9 Best Things I Ate in Toronto

I recently traveled to Toronto for the first time. I'm not sure if it was a work trip or an eaiting trip, but it was delicious. Over four lunchtimes and three dinners, I managed to squeeze in plenty of fantastic bites. Here are some of the best. Classic Poutine at Poutini's House of Poutine

Okay, so poutine is really from Quebec, but I wasn't going to go to Canada and not have their national French fries dish. This was a size small and it was packed with crispy fries, rich gravy and cheese curds. Disney's "Hercules" soundtrack played throughout my time here, and yes, I did go the distance and eat the whole thing. Right before dinner.

Marshmallow Latte at Redline Coffee

The latte was delicious, but even moreso because they torched mini-marshmallows on top! Every sip went through a crisp, gooey marshmallow layer, making me question my devotion to Starbucks handcrafted beverages.

Panko-crusted Tofu Bao at Banh Mi Boys

The banh mi here looked fantastic, but I wasn't even hungry, so obviously, I went with a smaller option. The panko-crusted tofu was crispy and soft in the middle and oh so perfect with the fluffy boa and crisp pickled veggies.

Cherry Pie Doughnut at Glory Hole Doughnuts

So the name of the shop is questionable, but actually I'd put any part of my body in these doughnuts because they were amazing. Like Dough's pink hibiscus doughnut amazing. Cherry pie was notable, but the buttered toast was also excellent. Plus, the owner seemed cool. Support her dessert business.

Green Beans with Preserved Olives at Luckee

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 9.08.11 PM

After ordering 1400 dishes, including a tasty off-menu chilled soba salad, one of the ladies dining next to me leaned over to my table and asked "Are you a food critic or something?" Just really hungry. She said I needed to have the green beans, i.e. the best vegetable dish in the whole world. I wouldn't give it that superlative, but the dish was pretty amazing: salty and satisfyingly crisp through. Plus, the veggies made a great cold snack later on in my hotel room, alone watching House Hunters.

Mushroom Gemelli at Drake One Fifty

Everything on the menu looked good here, but after a tasty beet salad and oysters with fresh shaved horseradish, I was craving pasta (obviously). The homemade gemelli had mushrooms in the pasta dough, as well as in the dish with grilled raddichio. So. Good.

Parsley Root Risotto at dbar

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 3.59.08 PM
Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 3.59.08 PM

I've been a huge fan of Daniel Boulud since we met in 2008 and every time since he pretends to know who I am. Merci. Anyways, I had to check out Boulud's restaurant in Canada and it was pretty excellent. From the charcuterie platter to the deceptively simple risotto, I was beyond thrilled with my meal there.

Peameal Bacon Sandwich at Carousel Bakery

peameal
peameal

Not counting a Starbucks gingerbread latte, this was the very first thing I ate in Toronto. I imagined something like mushy peas on breakfast food, but this was actually juicy cuts of back bacon that had been brined and cured in cornmeal. It was really, really tasty, especially to a recovering vegetarian.

Oysters at Momofuku Daisho

momofuku oyster
momofuku oyster

Canada has really good oysters. The oysters at Momofuku tasted especially fresh and came with a nice mignotte-- made with rye, not wine -- on top. In addition to my raw appetizer, the roasted rice cakes with Chinese broccoli and tofu were another fantastic dish here. I should mention that they came with sausage, but my server astutely noted that, like a three-year-old, I managed to eat around the sauce. I will always choose carbs over meat, even when David Chang is involved.

For an extensive list of everything I ate in Canada (important stuff), you can check out my Instagram. Or you can live without knowing, which is probably fine. 

5 Worst Questions to Ask a Freelancer

tumblr_inline_naj4z1l2up1rpcnpz

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a writer. Because, well, that's how I make money.  But no, I'm not officially on staff at any publications, and I'm not yet a published fiction author, so long story short, I freelance. I know writers decades older than me who have made a fantastic career from freelancing (and have the New York zip codes to prove it), but somehow being 23 and being a freelancer often invokes some type of cringe from 9-5ers.

Next time you meet someone working much longer hours than you do, for less money, but actually doing something she enjoys, here are some questions you should maybe keep to yourself. I've provided answers, so you don't even have to say the words out loud!

1. But do you want a job?

Yes, I have several. I might prefer to relax with novels on my yacht in the South of France all day, but in the meantime I'll settle for a working life. 

2. Do you make enough money?

Does anyone? Is there really anyone in this country who is satisfied with their salary? Really? And no, I'm not on my parents' allowance. I'm self sufficient, if that's what you meant.

3. But how do you make money? OR: Do you make all your money from writing?

Why are my personal finances so interesting to you? I have friends with "real" office, salaried, benefits jobs who do all sorts of odd jobs to make rent and afford a cocktail or two after working 9-5, Monday-Friday. I edit, translate, ghostwrite and occasionally babysit, now you know. I also accept major creative grants, if that's why you were asking.

4. Do you think any of the companies you work for will hire you?

Yes. They hired me to write words for them. Do you mean full time? That's a different question. Also irrelevant unless you're interviewing me for a position.

5. But what do actually you want to do with your life?

This. I think. Maybe. Actually. I'm 23! Don't ask that.

Things to Do When You're Doing Other Things

Doing one thing at a time is a thing of the past. (Am I blogging or texting or listening to music or socializing now?  I don't even know.) Whether you're on the subway, watching TV, on the phone with grandma or perhaps at work (gasp!) it's important to be multitasking at all times.

Here are some ideas to keep you occupied, and perhaps productive, while you're already semi-occupied:

Read poetry.  Perhaps not heavy, W.B. Yeats or Emily Dickinson type stuff, but contemporary poems that are almost as easy to read as a text message. I suggest Tao Lin's short poetry books or perhaps a chapbook made and bound at your local bookstore.  It's surprising what a 30-second reading break can do for you!

Knit.   But what? I'm not an arthritic old lady?  It's ok!  It's a super easy and cheap hobby that always seems impressive, and genuinely quirky, to non-knitters. $10 worth of supplies and a few quick YouTube tutorials will have you well on your way to making heartfelt (and cost-effective!) gifts for any occasion.

Send an email. It sounds silly, we send emails constantly.  But taking 30 seconds to send a family member or friends a quick hello/i miss you/I LOVE YOU/here's a picture of a zonkey somehow feels more personal than a silly Facebook wall post (maybe because it's private?) and can really make someone's day.  Or they won't care at all.  But still, no harm.

File your nails.  This may be more of a private activity but still, ladies and gentlemen and genderqueers, it should be done, and done often.  It's not necessarily an activity to be excitedly anticipated, so it's the perfect secondary activity to a night of Netflix.

Eat a piece of fruit. Seriously.  It's good for you.  Apples and bananas and peaches and pears all take minimal attention to eat and travel well.

And finally.. Focus.  What's it like to actually do one thing at once?  What if you're actually paying attention to the new episode of Top Chef without live tweeting it?  Or talking to a friend without fiddling with your app arrangement?  Is focusing the new multitasking?  Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I'll be socializing with my knitting needles.

The 8 Worst Jobs at a Music Festival

govball2014

This weekend I attended my first-ever multi-day music festival: The Governors Ball. It was fantastic and amazing and exhausting and disgusting, and all those things you expect a festival to be, but as I tripped over Miller Light cans and muddy French fries on Sunday afternoon, I began to feel a bit bad for the people who actually help make the event happen. Jobs that made me super thankful I had a wristband? These.

1. Porta Potty Checker.  By Day 3, I stopped drinking so much so I wouldn't have to use those plastic poop bins.

2.  Paramedic.  A noble career, but I imagine it gets frustrating dealing when every single teenager forgets to drink water.

3. Security.  Telling people they can't get into the VIP lounge constantly?  No.

4. Garbage collector.  SO. MUCH. TRASH.

5. Balloon arch maker.  These people looked super frustrated.

6. Bartender.  No one is tipping you, also, you're just sticking your hands in buckets of ice all day and counting change for drunk people.

7. Shuttle/ferry driver.  Everyone is in a hurry to get there and in a rush to leave.  Also, everyone is dirty and smelly.

8.  Bag checker.  I imagine this would be very frustrating, checking everything for contraband but still seeing mini bottles and joints all over the festival grounds...

Onion Chips on the Plane: A Horror Story

I recently had the privilege of enjoying several international flights. International flights often come with the promise of a free meal or two, and sometimes wine, if we're lucky.  On these past few flights, I've eaten my pre-packaged airplane meal without complaint, saving my food criticism tendencies for when I wasn't 50,000 feet elevated above any Zagat recommended restaurants. Mushy lasagne made from frozen ravioli and individually wrapped rolls with "buttery spread"  are not my usual fare of choice, but part of the allure of travel is experiencing the uncomfortable, or maybe just the unpreferable. Whatever sadist put these on a plane should be appropriately punished

However, on a recent flight from Paris to New York, I was dismayed to find that our evening meal was a pre-packed ham and cheese sandwich with a box full of, well, junk food. Do apples and bananas not travel well on planes?  The absence of fresh food on most airlines has always puzzled me.

As I pawed through the flimsy box to see if anything in there was remotely edible, I was pleased to find a not so tiny bag of potato chips.  Crisps, yay! I was so happy I wanted to tweet my excitement, but alas, I was all alone on an airplane crossing the Atlantic.

Out of habit, I flipped over the bag to read the ingredient list (I used to do this religiously when I kept Kosher, and I still like to know exactly what's in what I'm consuming).  Ingredients in these particular chips included onion powder and dehydrated onions, as well as cream powder.  Cream powder?!  Like milk fat that's dried and put on a deep fried potato. Ew.

Upon close inspection, I realized that the bag of chips was not merely chips, but Onion Flavored Chips.  Anyone who has ever eaten anything knows that Onion Flavored anything stinks.  And anyone who has ever been on a plane (which I hope the crew and caterers of my flight had before my trip) knows that smells don't escape an enclosed area with 8-hours of recycled air.

Onion Flavored Chips.  I now had every angry things to tweet, but again, 50,000 feet elevation.  I tucked them into my box along with the sandwich and silently cursed the fact that I'd be eating raisins for dinner.

One by one, the bags started opening, and the crunching of the chips started drowning out Thor, the in-flight movie on this now decrepit flight.  And as the crunching continued, the stench began.  Within minutes, the entire aircraft smelled like an onion farm, in which half of the onions had been minced and chopped and forgotten about in a giant pile of dehydrated cream.  Not only did the popping open of each bag release a disgusting smell into the thin air, but each passenger slowly got a more vibrant form of onion breath with each crunchy bite.

I rushed to the bathroom to hopefully escape the stink for a few minutes.

It says a lot about a food when you have to run to an airplane bathroom to escape it.

Even with the traditional cart of tea and coffee following "dinner", the onion aroma barely disappeared.  The rest of the flight was an exercise in inhaling and exhaling, convincing myself not to eat all of my Duty Free chocolates in order to eliminate at least some of the culinary awfulness that was this flight.

Of course, I survived the flight and was able to sate my appetite afterwards, but the experience left me with truly negative feelings towards in-flight cuisine, and chips.  If you're in charge of travel meals for any airline, I beg of you, please hold off the onion chips.  We will all thank you.

Back in Style: Jellies

Do you remember when you were in the single-digits of age and absolutely needed a pair (or several pairs) of jelly sandals, probably from the Gap? Well, good news for those of you who are still suffering from the trauma of not owning every color and glitter style of jellies back in 1997: they're back!

jellie

British luxury shoe designer, Sophie Webster, has created a pair of multicolored plastic jellies that hopefully won't leave your feet as dirty and sweaty as the original Gap style. For only $193!  They have a leather sole, and definitely have more of a polished look than the mass-produced jellies in children's size, but they're still plastic shoes.

And for fancy ladies, the jelly heel, brings a new level of class to the plastic summer shoe.

jellyheel

Will you be wearing these this summer?

Sex and the City 3: The Dream Film

Last week, Sex and the City producer Michael Patrick King hinted that there still might be one more story left for our four favorite ladies.  While the first and second films may not have been as spectacular as the HBO series, our hopes are high for the third possible edition of the trifecta. While I'm still waiting to be invited into the writers' room, here are some things I believe should happen in the third and final movie edition (though I'm not opposed to a SATC 4 circa 2030. Nursing home scandals?  Oh Yes.)

1.  Miranda should move to Astoria.  She was the first of the ladies to move to the big, scary land of Brooklyn.  Why not raise real estate prices in Queens too? Also, the other ladies will move (or have already moved) to Brooklyn, obviously.

tumblr_lqqdml6XPp1qzojqro1_500

2.  Carrie should try and sell her clothes at Beacon's Closet.  Yeah, she's one of those middle-aged women trying to unload a rolling suitcase full of designer duds for some extra cash.  Obviously, they won't take any of her YSL or Chanel because it's "out of season" or "used" or "not for us" and Carrie will realize the immense amount of in non-exchangeable capital she's invested in her closet.

bradshawomg (1)

3.  Samantha will find various hook-ups via Tinder.

samanthajonesdick

4.  Charlotte will be NYC's top mommy blogger. Harry will get a job abroad but they'll find a way to make their relationship and family work for a year overseas, because they are both independent and modern.

charlottepanics

5. There will be a scene with the ladies on the subway.  Because real people do this.

sexandthecityladies

I may not have any stake in the actual Sex and the City 3 script, but let's hope the movie is better than the last two (read: no camel rides).

Cheddar Crusted Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Chicago style popcorn mixes both cheddar corn and caramel corn, and although the combination may sound odd, it's delicious and satisfying of almost any craving-- sweet, salty, crunchy, cheesy... This pie riffs on that fantastic combination with another added element: apples! Served warm, this is the perfect winter treat.

applepie

Prep and cook time is about 5 hours, so it's an ideal perfect project for a day stuck inside during the cold weather.

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4.5 ounces butter, cold and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup grated white cheddar cheese, frozen
  • 3 tablespoons ice water

Filling 

  • 10 apples (I used Fiji), peeled, cored, and cut into thin wedges
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup)  unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine flour, sugar, salt, butter and frozen cheese in a food processor. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough begins to break up.  Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with ice water. Form two equally sized dough balls, wrap with plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 90-120 minutes.  

Roll one ball into a disk, and shape into a 9-inch pie pan. Chill for 30 minutes.

But while your dough is chilling, you can make your filling!

Cook sugar and water together over low heat until just dissolved. Add butter and bring to a slow boil. Continue cooking at a low boil until the mixture turns a deep, golden brown.  Once the mixture has turned a copper color, remove from the heat and immediately add the heavy cream. Whisk the final mixture together over low heat and sprinkle in sea salt. Set the caramel aside while you make the apple filling.

Put apples in a bowl and toss with spices until all of the pieces are coated. Pour the apples into the shaped bottom crust and top with the caramel sauce.

pie w apples

Roll the second ball of dough to create a flat shape, about 1/8 an inch thick.  Use a pizza cutter to slice 10 strips about 1/2 inch thick and 10+ inches long.

For the lattice top, lie five strips across the pie crust all in the same direction. Fold back strips two and four. Weave in the remaining five dough strips horizontally, which may sound confusing, so reference this awesome tutorial from The Kitchn.

pie2

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Chill the shaped pie for another 30 minutes.

pie3

Place the pie on the center rack of the oven for 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. Turn the oven down to 325°F, and move the pie to the bottom rack and bake for an additional 20 minutes rotating halfway through, or until the filling is bubbling and the outside is golden brown.

Allow pie to cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Serve with slices of cheddar cheese and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

applepie

Recipe inspired by Four & Twenty Blackbirds and Serious Eats.

 

You Better Belize It: Part II

Time moves really slowly in the jungle. If you sit down to breakfast at 10am (far too late by any adventurous standards, far too early by freelance writer standards), and you're done by 10:30am, you still have a good 10+ hours to kill before it's time to sleep again. So yeah, according to some, I may not have made "the most" of my time in Belize but my idea of a vacation is sitting in one spot in possibly nice weather and reading my book.  Or several books.

According to Al, the owner/chef/designer/HBIC of our eco resort Macaw Jungle Lodge, (voted #1 by TripAdvisor people in 2012!), we needed to get out and do things. "See Belize!"  I'd seen enough.  I do things all the time.  Vacation is not about doing things. Somehow my parents were persuaded to "do things".

After a nausea-inducing 2+ hour drive on the unpaved roads, we spent an afternoon at Xunantanich, a Mayan ruin I'd never heard of, so it was kind of cool to discover some undiscovered territory (Just like the Spanish!).  That, and on the ferry (read: hand-cranked steel contraption) to cross the river into the ruin, I met neighbors from my block in Manhattan, so I felt slightly less out of my element.

The museum at Xunantanich (which actually kind of sounds like a lost part of Soviet Russia "zoo-naan-tan-eech", so yeah, I had an accent for about an hour there) hadn't been updated since 1996 (the year we climbed Chichén Itzá, and also the year Rent debuted on Broadway -- my kindergarten self didn't care), which pretty much summed up Belize.  But who doesn't want to relive the 90s?

This was admittedly pretty cool

We climbed the various temples, took pictures of monkeys, and eventually headed back for a healthy lunch of Pringles, plantain chips, and other grocery store items (fun fact: most Belizean grocery stores are run by Chinese immigrants who were granted instant residency to run businesses here), which we ate in the comfort of a grocery store parking lot before trying to beat the sunset back to our jungle cabana.

lunch

After reading by flashlight for over an hour, there was still time to kill before dinner, and without Twitter or you know, technology, I was not happy. Dinner came and went, and after a few rounds of creaming my family at Bananagrams (Creative writing is a practical major!), 8pm marked looming hours of darkness with nothing to see or do.  We couldn't leave if we wanted to. We couldn't order Seamless. There was a frog staring at me in the bathroom.

Yet another day (January 2) arrived with looming possibilities of adventure ahead of us.

While I was really content sitting on a bench reading my book all day, somehow we were pushed to leave the "lodge" and venture out to Río Frio (Cold River), which was an unthrilling proposition for me. Not only did all jungle drives take 2+ hours to travel a short distance, they were sickeningly bumpy, and no radio signal is available in the middle of nowhere.  Also, dogs run across the street, somehow dodging cars but ugh, scary.

After ninety minutes of trudging through the mud, we decided to kill our plans to visit a place called Cold River (and also not risk our lives in a particularly soggy part of road), we turned around to visit director Francis Coppolla's jungle lodge, Blancaneaux.  

Not "lodge" here people, this was a real resort! Pulling past the landing strip for private planes and helicopters into the property, which boasted an impressive organic vegetable garden for the hotel's restaurant, this was vacation.  We explored the gorgeous property (a pull!  huts with electricity! chairs with pads!) and sat down in the open-air dining room under the breeze of a fan from Apocalypse Now.

Lunch featured wood-oven pizza with imported Italian ingredients, and fresh salad and pasta dishes prepared with produce grown on site.  Easily the best meal we had in Belize, rivaling many New York Italian restaurants.  But alas, the run was setting in 2.5 hours, and we had to return to our "lodge" before dark.

spag

On the way back, we stopped at Green Hills Butterfly Ranch, which is another one of those things I don't like, because bugs come flying at you and you're supposed to enjoy it because they're colorful.

My fearless father

Al prepared a coconut curry black snapper for dinner, no complaints, and we had coconut pie baked by Mennonite missionaries for dessert (there are so many of them in all of Belize!).

The next morning, we (read: not me) fixed the flat on our car, packed our bags, stopped at the Belize zoo, and headed for the tiny plane that took us to Ambergris Caye, where we enjoyed the beautiful week on the beach in San Pedro, which I won't write about, because polar vortex.

I didn't know how good I had it...

You Better Belize It (Part I of... well, let's see if I survive)

This is was the first year that it wasn’t assumed I’d be going on family vacation. Every year I’d go home on break, of course I’d be traveling rather than left at home.  Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel were all givens (yeah, no complaints) but this year when my mom asked me if I wanted to go to Belize (which I mistakenly heard as Bolivia…) it was an invitation.  I accepted it, of course, I love South America (although we were going to Central America, and I’m apparently a terrible listener) and got excited for a break when I wouldn’t have to check my grades or bring my AP textbooks (high school) and actually relax.  I also was looking forward to actually speaking Spanish, as I seem to only be bilingual now past midnight and after a few drinks and in search of pizza (shout out to 121 First Avenue!).  Belize (Not Bolivia) was colonized by the British, not the Spanish, so yeah, English.

I was not informed, however, that we would be “roughing it” in Belize. Roughing it means buying all the supplies ahead of time and living in a staffed house, but still.  No cell service. Limited Internet.  I was tricked.

We arrived in muggy Belize City on the morning of December 31.  It took almost an hour to go through customs, interrogated as if we were members of a drug cartel – “What did you pack?”  “How did you pack that?”  “Why are you here?”  -- fingerprinted, and finally sent out into drizzly and muggy Belize, where we scrunched into the slim hallway of the rental car agency to try and claim a vehicle.

After switching from the stick shift SUV incorrectly given to us, we piled into the correct car and made our way through Belize City to the jungle.  With only one highway, we weren’t concerned about getting lost, so of course we did.

Somewhere, Belize

Finally in the right direction, we stopped at a roadside restaurant, Cheers: With a Tropical Twist, for a quick lunch and some socializing with baby goats.  I hadn’t checked my email in almost 10 hours, and everything seemed to be okay.

We headed further down the Western Highway and eventually made it to a dirt road with wooden signs leading to various “resorts” (yes, “resorts”) and started slowly ascending through the muddy road.  Very slowly.  Like, 6 train held in rush hour traffic slowly.  At the approximate speed of 1 mile and hour, we watched as the sun started to set and no sign of civilization existed in the near distance.

We were warned not to drive in the dark, because of animals and large potholes, not to mention the lack of streetlights, or any lights whatsoever, but what could we do, we needed somewhere to sleep.  The humid car, packed with snorkel and “outdoorsy” equipment was not an option.

"Road"

It was dark.  And I say this as someone who lives in a Manhattan closet with no windows.  Even with the brights on, we could barely see three feet in front of us, and what we could see was rocks and potholes and deep, gooey mud tracks.

With my mom hysterical that we were going to die (not an unlikely prospect at that point), my brother chiding her for not knowing physics, and my dad trying to steer through the dark, treacherous “road” (this was no longer a road, perhaps a path for cars would be more accurate), I was starting to wish I stayed at home.   Plus, we were going to miss Miley on TV, which essentially meant I couldn’t write snarky articles the next day.

After passing a “resort” (not ours), we drove over some moon-like craters, knocking against each other in the back seat (a great method of sibling bonding, not), and stopping a few feet short of a river.

“This is really off the grid!” my dad smiled, as if this were something we’d be really happy about.  I like the grid.  Actually, I love the grid. I live on the grid system!  Leaving the grid, I have learned, is almost always a mistake.

Stars illuminating the walk downhill to examine the river (wait, I mean flashlights, stars are overrated and give off zero useful light), my brother and dad ventured off to examine our options, while my mom and I sat in the dark and humid car, hoping not to be eaten by jaguars.

The river in the road, in daylight

Since Hurricane Sandy, I’ve spent my life in a disaster preparedness state—I always have snacks, a warm sweater, reading material, extra iPhone battery with me—but when I was invited on “vacation” I didn’t realize I’d be risking my life.

After determining that in fact, there was no bridge across the river, we decided to turn back in the mud (not easy, or unstressful) and return to the resort we’d seen earlier, the last chance at civilization. As we pulled into the parking lot, our car died.  Dead.  Like no lights or anything.

A nice French woman, Nadesh, let us use her phone to call the lodge we were supposed to be staying at, which was, in fact, across the river (“no big problem”) and they would pick us up, while we waited at this hotel’s bar.  Which was outside and had nets to cover your drinks so bugs didn’t swim in them.  Lovely.

A large SUV finally dropped us at our eco-resort (read: one-room solar-powered cabin in the woods) and we were welcomed by fresh, thick globs of mud (the kind that ruins your gold Sperrys). We headed to the restaurant (read: thatched-roof, wall-less space with tables) for a New Year’s dinner (fish and some other stuff, it was good!), prepared by the resort’s chef (read: owner/manager/concierge) and went to bed by 9pm.

Our humble jungle abode.

I woke up the next morning covered in itchy bug bites, so yeah, spiders were probably attacking me in my sleep, and with a sip of rich, jungle French press, I was informed the wifi wasn't working.

And this was only the start of the jungle adventure.

issabelize

In Defense of Boxed Macaroni & Cheese

If I had a million dollars We wouldnt have to eat Kraft dinner But we would eat Kraft dinner

Of course we would, we’d just eat more – Barenaked Ladies, “If I Had a Million Dollars”

02_09_11_kraft2

You can love sophisticated, gourmet cuisine and also have a soft spot for the artificial orange powder.  I do.

As a food writer, I’m constantly being treated to meals at some of the best restaurants and by the best chefs, a huge benefit of the job.  I regularly eat things like ponzo yogurt foam, freeze-dried Sriracha balls, imported tuna belly, and homemade fermented noodles.  My stomach is beyond spoiled.

But those few meals when I’m not sent out on assignment, when I don’t have to pay attention to the textures and flavors and the presentation of my plate, there’s nothing like curling up in bed with a warm, freshly prepared box of Kraft or Annie’s macaroni and cheese.

Kraft Macaroni and cheese was the first dish my dad learned how to make, way back in the 60s, and when I was growing up in the 90s, he wanted to make sure it was the first meal I learned how to prepare as well.  So yes, before I learned what foie gras was or how to confit a tomato, I was draining noodles (not rinsing) and mixing milk, butter, and powdered cheese to coat them.

I still love making the small pasta and preparing the cheese sauce, mixing them both together for a savory creation so reminiscent of growing up, I feel like a get a small piece of my childhood back in every bite.

The flavors are incredibly basic: simple carbs, pasta, and a salty, kind of artificial, cheese. There’s nothing to process or think about.  There’s no mystery ingredient a chef used that I’m trying to decode with each bite.  The familiar flavors are beyond comforting, and there are nights I’d rather open a box of extra-cheesy shells than be served plate after plate of creamed vegetable liver something at a Michelin starred restaurant.

Boxed food gets a lot of hate. There’s a lot of sodium, artificial flavor and color, and a lack of vitamins and nutrients that are amply available with fresh ingredients.  In fact,Kraft has decided to remove yellow dye from its ingredients list, to cut down on chemicals.

Boxed mac and cheese isn’t healthy. But neither is a seven-course meal prepared with heavy cream and butter.  An indulgence every so often isn’t so terrible.

So if you ever catch me on a night off, I’ll be splurging on a 99-cent box of artificially-flavored noodles, ready to have my favorite feast of the week.

o-KRAFT-MACARONI-AND-CHEESE-facebook

*this post was also featured on Food Riot