plate with one of each, steamed instead of fried. The best pierogis in my opinion happened to be the more traditional ones - potato, cheese, and "meat," which turned out to be some sort of beef. The spinach + cream cheese, goat cheese, and broccoli + cheese were also tasty. I have to admit, I did not love the sauerkraut + mushroom or the sweet potato ones.

Kat and I also split a Beef Stroganoff (sliced beef, slow-simmered, in a mushroom sauce, over egg noodles). This was a safe order but it screamed "comfort food" to me, so we went with it over the Borscht, a traditional soup made of beetroot. I don't know if I like beets, and a soup full of beet juice is probably not a subtle enough way for me to find out.

You really shouldn't do a Global Bites without a dessert, but instead of something from the dessert menu, we chose a breakfast item. We ordered a Blintz, a crepe-like dish stuffed with a "lightly sweetened Farmer's cheese" and served with applesauce, raspberry, and a sweet cream. It was delicious but was probably *too* stuffed with the cheese. I couldn't finish my half. I did finish my beer though. That's what really counts.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

What You Get For Waking Up in Montreal

Sometimes when I travel, I book a hotel deal in which breakfast is included. This usually works out well and I feel fueled for the day ahead and hit the ground running, but it is not the way I wanted to roll on our recent family jaunt to Montreal. As per usual, I received plenty of food recommendations from friends before heading to the Great White North. I quickly noticed a pattern from my list of suggestions - that the breakfast foods in Montreal were going to kick booty and I wanted in on all of it.

Here are my picks for Montreal Mornings:

Montreal has an intense French influence so obviously I was excited about the crepes. The World Wanderer recommended this particular creperie in Old Montreal, and it did not disappoint.

Créperie Chez Suzette does not open until 11 so on a normal weekend day, this would be perfect for breakfast. Since we only had a few days in town and were up and at it early, we stopped in for a late lunch instead, at 2:50. A sign outside and our waitress informed us that all crepes ordered before 3:00 would be half off so we spent the next ten minutes panicking about what to choose from the extensive menu. "We don't have time to order drinks! Worry about that later!"

Miraculously, we were able to order three half-priced crepes given our limited time to decide. We ordered two meals and one dessert to share. I would say that we split them all evenly, but I'm pretty sure my dad was spooning all of the excess sauces off the plates.

We stuffed our faces with:

  • La Supreme de poulet - The Chicken Supreme (which sounds like a Burger King sandwich) - stuffed with tender and juicy morsels of chicken, served with a mushroom sauce
  • La Parisienne - stuffed with Brie cheese, fresh apples, and served with 100% pure Quebec maple syrup
  • La Jamaiciane - with bananas, strawberries, Chantilly cream, ice cream, and a delicious Belgian chocolate sauce

Le Cartet is an adorable spot in Old Montreal for a yummy sit-down breakfast. I love a breakfast with many different tastes and that is exactly what I got. I ordered the poached eggs, which, in my experience, many places mess up, usually because the whites are a little too runny. These poached eggs were the most perfect I'd ever had. I also loved all the sides - the country bread toast, potatoes, grapefruit, orange, pineapple, and strawberries. I obviously didn't eat the greens because I am who I am.

When we sat down, I had noticed that the magnets on the wall spelling out the name of the restaurant said "El Cartet." I thought for a second we'd ended up coming to the wrong place and that this wasn't where my coworker had recommended, but at some point during the meal, one of the servers went up to the wall and fixed it.

I am pretty obsessed with the artwork that was on the wall I was looking at the whole meal instead of paying attention to my family. James Kennedy {link to artwork here} does some pretty amazing pieces with the shapes of individual continents carved out of a dark metal background. If anyone is looking for expensive Christmas gifts for me, this is the way to go.

(3) St-Viateur Bagel

I'm clearly a huge fan of New York bagels {read my latest love letter here} so of course I had to see what the deal was with Montreal bagels. I'd read that some (gasp!) think that Montreal bagels are better than those in NYC! I'd tried a Montreal-style bagel from Black Seed Bagels this summer, but I still had to try a real-life one while I was there. It is said that there are two choices for Montreal bagels and they've been battling for decades - St-Viateur's or Fairmount's. Most of what I'd read stated that in recent years, St-Viateur's has won this race, so it was to there I dragged my family.

Although Montreal bagels are indeed smaller than New York's, I was delighted when instead of just one bagel, I actually received a bagel and a fourth on my plate, which also led me to believe that someone in the kitchen had a nice snack of the rest of that bagel. 

The bagels are indeed delicious but are more similar in looks than tastes to New York bagels. They are denser and chewier and if I hadn't known what I was eating, I may not have guessed it by taste alone. While the bagel was quality, I did misstep by ordering low-fat cream cheese because it tasted more like sour cream than the low-fat stuff I am used to. I ended up stealing some of Katie's chive full-fat cream cheese and continued on my way.

When we finished our breakfasts, we ordered a few bagels to go and enjoyed them later in the day. My dad and I got cinnamon & raisin, my mom had a poppy, and my sister won this round with her rosemary & sea salt bagel. Next time I am in Montreal, I am ordering the rosemary & sea salt by the dozen. With full-fat cream cheese and lots of it.

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