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

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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

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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. 

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.

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.

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

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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”

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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.

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*this post was also featured on Food Riot

Fabulous Finds: Michael Kors Corduroy Leggings

On a recent trip to Lord & Taylor with my mom, I was drawn not to the sparkly prom dresses section, but to the comfy old lady styles area of the store.  Yes, I am showing my age. Upon passing limp pairs of pants- in black, navy, and brown- dangling off their hangers, I knew these had to be mine. The soft, stretchy, dark fabric, the kind of fabric that doesn't show spills and will certainly bend with your body in every which way, perfectly suited my lifestyle. These, my friends, were eating pants.

At under $100, they were certainly a steal (compared to my usual preference for a certain style of True Religions, I should probably just convert to these comfy pants while they're still on the market).

The leggings are slim and flattering.  They look good with a chunky sweater, a sloppy t-shirt, and pretty much anything you could wear on top.  Plus, unlike most leggings, they have pockets. Pockets that fit your cell phone! I realize they were designed for women three times my age who probably don't carry cell phones, but still, these pants are awesome (and cat hair is easily removable from the sleek fabric).

Zappos is the only place I can find the pants, in a a lovely chocolate brown, so I highly recommend stocking up while you still can.

michaelkorspants

The Starbucks Skinny: An Open Letter

While indulging in my afternoon holiday beverage today, I had a rather unpleasant encounter.  And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Here's a letter I sent to Starbucks after my experience.  Dear Starbucks,

I’m writing to you from your location on 78th and Lexington on New York City’s Upper East Side, a store I frequent almost daily for your addicting holiday drinks.

Today, after ordering my venti soy Gingerbread Latte I had a rather unpleasant encounter with a barista.

He asked if I wanted whipped cream on my beverage (I still don’t understand why this is offered to soy-opting customers, but that’s another story), I politely declined.  He then informed me that the whipped cream was “free” but I didn’t need the calories.  His words scalded me more than a 500 degree vat of Pike Place Blend.

Firstly, I ordered a venti latte packed with sugar and your new molasses syrup. I have an Ivy League education and pretty decent reading skills; I’m aware that I could have had a lower-calorie lunch, but these holiday drinks are my winter indulgence. If I didn’t need the calories I would have ordered an iced coffee with sugar-free syrup.  Telling a customer to “save” her calories is just bad business.

But that aside, I do not think it’s the place of any Starbucks employee, or any Starbucks customer, to tell me how many calories I do or do not need.   The mainstream media, women’s magazines, and plenty of uncouth New Yorkers already do more than enough to inform me how a woman “should look.”

Further, I don’t believe that the inappropriate comment would have been relayed to a man, or perhaps even a heavier woman (I came in wearing a size 2 Betsey Johnson dress, and I’ll fit into this outfit as long as I desire to, sipping my lattes along the way).  But just because I look a certain way does not mean that I don’t struggle with the body image insecurities of any other woman in the western world.

I’ve watched plenty of friends struggle with eating disorders, temporarily destroying their lives over something as trivial as weight, and had this comment been relayed to one of these women (maybe it has been?), I would be even more irate.

Maybe it was just an offensive joke, a one-off line to try and bond with a customer or make me laugh, but I’m sitting here completely offended.  If it weren’t for the deliciousness of your gingerbread latte (which I was tempted to throw in this particular barista’s face, I kid you not), I would not return to this location.  In fact, I will now return to this location armed with a variety of responses to the potential chauvinistic, offensive, or hurtful comments I may receive based on my order.  Should I be entering Starbucks ready to protect and defend myself?  As a young woman living independently in New York, I work hard, and I come to Starbucks to relax and enjoy a beverage, not worry about my waistline or other people’s opinions of me.

The Starbucks mission statement is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”  I did not receive my gingerbread latte feeling inspired and certainly not nurtured, and I believe that every one of your employees should strive to fulfill the mission of your company on a constant basis.

Thank you for your time.

Warmly,

Melissa, Proud Consumer of 400 Calorie Lattes

I recently married a peppermint mocha, come on, Starbucks...

 

Issa's Favorite Things 2013

Well, Oprah beat me once again this year, but not to fret because... IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR.  MY FAVORITE THINGS LIST IS OUT!!! (Last year's is also still relevant).

Disclaimer: I will not be giving these things to a large, or small, or any studio audience, but presents and re-tweets are always welcome.

And now, in no particular order: ISSA'S FAVORITE THINGS 2013

Vince Camuto Windetta Booties.  These were my splurge of the season, but they're stylish, comfortable, and match pretty much any outfit and any occasion.

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MoleskineMy weekly notebook is my best friend. I'm not sure how I'd function without it.  With one calendar side for planning and the other weekly page for notes, to-do, lists, etc, I can stay organized.  Plus there's a nice pocket in back to store business cards and Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons.

moleskine

 

Scoutmob. The (free) app makes my life so much more enjoyable!  With 50% deals at tons of local restaurants and businesses, I've been able to go out much more than I can truly afford, and usually at great places, as the app is curated by supposedly knowledgable community managers.  Note: two types of businesses are frequently on the app- new ones and old ones hurting for business.  Read reviews and know what you're getting in to, there are plenty of awesome finds!

The North Face Down Vest. It may be very suburban middle school of me, but I'm slightly obsessed with my metallic purple puffy vest.  Purchased on Black Friday last year, this item is the perfect layer when you don't want to wear a coat, when your stylish coat isn't warm enough, or you just want something snuggly over your pajamas.  Also, wearing it feels athletic, because I can show off my biceps?

 

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Canada Goose Trillium Parka. So I don't actually own one of these babies yet... ($650! For a jacket!) but I tried one on at Bloomingdales and it was the most comfortable and warm I've ever been. (Get the hint, readers.  Another hint: my birthday is on Thanksgivukkah).

parka

Reusable Starbucks Cup.  At $1 and $.10 off every drink you buy, this cup practically pays for itself.  Plus, if you're poor you can make coffee at home and then drink it at Starbucks as if you're a paying customer (you once were!) and perhaps even use their soy milk. 

starbucks-reusable-plastic-cup

Kate Spade Wallet.  Post-grad life seemed to require a professional looking wallet from which I could produce my shiny new credit card and semi-crumpled business cards. My dirty, shredding Bat Mitzvah wristlet from Coach wasn't going to cut it  This would have been a splurge, had I not purchased it with graduation money (thanks!), and the few cents I had left fit perfectly in the inside zippered compartment.  I love this thing!

kate spade wallet

Avocado. I don't take enough time to appreciate these majestic, sweet and savory fruits.

Joffrey Ballet School.  Their adult classes are awesome.

Lucky Peach. David Chang's food journal is not too academic but also not too fluffy, full of well-written, well-researched articles that are insightful and educational and just fun.

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Vita Coco.  This sweet but not sugary box of coconut water helped me survived the insane NYC summer heat. I may not be writing this without it.

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Orange is The New Black.  This is the best thing that Netflix has ever done.

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The Mind of a Chef. This is the best thing that PBS has ever done. (Sorry, Arthur).

Blue is the Warmest Color.  This is the best thing modern French film has ever done.

Harney & Sons TeaThe shop in Soho, which matches you with a personal tea consultant, who brews you teas to suit your tastes (fo' free), is the best.  Plus, the teas are delicious and encased in silk bags, 20 to a pack, which comes in a cute decorative tin, in the $6 range.

harneyandsonsparis

Mophie. I received this in a gift bag and it has since been my life saver.  Charge the juice pack, keep it in your bag, revive your phone during a long day out.  Amazing.

pinkmophieplus

The New Yorker. Purchasing a subscription was easily the best money I spent all year. Though I recently switched to reading the iPad edition, having something informative, entertaining, and conversation-worthy in my mailbox each week is fantastic.

newyorkerdog

Fireball. It was gross and unsophisticated college, but now that I'm an adult, spicy cinnamon whiskey shots are fun in the most ironic way possible. Think atomic fireball candy in powerful liquid form.

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Nantucket and Napa. I took not one, but two lovely white people yuppy trips this summer.  I wish I could give you all first class tickets and hotel rooms.

Bumble and Bumble Pret a Powder. I don't want to wash my hair everyday and now I don't have to!  This yummy sparkly powder just rubs into your roots and makes your hair look even more glamorous days after bathing. I'm obsessed.

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Lancôme Bienfat Aqua Vital Cream.  Also known as: moisturizer.  I have no idea how this luxurious product appeared in my bathroom, but using it every morning is a pleasure.

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NeuralPop.  WHAT AN AMAZING WEBSITE.

Being a college graduate. Being a professional writer.  Being part of my family and group of friends. Being a person.

Life is good! Happy Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and birthday to ME!

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On Being a Professional Eater

As of recent, I've noticed that I've become that person at dinner parties who actually wants to talk about work.  I don't look forward to the weekends like most of my office-bound friends: I hate the Friday and Saturday crowds at restaurants and bars and I'm usually not able to review venues during the hectic weekend rush.  So, all bragging intended, I love my job(s).  But a lot of people don't understand what I do.  "Is it like writing Yelp reviews?" No. Firstly, I am a food writer.  I'm not a restaurant critic.  While I am a professional, I'm also only 22 years old, and I've only been working in this field for a couple of years.  I personally don't think that I have the grandiose knowledge or experience that it takes to be a truly effective critic.  Sure, I've been eating out for almost 22 years of life, but only recently have a taken a professional interest in the subject, and from that I have learned how to share my experiences via writing.  Sure, one day I'd love to be a Pete Wells or Ruth Reichl, but I have a lot of learning to do first.  And probably a few pants sizes to grow...

So though I'm not assigning star ratings to fine dining establishments, I've somehow been able to "make it" as a food writer.  Note: making it in NYC/any creative profession means not being in extravagant debt and having a roof over your head.

Since graduating in May, I've taken a pretty untraditional path.  I co-founded a website, and work as a freelancer for various New York City and food publications.  For the NYC publications, I'm a food correspondent,  and for the food publications, I often write about food in NYC.  Funny how that works.

How does that work?  One of two ways: either an editor will send me out on assignment, usually to a restaurant or event, or I'll eat somewhere or see something and pitch that story for the editor.  After the piece is written and published, I'll receive a check of a two-figure value. No complaints though, I'm getting paid for eating.

Where does all this food come from?  Again, there are a variety of ways.  I'm not covered by the expense report of a major publication nor am I fiscally prepared to pay my way through secret reviews.  Therefore, I rely on invitations or reach out to businesses that I want to visit, in order to research my pieces.

Is this totally ethical? Well, yes and no. When a restaurant knows a reporter is in its midst, you're going to be treated much better (think constant wine refills and edible gifts being personally delivered to your table by the chef) and definitely not have the pedestrian experience.  I observe other diners and often speak with them about their meals to try and average the experience.  Also, if the meal is truly excellent, I'll most likely return soon as a regular, paying customer and get a better gage on the food and dining experience.

And how do I get these invitations? I'm very popular, so really from everywhere! International governments have invited me to eateries that specialize in their cuisines, public relations representatives contact me with story ideas- food is a good exchange for press, and I'm often visiting local venues and introducing myself as a writer usually to warm hospitality and gracious thanks for featuring their business.

I love my ability (and power!) to profile local businesses that I believe in and want to promote, helping them out as much as they're helping me out by providing me with publishable material to help boost my career!

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Issa Cooks: Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Banana Bread

Now that Starbucks has retired its pumpkin loaf in the Metro Area, I had to take matters into my own hands and create a sweet fall treat desirable enough to eat before my mid-morning Pumpkin Spice Latte (RIP $5.17). After my lovely friend Merritt made me a fabulous apron from fabric we'd picked out together in Nantucket, I had no choice but to go into my kitchen/living room and make her something delicious.

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The recipe is vegan, one of my roommates is vegan, and I wanted to share.  Alternate version: I'm too cheap to buy eggs.

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Ingredients:

3 cups white flour 2 cups white sugar 1 teaspoon baking powder 2 teaspoons baking soda 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice 1 banana (I microwaved mine for 45 seconds, for softness) 1 can pumpkin puree (15oz) 1 cup vegetable oil 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/3 cup water chocolate chips (optional) oatmeal (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients together in bowl. Whisk in the wet ingredients.  Stir until all clumps are removed.  Stir in chocolate chips, if desired.  Pour into two pre-greased loaf pans (or one, if you are too poor to buy a second and want an extra large loaf) and sprinkle with oatmeal.  Put in the oven for an 60-95 minutes, checking with a toothpick every so often to see if the batter sticks.

Let cool and enjoy!

fresh out of the oven!

8 Things that Affected Me More than the Government Shutdown

As it looks like the U.S. government is going to be up and running once again, I realized that that lack of government over these past weeks has had exactly zero impact on me. Things are getting "back to normal" but they've actually been pretty normal since before the shutdown. No, I don't rely on food stamps (yet) nor did I have any plans to visit National Parks (Netflix subscription, duh), but realizing that my life would be essentially the same with or without the billions of dollars a day it takes to run the federal government is a bit scary. Here are 8 real life events that affected me in October more than a bunch of suits sitting inside all day (or lack thereof):

1. The Time Warner Outage in the East Village.  I'm still not sure if this was 100% true or if everyone's favorite cable company was just making excuses for their shotty service, but still.  Having to go to Chelsea to use WiFi last weekend was not part of my plan to stay in bed for 48 hours and eat cookies while staring at Pinterest.  A country without internet is a lot scarier than anarchy!

2.  My laptop breaking. My brand new Macbook stopped working.  And the kind people at the genius bar have yet to fix it (maybe because I have yet to pay, but that's another story).

3. The weather.  It's been hot. It's been freezing.  I've been carrying coats around various boroughs and freezing to death blocks from home.  Maybe we should focus on the climate crisis post debt-ceiling trauma?

4.  Reading The Interestings.  Yes, I read the news everyday, but I spent more time on this novel than indulging in opinions and "reports" about the qualms of our federal government.

5. Attending a dinner cooked by Helsinki's greatest chef, chatting with a Danish ambassador, and being gifted a shiny coffeetable book from the Finnish consolate. Face it, some countries are just better than ours.

6. Learning that as a freelance writer, an independent contractor, I'll have to pay an exorbitant amount of taxes on my (meager) income.  What, exactly, are these taxes going to? And why am I paying taxes to a government that threatens equality with laws regarding marriage and reproductive rights?  I'm highly considering emigrating to Scandinavia.

7. Letting one of the piercings in my lobes close up.  Fixing this is going to take a lot more time, money, and pain than the shutdown cost me.

8.  The invention of wine for cats.  Because now I have a renewed faith in the humanity of our international community.

 

if my money isn't depleted from taxes, I'm going to Finland!