It took some time, but my episode of Cooks vs Cons can now be viewed on Food Network. You'll need a cable log-in.
Here's a snippet (actually a pastiche of two recipes... some backstage knowledge for ya):
It took some time, but my episode of Cooks vs Cons can now be viewed on Food Network. You'll need a cable log-in.
Here's a snippet (actually a pastiche of two recipes... some backstage knowledge for ya):
Okay, I’m going to sound a little hippie-ish here. The best vacations are holistic vacations.
\hō-ˈlis-tik\ characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole
I’m not talking meditation and acupuncture...but rather looking at the balance of travel. To me, a perfect vacation has contrast, a yin and yang.
City and country. Site-seeing and relaxation. Touristy and living like a local.
We started vacation in Rome, pushing ourselves to see and eat everything possible. And then after a quick train ride and taxi ... a gear shift. Something calmer, brighter, just as stunning but in a different way.
Why Amalfi? Well, it wasn't up to us. Dave's friends decided to forego a wedding in favor of a stunning villa on the Mediterranean with 20 of their closest friends (cue: face palm and wedding planning regret).
The place was incredible. In the photo on the above left, the villa is the taller building, from the top roof deck to the in-sea lounging area to the terraced patios gilded with fig trees, bougainvillea, herbs, succulents, and more.
Relaxation took many forms. Napping on the roof deck. Crosswords on the main entertaining deck. Bocce on the...activity deck. Reading in the lemon grove. You get the point. You can even contract a boat to pick you up at the foot of the villa (but alas the sea was too choppy so our boat days were cancelled--twice).
We did some site-seeing, but at a more leisurely pace than our Roman look-and-leave. One thing a day instead of seven. On our first day, we went to Hercalaneum, a smaller, more well-to-do city than Pompeii that met the same fate when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
Italy is impossibly beautiful, but not just because of the manmade. After ruins aplenty, we hiked the Path of the Gods from Agerolo to Positano, a walk that combines everything you could want: sky, sea, greenery, flowers, mountains, forest and wildlife.
The contrast extended to food, too. There are a zillion ways to slice this, but here's a start. Casual and high-end. Traditional and experimental. Planned and spontaneous.
In some ways, I think living in Rome wouldn't be that different from living in NYC. But the Amalfi Coast felt more relaxed, possibly by necessity. You can't rush anywhere on those hairpin turns on the coast. The photos above are from Amalfi, a 40-minute walk from our villa. I was ready to do a day of market-ing and cooking, but alas the walk was a bit far and more importantly, harrowing, given there's no sidewalk and every turn is a blind turn.
And unsurprisingly, possibly the best meal of the trip wasn't at some Michelin-starred restaurant, but a home-cooked meal at the villa by Marguerite, the villa's mamma-bird and housekeeper.
We had: eggplant parmigiana, stewed zucchini, panzanella, bruschetta, lemon pasta, shrimp risotto, sea bass en papillote with olives and capers, and cake with custard cream and fresh fruit.
(Side story: when we asked if the eggplant had cheese, Marguerite reassured us, no cheese, only mozzarella!)
Did I love it because it was homey and personal, that I didn't have to look it up on some blog or Google Maps? Did I love it because we were sitting with friends, new and old? Did I love it because it was a refreshing change, a contrast? Yes, yes, yes.
A common term you'll hear in Italy is tipico. As in, typical. To foreign ears, this may sound like an insult. "Typical frat boy", "typical boss rant"... something like that. But in Italy, it's a label of pride.
Up in the hills of Nocelle, the last point on the Path of the Gods until you make the 1,700 steps to Positano, we had an unlikely hike pit stop at Ristorante Santa Croce of meats, cheeses, fish and soup, all served on white tablecloths and the prettiest of plates. Of note: the tipico fiordilatte, a type of mozzarella prized in this region.
The famed Amalfi (aka Sfusato) lemon is everywhere: in orchards on the way to limoncello, in backyards, on servingware, in granita (so good), and in cakes, yogurt, pastries, you name it. I picked lemons from the villa's grove for multiple pitchers of mint lemonade and can attest that these fresh lemons are something else: more fragrant, more delicate, less acidic than our American ones.
Cheese and carbs were our common thread in Rome. Lemons, arugula, and seafood were the refrain in Amalfi.
We enjoyed our last dinner at Il Giardiniello in Minori.
And what do you know, the salad was nothing more than arugula, spicier and more herb-like than what we have here, and a wedge of Amalfi lemon.
We followed in Amalfi tipico fashion: fried anchovies stuffed with smoked mozzarella, fish wrapped in eggplant like a present, seared Mediterranean tuna, and great mounds of Minorese gnocchi, made with flour, ricotta and eggs.
Naturally, we had to get the lemon delight, a vanilla-lemon sponge covered in a dome of lemon cream. And of course, tiramisu. Again. For balance.
Where to stay:
Dimora di Mare
Via Carusiello, 28, 84010 Ravello
Perfect for a large group and/or special occasion. They even host weddings. But otherwise, there are plenty of smaller villa options here.
Where to eat:
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 17, 84010 Minori
Ristorante Santa Croce
Via Nocelle, 19, Nocelle 84017 Positano
any lemon granita stand in Positano
I adore Rome. Where else you can encounter ancient ruins down the street from the Missoni store, a celebrity pizzaiolo in the shadow of the Vatican, and casual beauty where even the neighborhood convenience store drips with jasmine vines?
We came to Italy to celebrate a friend’s wedding on the Amalfi Coast (more on that later), but first we had to spend a couple days in the Eternal City.
This was my third time in Rome and D’s first, so our two day/ two night stay included a full sweep of all the major sites, some quieter neighborhood spots, plus lots of time for wandering.
If you have two days, I’d recommend a combination of these three groups.
GROUP 1: The Biggies - Colosseum, Roman Forum/Palatine Hill, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican. These are must-see destinations for the first-timer. Warning: there will be LINES, particularly at the Vatican and Colosseum.
GROUP 2: The On-the-Ways - Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese. These are also special, but if you’re short on time, you can probably do without. Chances are, you’ll be in those neighborhoods anyway, so you can stop by.
GROUP 3: The Wanderables - My favorite part of any trip: discovering where locals really live, work, and of course--eat. Trastevere is boho yet refined, a neighborhood that twinkles with charm. Testaccio is laid-back and home to satisfying, unpretentious restaurants. And Prati! What it lacks in elegance, it makes up for in the best pizza on the planet.
Here are some picks from Group 3.
Rome is not as compact as NYC, but you really should walk everywhere because there are surprises around every corner. Case in point: this buzzing farmer's market just down the street from our hotel. That porchetta was our first bite in Rome and it was just what we needed to awaken our airport-dulled appetites.
Yes, I know all about your nitro coffee and cold brew. But when it's hot, the Italians know where it's at. I first fell in love with the shakerato in 2009, when I was in Puglia for a spell. I've since ordered it at every top Italian coffee shop in NYC (Eataly, Tarallucci e Vino, and... Blue Bottle) and no one gets close. A shakerato **must** be foamy on top. Don't ask me how it works -- the ingredients are only ice, espresso, and simple syrup -- but it's magic, like a hyper caffeinated root beer float. Shakerato above is from Sant'Eustachio.
And I know you're in Italy for the gelato ... I get it! But save room for another creamy cold treat: the granita. Consider: icy shards of espresso, scoops of barely-sweetened cream, and a generous drizzle of chocolate. Like all Italian coffee, you don't take this to-go. You stop and enjoy it. Granita above is from Bar del Cappuccino.
I almost never repeat anything. Books, movies, restaurants, recipes. Life is too short, the list of options is long. Why dwell on one thing? Well, for one, because some things are really, really good.
We loved Flavio al Velavevodetto the first night. The food wasn't anything we hadn't seen before -- caponata, zucchini with mint and garlic, ricotta ravioli, meatballs -- and yet each dish was dialed into a different, more delicious register. The ravioli dough was daringly al dente, the ricotta wet and milky, the tomatoes somehow deep and bright and sweet all at once. Flavio has been a foodie fav ever since Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement, sang its praises.
And so I buried my FOMO and went to the same place for dinner, two nights in a row.
Reader, it was worth it. (Shown above: roasted padrón peppers, escarole with capers and raisins, fettuccine with green beans, pesto and potatoes, beef rollatini, tiramisu)
But man cannot live on vegetables, pasta, and espresso alone. There must be pizza.
I first learned about Pizzarium from my friend Pam Yung, who did a pop-up collab with Bonci just one week before my trip. Pam is a breadmaking goddess who has earned well-deserved acclaim for her desserts and bread program at her restaurant, Semilla. Her partner (in life and business) José Ramírez-Ruiz is a vegetable-whisperer. Any place that hosts these two is a place I'm sure to like.
And boy, did I.
Pizza is a multi-faceted thing. And I am but one small person in a giant universe. But from my POV, this is the best pizza in the world.
Gabriele Bonci uses natural sourdough starters (one that dates back to WWI), resulting in the platonic ideal of pizza crust. I always thought I liked thin crust, but what's infinitely better is a crust of medium height, airy and elastic inside and crackling and crisp on the bottom. Imagine the lift and depth of a sourdough, the crunch of a cracker, and the savory je ne sais quoi of a baguette.
And that's just the dough.
Pizzarium serves up to 20 different flavor combinations a day. Lucky for you, the pizza is al taglio, or by the kilo. You can sample a little sliver of tomato, sweet onion and Pecorino ... or squash blossoms and ricotta ... or tiles of potato ... or tuna and arugula ... or broccolini and mortadella ... or ...
I overheard one woman say, "I could die here." Same, sister.
There's another reason I was in Italy -- I have a book coming out this week! (same book, different language). Check it out here. Vita Segreta di Una Gourmet hits stores June 23.
Next up... part two of our vacation ... the Amalfi Coast. (sneak peeks on my Instagram)
Where to stay:
I picked this hotel because it was sandwiched between the Colosseum (touristy), Palatine Hill (serene) and Testaccio (neighborhoody). The airy, spacious hotel is in a former convent, and like many things in Rome, is a pleasing blend of new and old.
Via di S. Teodoro, 48, 00186 Roma, Italy
Where to eat:
Flavio al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, 00153 Roma, Italy
Where to caffeinate:
Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82, 00186 Rome, Italy
Yes, I know this place is touristy, but it only got that way because the coffee is so good
Bar del Cappuccino
Via Arenula, 50, 00186 Rome, Italy
Totally unassuming (even ugly), but serves a memorable, perfect cappuccino
In Chinese culture, you're supposed to change gowns for every wedding banquet course. That could be seven to ten dresses.
While I typically love license for costume changes, that's even too much for me. And given what I did for my wedding dress...that times ten equals psychotic levels of shopping.
But I do like the idea of some Chinese element at our wedding. Typically brides will go to their nearest Chinatown and get a custom cheongsam made, a dress that can cost $700 or more. That's not bad for a custom gown with high-quality silk and hand embroidery...but it's a lot for a look you'll likely never wear again. Why not spend that money on a dress that's Chinese-y enough and is also wearable?
And so begins my search.
This Mary Katrantzou has the look of Chinese embroidery, but takes it in a more abstract, aquatic direction. Mary Katrantzou Embellished Tulle Minidress
Note: Though it's not uncommon to see Chinese-American brides wear a white cheongsam, white is the color of death in Chinese culture, reserved for funerals and not weddings.
Here are all the hallmarks of a traditional cheongsam: the dainty collar, the keyhole at the neckline, the slim fit and the high slit. And yet, it's also pretty versatile and could be worn anywhere without feeling costume-y or I-tried-too-hard. Michael Kors Cap Sleeve Twist Front Gown
Red: good fortune and joy. Blue: calmness, trust, immortality. Dial those to jewel tones with some bead embellishments and you have this. Emilio Pucci Appliquéd Lace Minidress.
If I were to sketch a gown for a custom dressmaker, I'd probably do something like this. A Chinese-y pattern in a simple shape (with a dose of sexiness because, c'mon). Alice + Olivia Roxie Lace Diamond-back Dress
If I weren't concerned about getting an extra-ordinary dress, I'd get this. It's rather subversive as a wedding cheongsam. The colors and patterns are in the right realm, but the silhouette is all wrong. A cheongsam is supposed to hug your curves, while this one distorts them, squishing your boobs and puffing your hips. This doll-like silhouette is a very common shape in my closet, but probably isn't **special** enough. Erdem Black & Red Embroidered Katja Dress
What do you think of adding cultural elements to your wedding wardrobe? How did you find your dress?
Photo above: Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love
I tried out for Cooks vs Cons because I'm an armchair chef. Why are you making croutons and bread pudding on Chopped? Don't you know that's so overdone? Were you thinking you could avoid making dessert on Top Chef?
And, I also have a thing for high-stakes deception (Exhibit A). Even if I wasn't a contestant on Cooks vs Cons, I'd still be obsessed with it.
So, if you haven't gathered by now, here's now the show works. Two professional chefs and two amateur chefs compete in two rounds with surprise ingredients. No one -- not the judges, host, or contestants -- knows who is who. The audience is kept in the dark too, and they can guess along with Graham Elliot, Daphne Oz, and Geoffrey Zakarian.
Turns out seeing people speculate about your identity on Twitter is really surreal.
A lot of people thought I was a chef, including Graham Elliot and Daphne Oz (I think GZ was onto me, even though I made sure to call him Chef as a real chef would). Twitter thought so too.
When I watch the show, I assume everyone is a chef until proven guilty. Could be a lack of conviction when talking about a dish, or a loosey-goosey way of moving around the kitchen. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in cliches, but then you realize that the producers know that, so you end up engineering some reverse reverse psychology that hurts your brain.
ie: That guy has a lot of tattoos so he must be a chef. But the producers must realize that so of course he's not. But maybe they know that I know...
And so on.
And then some people thought I was a fraud. My instinct is to be insulted, but then I remember...I am a fraud.
Actress, businesswoman, and lawyer are not bad guesses. After the competition, Graham Elliot said he thought I could be a knowledgeable food blogger. That's pretty close, too. Novelist is way too random for anyone to guess.
I love that this show has two layers of challenges: one for the contestant and one for the viewer. I can't think of anything quite like it -- watching your own funeral? Witnessing your college admissions panel? Something where your personhood is analyzed as if you weren't there...but you are.
But that makes it sound like a drag. It was weird and fun and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Also -- Cooks vs Cons has been picked up for a second season! That means they're looking for amateur and professional cooks. Take a look at the casting notice here and catch up on all my Cooks vs Cons posts here.
The Cooks vs Cons shoot was a looong day -- 14 hours. There's a lot of waiting, some napping efforts, some eating (I ordered sashimi for dinner, not realizing that nothing-but-raw-fish is probably the last thing you want when your nerves are at peak levels).
You film many things multiple times, but the actual cooking only happens once. On a day that can move in slo-mo, those rounds went so super fast.
A lot of it was a blur, but here's a taste of what I was thinking during those gone-in-a-flash 30-minute rounds.
And ICYMI, I posted the recipe for my Round 1 polenta gnocchi with creamy corn soubise here. Round 2 recipe coming soon...
That whole experience was so so so fun. I'll write more later (the recipes for my chipotle gnocchi with creamy corn soubise & Korean BBQ beef with red quinoa, quick pickles, and miso egg emnulsion, my behind-the-scenes thoughts), but for now just wanted to tell you other airing times.
The episode is called "Candy Clash". Check here for the most up-to-date airing schedule.
To my Canadian friends, the show will air on May 2.
Hope you enjoy!! What was your favorite moment from the episode?
So, I have the dress... now it's time to think about shoes (or, more precisely, flag the shoes I like so I can buy them when they're on sale).
Here's a trick with your wedding budget. You have to count everything that's a one-time expense. Flowers, food, tent, entertainment...and that dress.
But shoes! Here's where you can get a little creative with your accounting. IMO, you don't have to count shoes if you'll wear them again. They're a wedding write-off. (Same goes for your wedding ring.)
So while you might be tempted by uber bridal shoes like this or this, those might as well be flower crowns because you probably won't wear them again. Unless you're looking for a museum piece, why not go for something a little more versatile.
Here are the shoes I'm considering for my October, outdoor wedding. Stilettos are out because of the grass. Ethereal elements like feathers are out because I want these to last. Wedges are out because they feel a bit too casual, too Jess circa 1999. What's in? Sturdy, chunky heels and a little bit of humor/edginess/jolie laide (to offset that whole "princess" vibe).
Love the modern romance of these shoes. Plus, I wonder if the heel reflects the grass, so it looks like you're floating upon a golden aura? Nicholas Kirkwood Leda Sandal
Yes, these are PVC. But you can wear them in the rain and look at that diamond-like lucite heel. These are kooky and practical(ish) while also being bridal. Simone Rocha Faceted Heel Sandal
We don't really have colors. The wedding is simply "botanical" and these study yet sexy heels fit the bill. Monique Lhuillier Satin Ava Sandal
Blush without being babyish. Marni One Band Glitter Sandals
On a day when you're performing in front of everyone you care about, it's nice to have a little secret of your own. Nicholas Kirkwood Champagne Meava Pearl Sandal
I hate the word "tacky" as it relates to weddings. The classy/tacky spectrum is slippery and fraught. Just do whatever you want and the people who love you won't care anyway. But these shoes are gloriously, knowingly tacky and I love them for it. J. Crew Collection Embellished Sandals
Here are allll the shoes I'm considering at the moment. What's your favorite? What shoes did you/will you wear at your outdoor wedding?
This is a bit too intense for a wedding ceremony reading, but man, I love it.
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
(btw, the Reem Acra above is pretty... but was never really in the running. I'm not a fan of dropped waists...even if they're dropped only by an inch.)
This was cute but also subversive, unblingy but also luxuriously, meticulously made. Maybe you could call it adorkable (my Kleinfeld stylist would tell you no, please don't call it adorkable). This dress felt the most "me" as I am everyday, as opposed to my nebulous Bride Persona. Amsale Lake Gown. Similar here (I want this one as a rehearsal dinner dress).
Pretty! And with such a nice, soft, flowy skirt. Though, what a difference skin color makes. Ivy & Aster Secret Garden.
I grabbed this one even though it was exactly what I didn't want: the princessy puff. But I couldn't resist the floral applique detailing and beadwork on the bottom (a kind of starry beaded connect-the-dots that you can't see here). From the short time I was in it, I could tell it was also a comfy dress, one you could dance, eat, and hug in. BHLDN Ariane Gown. Similar here (actually, very very similar, such that the Ariane is likely a direct rip-off and ultimately why I didn't want to go with a company that's known for doing this to indie designers).
This dress amused me, with its sweet daisy straps and neckline... and then a bustier bodice and SEE-THROUGH side panels (yes, I am wearing black underwear in this pic). This had a Rihanna-esque pretty but DGAF attitude. The fit is a bit off here...the cups weren't really cupping the right areas... but you get the idea. Tara Keeley 2501 Gown. Similar for everyday here.
You've seen the Glamour Closet dressing room a lot. That's because my like-to-try-on ratio was very high here. They carry A-list designers (Vera Wang, Elie Saab, Naeem Khan, Reem Acra, Carolina Herrera, Mira Zwillinger, Lela Rose)... but because the dresses are all samples or discontinued styles, they're 50-75% off. Maybe that's why I liked so many of them, too.
Anyway, that means that the selection can be a little oddball and the good, au courant stuff (plunging V, illusion necklines) goes fast. This Oscar de la Renta had the sweetheart/strapless/ballgown look that I was avoiding, but the leafy applique bottom made up for it. This was the first dress where I did that happy skirt swish you see before a bride gives the word on Say Yes to the Dress. Oscar de la Renta 44E16.
Ah, and you thought I was all botanical appliques! This looks body-con in a potentially worrisome way, but in fact this whole genre of dress is pretty flattering. There's no boxy top, just a heavy skirt that pulls on a clingy bodice that's little more than illusion netting, flesh-colored cups, and lace. Instantly form-fitting, with enough weight to smooth out your curves. Martina Liana 775 Gown.
Which brings me to...
This Maison Signore shares the same basic mechanics as the Simple Slink dress, except there's more lace, more sheer panels, and more butt-hugging. Those Italians sure know how to treat and appreciate a woman's body (to the tune of 1.1K likes when this pic was reposted on Maison Signore's Facebook page. Yikes!). I couldn't find the exact dress online, but this Maison Signore is close.
Reminder... I already have my dress. Have you guessed what it looks like now? (Here are all the posts in the series if you need to catch up.) A slightly kooky comfy sheath with botanical appliques and minimal bling? Sorry, but that's not how it worked out.
What was your favorite dress?
Last week I showed you the "weird" ones, the dresses that had a unique POV. Those were dresses that I'd wear to a fashiony event.
These dresses are more versatile... beautiful, glamorous gowns that are pretty much without fault. It's not them, it's me...and our venue...and that gut reaction of "this is pretty and I want it, but not for the wedding."
The photo above is the Kelly Faetini Bree dress. I went into this whole dress saga knowing that I didn't want a strapless gown with a sweetheart neckline. So we added lace arm bunting (not the correct bridal term) and it transformed the dress from pretty but mildly forgettable into something with a more sultry silhouette. The thing about side bunting is that your arms are literally on lace leashes. You can make the bunting detachable, but then you're at sweetheart/strapless square one.
Funny thing about wedding psychosis. You go in thinking you want a certain kind of unfussy, unblingy dress. A normal dress that happens to be white. This BHLDN Catherine Deane gown fits that description. It's easy, elegant, botanical. But somewhere along the line, I convinced myself that the dress needed to be more Bridal (I'll take my kool-aid on ice, thank you). And so this one was a miss. BHLDN Jolie Gown. (Also, curiously, available in navy for $500 more... you'd think it'd be the other way around, but maybe they are constructed differently.)
A long-sleeved wedding dress? So chic. And one with pretty but not precious appliques? I'm sold...almost. I'm a mover and a stretcher, and if I'm going to wear a dress for 9+ hours, it should be pretty comfortable. Despite reassurance that I would not "hulk out" of this dress, I had to take it out of the running. Rue de Seine Roxy Gown. Similar here and here.
I would get this dress in a heartbeat if we were getting married in a ballroom or loft space or restaurant. Anywhere but a garden. The cut and weight of the beading is ridiculously flattering. In the picture above, I'm not trying to mimic the model (I hadn't seen the photo yet). I'm just wondering where my tummy went. Victor Harper Couture 289. Similar here.
I told my bridal salon stylist that this looked like a very sexy work dress and she asked me..."where do you work???" (From home, so what do I know.) Maybe it's the cap sleeve and hardy lace. Or maybe it's my questionable work attire (when I used to work in an office). This had a nice ease to it and the back was also killer, but it didn't have the air of specialness I wanted. Alyne Adella Gown. Similar here and here.
Btw, you already know this... but you can pin a million pics on Pinterest, but you have to put the dress on! These don't even look like the same dress to me.
If you can divorce yourself from the mania, you might be able to see: these dresses are works of art. Tony Ward is a Beirut-based couturier who uses the most unusual fabrics. I tried on a dress with a modern/romantic Chantilly lace-meets-Pollock. Another with a skirt pinched with floral ridges, like engraved silk. This was a lattice of ribbon that criss-crossed over the bodice, then flowed into a round, full skirt. Up close, this is a stunner. Tony Ward Astagale Gown. Similar here.
Oh, and guess what?? I got my dress this past weekend! I went with my mom to Schone Bride, a mere 12-minute walk from our apartment and conveniently close to Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Fletcher's. Do wedding dresses go with pie and barbecue? Not really, but between those two places and its Brooklyn DNA, this salon and The Dress feel right.
I'm still planning on posting other pics... dresses that were almost The One, and possibly "dresses that looked good on models but look terrible on me" ... but come to think of it, not sure why I would do that last one.
I care about food. People know I care about food. People I care about...care about food. So wedding catering is a huge decision and was a bit stressful (though tastings were a ton of fun).
I'm happy to report that we officially booked our caterer, Birchtree Catering!! Here's what won us over at our tasting.
Striped vegetable canapes - chive bread, salted cucumber, French breakfast radish, creme fraiche, dill
Like high tea in a garden. Which is exactly the vibe we're going for in our venue.
Hen of the woods tarts - Kennett Square mushrooms, house ricotta, pecorino, caramelized onion, herbs
The only thing worse than perfunctory carbs is perfunctory pastry. You know, that greasy cup that's clearly just a vehicle for whatever's inside. Find me at a cocktail party and I am the shameless person with the plateful of licked-clean pastry. Well this was not that. The pastry was fresh, an essential player rather than a boring stage.
Chicken shumai with lemongrass and malagueta chili oil
I like the idea of including some Chinese flavors in the menu, if only because they are cozy and familiar to me. But my mother, who doesn't mince words, says if my family wanted Chinese food, they'd go to a Chinese restaurant.
Lemon capon with roasted lemon, almonds and oven roasted olives, with ricotta gnudi and winter greens
Capons are the eunuchs of the poultry world. The lack of sex organs result in a less gamey taste (but who ever said chicken was gamey?) and meat that is more moist, tender and flavorful than hens or un-castrated chickens. Probably TMI.
Anyway, true to its breeding, this was super tender and flavorful. The lemon and olives brought acidity and bite. The gnudi was a surprise too. When I think of gnudi, I think of April Bloomfield's ricotta clouds. As my dad said, these were like mini knishes (high praise for him).
Smoky hanger steak with demi-glace, roasted sunchokes, frizzled maitake mushrooms, charred baby rainbow carrots
I know this plate looks kinda empty. But keep in mind, this is a tasting portion and we are really really stuffed by now. This was a solid meat dish, but we'll likely go with a red meat selection with more pow (like the skirt steak with chimichurri) or perhaps the bourbon braised short ribs.
Food is the most important deciding factor, but we also knew Birchtree was the one for us because of their care, competence and culture fit. Even their office in Global Dye Works reminded us of 195 Morgan, where I worked from 2010-2012 as the Marketing & Events Director of 3rd Ward, and where Dave works now, in a weird coincidence (different company though).
Now we have to figure out our service style (family style? plated? a hybrid) and finalize the menu. I have an image of no centerpieces...just giant platters of vibrant, delicious food. Flowers are great, but they're no food.
I've lost count of how many dresses I've tried on. I've been to twelve bridal salons (one of them twice). Tried on an average of eight dresses at each. Really ... over 100 dresses??
If you said that to me two months ago, I would have thought that was insane. Are dresses really that different? Yes, they are. Very much so. And if you let yourself believe that this dress is the MIDOYL (Most Important Dress of Your Life), then the pressure is very on. (I've chosen to believe this, though I recognize you can be way more chill and will not live a lifetime of debilitating dress regret.)
D and I decided that he wouldn't see my dress until the day of the wedding, so don't expect to see The One here or on Instagram. But, man, I have SO MANY others to show you!
Today's post will be...the weird ones! If you know me IRL you know that I like to experiment with fashion and have been known to wear very directional things: turbans, a leather breastplate, puffy armored boleros...you get it.
I'm naturally drawn to quirkier styles and in bridal, these designs can be so refreshing amongst a sea of sweetheart/strapless cupcakes (no offense to those, they are lovely, but not for me).
Here are some delightfully weird dresses that I would love to wear if I were, say, doing an editorial shoot. They're just a little too funky for our wedding and my somewhat traditional fiance and family.
A sheer-paneled silk taffeta powder blue gown...with pockets! This had the right mix of sexy/sweet/avant-garde...but for the wedding itself, I think I'd have to line the sheer elements, which kinda takes away what makes it so great. Schone Bride. Similar here, here, and here.
This Carolina Herrera had amazing 3d flowers made of petal-like sequins at the waist and shoulders. Everytime you looked at it, there was something new. The super-soft overlay and lace met chunky, crafty detailing. Art teachery vibes, almost Marni-esque. Carolina Herrera Cassidy Gown at Glamour Closet. Similar in black here. (wow those model arms, yeesh)
I still don't have a dress and the timeline is as tight as can be. Made-to-order gowns can take 6-12 months to make, then alterations take another 1-2 months. (Yes, this is crazy!) We are 7 months out. Defcon 1 ("nuclear war is imminent") as my visibly distressed Kleinfeld consultant told me.
Truth is...I think I know what dress I want. I'm just letting it marinate a little to make sure I love it tomorrow and the next day and hopefully forever.
I won't show you that dress until after the wedding...but I already have more wedding dress search posts planned: Gorgeous Dresses I Want But Not For a Wedding, Dresses I Thought I'd Love But Look Terrible On Me, and Dresses That Were Almost The One.
What do you think of these dresses? Would you go "weird" at your wedding?
You can’t go wrong with food-related gifts. From the lavish to the practical to the unexpected, a food gift covers all bases. Here are some of the things I have on my wishlist (er… I mean, what I’m getting other people).
La Boîte creates nuanced spice blends for top kitchens. Rose oil : perfume :: cumin : a La Boîte blend. I’m partial to MishMish N33 (crystallized honey, saffron, lemon, spices), Orchidea N34 (Sichuan pepper, lime, orchid root and spices), and Pierre Poivre (8 different peppers and spices). Here’s the full collection. Starting at $15, La Boîte
I thought of something better than white marble and copper. White marble, copper, and coffee. I live in a decaf/caf household with high coffee intake, so we can never have too many French presses. Bodum, $30-$60, West Elm
These petrified wood serving boards have so much character and are a nice break for when you're done with marble and copper. $78, Terrain
A good gift-buying strategy. What does the recipient like? And what's the luxe version of that? Maraschino cherries are delicious, but dye-soaked child's play. Get this. $20, Williams-Sonoma
The Papa Bubble store in NoLita is the most austere, semi-intimidating candy store I've ever encountered. But the candies! They are miniature masterpieces with delightful, if not totally thematically appropriate flavors. To whit: the Safari Collection: Lions (Mango), Giraffes (Passionfruit), Monkeys (Banana-Pineapple), Elephants (Coconut) and Zebras (Kiwi). Starting at $6.50, Papa Bubble
If the definition of a great gift is something that a person wants but would never buy for him or herself... then meal delivery from Sakara Life is a great gift. Single days start at $99 (three meals, two snacks, and morning and night water). But let's go all out and get the 20-day package, which includes model and Taylor Swiftian food like Turmeric Spiced Eggplant + Ginger-Lime Dressing and Protein Bagels with Cashew Cream Cheese. 20 days, $990
Bourbon and maple syrup ... two brown liquids that, together, turn into gold. $16, Dorset Maple Reserve
A meal delivery subscription to Marley Spoon (example dishes: Cauliflower Steak with Almond-Olive Relish, Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Radishes, Cucumber and Chile), about $10.25 per person, per meal
Zingerman's Culinary Adventure Society, filled with global goodies curated with Midwestern heart, $175 per box
Assuming the recipient has a frozen stocking or you can keep it cold, Roberta's frozen margherita pizza (the best frozen pizza ever), freshdirect, $10.99
Sfoglini seasonal pastas in flavors like porcini trumpets and Bronx Brewery radiators, starting at $7
Beet ketchup from Brooklyn Beet Company, so much better than HFCS, $9
Like Tia, my family celebrates with a semi-traditional Thanksgiving meal. There are some non-negotiable classics: turkey, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce. Then there are Tom-family classics, curried beef samosas, foie gras, lots of veggies. Here's how I do turkey day.
Whatever's on the menu, these samosas always steal the show. We call them "shambosh" -- wonton wrappers stuffed with curried beef and scallions, a bite-size Indian/Chinese ethnic makeup of Madagascar, where my mom was born. You might remember this wrapping technique from my Deep-fried Nutella and Raspberry Samosas video.
I actually served these at my launch party, but told my mom to only bring 50. Otherwise, no one would eat the other food and it'd all go to waste. They are that good.
Pre-dinner we also snack on foie gras (yes, like Tia's family). I have family in Montreal and France and they bring us the good stuff. Not shown: shrimp cocktail.
Meanwhile, my grandma and her buddies post up and play mahjongg. They play in a separate part of the house, but man between the tile clanking and lady cackling, this is very noisy (but isn't every Thanksgiving?).
They play upon arrival, eat apps at the table, break for dinner, play again, break for dessert, then play again. One of the ladies won $97 and for some odd reason, they left $3 on the table when they left (presumably a tip???). The woman in purple is my grandma.
Okay, dinner! Let's start with the proteins.
My dad smokes the turkey in a jerry-rigged smoker in the backyard. It's basically one smoker that feeds into another smoker and though the house smells like a cedar shed for days, the turkey is tender, flavor-packed perfection -- even the white meat.
We also ate roast beef (with gravy and dad's famous "horsey sauce"). These garlic-ginger-ketchup shrimp are on the table year-round, but they're great enough for a special occasion too.
We got greens... brussels sprouts, zucchini, cucumber.
Pickled veg... a welcome sharpness during a rich meal.
And some classics to round it out: cranberry sauce with Grand Marnier and orange peel, stuffing, sweet potato, marinated beets. Sometimes we have corn and I think at some point we had mashed potatoes, but they were phased out.
And now dessert! This is my domain. Depending on when I get in, I may do sides and dessert, or sometimes only dessert. This year, I got in at noon on Thursday (following a Frogger-like runaround with the Thanksgiving Day parade on 6th Ave), so just did desserts.
I made these two from Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot: salt and pepper cashew dragees with a sesame oil base note, and pistachio raspberry-rose cookies, a butter cookie fortified with cream cheese.
This recipe came from Claudia Roden's The Foods of Spain: an almond chiffon cake with a whiff of orange and lemon peel that also happens to be gluten-free. The recipe headnotes tell me this is a Passover cake, but I liked the sound of it (and it was suitably light(ish)) so why not.
And my last contribution: an apple crisp from the Tartine cookbook. Despite its homeliness, this was the only dessert that was finished in full. You basically top apples with rounds of butter-saturated, cinnamon-scented dough. Over 90 minutes, the dough drips its flavor into the softening apples.
Grandma brought a cream cake and we drank ice wine (another piece of Montreal in New York, I guess).
My uncle's friend is also a major dessert contributor. Here's the oh-so-appreciated tropical fruit salad.
And dinner and activity in one: creme brulee.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving too! Isn't it the best?
Without trying at all, I always seem to end up in Chelsea. Probably because I lived in Gramercy when I first moved to New York, just crosstown. I’d creep over 23rd, then down to Union Square, and make my way west, always stopping at the same spots and always discovering new places on the way, too.
Every now and again, I like to take an afternoon or even a whole day to wander around the city. The French have a word for this person, a flâneuse (masculine = flâneur): the urban explorer, a connoisseur of the street.
Nothing clears my head more than a good walk with good food, art and some pretty clothes mixed in, too. If you have a free afternoon, might a suggest a trip to the west side?
(which doesn’t allow photos inside)
Despite what you might think from Food Whore, Bergdorf Goodman wasn’t my first luxury retail experience. I bought my first pair of designer shoes here in high school: wooden block-heeled Jil Sander sandals with thin navy macrame straps. I still wear them! (And no, it's not an accident that Tia's first designer outfit is also Jil Sander.)
Jeffrey isn’t as avant-garde as Opening Ceremony or as blue-blooded as Bergdorf Goodman. It’s somewhere in between, which I like. A live DJ is there all day (but it isn't clubby) and the staff is nice. Fifteen years ago, the man who sold me the sandals mailed me a thank you note and I guess I've been hooked since. Browsing is totally okay! I do it all the time.
I love that food halls are popping up all over NY (Gothamist has an excellent overview of the top ones as of November 2015 here). Chelsea Market is a first-generation food hall, and the one that I return to again and again.
Sure, there are tons of tourists there, but there are also a lot of locals, too. I buy gifts at Buon Italia, Chelsea Market Baskets, and The Filling Station. Posman Books is theoretically a general bookstore, but slants food in this location. If I’m putzing around Union Square, Meatpacking, or Flatiron I always find myself here for a quick snack. When I lived closer, I’d pop by almost every weekend for groceries.
Here’s what’s going on!
There's always something new to try. Here's just a fraction.
And?? These are transcendent. I'm kicking myself that I haven't visited sooner. But nevermind. These are classic, unfussy tacos where everything is bringing its A game. I got the steak: deeply marinated with just the right chew to say it's not too precious but not so much you're wrestling. Salsa, guac (yes, I know it looks a little pasty here, but it worked), lettuce, cilantro, lime. But the thing that did me in was the corn tortilla, pressed to the platonic ideal thickness, around 1.5mm. Did I know this was the ideal thickness? No. But it just felt good and right, like the steering wheel of a sports car or the arms of your partner (aw).
From Beyond Sushi: the Pickle Me, with six-grain rice, gobo, pickled daikon and carrot, avocado and carrot ginger sauce.
I first discovered these at a party and they were gone in two seconds. They're beautiful, healthy, clean, and surprisingly filling/ texturally exciting.
At Bar Suzette, you can get crepes that are sweet, savory or something in between, like this apple, brie and honey beauty.
I'm not sure anyone just buys Eleni's Cookies for themselves (too pretty, like walking out in full makeup/heels/dress when you should just be chilling in jeans). But they make cute gifts.
How does Fat Witch do it? Their brownies are top to bottom, left to right the same consistency, as if they were sous-vided to the exact texture between cake and fudge. If you like some textural action, they also sell the castoff ends (one man's trash is another man's...)
Liddabit Sweets makes thoughtful yet straightforward candies. Not yuzu lemongrass or tallegio truffle ... more like beer, pretzels, caramel. I love these honeycomb ones because they utilize negative space in the way the best candies do (think: Kit Kat, Ferrero Rocher, Aero). This is a sucking, savoring candy rather than a chomping one.
What sets Chelsea Market apart from the other food halls is that it's not just a fancy food court. You can get your knives sharpened, pick up a picnic for the Highline, get gourmet ingredients (Food Network shoots upstairs and you'll sometimes see staffers getting ingredients in their chefs' coats). And unlike Eataly or Le District, which also sell cooking ingredients and home goods, Chelsea Market is, on the whole, actually affordable (as far as "gourmet" ingredients go in NYC).
Rana makes fresh, playful pastas in a range of flavors and colors -- and in a tasteful way that (I'd assume) wouldn't anger Italians though.
Dickson's Farmstand Meats is a butcher shop selling beef, pork, lamb and poultry. I also love their jerky and how that confit looks like the meat is covered in fluffy mashed potatoes but it's really covered in fluffy fat.
You'll find a good percentage of people at Chelsea Market licking their fingers, poking at a lobster carcass from Lobster Place. Obviously a strong order. Short of going to Hong Hong Supermarket in Chinatown, I don't think you'll find a larger selection of seafood in NYC. The chowder and sushi is also great here.
Buon Italia is my spot for random Italian goodies. Could be pasta or Doppio Zero 00 flour or Sicilian pistachios. Like a present for your pantry.
Manhattan Fruit Exchange is the best. I've seen chefs start at the Union Square Greenmarket and then follow up here for additional items. It has everything, includinghe little things you'd be hard pressed to find at a general market: baby corn in baby husks, fresh crosnes, wine grapes. I get my whole spices here.
But wait! You didn't have coffee! Ninth Street Espresso is in Chelsea Market and is great, but you've been there awhile and you'll be back. Try Blue Bottle.
The thing to get here is usually the pour-over, but I am impatient. In the summer, I like a shakerato (though to be honest, I have yet to find an NYC shakerato with the same fizzy body I had a couple years ago in Puglia (sorry that was obnoxious)). Come winter/fall I go for a latte.
The guy ahead of me got this and I asked what it was. "A Gibraltar," the barista said, and I nodded, pretending like I knew what that was. "It's like a cortado," she said, because my knowing face sucks.
But I don't feel too bad. The Gibraltar is an off-menu Blue Bottle invention favored by staffers: a double-shot of espresso and a bit of milk, served in a Libbey "Gibraltar" tumbler.
And don't sleep on the pastries! They are an attraction themselves. Though NYC doesn't have the pieces of edible art that the SFMOMA once had, the pastries are ever-so-slightly unexpected: a Parmesan-fennel shortbread, stout coffee cake with pecan and caraway streusel, I opted for the coconut rocher, coconut shavings just barely bonded by a chewy/soft cloud of meringue.
You're here and you should go. Again, it's slightly touristy and when it's crowded you will feel like shrub-gazing cattle... but it's also spectacular and so well-done. A NYC institution just as much as Central Park.
You don't have to plan anything... just wander. All you have to do is zigzag your way between 20th and 25th St (north and south) and 10th and 12th Ave (east and west). Here are some of the galleries and pieces I liked, but of course these exhibits are all temporary and will be different in a couple weeks or months. I also included some gallery press release copy because, like restaurant reviews, I love how one art (words) can be used to described another.
Wolf Kahn at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe
"...his signature palette prevails - alizarin crimson, thalo green, and dioxazine purple."
Sheila Hicks at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
"supple and flexible...to explore infinite possibilities in form and movement."
Louise Fishman at Cheim & Read
"Brushed, scraped, layered and smeared....the grid itself seems torqued and unhinged."
Natvar Bhasvar at Cara Gallery
"...both vibrancy and life, and in another sense, imminent or implied destruction."
Jeff Koons at Gagosian Gallery
"...viewer and painting are reflected in the gazing ball...reunited for maximum sensory perception."
Some gallery-hopping tips:
Think of each gallery as its own mini museum with its own point-of-view. One gallery might have lush jewel-toned canvases. The gallery next door might have ten-foot barbed penis sculptures. You don’t know! And that’s the fun.
You’ll surprise yourself and discover new artists. With the exception of music that’s played for you (on the radio, at an event), we rarely encounter art with a completely blank slate. We’re geared to learn and research, to pay attention to the pre-hype. But when you’re wandering galleries, you probably won’t know who’s showing where so you’ll just get to consider/appreciate the art in a clean, unprejudiced way. Do you like it? That’s all that really matters.
After the Chelsea Market crowds, Chelsea galleries will feel positively cavernous. Sometimes you will walk into a gallery and you won’t see one person, or just one person who doesn’t even look at you. Enjoy it! There are few places in NYC where you can get solitude and beauty in equal measure.
I know it can seem intimidating to walk into a gallery, especially if there aren't many people inside. But don't worry about it. Art needs buyers, but it needs appreciators more. And chances are, the people inside those empty galleries want you to come in (even if they act snobby).
My favorite discovery of the day: Ha Chong-Hyun at Tina Kim Gallery
"... a rough matrix of paint that is pushed through the picture plane....that broke radically with art tradition and poignantly evoked the poverty and raw physicality of postwar Korea."
Artist at a gallery that always takes my breath away: Teresita Fernández at Lehmann Maupin
Who knows how I first started following Lehmann Maupin. I think I came across their booth at an art show, loved the work but didn't do anything about it. Then I went to another show, loved the work, and looked up to see it was Lehmann Maupin. By now I know I love everything LM exhibits. Takeaway: when you find a gallery you like, join the mailing list.
"...scale as an elastic concept, and the correlation between the immense and the intimate; the vast and the miniature; the macro and the micro."
By now you'll be around 26th and 10th. When are you ever here? Make the most of it and head to Martha Stewart Cafe. Despite the pedigree, it's not that special. But you're here so maybe grab a tea and head back up to the Highline.
Comme des Garçons (photo on top) for black high-concept wear and also very wearable shirts and accessories with the CDG heart
HARBS for beautiful and light Japanese pastries
Printed Matter for art books (books about art and books that are art)
What did I miss? What are your favorite places in Chelsea?
Yes, I know I haven’t done a Friday Links in a while… but let’s not make perfection the enemy of the good, kay?
So, since the book is my life now, let’s start with that. Somehow I missed this when it first came out on Monday. And then my team and I stumbled on it and ::jaw drops::. I was included on Bookish’s Fall Fiction to Watch list among the likes of Elena Ferrante, David Mitchell, Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Franzen, as well as buzzy debut novelists Bill Clegg and Garth Risk Hallberg. Aaaaaaa.
Also, Will Goldbarb had some very nice things to say about Food Whore and me (see above). Will, as you may know, is one of the world’s foremost food innovators. I ate at Room4Dessert when it was briefly stationed in ABC Home & Carpet (and where there’s now a little ABC Kitchen overflow room). It was insane and magical and eye-opening in a way that few things in this jaded world can be. This WSJ profile does an excellent job of describing Will’s journey from savory to sweet, rat race to calm, NYC to Bali. Warning: you will get hungry.
And... fashion week! I’ll do a separate post of the looks I liked from NYC, but for now I'll say, it’s a LOT more fun to look at fancy dresses now that I’m in the market for one (though Dave is a traditionalist and thinks it should be white… wah). Here’s a look that caught my eye at Oscar de la Renta...
And then basically all of Marchesa...
Speaking of weddings, you basically saw the extent of our planning: looking at dresses. We have a general guest count (100 or under) and a general vibe goal (outdoors, special but not too stuffy). And then that's where it ends! Actually not really. I did sign myself up for some wedding planning emails. DYK know that "champing" is a thing? I dunno, seems like it'd be...inhibiting.
I'm LOVING #kitchensofthegreatmidwest by @jryanstradal. 1) it's funny in an I-was-the-weird-kid-in-school kind of way, and 2) it's about food! I'm only 5% in and have already highlighted so many lines. A fav: "Cynthia's sensitive nose couldn't handle the smell of her daughter's poop, but for Lars, after a decade of making lutefisk, it was easier than flipping an omelet." // shown here with a soft-boiled egg with pesto on a @firehookbakery multigrain flax cracker. #fridayreads
I'm currently reading J Ryan Stradal's Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I really love it. It's dry and funny in a way that I'd never be able to pull off. The characters are quirky without being precious. Odd Midwestern dishes are described with warmth and crackle. I also love the shifting POVs.
Also, I have to say I'm in awe of the #bookstagram community. From @thereadingrebels, a dream team of book Instagrammers from all around the world, to beautiful photography (and styling) like that of @foldedpagesdistillery and @novelsandnailpolish (a kindred-spirit account if there ever was). These ladies are supportive and creative and I don't get that one-upsmanship vibe that sometimes leaks into other Instagrams.
Anyway, tomorrow I have my friend's Sip 'n' See for her littlest one. And on Sunday, gonna dive into a day of reading at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Maybe I'll see you there?
We've been back for almost a week but I'm only getting my head on straight now. There was the epic unpacking/laundry, catching up on life obligations and book stuff (some awesome new blurbs and press clips here), and everything related to the engagement -- seeing friends/family, insuring the ring. It doesn't help that we're in the lazy days of late August -- not exactly the most productive time for anyone.
But I've loved spending spare moments processing our vacation pics and designing an album for ourselves and our families (I've used Blurb for years and love it). Here are some pics from -- apologies for being sappy -- the best vacation ever.
We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, so come on, what's not to like? The hotel is the farthest north on the hotel strip, so it's quieter and cleaner. There are no passers-through, no annoying pop music, just the sound of the water and birds. (If you look carefully at that photo, you'll see I have a huge bruise on my left shin. We went windsurfing and apparently I have an aggressive way of mounting the board).
When D and I go on vacation, we try to find a place that has a blend of relaxation, nature, and athleticism. There was plenty of pampering at the hotel, on the beach, and at beachside restaurants where we ODed on seafood. But we also paddleboarded, windsurfed for three hours, hiked in Arikok National Park, and went snorkeling. Next time we have to do landsailing and mountain biking.
We snorkeled with Aruba Bob, who has the most impressive Trip Advisor profile I've ever seen.
Our hike was spectacular, but in the moment it was a bit harrowing. We embarked on a 45-minute trail to the Natural Pool, and three people stopped and warned us. It was 95 degrees, with no shade, nearly all uphill. But we wanted to do it (we had enough water and we had done something similar in the Everglades in August -- we could handle it). But we got lost and that 45-minute hike turned into a 2 hour one. See the jeeps in the top left corner of that pic? That's where we wanted to go. Once we realized we were lost, we just went to the water and walked along the coast. It was exhilarating beside that wildness, waves of immense force crashing over a moon-like terrain. But once we got to the Natural Pool... we hitched a ride on a Jeep.
You might think of a Caribbean island is lush, but Aruba is semi-tropical, with many deserts. There were far more cacti than palm trees.
We also saw a fair amount of wildlife. Here's what the locals call "a free pedicure".
Here are bats in Quadirikiri Cave in Arikok. Legend has it that the tribe leader locked his beautiful daughter in here when she fell in love with a foreigner. Her spirit escaped through the holes in the ceiling so she could return to her lover.
We went to the spectacular Butterfly Farm where we saw hundreds of butterflies and moths. This mini-documentary gives a great tour of the space + poses some thought-provoking questions about life and consciousness (a chrysalis is basically a vessel of genetic goo that forms into a totally different being).
We also saw ton of blue lizards, land crabs, pelicans, and hawks. We spotted two hummingbirds but alas they are impossible to photograph.
Mountain goats roam the streets (we even saw a goat skeleton while hiking... at least we think it was a goat?). Those are some tough goats because they forage inside prickly cactus patches.
I shamelessly drank numerous blue drinks because Curacao is just next door to Aruba. This was Breaking Bad inspired.
Towards the end of vacation, we kept saying, we wished we could stay just a little bit longer. And we did!
We arrived at the airport only to be told that all flights in and out had been canceled because of a software malfunction. We booked another night and went back to the beach. Can you tell I'm really happy??
And, finally, let's talk FOOD. The first couple days, we stayed around the hotels while also thinking how we'd be able to manage eating at restaurants where the main courses started at $38 (seriously... that's for the chicken breast or pasta). But once we ventured out a bit, the food was not only more affordable, but also much tastier. Some recs:
Flying Fishbone - For dinner on/in the beach. The closest row is in the water -- so far in that it'll reach your upper-mid calf. We sat in row 2.5... close enough to see the flying fish in the water, far enough that the sand under our feet was dry. Had a delicious unicorn fish and Baked Alaska here.
Pelican Nest Seafood Grill - Straight-forward, deliciously prepared seafood. The entrance is in the thick of the touristy hotel area, but the actual restaurant feels more low-key because its out on a pier. Like Flying Fishbone, the name of the restaurant is literal. Expect pelican sightings.
Madame Janette - A spot for locals and tourists alike. This restaurant is inland, away from the hotels and water sport kiosks. It also showcases the diversity of Aruban cuisine: local seafood, Dutch classics, Argentinean steak, and of course, blue drinks.
And for more casual spots:
Garden Fresh Cafe - Sometimes during vacation eating, you just want a SALAD. This hit the spot more than any 4-star meals could. We also went for breakfast, where I had my first (!) acai bowl.
Gari & Wasabi - "Japanese Caribbean fusion." But I think their most interesting menu item was DEEP-FRIED sushi! I know this sounds terribly déclassé (and it is), but it was quite interesting and delicious. Mine had salmon, crab scallions, eel, avocado, and nori.
And so ends Summer Vacation 2015. Ready to get down to business (in two weeks).
This trip has been a life-changing one (more on that later). But for now, here are some of my fav pics thus far... more soon!
Still to-do... snorkeling, standup paddleboard yoga, and maybe even windsurfing??
This weekend, I’m seeing this magic show at The NoMad. Yes. A magic show at Daniel Humm’s culinary temple better known for its truffle-stuffed chicken for two. D and I are really, really into magic. (C'mon, it's magic!) Our last magic show was a big production on Broadway, and this is a more intimate salon. The magician's name is Dan White. He had a show on the Travel Channel called White Magic and was also Kanye's "magic consultant" on the Yeezus tour. There will be about 30 people in the audience and you betcha we’re going to sit as close as possible.
Then on Sunday I’m seeing some family visiting from Seattle. A month or so ago, I went to a signing with Carol Weston, who wrote the girls' bible Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You and planned on giving the copy to my cousin who’s in middle school. After I told my mom that the book talks about drugs and sex, she nixed the idea. So now I’m reading it -- and actually learning a lot. :P
This week I also started at a new yoga studio in my neighborhood called Align Yoga. It specializes, obviously, in spine issues. I love a good yoga sesh, in part because it stretches and shakes out the kinks. So far, I’ve loved the wall work of this class. There was one pose where I was doing a child’s pose… but up against the wall so my feet were towards the ceiling and my fingers grazed the floor. And another pose where a strap was wound behind my back and around my feet. Picture an omega sign… but upside down. That one ruled.
On Tuesday, I went to a reading by Deanna Fei, author of A Thread of Sky and, most recently, Girl in Glass. You may have heard Deanna’s story last year, when the CEO of AOL caused a firestorm when he referred to two “distressed babies” as the reason employee benefits were being cut. My stomach turned then, and it totally wrenches now. I’ve never winced so much at a reading (as in, the words were heart-breaking and powerful).
I’m in awe of Deanna’s (and her husband Peter’s) strength.
And speaking of books… I got a bunch of great blurbs this week! I'll be updating this Facebook album as they come in. Here are some of them…
And last, this week I tried Blue Apron for the first time! I've always been a bit snobby about these meal delivery services. I can come up with my own recipes... I feel like a kid with a condescending "creativity kit"... but I kinda liked it! One, I probably never would have thought to make these dishes on my own. And, two... it is a pain to pick up ingredients sometimes. There's only one place in my neighborhood that sells tarragon (not one of my regular places). And I can only get breakfast radishes at the farmer's market... which I only go to on Sundays. Plus, it helped that my friend works there so I got a free week...
See above for a summery corn chowder, which I made exactly as the recipe said. I would have preferred fewer potatoes and some kind of protein -- chicken or shrimp would have been great. I modified the eggplant pitas by baking -- rather than pan-frying -- the eggplant. I also gave the same flour/spice/panko/yogurt treatment to some okra and broccoli because my shipment had only two tiny eggplants -- not the 1 lb the recipe needed. This one wasn't my favorite. I think it needed more grease. The original recipe was probably a lot better.
All in all, I probably wouldn't do this regularly, but might do a couple weeks during the year, just for fun. I'm also curious about Ritual (formerly Sweet Roots) and Plated. Have you tried any of these services? What did you think?
Hope you have a great weekend!