Life Swap

 

With Tom starting a new job this past fall, a big Christmas vacation was not in the cards for us this holiday season, but that didn’t stop us from getting away for a few days. Our solution: a family life swap! My brother Scott and his young family live on the inter-coastal in Boca Raton, and we live in a 1650 square foot loft in Gramercy. It was the perfect exchange. The pictures above show Scott entering our apartment building, and Tom sticking his head through the front door peephole of Scott’s Spanish Colonial home.

While we were doing things like going to Delray Beach, walking the Atlantic Avenue strip, eating at 50 Ocean  and Taverna Opa renting a lux pontoon boat at Waterstone Resort watching the Orange Bowl (live at Hard Rock Stadium ), and playing golf at The Club at Ibis,

 

they were doing things like eating at The Corner Bistro Chip Sushi Seki Minetta Tavern Il Mulino   Joe’s Pizza  Do  Black Tap  Mr. Chow  Sugarfish  Cozy Soup and Burger  Prince Street Pizza  and going to see the Rangers play at the Garden and Mean Girls on Broadway, buying hard to get Paul George PlayStation sneakers at The Fight Club  visiting the 911 Museum, and shopping at The Oculus.

Most of the things I write about are “empty nester” focused, but Scott has a 13 -year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. Before they arrived, I created a list of fun places in my neighborhood and further afield in the city. They took the list and ran with it, adding new ones of their own.

 

We crossed paths in NYC for 10 minutes after we arrived home, and before they left. I have to say the kids looked completely wiped!!! Scott and Danielle made the most of 4 nights in NYC – even I was impressed! I’m sure they needed a vacation from their vacation. It was a really interesting experience because unlike Airbnb we both left our homes intact – food in the refrigerator, clothes in the closets, cars in the driveway, and holiday gifts waiting in the kitchen! It was fabulous. I highly recommend it.

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I’m very excited to say that the best gift I received this Christmas was an upgrade to my blog! There are so many changes I’ve wanted to make, but the technology was above my pay grade. My oldest son, who works at Apple gave me the gift of his time creating specifications, and the hiring of a WordPress expert on Fiverr He is going to manage the process for me so stay tuned for a new “look and feel” for 2019!

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

 

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.

 

I Feel It In My Fingers, I Feel It In My Toes (Christmas Is All Around Us…)

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I really love Christmas. It’s not my holiday, but I’ve adopted it by marriage. Converts, in general, are always the worst when it comes to going overboard and I am guilty as charged. So if you love Christmas too, stay tuned to my blog this month, because in addition to fun NYC things to do, see, eat and imbibe, there will be a lot of pics of stuffed animals coming out of store windows, and other assorted holiday regalia.

Last week started on a total high. I am a BA (Bon Appetite) insider, which just means I signed up to be one, and I was able to snag two tickets to their second only live taping of the BA podcast at The Bell House. I’m obsessed with the podcast (who else can wax poetic about vinegar for 30 minutes like Carla Lalli Music? ). My cousin Wendy and I got there early, scarfed down the insane ham sandwich (oh the baguette, the thinly sliced ham by Brad Leone, the ethereal spread of butter, and sprinkle of sea salt) and snagged the second row. We were glued to our seats for two hours.

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Next up was a visit to The Velvet Underground Experience, the pop-up on lower Broadway. When I was a student at NYU, I was obsessed with Andy Warhol and all things “Factory” after reading Edie: American Girl. There is something for everyone in this exhibit, and it’s right around the corner from Indochine, which makes for the perfect, spot to eat afterward. We felt like we had time traveled to 1983.

Katherine, one of my all-time favorite humans, landed in NYC (from Tokyo where she lives and where our journey together began) this past weekend, and it was one non-stop party (and gab-fest). It started with a fabulous brunch at Legacy Records, one of the hardest reservations to get, but I did watch a few people walk in off the street and get seated. I might try that next time. My obsession with the soft scramble continues, and this time it had black truffles mixed in. O-M-G.

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It was a gray and rainy day, so we decided it would be a great opportunity to wander the seven floors of merch at Dover Street Market. The only thing I could afford was the Matcha Cappucino (barely, at $7.50), but I got quite the kick out of what’s on offer and how much of your paycheck you need to use to get it. As I asked myself, “Who shops here?” A wave of hip young Asian girls swooped in and almost ran us over.

Sunday night Tokyo Tomodachis (friends) from far and wide came together at Prune to celebrate friendship and eat fried pistachio nuts. Prune is one of my all-time favorite classic NYC restaurants. It holds about 20 people – reservations are a must. They created a special prix-fixe dinner and made a cute menu just for us. They also serve chunks of melted dark chocolate on buttered crusty bread for dessert (and this comes with the check…) The night ended with cocktails at the Raines Law Room and then just one Kelly Clarkson karaoke song, My Life Would Suck Without You.

Monday morning Katherine and I hit Midtown hard. We took pictures in front of all the decorations including the tree. We waited on line and shopped at the new FAO Schwarz – thankfully the line went fast. It’s worth the wait to see the Rolls Royce toy cars, the kiddie supermarket, and the teddy bear chairs. I snapped a few cute pics…

I found the windows at Saks strangely similar to the red trees Melania put up at the White House…

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Famished from all the selfies, we stopped into a new-ish spot in Midtown called Handies by Bou. It’s a six-seat handroll counter in the lobby of a small boutique hotel, The Sanctuary. The fish was fresh and simple and not expensive. It’s a great place if you need a little pick me up near Rockefeller Center.

Laden with bags, we returned to downtown to drop our bags. However, we first had to stop and see the chocolate waterfalls at Venchi the new gelato spot in Flatiron. And then, of course, we had to have some – silly Katherine chose a thimble full of coffee with her chocolate, but my cone was insane; Hazelnut gelato that had a thick layer of fudge on top. Worth every calorie.

After dropping off our bags, we ran over for a quick stretch at my favorite spot Stretch’d before going to celebrate Chanukah at Airs Champagne Parlor. Is there anything better than champagne, potato latkes, and caviar? NO. I love Air’s because we have a lot in common. We both like good champagne, and we agree that you don’t have to spend a fortune to drink it. Last year Tom and I spent New Year’s chambonging with the gang at Air’s, and I am happy to say we will return this year. Can’t wait!

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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.

 

 

 

Up Your Spontaneity Quotient

In this Sunday’s NY Times (aka my activity bible), I read an article in the travel section entitled How To Up The Spontaneity Quotient On Your Next Trip. This spoke to me because truth be told I am a planner and have been guilty of overplanning. But I am always looking for the middle ground, the happy medium between not missing out on the “must do, eat, see” things, and finding that hidden local place that you’ll think about for years to come. Reading the article also made me think about my everyday life in NYC. I subscribe to oodles of websites and receive emails all day every day informing me of the “next best everything,” and these emails inform my decisions. But I also spend time wandering unknown neighborhoods snapping pictures of places I want to return to the next time I’m nearby. I am going to make it a goal of mine to consciously practice deliberate spontaneity by going on more “missions” and talking to more people I don’t know.

Monday I had lunch at Pastaio di Eataly, the new restaurant addition to the flagship Eataly on 23rd Street. I’m a fan of eating at the bar, and this is one long bar that curves around a butcher block where fresh pasta is made. It’s like watching art. Everything was fabulous.

Have you been to the Museum of the City of New York? I’d never been, but after my visit last week I will return. I went to see an exhibit called Rebel Women. It was fascinating! Turns out there were female badasses all the way back to the early 1800’s. The museum has a fabulous gift shop that changes 1/3 of their offerings with every exhibit. I spent just as much time in the shop as in the museum, and I managed to cross off a few Christmas gifts on my list. Walking from the museum on 5th Avenue and 103rd, I found the end of Park Avenue at 96th street. It stopped me in my tracks.

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I love my book club. It was started about a year ago when I moved back to the city, and a friend and I decided to start one. I’ve always found community when sitting with a glass of wine in my hand and a book as the basis of discussion. Our book club is a day time event, and the host changes every month. If you host, you pick the book and you serve what you like. This month, the book was a controversial choice, Undone. The host chose it because she is good friends with the author, John Colapinto and he agreed to join us (hence the change to evening) for a glass of wine and a spirited discussion. John is a well-known established non-fiction writer, and this book was a diversion from his typical subject matter. I felt a little sorry for him as we discussed the book for an hour before he arrived – it was almost like he was thrown to the wine-soaked wolves. Without turning this blog into a book review, I’ll say that John’s a great writer and I kept turning the pages. You might want to read for your self…

I just want to say again how I, along with every other NYC resident and transit employee was NOT READY for this.

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I know there are a million poke spots in NYC, but I will walk way out of my way to eat here. If you find yourself in Chelsea, check out Wisefish Poke.

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Saturday night we booked a table with friends at the Cafe Carlyle a classic NYC institution. The last time Tom and I had been, Bobby Short was alive and tickling the ivories. Bemelman’s Bar was packed, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. There was a ton of glam, vat-sized martinis, and the show was great.

I’m typing this blog as I wait for Amazon Fresh to deliver all my Thanksgiving needs (they are now officially 3 hours and 20 minutes past the deadline and say they won’t deliver) but my refrigerator is spotless and mostly empty, waiting for the arrival. My kids fly and train into the coop tonight, but I have reserved a very fun double bunk room for the four of them at the Freehand Hotel (a five-minute walk from the apartment), so there will be no dirty towels left on the floor of my guest bathroom. I think they are pretty excited to bunk up together too.

I wish you all a very festive feast, and hopefully, there won’t be too much discussion around your table about politics and climate change, because those will only ruin your appetite. Take a break from the negativity for a bit and enjoy all the good things that bring you and the people you share your meal with together.

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.