I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

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All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

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It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

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Home with a croqueta preparada

I have yet to hear a compelling enough argument to make me want to move back to Miami, (especially when I keep reading headlines about the city facing serious climate-related issues and one day sinking into the ocean) but let me tell you, Cuban food always gets the closest.

Cuban is pretty much the unofficial cuisine of Miami and as I’ve said several times here before, I miss it all the time. For as many and as varied as the food options are in New York, there just don’t seem to be that many Cuban ones so I’m often left wishing I had what’s so easy to get in Miami.

But after moving to Crown Heights last fall I’m now just a couple of stops away from a Cuban spot I had been meaning to try for some time, Pilar, the Bed-Stuy restaurant named after the Brooklyn-built boat Ernest Hemingway had in Cuba. (Is that not a great name and explanation?)

The restaurant is cute and laid back, with a mellow vibe and just enough cool factor to remind you that you’re still in Brooklyn, but not so much that you wish you’d worn something different (’cause that’s a thing, for me anyway). The menu hits all the classics: cafe con leche, maduros, Cubanos (as in the eponymous sandwich), ropa vieja and vaca frita to name a few, but I knew what I was getting the second my eyes landed on it, the croqueta preparada.

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It’s a slightly ridiculous thing really: ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and my favorite part, croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes), all smeared with mustard and sandwiched between two pieces of Cuban bread, toasted and pressed together to make one tight, dense, absolutely delicious meal.

Pilar’s croqueta preparada was great, getting the combination of different flavors and textures just right: the crunchy buttery bread, bright, tangy pickles, the spicy bite of mustard, gooey, melted cheese, juicy ham and tender roast pork, and then the soft, breaded (’cause it’s the weekend so I say, yes carbs on carbs!) ham croquetas to round everything off.

I’m not exactly ready to move back to Miami after eating at Pilar, but that croqueta preparada was definitely to make me want to check out flights for a potential weekend there in the near future. And as my mom can attest, it’s not just anything that makes me want to do that.

Delicious destination: Mexico City

IMG_1435When I convinced my friend Daphne to come with me to Mexico City for a long weekend, I had no doubt in my mind we’d have a great time.

I’d been to Mexico before, back what feels like three lifetimes ago in 2011, but to the Quintana Roo region known for its beach towns along the Carribean.

This time, however, I swapped the shorts and bathing suits for gym leggings and forgiving jeans with a lot of stretch because my plan to explore Mexico’s capital involved doing so mostly through as much of its delicious food as we could get through in the few days we were there.

Let me first say that three and a half days is barely enough time to put a dent in the neighborhood we stayed in, Roma, much less the whole city. But if you get the chance to visit Mexico City, be it for three days or three weeks, take it. GO. Eat everything.

From the tacos and tostadas to the pastries and sweets, the fruit and even the convenience store snacks, everything we ate was delicious (and so cheap!), but it was the first meal we had, molcajete at the Mercado Roma, that really set the tone for the rest of our trip: awesome.

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Made from porous volcanic rock, a molcajete is the Mexican version of a mortar, and the one we ordered was filled with wedges of grilled queso blanco, an assortment of meats— pork, steak, chorizo, nopales (cactus), charred peppers and onions, all served with a stack of warm tortillas. Like me, our molcajete was shaped like a little pig.

IMG_1433Assembly was DIY and deliciously simple: grab a floppy tortilla, plop down a bit of meat and maybe a little something else, an onion or a pepper, drizzle some salsa on it, give the whole thing a squeeze of lime, and enjoy. Almost every table we sat at had the same selection of condiments: a bowl of lime wedges and a few salsas and hot sauces for flavor tweaking and adjusting, and they never went unused. Our molcajete was delicious on its own, everything juicy and tender with a subtle char from the grill, but a little lime juice and hot sauce added just the perfect, zesty finishing touches.

A little sloppy but worth every bit of saucy, juicy mess, I couldn’t have planned for a better first meal in the city. And if you check back in over the next few days, I’ll tell you about some of the other great things we ate, which I’ll probably still be daydreaming about for months to come.

New and improved old remedy

Unlike most people, I don’t have very many fond memories of my mom’s cooking. It was the rare combination of ingredients that resulted in something I ever really enjoyed and when there was success it was usually something impossible to mess up, like boxed mac and cheese or a pot of rice and beans (something we ate constantly in my half Costa Rican household.)

But perhaps the most repugnant flavor combination my mom made my sister and I suffer through was actually not even a meal or something edible per se, but a home remedy for when we were sick: honey and garlic. She had the familiar honey bear ready to go, several whole raw garlic cloves sitting at the bottom, like insects trapped in amber, and the first complaint of a sore throat or a cough in the night would result in a goopy, sticky, horrible spoonful of the stuff.

The pungent spiciness of the garlic bled into the honey, tainted the sweetness and made a wholly new thing, a Frankenstein’s monster of syrup that was bitter and thick and vile to my young taste buds. The jarring clash of flavors coated my throat, maybe quelling a slight tickle but leaving behind a deep mistrust and dislike of honey that lasted into my 20s.

I was recently at Leuca, a Southern Italian inspired restaurant in Williamsburg, when during a family style meal, a plate of sheep’s milk ricotta was placed near me with a side of bread. I picked up the menu, wondering what the gold colored syrup pooled in the ricotta was, when I read the words: hot honey and garlic.

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Leuca’s sheeps milk ricotta with honey and garlic

Well, I’ll be dammed. We meet again.

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All I want for Christmas is…

If you didn’t read that headline in a sing-songy Mariah Carey voice, you did it wrong. Go back and try it again.  

All of my favorite blogs and magazines have been posting holiday gift guides and I can’t get enough of them. I read ’em all, even the ones that don’t apply to me: gifts over $250, gifts for your unruly toddler, gifts for your totally sane parents. I love going through them and seeing all the cool stuff that’s out there, and I’ve even snagged a couple of ideas for presents I’d like to buy for a few people on my list. 

With that in mind, I put together a little holiday gift guide of my own. Now, this isn’t necessarily MY specific wish list, more just like a few fun, food-related presents (that I also would totally not be mad at finding underneath my Christmas tree). Cough cough. 

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Please, Santa?

*Cheese of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese: I’ve seen this one on a few lists and well, it’s because it’s amazing. Murray’s (i.e. my happy place) sends you three different cheeses to have at home, and it can be a one-time thing or a subscription to last however many months you want. 

*Whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano: Ok, now hear me out. I know this one’s a big-ticket item but seriously, this is the stuff dreams are made of. 

*Christmas doughnuts from Doughnut Plant: You’d have to either be a diabetic or just the Grinch himself to not love one of these adorable, festive doughnuts. Choose from the coconut snowman, the mint chocolate Christmas tree, or the gingerdough man. Or better yet, get all of them. Oh and throw in a creme brulee doughnut too, cause those are the best. 

*Marseille Amaro from Forthave Spirits: Not only is this distilled in Brooklyn, which gives it extra cool points, but amari are everywhere these days and a great addition to any bar. I’m putting this one on my to-buy-for-myself list. 

*The Best American Food Writing 2018: It’s not all about what you can consume with your mouth, you know? Sometimes you gotta feed your brain too, and find a little inspiration from really great food writing. 

*Fig and chocolate panettone: regular ol’ panettone is already one of the best parts of the holiday season, in my humble opinion, but one made with figs and chocolate? C’mon! Think of the french toast you could make with that! And you don’t even have to wrap it since panettone already comes in its own showy wrapping.

*Good olive oil in a cool tin container: After watching the first episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix recently, I was reminded of the awesome olive oil they have in Italy and how I want to be the kind of person who only keeps the good kind around, the really bright green, peppery, fresh stuff that you’d keep in a cool, rustic-chic tin container like this one. 

*Food of the Italian South, by Katie Parla: Part cookbook, part coffee table book, part travel inspiration, this book isn’t actually available until March but you can pre-order it now. When better to get a present than when you’re least expecting it, like no-holidays March?

Flushing Day Trip

This summer has been a non-stop highlight reel of beaches and vineyards, lake houses and boat trips, charming towns and exotic cities, mountains, yachts, villas, rented cars, hikes, bike rides and SO. MANY. SUNSETS. Just nonstop sunsets really.

Hahaha no, silly goose! None of them mine! All of that’s been the recap of pretty much almost everyone else I know’s summer. My friends and acquaintances, let me tell you, have gone freakin’ everywhere in the past few months.

I went to Milwaukee. For work. (Cue sad trombone.) Well, and Miami, too, but that doesn’t really count because I’m from there, and while I did sneak in some fun, it was largely tainted by familial obligations.

With a pending move next month and a hemorrhaging bank account because of it, there have been no big trips this summer, and there won’t likely be any till next year. But you know what? It’s fine.

When you live in New York, there’s a little bit of every pocket of the world right here, which is why last weekend, in lieu of an exotic, expensive, faraway trip, the boyfriend and I decided to explore one of those foreign-to-us pockets instead and rode the 7 train to the end of the line to Flushing, Queens.

For me, travel is largely about exploring through food, so that’s exactly what we did in Flushing, making our own walking tour/ food crawl experience as we went along.

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I read somewhere that more than two-thirds of Flushing residents are foreign-born, most of them Asian and predominantly Chinese, though there are people from everywhere else too.

Between the 90 degree weather with a steady drizzle, the bustling markets full of exotic fruit and crates of live creatures, the crush of people, the squawking vendors and the foreign language signs everywhere, why even spend the money on a plane ticket? We already felt like we’d gone farther than just a borough away.

It wasn’t drinks with a view or a white sand beach but really, any tiny jealousy of mine aside, after a day spent eating amazing (and cheap!) food, visiting a Hindu temple I never knew about, wandering through quiet neighborhoods and huddling together under a small umbrella down busy main streets, I was ok with being exactly where I was. Even if I had been halfway around the world, I probably would’ve been doing the same thing: wandering, chasing down recommendations, eating too much.

For as much as I complain about New York, if you have to be stuck somewhere without being able to travel, there’s no better place to be stuck than here.

Apartment hunting and party planning

Come September, if all goes as planned, I’ll be moving to a new apartment— in a new neighborhood with a new roommate (hey boyfriend!) and mostly a lot of new stuff (because I’m sick to death of all my current things… I’m looking at you, Christmas plates that have been in use year-round for the past SIX years.) As someone who not only deals well with change but actually welcomes it, I am more than ready.

Sure, I have to actually find a place first, but I’m not letting that stop me from thinking about all the fun stuff: the houseplants I’ll add, what it’ll be like to finally get rid of the  mattress I’ve had since the day I moved to New York, and all the fun possibilities for entertaining that are coming up in the second half of the year (my birthday, Thanksgiving, and the foodfest that is December.)

That last bit of reverie is how I wound up going down the rabbit hole at Paperless Post, the online shop with all sorts of cute, customizable stationery and invitations for every kind of event. Someone sent me a wedding save-the-date from there and before I knew it I was idling through all of their categories, finding myself— unsurprisingly— going through the many results that came up when I searched food.

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This one I’ll send to my new “roommate.” Also, can we talk about how much I love the word canoodle? It’s just great. Noodles and canoodling, love ’em.

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