Happy holidays and lots of panettone!

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I walked out of an appointment in the Flatiron District earlier this week with time to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. Looking down the street, I wondered if there wasn’t somewhere I could do some Christmas shopping for a couple of people still on my list.

That’s when I saw it: Eataly, the enormous food-hall-meets-gourmet-market of all things Italian.

The scream-thought in my head was immediate: PANETTONE!

I’d been craving one of those great big, beautiful Italian holiday breads since the first hints of the season (so pretty much, October) and now was my chance.

Every time I go to Eataly, I’m quite literally a kid in a candy shop. My heart races. My eyes dart from one awesome thing to the other. I want to touch everything. (And I do.)

This time though, I beelined straight for the long, colorful panettone display, some packaged in chic hat boxes with beautiful fonts, the rest wrapped in stylish paper and large bows, like the adult version of child me’s dream gift spread.

IMG_0581Panettone, traditionally from Milan but now sold throughout Italy and the world, is a large, sweet loaf usually made with raisins and other candied fruit. It has a soft, airy texture good for pulling apart, and resembles a muffin the size of your head, with a top covered in powdered sugar, candied fruit, almond slivers or similar toppings.

My fingers trailed over the different dazzling wrapping papers, lifting and turning over tags so I could read what made each one different. At Eataly, traditional panettone was just one option. There were some with white chocolate and others with currants and berries, some with lemon and orange zest, others infused with amaretto and peaches, each one more beautiful and delicious-sounding than the last.

But it was the panettone wrapped in electric green with a thick brown ribbon that caught my eye.  A photo on the tag showed the large, familiar loaf covered in a dark chocolate shell studded with Sicilian pistachios. Inside the cake itself, swirls of pistachio cream.

As I continued to move through the store, my prized panettone tucked under my arm like a basketball, dinner plans dissolved, and I happily went home to unwrap my present instead.

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It was just as gorgeous as I’d hoped. The pistachios, a softer shade of the bright green wrapping paper, covered the dark, smooth shell of chocolate perfectly coating the entire doughy dome. When I slowly pushed a serrated knife into the panettone, the shell made a deliciously satisfying crack before giving way to the fluffy, yellow cake inside.

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Ugh, it was so good. Close your eyes and mmmmm out loud type good. The bread was sweet and light, and the pistachio cream added a delicious contrast in textures and flavors to the crunch of the buttery, salty pistachios and the rich, almost espresso like flavor of the dark chocolate.

How I managed to stop myself after just one slice I’m not entirely sure. but if there’s even so much as a crumb or chocolate bit or loose pistachio left by the time this weekend starts, it’ll be nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

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?

Birthday blackout…cupcake version

Yesterday was one of my coworker’s birthdays, and as the office manager of sorts, I’m usually in charge of getting treats for in-office birthday celebrations. But you see, because my birthday was the next day, today, I thought, “Hmmm what do I want? Should we go with donuts? Maybe ice cream cake again? Cheesecake perhaps?”

In the end, I decided to keep it traditional and go with cupcakes, the sure-fire crowd pleaser. Oh, but not just any ol’ cupcakes. Nope, not on my watch. And not on the company dime, either. (Ha!)  Oh no no. If I was interrupting my regularly scheduled weekday healthy eating aaaand celebrating another year of life, it couldn’t just be a basic cupcake.

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I mean, how gorgeous is this cupcake? And friggin’ delicious, too.

Cue the lights! In my head, this is where the stage lights suddenly cut out and a bright white beam of light shines down, dramatically illuminating the perfect Brooklyn Blackout cupcake from Ovenly that I chose for myself. I mean, the office. The cupcake I chose for the office.

Ovenly’s Brooklyn blackout cake is perfection in baked good form. The cake is rich and moist without being heavy or fudgy. And the icing? I mean, it might be black magic. It’s perfectly smooth and mousse-like and tastes like a Barry White song for the tastebuds—sweet and sexy and fun, like you can’t help but close your eyes for a beat and shimmy your shoulders over its beautiful petal-like swirls of the richest, loveliest shade of black a New York girl like myself could ever want. (Note about the color, because a friend asked: it doesn’t come from dye but rather from black cocoa powder, which is basically cocoa powder that has been neutralized of most of its acidity, and in the process turned a dark, almost black color. It’s the same stuff they use in Oreos!)

As I suspected, the cupcakes were a hit, and I was extra happy when the birthday-celebrating coworker emailed me from his desk to tell me how awesome he thought they were. I was happiest today, however, when I walked in and there was one lone, delicious Brooklyn blackout cupcake still sitting on the kitchen counter, leftover from the day before. I swooped in and happily ate it for breakfast. It’s my birthday, after all.

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.

An old Miami favorite becomes a new classic

If I had to name the one thing I miss most about living in Miami it would be pastelitos de guayaba y queso, the city’s ubiquitous Cuban pastries filled with guava and cream cheese.

Yea, that’s right. More than perpetual summer or beaches or family, I miss pastelitos. (On the off chance that my sister’s reading this: as you always so vehemently remind me, you don’t technically live in Miami. Now, ask me what I miss most about Broward County though…)

I’ve professed my love for them before but I’ll say it again: these pastries are some of the best, right up there with eclairs, cannoli, baklava and croissants. Pastelitos have the perfect combination of jammy, bright fruit flavors from guava, and sweet, creaminess from the cream cheese to go with flaky, buttery pastry dough. They’re great for breakfast or dessert or as an afternoon snack or even at 2am in the morning, slightly stale from sitting in a paper bag on the kitchen counter waiting for you all day after your flight from NY to Florida was delayed for hours.

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Guava + Cheese at The Salty Donut

I love them dearly which is why when my sister and I first walked into The Salty Donut, Miami’s first and outrageously popular artisanal donut shop in trendy Wynwood, and were initially struck with indecision and an overwhelming sense of “what do you get when you want everything,” I knew exactly what I was ordering the moment I laid eyes on it: the guava and cheese donut.

The Salty Donut uses what they call a 24 hour brioche recipe, creating a large cake donut that retains a soft, fluffy inside and a slightly crisper outside. Inside, a thick, generous filling of swirled guava and cream cheese, perfect in its evenness, oozed out with every bite. (Nothing worse than a filled donut with only a sad smidge of filling in the very middle. You have to eat around it wondering if maybe you got a dud and there’s nothing really there.)

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A lesson in how to make an absolutely delicious and perfectly filled donut.

The outside was coated with a thick cream cheese glaze and topped with crushed Maria cookies, another diet staple of anyone who grew up Hispanic in Miami, for a crumbly element to contrast the soft donut and its gooey inside. Salty’s donut is the decadent lovechild of a cake donut and a pastelito, a great way to bring an old classic up to speed on the trend of gourmet doughnuts, over the top pastries, and all things edible on Instagram. It borrowed all the right flavors and presented them as something delicious and fun and at least for me, nostalgic.

Now I have one more thing to miss when I think about Miami.

A little charcoal to set myself right

You know, this business of eating all the time so I have material to write about (both here and on my new blog-specific Instagram account that you should definitely follow and aggressively like if you don’t already) is serious work.

I mean, no, not work work, because sadly no one’s paying me to do this (just yet) but a lot does go into it… and by “it” I mean my body. A lot goes into my body. A lot of food and drinks constantly go into my body.

And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but every once in a while, especially if it’s after a busy weekend or time spent out of town, I feel the effects: tired, bloated, a little more snug in my skinny jeans, and if I go for a run, leaden.

I try to clean up my eating, cut back on the bad stuff, and guzzle water, but sometimes I need a little something extra. This week, coming back from a long weekend in Miami, I turned to charcoal. Not the kind they use at the hospital to pump your stomach (because, shit, I’m not that bad) but the kind I’m starting to see more often these days, usually in drinks, which is how I had it.

According to what I’ve read on the interwebs— and by all means, please do your own research cause I’m far from a pro— activated charcoal, which you can take in capsule form or as an ingredient in something else, attaches itself to bad stuff in your system, be it toxins, gunk in your GI tract, booze, chemicals, etc. and helps your body flush it out, making it handy for detoxing, kidney filtration, bouncing back from a hangover or just cleaning the pipes after too good of a time had.

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When I saw a bottled charcoal chai on the menu at Inday, where I was ordering my lunch from earlier this week, I was immediately on board. Without fail I hit a proverbial wall every day around 2pm and with all the face stuffing, running around and not sleeping enough that I’ve been doing in the past week or so, I knew I was about to slam into that wall again.

Charcoal drinks can be offputting in appearance and this one was no different, looking pretty much like the water that fills my tub when I hand-scrub my sneakers after a few months of outdoor runs. But thanks to masala chai and honey, it had a mild, smooth flavor that was gently sweet and almost silky in consistency. I was full from lunch when I drank it some time after, and whether placebo or not, I it made me feel better, less full, more hydrated.

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Then this morning, as I ran out the door with beads of sweat all over my face from my sweltering apartment, I started to have an internal freak out thinking about what the subway was going to be like. To soothe my brewing anxiety and honestly just cool off a bit, I popped into Grass Roots Juicery for something to sip on the train. (Side note: a sign on their door said they were hiring and for a nano second I thought about it because I really do love them so much.)

Still feeling good about the charcoal chai, I picked up Grass Roots’ black lemonade, another inky beverage of activated charcoal, lemon, honey and cayenne pepper. Gimmick or not, this is one of my favorite drinks there and a real thirst-quencher that never disappoints. Unlike Inday’s subtle, softer drink, the black lemonade is bold and bright in flavor, with a little kick from the cayenne pepper and lots of sweet tang from the lemon and honey.

Yea, this could just be the latest “it” drink, another fad in the health world, but again, even if it only works as a placebo, it still works, right? Both drinks are good and I’ll definitley have them again when I’m feeling stuffed, heavy and overindulged… which I suspect won’t be too far in the future for me.

You had me at butter croissant soft serve

The internet is full of wild, over the top food creations, each one trying to outdo the others in terms of flavor combinations, toppings, colors, or size. Most of the time, when I see them on Instagram or other sites, I scroll on by, shrugging as I go, sometimes amused but otherwise uninterested.

But let me be real clear, that is NOT what happened when I read about a croissant butter soft serve at Supermoon Bakehouse in the Lower East Side. My eyes widened, my mouth watered, and I immediately checked which train would get me there fastest as soon as I left work that day.

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Doin’ it for the Gram… and for my insane sweet tooth.

looove soft serve ice cream, and last week when New York was hotter than Satan’s armpit, I would’ve been happy to eat it for every meal. I also love a good plain buttery croissant, which is what really got my attention here. Sure almond is great and chocolate is obviously in a league of its own but a classic croissant with it’s soft middle and buttery, flaky outside is just the best. So a dessert that combined both? C’mon. I HAD TO.

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