Monday, July 23, 2012

Movin' Out

After a lovely two years blogging here, I can now be found blogging here.

Catch you on the flip side!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Visit to Our Northern Neighbor

Prelude: When I was a senior in college, I went to Nassau in the Bahamas with my best friends Lindsey and Roe. One of my most coveted momentos from that trip is my stamped passport. It may seem tremendously lame, but five years later that little stamp is still hanging out by itself and my futile attempts to change that have failed. Naturally, you can imagine the dismay I must have felt upon *finally* entering another country only to discover that nary a stamp would touch the sheets of my passport! And so unfolds my recent trip to Canada.


A few weeks ago, I took a road trip to Montréal with my very good friend Nicole and her childhood friend Erin. Much credit must be given to Erin for selflessly providing/driving the set of wheels that whisked us urbanites north to Canada. As I started explaining earlier, getting my passport stamped was definitely on my trip To Do List. I've had this slight feeling of International Travel Inadequacy for a few years now, stemming from the fact that I've only been to one foreign country. Montréal has long been a city I've wanted to visit and a part of me was thrilled by the notion of that official documentation. However, neither by entrer nor sortie did border patrol produce a stamp. Am I the only pathetic American traveler who so badly wants her damn passport stamped when she actually leaves the country? Sigh.

I know I've gone on a tangent about this one minor discrepancy, but suffice it to say our trip couldn't have gone better. We stayed at L’hôtel Le Dauphin, a cute little hotel just a few blocks away from Old Montréal on Rue de Bleury. We spent most of our days traversing the city, eating crêpes and pronouncing the names of every Rue ((street)) with mediocre French accents. By the end of our trip we had sufficiently exhausted the phrases Bonjour, Merci Beaucoup and Bonsoir all said with, what we thought was, the perfect French, sing-songy inflection.

The Old City was definitely the most touristy neighborhood during the day, but we happily accepted the charm of the cobble stone streets and European architecture. We payed a visit to the Notre-Dame Basilica, which you may or may not remember as the church Celine Dion was married in. It really is breathtaking.

About a month before our trip, Nicole secured us a reservation at Garde Manger. I will fully disclose a major impetus for this trip: Chuck Hughes. For those who may not know, Chuck is a French Canadian chef with a show on the Cooking Channel called Chuck's Day Off. Nicole and I are both pretty enamored of him (those dimples!) and his cooking. While we were getting ready to make our way to the restaurant, I decided to tweet at the chef himself. To my delight, he actually tweeted me back confirming he would be there. The northern stars had aligned for us. We finished primping and made our way to Rue Saint-François-Xavier where, lo and behold, he was.

Forgive my gushing, but he was an absolute sweetheart and greeted us all so warmly. It turns out he actually does his own tweeting, and for someone who used to tweet for a restaurant professionally, I found that extremely refreshing (and it made my inner chef groupie swoon). The food was phenomenal; from a traditional French poutine - fries, cheese curds and gravy - to a savory roasted chicken with shrimp and veggies over garlic mash potatoes. Nicole was especially smitten over her potato croquettes. Our waiter Mike was not only thoroughly knowledgable about the seasonal menu, he also gave us some fantastic bar recommendations that took us down a less touristy path.

Our first taste of Montréal nightlife was at a bar called Philemon. While we waited at the bar for our drinks, a guy standing to my left began speaking to me, in French. Just my luck; I go all the way to Montréal, a nice guy strikes up conversation and we don't speak the same language, haha. We spent the remainder of our night there, met some other NY-area travelers and went to bed pleased with our night.

The next day we walked from the Old City, past McGill University to the top of Mont Royal. The panoramic views from the top of this park (created by the same Frederick Law Olmsted who built Central Park) are beautiful. It was also a lovely spot to chat with some super friendly locals.

After scaling Mont Royal, we walked through the surrounding neighborhood and ate sandwiches at the very bohemian cafe, Santropol. Their signature sandwiches are made with cream cheese-based spreads on rustic dark bread. I had the chicken salad sandwich with an olive-cream cheese spread, and while it was tasty and I ate the whole thing, it was a bit heavy on the cream. My favorite part of Santropol, however, was the vibe and this nifty hand sculpture. After lunch we did a little shopping and took the metro back to our hotel.

That evening, we ate Downtown at an Indian restaurant called Le Taj. We enjoyed a perfectly spiced meal and equally perfect Indian white wine, the first Erin or I had ever tried. After filling our bellies, we mosied on down to Rue Crescent. My friend Korn went to the University of Vermont and offered some suggestions after spending many a night there during college. Our first stop was Brutopia, but we ultimately decided we wanted less bachelorette party and more laid back. Mike from Garde Manger had told us about a speakeasy-type bar called Big in Japan, not to be confused with the restaurant a few blocks down. **Spoiler Alert: this impressive bar can be found on Rue Saint-Denis and is a wonder to behold after the craziness of Downtown**

A graffiti-splashed door is the bar's only indicator and easily passable. The entry opens onto a velvet curtain-lined corridor, at the end of which stood a tuxedo-clad host. We waited about 15 minutes before being led into a chic - but at the same time seriously relaxed - candle-lit room. We each ordered old classics; Tom Collins and the like. The mixologists all sported handlebar mustaches, suspenders and bow ties but never seemed contrived. It was perfect.

We were grateful for being tipped off about Big in Japan; it gave our trip that little something extra - as if meeting Chuck Hughes didn't do it for us alone. The weather was sunny, the food delicious and people friendly. I guess the stamp really is no biggy. No hard feelings Canada, I'll be back. *When I'll hopefully get my stamp ;)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Hereby Solidify My Status As A Bookworm

I can pinpoint exactly when my penchant for non-fiction and memoirs began; Mr. Perry's 10th grade English class. Mr. Perry was a really cool teacher (as most English teachers in my experience have been) he talked to us like we were his peers and made class, dare I say, fun. One day, Mr. Perry photocopied a chapter of a then unfamiliar memoir: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. The chapter he photocopied was "The Youth In Asia." In one part of this story, David writes of his sick cat and being faced with the prospect of euthanasia. At the sound of that polarizing word, he immediately recalls a cartoon he watched as a child, of Japanese children playing in a school yard. The Youth In Asia. I was hooked; his deadpan wit and inappropriate sarcasm was something I didn't even know I liked, but liked I did. I must confess that it wasn't until years later in college that I once again immersed myself in more of his writing. Nonetheless, I always think back to that 10th grade English class where this little seed was planted in my nerdy brain.

As much as I love to sink my teeth into a great story created out of the ether, I constantly find myself drawn to stories created from real life experiences. David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, David Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, David Foster Wallace, Nic and David Sheff and Frank McCourt are among my most beloved authors, and all happen to shine in the latter category. That's not to say that Infinite Jest by the late, incredibly great Foster Wallace isn't a wonder to behold 1, but I find reading his short essays more enjoyable. One of the things I like about delving into a writer's personal musings, is that you start to feel like you really know them, like you have this (albeit manufactured) connection to their life.

I've come to realize that quite a few volumes lining my bookshelf deal with pretty heavy subject matter; addition, abuse, sexuality, traumatic family situations etc. I don't know what it is, but for someone who has never abused illegal drugs, I can't help but empathise with writers who graphically expose the miseries of drug addition. Case in point, Tweak by Nic Sheff. Over and over throughout the book, Nic recounts his horrible experience with addiction in such a human way, that it ends up translating into a universal struggle that even I can relate to. Or maybe in some sick, twisted way I am just fascinated by the cycle of addiction and keep reading in the hopes that this time he'll overcome it! Apologies for going off on a tangent here, but I've often wondered why I like reading the subject matter I do. Maybe they're just damn good books, pure and simple.

ANYWAY2, with all of this being said, I was recently thrilled to learn that I could meet two of my favorite writers in the flesh.

Last week, I attended a reading panel at Book Court in Brooklyn with my high school friend Dan and his girlfriend Michelle. The panel featured writers from the sports and pop culture-centric website, Grantland. While I'm not a regular reader of the site, I have been a regular reader of Grantland contributor Chuck Klosterman for years. Each writer read a piece they had published on the site and then a Q & A ensued. Topics ranging from social media's effect on the pop culture experience to the Penn State scandal were discussed. It was one of those nights where you feel like part of something really creative. It was just a bunch of people sitting in a book store bouncing ideas of one another. For me, the pièce de résistance was listening to Chuck Klosterman. He spoke about America's infatuation (for better or worse) with Tim Tebow. Now, for someone like me who does not follow sports (aside from a few Yankees games here and there) I did not feel like a fish out of water. Hence the reason I enjoy reading Chuck Klosterman, everything he writes is told in the tangible context of pop culture. Regardless of whether he writes about a theory connecting 9/11 and Radiohead's Kid A or the Boston Celtics and the band Poison (the latter two I know little about) his subject matter is attainable because of his smart writing style. At the end of the Q & A, we were invited to mingle with the writers, so my friends and I shuffled over to Mr. Klosterman. We shook hands with him, chit chatted about something he wrote in Eating the Dinosaur and then he signed my friend's book. He didn't seem as jaded or cynical in real life as he does in his writing. He was approachable and wildly (almost comically) animated, which suffice it to say, completely reinforced our admiration of him.

I Googled this picture of Chuck and *fun side story* completely love the fact that he is wearing a t-shirt with Memphis, Tennessee's Sun Studio logo on it. I have the same emblem hanging in my kitchen. We're in sync.

The second piece of news that has got my inner bookworm smiling, is that Augusten Burroughs announced via Twitter that he will be at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on May 8 promoting his new book, This is How. I've fallen out of touch with his recent releases so I'm happy to get back into his world. Burroughs, like many of the writers I mentioned above, is a multi-dimensional storyteller who unapologetically reveals the deepest and darkest experiences from his life (Running with Scissors and Dry) and can also make you laugh in a world he creates (Sellevision). From what I've gathered, This is How seems to be a self-help book of sorts. This is one genre I'm not usually a fan of, but I'm intrigued either way.
I can't wait to see what Augusten Burroughs will sign in my book. When I met David Sedaris at a book signing a few years ago, he smiled and thanked me for coming. He then asked me a question I can't remember now, but for whatever reason it led him to emblazon the following message in my copy of When You Are Engulfed In Flames: To Christina, I'm so happy you can walk. David Sedaris

That's what I love about these guys, you never know what to expect.

1It took me six months to read Infinite Jest. Six months. The 981-page book contains almost 100 pages of footnotes (not unlike the one you are currently reading) that contain substories independent of the main story at hand, and are also longer and more complex and than those found in some college text books. But, alas, it was worth it.
2Please see any Chuck Klosterman essay.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sister, Sister

It's official; my sister has finally moved in! This sibling co-habitating arrangement should be pretty seamless since we shared a bedroom for most of our lives - we go way back to bunk beds. When we decided that moving in together would be the best situation for both of us at this point in our lives, we spent a few months pounding the pavement in search of a new place. However, the rental scene in New York City is not for the faint of heart and ultimately it wasn't the right time to move somewhere completely new. So here we are on April 1st, calling 93rd Street home (the third year in a row for me) and I couldn't be happier about it.

Kerry's room

My sister has so much crap many things, that my brother Matt enlisted the help of his brave friend Ben for the move. Brave may seem dramatic, but schlepping hefty Ikea furniture (and endless boxes of shoes) up five flights of stairs can be daunting. I think the most frustrating part of the move was finding a spot to park the U-Haul. My Dad and I circled the block well over five times before getting lucky with an open spot. Once we got the parking squared away, we did come up with an effective plan of action; one person stood on each floor landing, while we worked assembly-line style. Only walking up one or two flights at a time saved us all much needed energy.

One of my favorite aspects of moving into a new apartment is decorating. My sister has been buying new furniture and artwork for her room, and yesterday I joined her. We took a trip to Ikea with my friend Amanda, where I spent $100 in the blink of an eye (I'm waiting for you tax return check). I don't feel too guilty though, because I have been wanting to buy something to hang on the one wall in my living room that's been bare for over a year.

Enchanted Tales (click to get a better glimpse)

I am in love with this paper cuts design - my sister thinks it looks like something one would find in Amish Country. While she may not be entirely mistaken, I like to think it looks like potential album art for the Fleet Foxes. I mean, there is a cute little peasant guy playing the flute in a tree here.

Cosmos 3

This poster was more of an impulse buy, but I was drawn to the vibrant colors and think it spruces up the hallway. The dark brown frames were purchased at Ikea for around $20 each.

Alvine Flora

I also bought a floral throw pillow for the couch; to up the room's coziness factor. I don't know if this is the little old lady in me speaking, but I love embroidered pillows ... and throw blankets.

As the year unfolds, I'm sure I will have plenty to write about when it comes to living with my sister. Most likely, we'll argue about utterly ridiculous stuff and then decide everything's fine and immediately watch an episode of Will & Grace. I had to chuckle when we were moving all of her boxes out of my parent's house and our neighbor yelled over to my Mom, "So you're losing another one?" Without missing a beat, my Mom motioned to my brother and lovingly yelled back, "Two down and one to go."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A City Smörgåsbord

One of my favorite things to write about is food, which makes me a very lucky girl indeed because one of my favorite things to do is eat. I've had the pleasure of frequenting a few noteworthy bars/restaurants lately and I'd like to share two of them with you, dear reader.

I live on the Upper East Side - Yorkville to be exact - but it's not often that my friends and I venture north of 93rd Street when we're enjoying a night out on the town. Recently, I happened to read an endearing review in Time Out New York of a semi-new bar/foodie spot on 97th and Park called Earl's Beer & Cheese. Immediately upon reading the magic words Beer and Cheese I had no choice but to check this place out. It was lauded as a really great find for craft beer and artisanal cheese-lovers who reside on the UES (or anyone who doesn't mind heading way up town). As it happens, most places that fall within those parameters are found downtown or even in Brooklyn. While I love venturing to the LES or over the bridge to an outer borough, it's cool to know I can have a great beer and an even greater cheese spread a few blocks away from my apartment. Last weekend, Lindsey and I made our way north of 96th Street to Earl's. My verdict: understated and fantastic. The narrow space is furnished with a few wooden benches and tables that lend a rustic feel. After scanning the menu, beer and/or cheese orders are placed at small bar in the rear. We both ordered Bronx Pale Ales - wanting to keep it local - and a Beer-Cheese, which we thought was going to be a cheese platter, but ended up being something much, much better.
Beer-Cheese at Earl's Beer & Cheese. Music to my ears.

As you can see, the Beer-Cheese came in a old-school plastic basket and turned out to be a heavenly spread made with cheddar cheese and house lager, meant to be generously piled onto the most gloriously buttered bread. Perfection. Understandably, the napkin I ate off of was basically translucent after having held this cheesy, buttery bread; but my arteries let it slide. The place also had really fun artwork hanging on the walls. I will definitely be going back.
This past Friday, I took the N train to Park Slope, where my friend Monique brought me to a few of her favorite hangouts. One of them was a quaint restaurant that specializes in organic, sustainable and locally-sourced food, called Rose Water. To start, we shared a really fresh calamari and citrus salad. For my main dish, I had baked polenta with goat cheese, mushrooms and spinach. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, I love cheese. This was SUCH a delicious take on a baked, cheesy dish that it is absolutely something I hope to try again. It was definitely rich, but paired with the mushrooms and spinach, the overly glutenous feeling I normally feel after housing a carb and cheese-heavy dish wasn't too overbearing. On a sad side note, Monique's iPhone, which happened to store a great picture of this polenta dish, was stolen at a bar in Carroll Gardens later in the evening. While I'm sure this picture is the last thing Monique is sad to have lost, I felt compelled to explain that this picture you are about to see is not of the actual polenta dish I ate that evening. What would I do without Google images?
Baked Polenta at Rose Water

So there you have it, two spots - one on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn's ever-popular neighborhood of Park Slope - that I recommend scoping out. When you're feeling the need for a cold glass of craft beer and a chunk of cheese, take the 6 train up to Earl's Beer & Cheese. When you're in the mood for simple, organic or local fare, take the R train to Union Street and savor the goods at Rose Water.

As always, happy eating and drinking!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy Birthday Grandma

Last Sunday, the family got together for my Grandma's 84th birthday. She moved down to New Jersey, from Queens, about five years ago and has since become quite the popular neighbor in her building. (Not to boast, but what former Rockette wouldn't be? She still does a mean kick.) We celebrated her big day in the party room where she lives and it turned out to be perfect. Her and her friends in the over-80 category worked like little elves and decorated the room with balloons and festive table cloths the night before. Even more perfect, was the delicious food everyone brought. From antipast, eggplant parmesan and baked ziti to chocolate-covered strawberries and cookies; we did some serious eating at this birthday.

Ms. Vera Ceci

I've been close with my Grandma ever since I was a wee little one, so it's always a lot of fun to spend days like this with her. I can't even describe how proud she was to introduce all of us to her friends. It was probably the highlight of the day. The only person who could have made the day even better was my cousin Jill who, unfortunately, was out in Minnesota visiting her boyfriend Justin.

Mom, Uncle Wayne and Gram

My cousin Leigh and brother Matt

My Mama and Me

Dad and Aunt Rosie

My sister Kerry and cousin Lauren. Not only is she a cutie-pie, she can color like nobody's business.

"Say Cheese"

Chatting over coffee.

The Ladies

It was a day filled with eating, talking, coloring books and more eating. Until next time ... that's all folks!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Warby Parker

I don't know precisely why or when it started, but ever since my teens I've had this glamorized notion that it is really "cool" to wear glasses. At around 18-years-old, my curse wish was finally granted. Finding myself in over-sized lecture halls made me realize I couldn't help but squint to see my distant professor. Driving was no better; traffic lights suddenly became hazardous constellations of color. It was finally time to get me some glasses. Even though my vision is far from terrible, in order to enjoy a movie or even a TV show, glasses are most definitely required.

(I came across this picture online. I currently feel like her.)

It's been a little over two years since I've had a proper eye exam but with one looming, I've been casually searching for a new pair of specs to go along with what I have no doubt will be a stronger lens prescription. My current frames are a dark tortoise shell in a rectangular shape, but this time around I'd like a larger, boxier shape in a lighter shade. My co-worker Rodney recently got a pair of Buddy Holly-esque frames and after inquiring where he got them, he told me about a fantastic website called Warby Parker.

Warby Parker is everything I want in a new set of glasses. After browsing a stylish collection of vintage-inspired looks on either their website or brick-and-mortor store, a glorious $95 (and your prescription) is all that's required to own a trendy pair of eyeglasses.

I'm leaning towards the following frames but I'll make my final decision once I see what these puppies look like in person:

Preston Sandalwood Matte
Sinclair Burgundy Fade
Colton Hazelwood
Beckett Striped Chestnut
Huxley Hazelwood

The old-school feel to Warby Parker's collections got me thinking about what a funny thing fashion is. While styles may change drastically throughout the years, it's only inevitable that outdated styles ultimately become chic once again. I wish I had a picture handy of the gargantuan pair of red glasses my mom rocked during the 80s; the ones she now absolutely shudders to think about. (Picture old-school Sally Jesse Raphael.) While I hope those never come back into fashion, it's anyone's guess as to how I'll think about these frames in 20 years.