Wednesday, April 30, 2014

29 Things Before I Turned 29

Last year at this time, I had just finished up a big life project of mine, "28 Things to do Before I Turn 28." This project was incredible for me in so many ways, but terribly stressful at the same time. For a few weeks after my birthday, everyone kept asking me what I was going to do before I turned 29. What I wanted to say was: "Are you kidding me? What have *you* done in the last year?!" But I just told them that I needed a little break from the self-imposed pressure.

Now, it is my 29th birthday and I've been reflecting upon this last year of my life over the last few days. I realized that even though I didn't set out to make a list of things I had to do, I've still done some amazing things this year. And so, I present...

29 Things Before I Turned 29:

  • Wrote for a website that wasn't my own
  • Organized a team to run in a charity race for work
  • Started a new role at work that has been my favorite in seven years at my company
  • Passed my Series 63
  • Passed my Series 79
  • Had a "sisters" weekend in Philadelphia
  • Discovered my love for Firepit Fridays
  • Celebrated three good friends' marriages at their bachelorette parties
  • Was asked to be a bridesmaid in two of my dearest friends' upcoming weddings
  • Played about 1,000 rounds of "Cheers to the Governor" with my favorite people in the world
I'm already looking forward to my 30th birthday so I can look back at everything I've done in this next year. Considering this year will start off with free first-class flights to Hawaii, I have some pretty high expectations. Don't let me down, 29.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ainsworth Park: Because You're Ainsworth It

A few nights ago, Kater and I went to check out the new menu at Ainsworth Park, on 18th and Park. This space is huge and super trendy, perfect for the post-work crowd. There appears to be a room to the side that can be rented out, which Kater and I guessed was holding a singles mixer of sorts the night of our visit.

I loved the cocktail menu because each drink was named after something related to the neighborhood. I ordered the unique and delicious "Crooked Knife" - jalapeño-infused Don Julio tequila, lemon juice, and agave, which also came with a dried pepper as a decoration. According to the menu, "the etymology of Gramercy is from a Dutch word 'Krom Moerasje,' meaning 'Crooked Knife.'" Other drink options were named after Dorian Gray, Washington Irving, and even after the Brownstone, the name of the beautiful brick one-family buildings all around Gramercy that make me wish I had $30 million.

For appetizers, Kater and I selected the Spinach and Artichoke Dip (warm spinach dip served with crispy tortilla chips) and the Tuna Tartare (yellowfin #1 tuna, house-made ponzu, guacamole, cucumbers). I've had many a Spinach and Artichoke Dip in my day, but this one felt healthier than others but at the same time was still addicting. The Tuna Tartare was something I don't think I've had before. Kater said I would enjoy it if I like spicy tuna rolls and she was right. It was my favorite menu item we tried that night.

When I first looked at the menu, my eyes widened at the Mac & Cheese Burger because, HELLO, a burger with mac & cheese on it?! But when we sat down, we decided a menu item like that may best be served as sliders and not an entire burger, as you may just want a bite or two. So we instead ordered a Classic Works Burger (bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mayo, mustard) and definitely wanted to eat more than a bite or two of that. We also upgraded from regular fries to Truffled Fries because we are smart ladies.

Check out Ainsworth Park for your next post-work get together. If you're lucky, there may be an Allagash Brewing event in the corner giving out samples of one of your favorite beers after dinner. Or, if you're *really* lucky, you may run into someone who you once met and played games with at McSorley's and be able to rekindle your one-night friendship. But even without those last two things happening, Ainsworth Park is Ainsworth a trip. 

Many thanks to Ainsworth Park for the cocktails. Opinions are always my own.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

This 'Hood Was Made For Walkin'

When I first moved to Jersey City and later, New York City, I spent many a night on the Lower East Side in crowded dark bars, feeling out of place because I wasn't wearing heels and my dress actually covered my behind. Nowadays, I prefer the Lower East Side during the day, especially after a recent tour that my sister, Katie, and I took with Jeff from Walks of New York.

The Lower East Side historically has been where many immigrants have settled, from the Irish and the Poles (maybe even some of my relatives) to the predominantly Jewish community in the 1800s/1900s and even into today, with the growing Chinese population over the last few decades. If you look past the nightclubs and the orange cones of constant construction, you can see traces of immigrant influence everywhere. 

Jeff was an incredible host and gave us tons of historical tidbits, which you should really go on the tour to learn. Some of the discussions I found the most interesting were regarding the push-cart market economy, the tenement building conditions, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Jeff had great visual aids as well - maps, photos, and diagrams of buildings - including one that looks suspiciously like my current apartment building. We talked about how my building must have been a tenement since it has an odd "dumbbell" shape with a small courtyard in the middle of the building to give more light to make apartments more livable. These types of apartments started popping up once people saw how bad living conditions had become in the late 1800s, sometimes having 10 people living in one dark dangerous room.

A definite highlight of the tour was when we visited Kehila Kedosha Janina, the only Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Jeff let an adorable older gentleman at the synagogue take the reins here. This gentleman had been a member of the church since he came over to America from Greece in the 1950s. He told us all about the history of the congregation, about the building (virtually unchanged since 1927), and then showed us the scrolls of many Torahs. This was definitely a unique experience and something I wouldn't have necessarily thought to do without the tour.

During the day, we also stopped at three classic food establishments. 

At Kossar's Bialys, we each were given a piping-hot-from-the-oven bialy, a precursor to the bagel. These delights are like if only the top half of a bagel had the hole and then that hole was filled with fresh onions or garlic. I eat, maybe, five or six bagels a week, so I am surprised that I had no idea about these until a few weeks ago. Kossar's has been around since 1936 and the operation appears to have not changed since then. It is minimalism at its best.

At some point, there were around 80 pickle shops on the Lower East Side. Jeff had our tour sample sour and 1/2 sour pickles at one of the sole surviving shops, The Pickle Guys. I knew that you could pickle other items aside from cucumbers, but I didn't realize how far you could go with that - watermelon, pineapple, garlic, you name it. Peter Piper would have loved it. There was also a dude out front grinding up roots to make fresh horseradish for Passover.

The last stop was at Russ & Daughters, a place Aubrey and I discovered a few years ago that has been around since 1914. Jeff went in and got some chocolate Babka for us. Babka reminds Katie and me of my grandfather on my mom's side, but neither of us had ever had it in chocolate so that was a special treat.

In fact, this whole tour was a special treat. I always encourage people to go out there and be tourists in their own zip codes and I can't imagine a better way to get to know this amazing neighborhood than to walk with Walks of New York. Unless you actually enjoy wearing heels and short dresses.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Curd I Brie Eating Any More Cheese?

I'm not sure what I'll end up being known for in this world. Will I finally start a rock band with my awesome guitar skills? Will there suddenly be a huge market for all the bowls I made in pottery class that are too small for even half a serving of cereal? Will my modeling career ever take off? 

The reason I'm pondering these questions right now is because apparently at the moment, the only thing I'm known for is liking grilled cheese. I received three emails about grilled cheese last week. One from a friend in London who seriously only emails me about this topic and two notifying me about "The Big Cheesy" this past weekend, from MK and Frousin Em. "The Big Cheesy" was a pop-up event by TimeOut New York featuring sandwiches from some of New York's finest grilled cheese restaurants. In writing that sentence, I'm reminded how proud I am to live in a city with multiple grilled cheese restaurants.

I've seen events similar to this before, for burgers or tacos, but had yet to indulge before this weekend. Emily and her friends were already buying tickets so there was no whey I could say no. We each paid $30 to taste from 4-5 on Saturday. The opportunity cost of $30 is not much in this city: two Friday cab rides to work or two week's worth of cart coffee & bagels, so I thought it would be worth it. Plus, along with all the grilled cheese you could eat, you got two beers, which they were calling "free" even though you had to pay for the event. A lady does not turn down free beer.

The event was a little different than I thought it would be. Instead of bite-sized grilled cheeses from many different restaurants, it was decent-sized portions from seven. Most of the restaurants served half sandwiches, with a few cutting theirs into fourths. Some tables had more than one type of grilled cheese available. It was a lot, but, boy, was it Gouda. An hour was more than enough time for the tasting - my stomach sang praise to Cheezus when it realized I was going to have to stop stuffing it full of cheese, bread, and the accoutrements. 

Some of the restaurants and their featured sandwich(es):
  • Van Horn: Pimento Cheese & Smoked Mushrooms on Caputo's Sourdough
  • Melt Kraft: "Melter Skelter" - VSC "Melter Skelter" Raclette style cheese, pickled green tomatoes, jalapeño, BBQ potato chips and watercress
  • Alex Mitow's All-American Diner: "Challah Atcha Boy" - Garlic buttered challah with Nueske bacon, navel pastrami, aged cheddar, fontina, chipotle apple aioli, and deli-style potato chips
  • Murray's Cheese: "The Peppa Jack" - Pepper Jack & Peppadews and "The Piccante Pig" - Pulled pork, Pepperjack, black beans, and salsa verde

Say "Cheese!"

My favorite sandwich was from 5OZ. Factory in the West Village: "The Meltdown" - smoked provolone, brie, horseradish and chive havarti, roasted pencil asparagus, mushrooms, basil, and horseradish pesto. In queso you hadn't heard, this sandwich actually won the entire competition. What can I say, I have good taste. At least when it comes to cheese.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Global Bites without the Flights: Dim Sum at Jing Fong

One of my favorite meals on our trip to Asia last year (and there were many) was Dim Sum in Hong Kong one afternoon. Jing Fong, a Dim Sum restaurant here in NYC, is well deserving of being featured in Global Bites without the Flights.

I first went to Jing Fong, one of Chinatown's finest eateries, with Kat and her crew in the fall. I had only had Dim Sum in Hong Kong and I was excited to see how New York's Dim Sum would measure up. We made it up the escalators at Jing Fong and into a gigantic hall that I wouldn't think would ever fit into this neighborhood, with its tiny storefronts and apartments. The hall was full of what seemed like hundreds of tables and dozens of ladies with food carts. I knew immediately that I had to bring my parents the next time they'd be in town. After a long hiatus from NYC due to my mom's broken foot, this finally happened a few weeks ago. My parents and I met up with MK at Jing Fong after our visit to the NYPL and its many exhibits and had a lovely meal.

I like Dim Sum because of the instant gratification and the variety. Point to something on a food cart and your chopsticks are around it within seconds. Small portions mean you can try many more dishes than you would be able to normally. I think my *favorite* part about Dim Sum is that you may not *really* know what you're eating. When you have a question about a dish on a cart, you usually get back a one-word answer, and many things taste differently than you may think. One of my favorites at this meal was a sesame-seed covered bun described as "bean" but was sweet and dessert-like. We also enjoyed many different types of dumplings, pork buns, and taro cake (in the center picture above).

If you're looking around Chinatown for a good lunch spot, definitely hit up Jing Fong. It's an experience for sure. Dim Sum? More like Dim YUM.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Philadelphia - Show Me Your Mussels

Earlier this year when Katie, Jess, and I met in Philly and went with our parents to the Pompeii exhibit at the Franklin Institute, we also enjoyed a fantastic lunch at Monk's Cafe. Monk's is a "Belgian Beer Emporium & Restaurant" famous for its mussels. It's not a big place and we were very lucky to get their only table that would fit our group of seven. Here's how to have a successful lunch at Monk's:

  • Drink. A lot. They have a really large selection of brews. So many, that I thought they may have one of MK's & my favorites, Franziskaner. The waitress said she didn't but that she did have something similar. It turned out to be another one of my favorites that I hadn't seen on the menu, a Weihenstephaner. I was very happy.

  • Giggle. A lot. So much so that when you return to the restaurant later (see bullet 5) and start talking to someone who you thought you met the night before but turns out to be someone you've never met, that he is kind anyway and says, "Oh, you were at the rowdy table!"

  • Eat. A lot. We got two pots of mussels: "Monk's" - Gueuze, fumé, garlic, & parsley - and "Ghent" - Saison Dupont, fumé, parsley, caramelized leeks, bacon, bleu cheese, & garlic. "Fumé" just seems to mean "smoked." Saison Dupont and Gueuze are types of beer. The mussels came with bread and frites to dip into the sauce. The "Monk's" mussels were more traditional and definitely tasty, but the "Ghent" mussels were out-of-this-world amazing. Everyone but me also ordered either a burger (all named after Belgian cities) or the duck sandwich, for which Monk's is also famous. My tummy was still pretty full from the Federal Donuts taste test that morning so I just sampled a little of what others ordered after chowing down on tons of mussels.

  • Get mussel juice from another table (who had not sopped up the sauce with the bread and frites as well as your table did) spilled all over your jacket.
  • Drop your Pompeii-exhibit novelty photo on the floor under the table, realize it's missing later on, sprint back to the restaurant still energized from your Weihenstephaners, crawl on the still damp-from-aforementioned-mussel-juice floor at the large table where others are now sitting, and successfully retrieve said photo.
Okay, it's quite possible that you don't need to do the last two in order to have a successful Monk's visit, but it can't hurt, right?


Sunday, April 6, 2014

ABC. Easy as 123.

Y'all already know I'm a huge fan of libraries, especially the New York Public Library and its lions. But you may not know that I feel the opposite about mornings. Get them out of here. When my parents were visiting me last month, I had a suspicion that they'd wake up at the buttcrack of dawn and they sure did. Because I don't typically do a lot in the mornings, I didn't know what to do with them before meeting MK for lunch in Chinatown. Luckily, my dad suggested the library since they had never been. Plus, there were a couple of exhibits we could check out, just like we'd done the day before at the Beatles exhibit at the NYPL of Performing Arts.

The two exhibits we saw while at the lib this time were "Play Things" and "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter." The first one ended the day after we visited, but the second will be open until September.

"Play Things" was a collection of pieces that when created, were intended to be a little more fun than traditional art - pieces which, at second glance, were not what they had originally seemed; actual games of the past; and pieces with interesting visual effects.

A sketch of a liger (lion + tiger):

A series in which the artist threw three balls into the air many times and photographed each effort:

This piece where the subjects seemed to be walking as you walk past it:

This tiny gentleman who likes drawing his own world as much as Harold and the Purple Crayon, which plays nicely into the second display at the NYPL:

"The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter" is an excellent display all about our favorite (and some lesser known) children's books. I'm still obsessed with some of my favorite books from back in the day, many of which were featured in this exhibition: Harold and the Purple Crayon, Winnie the Pooh, and even two I've reread in the last few years: Harriet the Spy and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. But some of my favorites did not seem to be featured, like The Boxcar Children, The Babysitters Club, and the American Girl Doll books.

This exhibit is way longer than it seems. We all agreed we would have spent less time in the earlier extensive portion about the history of children's books and more time with the books we knew and loved. My favorite section was one where they talked about why certain books were banned. Did you know that some parents had an issue with Pippi Longstocking because she ate an entire sugar cake? Chill, y'all.

A creepy model of Alice (de Wonderland) whose head suddenly popped off her body and started rising up the track, startling my mom when she walked by:

My mom uncharacteristically posing as a "Wild Thing:"

A doll based off of Mary Poppins from way before Walt got his hands on the story:

Original artwork from The Wizard of Oz:

This exhibit will take you back to the times when you didn't have to worry about anything except for if your favorite character was going to finish his homework in time or escape the grasp of the evil White Witch. And while you're busy not worrying about real-life, go ahead and eat that whole sugar cake. You deserve it.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New York's Own EggXtreme Egg Hunt

Egg hunts are a big deal in my family. *Way later* in life than we were supposed to have Easter egg hunts, we had the EggXtreme Egg Hunt: Teams of three. Easter Eve, once it gets dark. One person holds the flashlight but can't speak. One person picks up the eggs but is blindfolded. The last person tells the egg-picker-upper where the eggs are, but has the bag tied behind his or her hands. Yes, of course there were t-shirts...and costumes...and a trophy. I want to be a member of our family ASAP. Sidenote, folks - can we PLEASE bring this back this year???

You can understand that when I heard there would be an egg hunt in NYC, my interest was piqued. I wasn't sure what to expect, but as soon as I saw my first egg around Madison Square Park on Monday, I became super eggcited (sorry) - especially because it was so beautiful and butterfly-covered!

During the first few weeks of April, for the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, over 200 two-foot tall sculptures of eggs have been "hidden" around New York City. These eggs were designed by some pretty cool people, including Ralph Lauren, Carolina Herrera, Martin Handford (creator of Where's Waldo), and the students at one of my friend's schools. But get out there and hunt for those eggs soon  because on April 18th, they will be collected in Rockefeller Center and it's less fun if they're in the same spot. The eggs will be up for auction later in April to raise money for my friends, the elephants, and to put more art programs in NYC schools through Studio in a School.

If you live in NYC, download the Big Egg Hunt application right now. You can see on the map where eggs are, it'll let you know when you're near one, and you can check in to keep track of which eggs you've found. Kat and I were walking around Flatiron after an amazing "yay I am less stressed and can finally eat again" meal at Shake Shack and she showed me the eggs she had seen before I got there. Obviously Kat and I are totally into this, but many others are as well. Lots of people were taking pictures with the eggs and scanning the QR codes into the app to get credit for finding them.


This hunt feels like Banksy all over again, except there are prizes for finding these pieces of artwork. The top prize of a $50,000 ruby, diamond, and amethyst pendant may actually be as cool as the trophy in our family's egg hunt.

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