Wednesday, November 28, 2012

72 Hours in New Orleans

This year we got weird and spent Thanksgiving in New Orleans. My brother Todd lives there, and a bunch of family members flew down to spend the holiday together with Todd in The Big Easy. I hadn't been to New Orleans since high school so it was a treat to be back. Justin had been about 11 times just this past year for friends' bachelor parties, but he was happy to be off Bourbon Street this time around. We experienced the best of both worlds: Todd showed us the local uptown hangouts, and we also toured the downtown touristy area. The weather was a perfect mid-seventy-something the whole time. I would definitely recommend visiting NOLA in the fall. Some tidbits from our time there:

We arrived last Tuesday night just in time for a late dinner of oysters, Po' Boys and beers. Todd took us to Cooter Brown’s Tavern, a huge sports bar which serves oysters by the dozen along with a full NOLA-style bar menu and lots of delicious beers. Justin had the Abita Turbo Dog. My drink of choice throughout the trip was Nola Blonde Ale

On Wednesday Justin and I explored “the hippie area,” as dubbed by Todd, on and around Maple Street. I absolutely loved it! We brunched at Satsuma Cafe. The food was fresh and really the only semblance of healthy fare we experienced in The Big Easy. After eating, we browsed the many resale/vintage shops on Maple. At one point we spotted a bookstore with two adjoining buildings, one designated for “new” books and one for “used.” Very cool.




We reunited with the fam for a late lunch at Johnny’s Po’ Boys. (Yes we were eating just about every second spent in NOLA.) Johnny’s has typical New Orleans food: Po' Boys of all kinds, etc. Justin crushed a muffaletta, which is the New Orleans equivalent of our Italian sub. The muffaletta is a must-try. 

For dinner we went to Jacque Imo’s. The vibe was very relaxed and the d├ęcor was colorful and eclectic. We dined on delicious comfort food. The restaurant is known for its fried chicken so that’s what we ordered (among many other items). I loved the mashed potatoes in particular. My fellow diners were all really into the Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. (I, not the most adventurous eater, passed.)

After dinner Todd took us to see live music at Maison on Frenchmen Street. The band playing, called the Upstarts, was awesome.

On Thursday we had Thanksgiving dinner at Luke. It was fabulous. The restaurant served a special Thanksgiving turducken dish, which Justin enjoyed. I ordered Herb Roasted Local Chicken with Farmers’ Market Vegetables & Whipped Potatoes. For dessert: Brendan’s Bread Pudding with vanilla bean ice cream & hot buttered pecan sauce. Overall NOLA experience: YUM.

A

P.S. If you’re headed to NOLA with a big group, i.e. for a bachelor or bachelorette party, I would recommend Cooter Brown's (uptown) or Desire (downtown) for oysters/lunch/watching sports. If you’re going to New Orleans for a more low-key fun/romantic getaway, I would suggest perusing the antiques shops (there are TONS) and also strolling along the Mississippi River.

P.P.S. More NOLA pics:


[One of the many makeshift bands stationed on the French Quarter sidewalks.]
[I loved this (mindful) coffee shop note re: napkins.]
[The - rather extensive - liquor selection at the local drugstore, Rite Aid.]
[A spot-on tee-shirt in a kitschy tourist shop in the French Quarter.]

Monday, November 26, 2012

Secret Santa’s Little Helper


‘Tis the season for Friendsgiving celebrations as well as Secret Santas, Hanukkah Harry’s – you name it. These fun get-togethers are a great antidote to the winter blues. And there’s always the prospect of getting thoughtful gifts. Last year I was fortunate enough to receive beautiful ceramic soy sauce holders from ABC Home (thank you Rachel) as well as a chic vintage-looking glass tray for my loose jewelry (thank you Jacki).


The best gifts are thought-out and personal. I’ll be featuring a holiday gift guide soon. In the meantime, here are some rad tools for coordinating your gift-exchange parties –

My dear friend Aliya introduced me to Doodle a couple of years ago. (Aliya is way ahead of the curve.) Our high school friends used to engage in email chains that would reach ridiculous amounts of back and forth just trying to lock down a date for dinner. With everyone’s busy and conflicting schedules, it was nearly impossible to reach a consensus for a group meal. Enter: Doodle. Each person checks dates that work for her, and – voila! – Doodle finds a date that works for all.

Once you and your friends do settle on a date, with the help of Doodle of course, you still have to pick names for the Secret Santa (or other variation) element of the evening. In the past our friend Jen had her coworker pick names on our behalf. This may or may not have been rigged J This year our friend Julie asked her assistant to do the honors, and Julie’s genius assistant instead found Elfster. Elfster is essentially an online Secret Santa match-maker. It’s awesome! Someone enters everyone’s names, and then each member of the group receives an email with her designated gift recipient. It’s a virtual picking-names-out-of-a-hat situation, but better; You’re guaranteed to not pick yourself.

A

Cyber Monday

Enjoy the perks of marked down prices for one more day – today! Here’s one more brand I adore, Joie, offering 20-30% off.

A

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Saver


I’m not a fan of Black Friday shopping. Why submit oneself to chaotic crowds and the prospect of getting TRAMPLED, just to get a deal on stuff? Especially on the day after a holiday meant for reminding us to be thankful for what we already have. To me, Thanksgiving is the perfect excuse to spend time with family and friends and just veg out. And you can even have your cake (or pecan pie) and eat it too – you can still score some sweet deals, without ever leaving your couch, thanks to the web. Which brings me to a retail experience I do support: Cyber Monday. If you want to get discounts without dealing with the crazies, just go online and do some damage, now through Monday – with the exception of Barnes & Noble. (See below.) Here are promotion codes for some of my favorite retailers:


Enter code T9P3E3W for 30% off 1 item – expires today, Sunday.

Enter code COLOR25 for 25% off.

Enter code TREAT for 25% off.


Enter code BIGEVENT12 for 20% off.

A

P.S. My friend/future sister-in-law Jamie shared this someecard on Facebook. 


I couldn't agree more.

Monday, November 19, 2012

casual dining, wisco style


Move over Secret Santa; Friendsgiving is the hot new holiday. Why limit your group(s) of friends to one special gathering this holiday season? Host a Friendsgiving Potluck Dinner – an amazing idea conceived by one of our bestest friends, Lauren. Lauren hosted 14 of our nearest and dearest college friends and prepared the following menu:
Roasted Chicken with Fresh Vegetables from the Farmers’ Market
Mashed Potatoes
Stuffing
Zucchini with Parmesan
Grapes
Charcuterie
Olives
Artichoke Hearts
Lots of Wine

Guests Contributed:
Mimi’s Cornflakes Chicken Cutlets (Thank you Alex.)
Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Shell Pasta (Thank you Daniel.)
Tomato, Cucumber and Feta Salad, Minus the Feta for Me (Thanks again Alex.)
Cheeses and Crackers (From Yours Truly and My Man, Purchased at Citarella.) 
Apple Pie (Only half burnt and still perfect. Thank you Jacki.)
Momofuku Cookies (Thank you Charlie.)
Ice Cream (Thanks again Jacki.)
Chocolate Rugelach (You’re welcome.)
Tate’s Cookies (You’re welcome.)

The food and wine were really delicious. But my favorite part of the evening – besides the company of course – was the dress code. Our beloved friend Danny came to the party prepared with construction paper, and he hand-constructed special hats for everyone. It was awesome.
[Alex & Danny]
Happy Friendsgiving!
A

P.S. Speaking of wearing construction paper hats... I participated in a Kids’ Yoga Teacher Training this past weekend. It was a BLAST and I can’t wait to help kids get their yoga on!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

fine dining, wisco style


I like to mark every happy occasion with an extra special meal. (Really it’s the perfect excuse to try a new restaurant.) For our anniversary Justin surprised me with a dinner reservation at Perla, a nearby restaurant I’d wanted to try. And it was actually quite fitting, as Perla is owned by the Little Wisco restaurant proprietors, and Justin and I met at the Little Wisco’s alma mater and namesake inspiration, The University of Wisconsin… Anyway, the food was delish. And the ambiance, like at all Little Wisco restaurants, was lovely. Perla, Fedora, Jeffrey’s and Joseph Leonard all have laid-back vibes and an old-school rustic charm. And the music is my favorite part. The soundtrack of every Little Wisco restaurant consists of an eclectic mix of 90’s hip hop and R&B as well as current tunes that aren’t “pop-y.” (For example: Live Your Life by T.I. Featuring Rihanna, Juicy by Notorious B.I.G. and Hey Ma by Cam'Ron.) The music really adds to the fun setting and good energy. Regarding food, I would recommend everything we ordered, if you’re a real carnivore. Our meaty meal was delicious, but personally I’m starting to get the heebie jeebies from meat. The quail, in all its shalabhasana glory, was just too much for me to handle. Justin, ever the gentleman, chopped the little bird up into pieces, but I still couldn’t get its superman image out of my mind. So I ate just some of it. Justin and I shared a feast of the aforementioned quail (with Brussels Sprouts, Farro, Cauliflower and Brown Butter Sugo) and the following:

Braised Octopus with Oven Dried Tomatoes, Eggplant & Fett’unta
Calamari with Lemon & Basil
Agnolotti al Sugo D’Arrosto (basically little dumplings/raviolis stuffed with “meat cheeks” and in a meat fat/juice sauce)
Praline Semifreddo with Salted Rum Caramel & Croccante

YUM.
A

[image via http://perlanyc.com]

P.S. ICYMI “Is this how you roll in Flavor Town?”




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On This Day


On November 14th ten years ago, Justin and I were just becoming close friends. On November 14th three years ago, Justin and I started dating. On November 14th next year, Justin and I will be a MARRIED couple! I am beyond excited to call Justin my hubby. But in the meantime, happy anniversary JB, my fiance and best friend. 

[photo credit: the lovely Veronica
A

Wedding Dress Shopping: Exposed

In the past few weeks I’ve been traipsing around Manhattan in search of a wedding dress. It’s been… exhausting. And I’ve finally narrowed down my decision to two dresses. More on THE dress(es) later. But first, I want to expose the process and share some tips on things I’d wish I’d known before making dress appointments…
What to Wear
You would think it doesn’t matter what you wear to an appointment at which you’ll be undressing. (I did!) But it does matter…Wear a strapless bra and granny panties or booty shorts. You’ll be standing in a fitting room in your skivvies, being dressed and undressed by a sales associate, perhaps surrounded by friends, family members and future in-laws. Dress comfortably and modestly. Gap Body makes great strapless bras and I love Hanky Panky boyshorts. My friend Alex swears by any undergarments made by Commando
When to Book
Plan appointments for about 10 months pre-wedding if you have the time. Dress shopping now for our August nuptials is just fine. Apparently you need to place an order at least six months before your wedding date (if not shopping off the rack of course). One of my top two dress picks requires three to four months - for shipping and handling? I have no idea :) 
Book appointments back-to-back if possible. Find out how much time each store allots for you. Then factor in travel time. But make appointments for the same day if doable. (See one store’s selection while your top picks from the previous store are still fresh in your mind.)
Who to Bring
This is obviously a personal preference. Personally I’m happy to bring along anyone close to me who’s interested in joining. And of course my peeps have amazing taste :) I really value my loved ones’ opinions, but of course ultimately I need to know in my heart of hearts what I’m most comfortable in.
What Not to Expect
Champagne. A super relaxed environment. That “candy shop” feeling.
A – I don’t even like champagne, but I was a bit disappointed when it wasn’t offered at a single bridal boutique.
B – It’s a shame, but with the exception of Lovely Bridal Shop, I felt rushed at every store I visited. Kleinfeld Bridal, once a wedding dress institution and Mecca, is now a theme park. It may have been the on-site filming of "reality" show Say Yes to the Dress that cheapened the experience for me. (Some friends of mine had really great experiences at Kleinfeld.) But Kleinfeld was a complete waste of time for me. The film crew was really distracting and actually served as a reminder of the sham that wedding dress markups really are. There was even an actual souvenir shop to boot. And my sales associate, although incredibly friendly, was clueless.
C – Don’t expect that “kid in a candy shop” feeling. In most stores you can’t even choose the dresses you’d like to try, let alone see their whole selections. Just hope you get a good sales associate who can really read your style.
A
P.S. I visited (in alphabetical order) Bergdorf GoodmanGabriella, Kleinfeld, Lovely, Mark Ingram, Pronovias and Saks
P.P.S. A coworker recently recommended RK Bridal – which is an awesome concept. It’s a self-proclaimed “no frills” store with a warehouse style. Pick your own dresses to try off the rack – just be willing to put up with a crowd. (Sounds like a sample sale to me, which of course can be well worth the chaos!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sending Sandy-Grams

For those fortunate enough to be back in their homes after "urban camping," it's time to send a thank you. You can't go wrong with a thoughtful thank you note, perhaps from Greenwich Letterpress or Sugar Paper
[Typewriter Thank You - Sugar Paper]
[Big Thank You, Blue Raspberry - Sugar Paper]
[Thank You Caligraphy, Black - Sugar Paper]

If you're able to splurge on a gift, here are some ideas - 
  • The Gift of Cleanliness Even if you tidied up here and there while crashing at your friend's place, it can't hurt to send in a professional to do the dirty work - pun intended. Hire a cleaning service to make sure your host's place gets spic and span post Sandy.
  • Household Items Your gift need not be fancy. A functional gift can be wonderful, especially if you depleted your host's supply of paper towels, toilet paper, etc. Send a special delivery from drugstore.com or FreshDirect with household items. Replenish what you used and also add something thoughtful like your host's favorite hand lotion or candy. 
  • Edible Arrangements You can't go wrong with giving something sweet. If you're tight on cash you can bake a batch of cookies and hand-deliver them. Whip up whatever dessert your Sandy host loves. Or order something delicious online. We got personal and ordered a pecan pie from our gracious host's favorite BBQ joint. (He's from Texas.)
A

P.S. As discussed here, I think you have a one-month grace period after you've returned to relative normalcy to send a little somethin' somethin' to your super-storm host. 

P.P.S. While you're in the giving mood, donate to those still seriously struggling

Friday, November 9, 2012

how to be a good houseguest 101


Justin and I were merely displaced during Sandy. (We have a lot to be thankful for.) We missed the worst of the super-storm when we were away in Chicago, which was great for us! But was it great for our host and dear friend Jay? He claims he enjoyed having us – and two other friends – stay with him. But while we were all straight-up chilling (snuggling, eating and drinking on his couch) he was trying to get in ‘work-mode.’ Couldn’t have been easy…
Here’s what we did to make the stay smooth sailing for all involved:

  • We, the refugees, went food shopping and made a feast for our group of friends in Chicago (a mixed bag of Chicagoans and fellow NY-ers also stranded due to Sandy). My friends Alex and Lauren whipped up rigatoni and homemade meatballs, lemon spaghetti, garlic bread and tomato & cucumber salad. I scooped out the vanilla ice cream to accompany our store-bought pecan pie.
  • We tried to stay really neat, and when we made a mess we tidied up right afterwards (or at least FIRST thing in the AM). We wiped down the counters, took out the trash and lit fresh-smelling candles.
  • We bought household essentials (which we were, of course, depleting): paper towels, toilet paper, aforementioned candles and more.
  • We (just) sent a gift. (Hope you’re not reading this Jay!) Everyone knows you have up to a year after a wedding to buy a wedding gift. I think you have up to a month post storm to purchase a Sandy host or hostess gift.
A

P.S. Here's a really enjoyable read from The New York Times on the "urban camping" that has resulted from Sandy. Some of my favorite lines: 

“Why didn’t they invite me [to crash]? I had them to dinner two years ago.”

“[The situation] is like FEMA for Jews.” 

“I like my guests to feel happy: I buy organic berries, I put Ambien on the pillow.”

P.P.S. If you were affected by Sandy, did you gain weight? My friends and I have been complaining about packing on a few LB's post super-storm... And then I read this article, completely validating my (disappointing) finding. In my defense, my situation involved a road trip. And there's only one kind of food you can eat on the road... crap :)






Wednesday, November 7, 2012

what’s in a name?


What a dreary day here in NYC! I wish I could crawl under a cozy blanket on the couch and watch an old movie… In the meantime I’m trying to think happy thoughts. Which reminds me – These network names popped up when I went to log onto our internet post Sandy –

Dystopia
Fried Mars Bar
Sometimes I Cry
Sugary
T-bone

I love my neighbors.

A

photo credit: Jan Wandrag via nytimes

Monday, November 5, 2012

SoPo


In the aftermath of Sandy, most areas south of 39th street in Manhattan lost power. Downtown folks were forced to retreat uptown to loved ones’ apartments, up-and-running offices and unusually bustling bars. Ironically, under normal circumstances downtowners (myself included) only begrudgingly venture above 14th street. But once everything below 39th street officially became SoPo (South of Power), the tables did indeed turn. Turtle Bay was bumpin’ with bar-goers on Thursday night. On Friday I just barely secured a dinner reservation at Elio’s on the UES, even though I was dining with the restaurant’s #1 patron and VIP guest (my Grandfather). The Sandy situation caused a total role reversal in Manhattan hotspots. The silver lining was that although we were a bit inconvenienced, we were totally fine. And we even found a new favorite restaurant in Midtown East: Sip Sak.
Justin and I (along with our downtown Manhattan neighbors) are incredibly fortunate to have a home in an area relatively unscathed by the super-storm, and luckily we were prepared with candles, flashlights and junk food. And, above all, we have friends in (literally) high places. Thank you Alex, Michael & Jamie and Nasim for hosting us for hot showers and good times. Still, Manhattan – not surprisingly – felt very weird this past weekend. Justin and I had been away for the worst of the storm, happily stuck in Chicago with dear friends. When we returned to The City, it was eerie. After dropping off our friends on the UWS, we drove down the Westside Highway into a black abyss. It literally turned from lit-up Manhattan to apocalyptic-feeling darkness and silence in a matter of split-seconds, as we crossed 39th. By the time we turned onto our street, we were in official no-man’s land. We used the light from our phones to ascend the staircase in our apartment building. The dichotomy between uptown and downtown was stark, and it was illustrated beautifully on the cover of New York magazine.
[photo credit: Iwan Baan]
But SoPo wasn’t all that bad. All liquor stores and some bars, bodegas and restaurants opened their doors on Friday despite having no power, including Joseph Leonard. Justin and I lunched on delicious sandwiches (egg salad for him, avocado and mashed chickpeas for me) in the company of fellow patrons playing cards and an employee strumming on his guitar. It was an absolutely lovely, albeit chilly, afternoon. Later that night we hosted a no-power party. All of our guests by then had had power restored in their apartments, but they still showed up for lots of wine, catchphrase by candlelight and RHCP background music playing from inside a plastic cup. (Do you remember this trick? Music playing on an iPhone gets amplified when you put said phone in a plastic cup.) The next day our electricity was restored, so we were able to see the mess we had made with our party. It was well worth it. Many New Yorkers like us who were merely displaced and not in danger ended up bonding with friends and taking forced vacations from work. For some, there was a bright side to the storm. And for fellow lucky New Yorkers who were fortunate to escape Super-Storm Sandy without harm, here are just a couple ways to help out your hurting neighbors 


A

P.S. The inspirational story behind the Sandy New York cover/issue. 


Comfort Food


The cold New York weather combined with our short stint without power last week has me craving comfort food. My coworkers and I ordered Hampton Chutney for lunch today. Justin and I will probably order greasy Chinese food from Charlie Mom tonight. And in-between meals I’m reminiscing about Justin’s birthday dinner a couple of weeks ago at Minetta Tavern
[Minetta Tavern Interior]
Minetta Tavern takes reservations up to 30 days in advance. I didn’t book quite that far ahead of time, so Justin and I went late on a Wednesday night. The place was still packed, and for good reason. The ambiance was enjoyable albeit high-energy and the food was amazing. Given the restaurant’s NYU campus location, the interior was surprisingly mature - think Pastis meets Peter Luger. And even though it had a slightly rowdy feel, it was romantic. It's a great destination for anything from a date to a group dinner. Minetta is famous for its Black Label Burger, and it doesn't disappoint. It comes with fries, which are perfectly crispy but not burnt. Justin and I shared the burger and a sea bass special – which was also delectable. Justin got the bone marrow to start. It was piled high on his plate, accompanied by toasted bread. He highly recommends it. (Bone marrow isn’t for me.) I instead started with a special prawn salad with Bibb lettuce. It was the best salad I’ve had, ever. And to top it all off, we got a chocolate caramel tart with sea salt – also a special, and also ridiculously good. The consistency was ideal: there was considerably more chocolate than caramel. And the service? Excellent. I can’t wait to go back.



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