The Perfect Holiday Cocktail

IMG_3718I was in Napa last week for the annual Tokyo Tomodachi gift exchange. Each year, a group of friends who met in Tokyo many years ago re-enact a holiday tradition that was started by a group of expats in Tokyo circa early 2000s where great friends dress up, eat a decadent meal, drink many cocktails and fight over an expensive trinket. I look forward to this exchange every year, and it really has nothing to do with the gift. I don’t see these women often, but our connection to one another was formed in the perfect kind of petri dish – we had no extended family, we lived in a very foreign land, earthquakes were a regular occurrence, and we all shared an adventurous and curious spirit. Our time together last week was a whirlwind of fun, and the best gift I could have given myself for Christmas. We cheer each other on and give big hugs when needed. We learn from each other, and I always return home with a list of things I need to read, see, buy or eat. I think a part of the magic is that we are not in each other’s daily lives and so we never take one another for granted. We appreciate every minute together.

Okay, getting back to the title of this post… the perfect holiday cocktail (besides the mix of old friends, great food and bottles of Napa wine), it’s called a Paperplane, and I’m a huge fan. Hilary, the Napanista made it for me last week. Equal parts Bourbon, Aperol, Nonino Amaro, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Shake over ice. Many of these will be quaffed on Christmas Eve at my apartment.

Before I get to the “all things good in Napa” part of this post, I need to tell you about a new play that just opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse on Sunday. It’s called The Jungle, and the reviews are fabulous. I have tickets in January, and I can’t wait. You should go too. Also, Oklahoma (from the same St. Ann’s Warehouse) is coming to Broadway, and the tickets went on pre-sale today. The show was so fun, and I know it will be a big deal. Get tickets for this too!

Napa:

Sleeping in a home surrounded by grapevines is divine. These were the views I had with my morning coffee.

 

We had two full days in Napa and did some serious wine tasting. First up: Okapi Wines. Kim is awesome. You need to meet her and drink her wine.

 

 

Next up: Kenzo Estate a very special place for our Tokyo group. The wine is mostly distributed in Japan, so it’s hard to experience unless you visit the estate. The attention to detail in everything they do is very Japanese, right down to the etching of the names of each wine on the glasses.

 

 

Dinner that night was at Miminashi – are you sensing a Japanese theme? The food was divine – Japanese but with a twist. I loved everything, but I’ll be thinking about that macaroni salad they serve as an amuse bouche. I need the recipe. Put this place on your Napa list. The dessert is just as good as the meal so leave room.

On the second day, our crew became a peloton (I recently learned the definition, and I’m excited to use it in my first sentence) on our rented ebikes. We started in Napa and powered our way to Yountville along the highway next to the train tracks – the views were breathtaking, but we were going so fast it would have been dangerous to take pictures. Thankfully this ride took place BEFORE the wine.

 

 

Lunch was at the new Restoration Hardware restaurant in Yountville. I’ve been to the one in NYC, and I thought it was nice. The one in Yountville will blow you away. The food is better, and the experience is more authentic. I also learned that antique wheat threshers can be art. Now I want one.

 

We dropped off the bikes and ubered to Robert Sinskey Vineyards where there was a table waiting for us in a cave surrounded by library wines, and more food. Somehow we powered through it. Their wine tasting pamphlet “Gluttons Only” was aptly named.

 

Guess what was next? More wine! Our last stop was at The Prisoner Wine Company, which gets a lot of play on Instagram and is very popular with millennials. I was sort of obsessed with their sexy rose and shipped some home. The question will be whether I wait until summer returns to drink it – not likely.

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Our final meal together that night was at Angele in Napa in a small private room. We dressed up…heels, fur, jewels, the works and kicked off the night with the giving of omiyage. The Japanese love bringing small gifts to friends when traveling and we do the same when we see each other.

 

The evening ended back at Hilary’s house where gifts were exchanged and fought over, all in good fun, of course.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

My Obsession With Holiday Gift Guides

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I think people either love or hate giving gifts. And it’s not about spending money, I think it’s more about the obligation of taking the time to really think about what someone might want (or need) that makes the task a burden. I’m the type of person who starts the holiday season with at least five gifts already purchased months ago when I found the ideal gift for so and so, which makes me the perfect person for the myriad holiday gift guides that are published starting in October. This year, the specificity amazed me. There was the gift guide for three-year-old girls, athletes, lovers of Disney, good food in Pittsburgh, geeks, getting organized (I think this says a little too much about the receiver), moms of babies, Apple users, for the friend who wants to start a podcast… these lists are like manna from heaven for the lover of gifting. The special people on my list are getting some very creative and off the grid gifts this year (more on that after the 25th). Whether you are a lover of gifting or an anti-gifter, I wish you all a very happy shopping experience this holiday season. And when in doubt, there is always The Worst Gifts to Give. 

My week was very food-focused, as I imagine yours was too. I was super organized and prepared heading into the week, and of course that means that everything would go wrong. Last Thanksgiving I had my turkey ubered to my apartment at 11:30 pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That wasn’t going to happen to me this year as I picked the turkey up on Tuesday. However, my $400+ Amazon Fresh delivery with all my ingredients was delivered a day late and contained five items.

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That threw a bit of a monkey wrench into my cooking plans, but since I live in NYC, a city that never sleeps, where stores are open 24/7 I didn’t panic, and it all worked out just fine.

While on the topic of food, I wanted to let my readers know that I finally found a place in Curry Hill with a fabulous Indian lunch buffet (for $12.95 I might add). Thank you, Lisa, for the rec – it is now on my continual to-go list.

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Tuesday before Thanksgiving I arranged a little fun for the cousins, aunts, and uncles that wouldn’t be together for Thanksgiving at Amsterdam Billiards. I reserved two beer pong tables, and all of the well-educated college students and graduates in our group showed off all they learned in college. It’s not a cheap night out, but I was very pleased not to have a sticky floor in my apartment.

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Did you watch the parade? I did. It’s such a strange tradition, but I wouldn’t miss it. My kids were thrilled when it was over, and we could watch football.

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Holiday windows at ABC Home. They change daily.

The new addition to Union Square – a chocolate and gelato shop with real chocolate waterfalls.

I managed to squeeze in a Broadway show this weekend, and it was fabulous. I highly recommend seeing To Kill A Mockingbird. Jeff Daniels is great, but the actress who plays Scout is the real star. It’s sad that the play is still so relevant today.

The holiday week ended with a “framily” Thanksgiving dinner. For me, there is nothing better than sharing a meal with people you love in a gorgeous setting with dim lights and candles! Thanks, MB.

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Time to start addressing the holiday cards that have been sitting underneath my cocktail table for weeks…

Have fun…be bold.

 

 

 

Free Falling

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Fall is my favorite season by far and the absolute best for long walks in the city, which lead to discoveries, which lead to unknown adventures, opportunities, and knowledge. This week I went on a 2 1/2 hour Ayn Rand walking tour with Fred Cookinham at In Depth Walking Tours (aptly named, by the way). Even if you aren’t a fan of Ayn’s (Fred definitely is) this tour takes you back to NYC in the 1940’s and 50’s starting at the Waldorf Astoria and ending at The Daily News building with lots of Grand Central in between. I left the tour, which was arranged by the Ex-Expats of New York organization (if you are an ex-expat and would like to join, send me a message), with a much better understanding of the beginning of the railroads in NYC and how much of a game changer it was for the city.

After the tour, the starving group went to Ethos Gallery 51 a delicious Greek restaurant with a strange name, but a very reasonable prix fixe lunch (and unlimited wine for $14.95). It’s not a place I would travel to eat, but if you are visiting the UN or are all the way east in the 50’s it’s a great option.

Another awesome thing about fall is that it’s not too hot in my apartment to keep the oven on for long periods of time, which brings slow, low cooking back into the Sunday repertoire. Speaking of cooking yummy things, I went to hear Yotam Ottolenghi and Deb Perelman talk about food at the 92nd Street Y this week, and I’m so excited to start using his new cookbook Simple. I love a Yotam meal, but he’s known for his long list of foreign ingredients and many steps. I like the design of the new book, and the recipes look mouthwatering.

Have you spent any time in Koreatown? It’s only a few blocks around Herald Square and feels like you’ve teleported to Seoul. I have my favorites from food shopping to scrubs to BBQ, but this week my son took me to a Japanese Izakaya down a flight of narrow steps into a basement that felt very much like I was back in Tokyo. It’s called Mew, and they have a very inexpensive, yet authentically delicious lunch set.

I went to see LIfespan of a Fact this week starring Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Canavale. It’s a new, very timely, funny play that runs 90 minutes with no intermission. I was home before 9. That’s my kind of mid-week show. It’s at Studio 54, which is on the edge of the theater district and limits restaurant choices within walking distance to the theater. A new place I’ve been twice and like is Gloria. The limited menu has fish and vegetables done with a few unexpected twists and a cool atmostphere that feels more like it could be in Flatiron or the East Village.

I’m a fan of sample sales and I received an email about a Reformation sample sale on Friday in Soho at 260 Sample Sales. If you like sample sales too, you can sign up for email notifications. I didn’t buy anything, but I love the thrill of the hunt. Speaking of hunts, I had 90 minutes in Soho before I had to meet a group of ex-Tokyo girls for lunch and I took advantage of my iPods and comfortable boots, and walked up and down the tiny streets from Prince south to Canal. I realized that when I go to Soho I usually stay within certain streets and there is just so much more to discover – I was limiting myself! I’m slightly obsesessed with a store I found that makes action sized figures out of your loved ones. Wouldn’t that be THE creative holiday gift this year? It’s called Doob 3d. You need to check it out.

Friday night after a very fun teacher appreciation party for the extremely well deserving teachers and staff at the school I work with at the Bronx Academy of Letters I went home, Tom and I ordered in Shake Shack and we binged the new BBC show on Netflix The Bodyguard. It’s easy to binge as there is only one season with six episodes. The opening five minutes of the first episode is the most intense of any show I’ve ever watched. Enough said.

Getting out my Le Creuset Dutch Oven today for Sunday dinner – two birdies returning to the nest.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

EmptynestNYC Fall Preview!

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What are you watching? Where are you eating? What Broadway show do I have to get tickets to? What about fun fall festivals? 

Do you have any of these questions? If so, I’ve got answers! I love a good fall preview so I thought I’d share all the things I’m so excited about BEFORE I actually do them!

Let’s start with TV…fire up the DVR!

Season premiere dates of my regular favorites that need no explanation:

Grey’s 9/27

Poldark 9/30 

Will and Grace 10/4

The Man in the High Castle 10/5

Madam Secretary 10/7

House of Cards 11/2

               New Shows I’m interested in:

The Romanoffs 10/12 – Stories of people around the world who believe they are descendants of the Russian royal family.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 10/26 – Supernatural television series based on the comic book series of the same name. Starring Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men.

Maniac  09/21 – Mini-series starring Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux and Sally Field

A Million Little Things 09/26 – A group of friends from Boston who bonded under unexpected circumstances. Some have achieved success, others are struggling in their careers and relationships, but all of them feel stuck in life.

Single Parents 9/26 – Single parents as they lean on each other to help raise their 7-year-old kids and maintain some kind of personal lives outside of parenthood.

And Now the Big Screen

#1 A Star is Born – I don’t care if it’s the 5th remake. Bring on Bradley Cooper and Lady GaGa

Green Book (Viggo Mortensen)

Bohemian Rhapsody (Rami Malek)

The Old Man and the Gun (the last film with Robert Redford)

Beautiful Boy (Timothee Chalamet)

First Man (Ryan Gosling)

I see a theme emerging…

Books I Want On My Kindle

Becoming (Michelle Obama)

Transcription (Kate Atkinson)

Melmoth (Sarah Perry)

Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarity)

Lake Success (Gary Shteyngart)

 

Broadway Bound

Tickets I’ve secured: 

The Cher Show

Be More Chill (off Broadway and on Broadway)

The Lehman Trilogy

The Lifespan of a Fact

To Kill A Mockingbird

Ticket’s I’ve yet to buy, but are on my To Do List:

True West with Ethan Hawke

Burn This (Adam Driver and Keri Russell)

I’m Hungry…Where I’ll Be Eating This Fall

Misi (New place in Domino Park by owners of Lilia – already impossible to get in)

Pisellino – Same owners of Via Carota, I Sodi and Buvette

Zauo – Fish for your dinner from a wooden boat in a moat below. You can grill it, tempura fry it or sushi it. I’ve been in Japan. You literally can’t get fresher fish.

Leonti – Famed Philadelphia Chef Adam Leonti’s first NYC spot – Pasta and homemade breads

La Rossa in Soho – Roman style pizza sold by slice and weight

Japan Village (Eataly but for Japanese Food in Industry City)

It’s A Gorgeous Fall Day – What Should I Do?

Why not go to a festival?

San Gennaro in Little Italy until September 23rd. One of the best festivals in town.

Atlantic Antic 9/23 in Brooklyn 

Tribeca TV Festival 9/20-23

Food Film Festival 10/19-22 (all proceeds from Ticket Sales go to the Bronx Academy of Letters in Anthony Bourdain’s name)

Other Fun Fall Activities

The Color Factory 9/13 – 9/30 

Pink: The History of Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color at FIT Museum (until Jan 5th) 

NYC Ballet Fall Season 9/18-10/14 (I’m going on 9/28)

The Vendy Awards on Governor’s Island 9/22 (street vendor awards)

Halloween parade in the West Village 10/31

Open House New York, 10/12–14 that marks your chance to see the inner workings of structures sometimes off-limits. Unusual places like La Guardia’s Marine Air Terminal and the super-futuristic looking Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant have been part of past programs.

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again at the Whitney Museum

Exhibition covering the origins, music and influence of the Velvet Underground, due in the West Village in October

Would love to hear what you’re up to! What am I missing?

Have fun. Be bold.

Hot Sweaty Mess

Summer in the city is comprised of many short jaunts from one air conditioned venue to another, intermingled with cold showers. It hasn’t stopped me from getting out, and doing interesting and delicious things, but I have to admit my steps are down and my Arro, Uber, and Lyft payments are way up. I tell myself the fall is coming, and this too shall pass, but until then I”m going to keep eating Kakegori (photo below) and drinking very cold rose (I have been to the Rose Mansion twice this summer.)

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I’ll admit that I’ve thumbed my nose at vegans. I’m an “everything in moderation” girl, and that applies to food as well. But my sister (a vegan) recently made a reservation at Avant Garden and if this is vegan, I’m a convert. It was honestly one of the best meals I’ve had this year. I have no idea how they do it. It’s magic. You don’t miss anything!

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One of the best things about living in Flatiron is the farmer’s market that comes to Union Square four times a week (M,W,F,S). I try to buy things just at their peak and then do something with them. Below was my take on an apricot tart. It was gone by the following day.

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Friends from Tokyo who now live in Australia who this past spring won a Tony for Once on This Island, have invested in a new show and Tom and I went to see it on Broadway. It is a very fun night! I recommend it for all ages (well, maybe late teens as there is a song called “I Slept With Your Mom”).

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Lucky us, we snagged a table at Danny Meyer’s newest hotspot, Manhatta. It’s way downtown in FiDi (rhymes with RyeGuy) on the 60th floor and from the moment we walked in I felt like I was at the reincarnation of Windows on the World (in it’s heyday). The views are unparalleled and every table has one. The big difference being the service, which is extremely friendly and not stuffy or formal. The $75 prix fix (service included)    3 course meal is a bargain considering there is lobster, steak and soufflé to choose from.  This is the perfect place to go to celebrate something big.

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It’s college application season, which means I’m working, a lot. Somehow teenagers all seem to send their essays at the exact same time even though I’ve been sending reminder emails for days. I was happy to be invited back this week to the  Anything Goes With Kim Berns radio show. You can listen to the link (August 2nd) if you have a student who is applying to college this fall – I give good tips! And if you are interested in having me help out, you can reach me on my website: ExpatEssay. (You don’t need to be an expat to use my services.)

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And lastly, the week ended with a 21st celebration for my daughter Sophie up on our roof with 50 of her closest friends. We served tacos from Otto’s Tacos and lots of margaritas and Tecate. Oh what a night!

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I’m Not Feeling It

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I’ve been looking for my next big thing since January, and it’s been quite the learning experience. First was the resume creation, which in and of itself was humbling; you have to come face to face with what you’ve actually been doing (and sometimes not doing) over the course of your so-called life. Next up was asking the actual question – What is it you really want to do? That question stopped me where I stood, and to this day it’s an evolving answer. And then there was the dreaded headshot for the Linkedin profile. The woman who worked on my resume recommended I upload a few photos to the crowdsourcing website Photofeeler  The big idea behind the site is that you upload a picture (you specify whether it will be used for social purposes (dating) or professional (getting a job)). Then, other users give their honest opinions of your picture. The first photo I uploaded was me smiling right at the camera.

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This picture yielded comments like “Would prefer if they were smiling a bit less,” and “I think it would be better as a social picture.” My likable score was 82%! But my influential score was 25%. Not great for getting a job. I uploaded a new pic.

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“They seem a little arrogant.” My likable score dropped to 51%! My influential score was now a whopping 45%. I didn’t use either and opted to upload a professional photo I used for a weekly column I wrote several years ago. The problem was, it wasn’t representative of how I felt about myself today. So, when the opportunity for free headshots presented itself, I jumped! The photographer would take headshots for free in return for helping out with the promotion of a new book (more on that in another blog entry). The picture was taken in a Soho coffee shop during the weekday morning buzz and chatter. I was completely mortified, and as a result, the muscles in my face decided to play games. It was an embarrassing 15 minutes, but I’m happy with the results. This looks and feels more like me today.

Ok, enough. Let’s talk food and fun. This week I struck gold while walking in the West Village. Tom and I passed by a cute little Thai spot with a sign out front that said Garden Open. The food was so authentic at Pinto Garden, and the garden was lovely, I made reservations for dinner in a few weeks. And if you are a banana pudding fan, all I can say is that it’s the best one I’ve ever eaten. And it comes in a Chinese takeout container. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Just go.

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I ate ramen twice this week. Once at Ivan Ramen. I met Ivan Orkin in Tokyo and first ate his unique style of ramen in Japan. I enjoyed his spicy bowl of noodles on the LES and will return to try more of the menu. I find it very funny that you can make a reservation at a ramen shop. I’m sure anyone from Japan would agree.

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The second bowl I ate was the Tan Tan Men at Naruto Ramen. Tan tan is my favorite type of ramen, and yet it’s not often found at NYC ramen shops. If you haven’t tried it, you need to.

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I enjoy spending time with people decades older than me because they are wise and have no filter – which makes the conversation both enlightening and entertaining. That is exactly the way I felt sitting in the 92nd Street Y audience listening to Iris Apfel talk about her new book. She’s 96 and smart as a whip. Her memory is sharper than mine, and her life, especially the last fifteen years, is inspirational. I left the theater with renewed energy and a few added items on my personal to-do list. One of her quips I just love, “If you’re not interested, you’re not interesting.”

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Extra things I did this week: Saw Saint Joan on Broadway (I would PASS). Finally saw Come From Away (Amazing. I want to go again). Emptied my closets and stored eight large cartons of my kid’s memorabilia at Manhattan Mini Storage which felt great. The clerk asked if I had insurance for my possessions. I told her they were both worthless and priceless and completely uninsurable. I also don’t plan to see them again. I put the names of my two oldest children down on the list of people who can access my storage locker. I’ll make sure to put the keys and the address in my will. It feels good to purge.

This is me up on the ladder very early Saturday morning trying to figure out the lock.

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My empty nest is about to get a hell of a lot less empty with the return of my two college kids this week. I’m going to stock up at Morton and Williams Liquor.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

 

 

48 Hour Spring in NYC

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The 48-hour spring weather this weekend had New Yorkers sprinting out of their apartments like cockroaches and making a hasty beeline for Central Park, myself included. Saturday was a gift for the winter we endured, and it was a well-deserved one. I especially loved the multi-tasking of the guy on the hoverboard, talking on his cell, with a snake wrapped around his neck. Impressive. We were lucky enough (thanks MB) to score the perfect table at Le Pain Quotidien at the north end of Sheep Meadow, deep in Central Park. It was the ideal place to catch up, have a glass of wine, and people/dog watch.

 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back it up to Monday night when Tom and I went to our first Tasting Collective  dinner. Tasting Collective is a private membership that sends its members invitations to private tasting events with the chef. The membership cost is low, and the events are very reasonable. Our first dinner was at Oka a creative izakaya whose chef John McCarthy is an alumnus of WD-50. The food was delicious and inventive, and Tom and I sat next to an adorable young couple, making the night even more fun. These are just a few of the courses. The tonkatsu was on point, and the edamame salad with the crispy cracker was amazing. I’d go back for that alone.

Wednesday night I was at Indochine with girlfriends. Indochine is one of those restaurants that never fails to deliver, and there is always a buzz. I “grew up” at Indochine during my 5 years at NYU. Back in the day, a night at Indochine would be spent rubbing elbows with Bianca Jagger, Kate Moss, and Linda Evangelista. It’s not exactly as high profile today, but it’s just as fun and the food is great too!

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I’m on the right in the picture above. I made the big leap and got bangs, something I haven’t had in decades. I forgot how much work they are and how they have to be managed and can misbehave for no reason at all. I still kind of dig them.

Saturday night, I had a reservation at Lilia (thanks Wendy). It was an exceptional meal from start to finish – the company was pretty awesome too. Lilia is one of the hardest reservations in Brooklyn to get, but the food totally lives up to the hype. Go with a group so you can order everything. The desserts were amazing too.

Things I’m looking forward to doing this spring if it actually returns:

Revisiting South Street Seaport. I haven’t been there since I graduated from college. The area had a lot of damage from Hurricane Sandy, but they’ve been completely transforming it since then. Lots of interesting shops, restaurants and a new cool hotel are either already open or have spring/summer opening dates.

Seeing Mean Girls and The Donna Summer Musical on Broadway.

Eating at Legacy Records Don Angie Uncle Boons Frenchette The Bombay Bread Bar Szechuan Mountain House

Actually getting a job.  My search began in January, and what I’ve discovered is that it’s not easy to find a job at my age. Still plugging away.

As I sit here writing, the spring weather has returned to winter temps. I’ll have to bundle up to walk to a bottomless brunch at Miss Lillys. If its cold outside, I’m happy I’ll be drinking rum all afternoon in a warm and cozy spot.

Have fun. Be bold.