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’m blaming everything on menopause. It’s just easier that way.

I was the one who thought I’d never go through menopause. Of course, I knew I would one day stop ovulating, but I had a feeling all those ugly symptoms my friends would bemoan about were not going to affect me. Every time a girlfriend would grab paper within her reach and create a makeshift fan, inside I shook my head and said: “that’s never happening to me.” Why I thought this was true, I have no idea. I just did.

Have you heard the saying “when man plans, God laughs?” Here’s a variation on the theme, “When middle-aged women plan, Mother Nature laughs.” And right now she’s bent over holding her sides guffawing. All of a sudden, and I mean all of a sudden, I no longer have a waist or an internal thermometer, my teenage acne has returned, I’m disoriented on occasion, and all I want to do is drink wine. I blame in all on menopause.

But here’s the exciting part; I don’t care. On some level, of course I’m not happy that my pants are tight, or I spend the night kicking off covers, and my doctors cringe when I tell them how much and how often I drink rose, but I’m letting some of the worrying go. And that says a lot because one of the best things I do is worry.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my energy, and Tom and I have been busy! We spent a fabulous 48 hours in Quoque, which if you didn’t know Quogue Is Not The Fucking Hamptons It’s our annual pilgrimage to our friends from Tokyo who now live on the West Coast. One of the highlights was a sea to table meal on the beach. IMG_1361

And seeing this a few feet from land.

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Making the rounds of seaside spots, we spent one night on Hen Island a magical place off the coast of Westchester that no one knows exists. My brother and sister-in-law have a family hideout where you spend most of your time bobbing in the bay, watching the sunset and digging for clams. It’s a complete off the grid opportunity – no running water or electricity – rustic and remote.

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We returned home, showered, and had a night in our bed before taking off on the next adventure, item #10 on my Summer To Do List – Glamping on Governor’s Island at Collective Retreats. The forecast improved over the course of the day, and we took the 1pm ferry to the island. Waiting for us in the ferry terminal on the city side was a rep from the company that checked us in and gave us braided bracelets that showed that we were guests of the retreat. Five minutes later, we were on the relatively empty island and were so excited to have Island Oyster mostly to ourselves. We’d been before on a weekend, and it was a madhouse. IMG_1426

We took our time and had a delicious lunch with lots of cold beverages. Walking over to the Collective Retreat area of the island (it’s a long walk, and there is no other way to get there than by walking – bring a wheelie bag), the weather looked like it was about to take a turn for the nasty. IMG_1435

But we were optimistic because it looked like this on the island.

We found our cabin and were so excited to settle in for an afternoon nap and some reading. Within 15 minutes, this happened.

We were evacuated, along with everyone on the island. They refunded our money, and we’re going to try again next summer. On another note, an Italian resort company known for restoring old buildings and making them into cool resorts just bought a huge piece of the island and will be opening in 2020 as a resort spa. I can’t imagine a better view from the pool. It’s on my Summer 2020 To Do List.

I started lifting weights recently – gasp…Tom has been begging me every other day for a year, and I finally said yes. I’ve been eight times, and I don’t hate it. But sometimes it leaves me a little stiff, and the other day I saw a great ad in a cab for a new spot called Strech’d. It’s a place you go where someone stretches you out. I went for the quickie session (25 minutes), and I came out feeling like I could twist and turn and bend much better than when I went in. It’s about half the price of a massage, and you leave without feeling like a greased watermelon. I bought a packet of five, and I’m looking forward to my next visit.

I have a friend that I’ve known for a long time, but we haven’t spent a lot of time together. But whenever we get together, we have a plan and a destination, and it’s always enlightening. This past Wednesday it was a guided tour of the UN. The last time I was at the UN I was in 3rd grade. Our tour guide, a beautiful journalist from Brazil that speaks three languages fluently and was very well versed in all things UN said they never get visitors from NY – everyone is always from somewhere else. The one hour tour costs $20 and is extremely interesting. I highly recommend it! Here I am pretending to be a delegate.

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I’m writing this blog from the Kimpton Hotel in Charlotte, NC. Tom and I are here to celebrate the 50th birthday of a very good friend who is one of the strongest women I know. It’s a priviledge to be here to celebrate another year of Rachel.

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Charlotte is a pretty happening city. Our hotel is a short walk from the Panther’s stadium (we had tickets to see them play the Dolphins last night, but my handbag was too big, so they turned us away), but fortunately, our hotel has a hopping rooftop bar with awesome views.

We’ve been enjoying the Southern Hospitality and the southern sized portions!

Sweet potato pancakes, a pimento cheese omelet and fried green tomatoes with faro, kale, and cauliflower.

Looking forward to the celebration tonight!

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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Shall We Play A Game?

I married into a family of game players. Many of my best summer memories were spent around the dining room table at “The Hideout” in Plum Beach, Rhode Island playing Tripoli and Contact Rummy with my in-laws. The games would go on into the early hours and would be discussed at the breakfast table the next day over custom designed pancakes. For me, summer weekends and games go together like lobsters and drawn butter; you would never consider one without the other.

However, it’s 2018, and the games have changed. Maybe it’s because 50 is the new 35, but many of our weekend games are more physical than those of yesteryear. Yes, we still play cards (although now, it’s strictly Hearts), and there is always a few rounds of Spoons, but all the hours everyone spends at the gym (I don’t include myself here) now pay off in spades. Our current favorite is the Bag game. I first played the game in Mexico when it was introduced by one of my best friends who lives in Chicago. The concept is simple:

1. Place a paper shopping bag on the floor.

2. The first player picks it up with their mouth (without using anything but their mouth – no hands on the floor (see above pics) and then rips a piece off the bag.

3. Continue with each player, biting and ripping, until the bag is the size of an index card. Anyone who falls or touches the floor is out.

4. You can end the game early if you are willing to eat the paper after picking it up. Yes, this has been done in the past (I’m talking about you Gina).

I promise lots of laughs, great photos, and a full pulled hamstrings.

August 1 is two days away, and I wanted to update you on my Summer To Do List.  I’m proud to say that I’m halfway there!

  1. Get tickets for Shakespeare in the Park and get them the old-fashioned way by arriving with a cup of coffee and waiting in line at 7:45 in the morning.
  2. Go to Tipsy Scoop and eat ice cream infused with alcohol. 
  3. Read Convenience Store Woman because the subject completely fascinates me. 
  4. Eat at the Queens Night Market on a Saturday night.
  5. Swing and drink rose with girlfriends at The Rose Mansion.
  6. Take the Ferry to the new Domino Park and have a picnic and run through the fountains.
  7. Go to The Little One and eat kakegori (Japanese shaved ice). 
  8. Much to Tom’s dismay, go hang out on the boardwalk at Coney Island.
  9. Walk across The Brooklyn Bridge (I admit, I’ve NEVER done it).
  10. Spend a night glamping on Governor’s Island Collective Resorts.

I have to admit that not everything has been awesome (you can skip number 7) It looks much better than it tastes.

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I highly recommend number 5. Drinking rose while taking fun pictures with girlfriends is as fun as it sounds.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

 

 

 

My Summer To Do List

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When my daughter was going into junior year, I found a handwritten list in colored magic markers in her bedroom that said “Summer To Do List.” Of course, I swiped it and put it in my box of treasures for safe keeping, but I remember it had some really adorable things on it, like going to an outdoor concert, getting a tan, and having a summer fling. I think about that list every year right about now.

In fact, it was the inspiration for my own

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1. Get tickets for Shakespeare in the Park  and get them the old-fashioned way by arriving with a cup of coffee and waiting in line at 7:45 in the morning.

2. Go to Tipsy Scoop and eat ice cream infused with alcohol. 

3. Read Conveniece Store Woman because the subject completely fascinates me. 

4. Eat at the Queens Night Market on a Saturday night.

5. Swing and drink rose with girlfriends at The Rose Mansion

6. Take the Ferry to the new Domino Park  and have a picnic and run through the fountains.

7. Go to The Little One and eat kakegori (Japanese shaved ice). 

8. Much to Tom’s dismay, go hang out on the boardwalk at Coney Island.

9. Walk across the The Brooklyn Bridge  (I admit, I’ve NEVER done it).

10. Spend a night glamping on Governor’s Island Collective Resorts.

Like my daughter’s Summer To Do List, I know there are some items I just won’t cross off this summer, but it’s nice to have goals, and it’s so fun when you accomplish them!

Happy first day of summer!

Have fun. Be bold. Wear Sunscreen.

 

Food For Thought

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I didn’t know Tony Bourdain personally, but since 2013, I spent a good deal of time talking about him, as he was the Patron Saint of Bronx Academy of Letters a small school in the Bronx where I’ve spent the past five years volunteering on their Advisory Board. Tony, as everyone called him at BAL, was the source of our fundraising. Each year, he’d gather the best chefs in NYC to come and cook for the lucky attendees of our “Food for Thought” Chef Tasting. Our school was even featured in one of his No Reservations episodes about the Bronx, which Vulture named as one of his 15 best shows.

Tony was a big fan of BAL, and each year as he spoke at our benefit, he would credit his teachers for his love of reading and writing. He knew how important a good education was for future success. Yesterday, there was mention of Tony’s love and support for our school on social media and sites like cnn.com. Yesterday, online donations to our school came in all day in Tony’s name. It is a real tribute to how much people loved him.

This week, with everything that happened, I found myself drinking and eating more than I usually would. I have a feeling I wasn’t alone. Here are some highlights:

Rooftop cocktails at Broken Shaker and almost everything on the menu at Simon and the Whale in Gramercy.

Pizza from a Roberta’s alum, Negroni slushies, and bocce at Bocce inside Union Square Park!

A spicy Merguez sausage sandwich stuffed pita at Cafe Mogador on Saint Mark’s.

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Brunch at Pilot in Brooklyn on Pier 6 with lobster rolls, home fries with caviar and lots of rose – thanks Jacqueline and Dan for the rec.

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And then linner which included hot dogs, fries and more rose at Island Oyster due to a happy ferry mishap (mishaps when you are an empty nester turn into spontaneous fun!)

Getting into the white jeans tomorrow might be a problem.

Have fun. Be bold.