4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

1% of the Appalachian Trail (by Carmen)

Appalachian Trail sign post

Appalachian Trail sign post

Fall is well under way here in NYC but here on the blog we’ve got some summer catching up to do. To take advantage of the warm summer, Nathan and I enjoyed three lovely camping trips in three different locations – one in the mountains, one on the beach and one in the woods. It had been almost two years since we had set up our tent so by Memorial Day we were ready to hike some of the mountains of the Appalachian Trail.

Excited to be hiking again

Excited to be hiking again

We jumped in to the first camping trip with both feet. At 20 miles in with an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet, our hike in the mountains of Harriman State Park was challenging. There were two main advantages that caused us to choose this trail. The first was that both the beginning and end were transit accessible, which made planning much easier. The second was that our route followed a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail (aka the AT). The AT stretches 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, meaning we we’re only tackling less than 1% of it. And given that it took me a month to walk the 500 miles of the Camino, I’m awestruck by this megatrail.

White AT blaze (photo source: Two Knobby Tires)

White AT blaze (photo source: Two Knobby Tires)

Trail blaze translation (source: Wikipedia)

Trail blaze translation (source: Wikipedia)

As we began the trail, we spotted one of the telltale signs of the AT – the white blaze. Just as the Camino has its yellow arrow, the AT uses patterns of white rectangles painted on trees to let you know that you are indeed on the right path.

Nathan in the Lemon Squeezer

Nathan in the Lemon Squeezer

Orange salamanders littered the trail

Orange salamanders littered the trail

A couple hours in, we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place, literally. The Lemon Squeezer is a tight squeeze for anyone and with a backpack I barely made it through! As we continued on, we marveled at the technicolor vividness of green wilderness around us. Everything glowed, especially the neon orange salamanders. The beauty of it all and the excitement to finally be backpacking again helped give us strength in our battle against the gnats and mosquito which enjoy buzzing in our ears every step of the way.

Vivid green landscape

Vivid green flora

Our campsite

Our campsite

Along our walk we encountered a few intrepid through hikers, or people walking the trail all in one go. They were light on their feet and walked with purpose. They had commandeered the stone shelters built at intervals along the AT since many did not carry tents. While all hikers are technically supposed to stay in or near the shelter, it was far too crowded for our taste. So we pushed on and found ourselves a beautiful little clearing in a nearby valley to set up camp. After setting up our tent, I collapsed inside for a quick nap. As I gazed out the window, I could see the golden light streaming through the incredibly bright green leaves. It was beautiful. Finally, we decided to start dinner. Little did we realize that green clouds were rolling in overhead and within minutes the heavens had opened and the rain began. Not just rain, though, a veritable downpour. We dove into the tent soaking wet and managed to finish our meal inside.

View from top

View from top

Bear Mountain views

Bear Mountain views

Bear Mountain from Lake Hessian

Bear Mountain from Lake Hessian

We woke to a sunny day and we trudged up and down the mountains to our destination, the Hudson River. As we came closer to the summit of Bear Mountain, the trail takes on a new atmosphere. Bear Mountain is a popular destination for day hikers from the nearby inn and picnic area. Most of the people we encountered in this area were ill equipped for such a hike – some were even in flip flops. But I admired the perseverance of those who made it to the summit. We descended the mountainside and were jolted by the loud music and huge crowds surrounding the inn and Hessian Lake. The people were incredibly diverse – Arabic-speaking groups gathering around aromatic baked chicken and rice, Latinos blasting salsa music, Asian families bbqing. We grabbed a mint chip milkshake and I lost myself in its sweet creaminess. Basically anything you eat after a big hike tastes amazing and this was no exception.

Bears are necessary at the Bear Mountain Zoo

Bears are necessary at the Bear Mountain Zoo

Hudson River from Bear Mountain Bridge

Hudson River from Bear Mountain Bridge

And yet, we weren’t quite done. There were a couple more miles to hike, past a zoo and historic buildings. Since it is along the Hudson River, this area once held strategic forts to protect such an economically important waterway. Finally, we made it to a dusty little train station by the river and were on our way home, grateful to know that an escape to nature could be so close the NYC.

Manhattan-henge (by Carmen)

Empire State Building + Manhattan-henge!

Empire State Building + Manhattan-henge!

Twice a year thousands of people collect on the main east-west arterials of New York City to worship the sun. Or at least take a million pictures of the sun as it sets exactly aligned with the city’s street grid. The event known as Manhattan-henge occurs approximately 25 days before and after the summer solstice. Nathan and I were one of the revelers on a spontaneous Friday night out in our adopted city.  This year, Manhattan-henge fell on July 11, which, happened to be a Friday!

Astor Wine & Spirits - our local booze source

Astor Wine & Spirits – our local booze source

Friday nights are always my favorite. It generally starts with a stop at Astor Wine & Spirits, our local wine shop. Most days of the week, Astor offers generous samples from the abundant collection. We’ve tasted wines from around the world – even a $250 Cristal Champagne! In addition to wine we’ve had smokey whiskeys, peaty scotches, grilled corn infused mescal…all at no charge. It’s quite possibly the perfect wine shop. If only NY liquor laws allowed them to sell beer they’d be unstoppable.

Yay for bikesharing!

Yay for bikesharing!

After our tasting we decided that midtown would offer us the best Manhattan-henge viewing. We hopped on a citibike and cycled our way up to 34th street. I LOVE citibike. Combined with the bike lanes that are being added throughout the city, I’ve always felt safe biking in New York. And it’s just fun to feel the breeze through your hair.

Sun worshipers

Sun worshipers

Almost there...

Almost there…

Sun down

Sun down

We finally made it to 34th Street with about 15 minutes until sunset. A cluster of tourists were already excitedly taking photos. We joined in the fun and pretended to be tourists ourselves by loudly talking about how much fun Times Square is (note: no locals say anything good about Times Square). I enjoyed watching the crowds as much as the sun. Because the best view is in the middle of the street, everyone waited for the light to change and then ran to the middle to snap away. Then the cars would honk and everyone ran back.

Japchae close up at Woorijip

Japchae close up at Woorijip

As the sun dipped below the horizon the throngs thinned quickly. We decided to take advantage of being near K-town and walked a whole three blocks to the pulsing, neon-lit stretch of Korean BBQ restaurants and karaoke bars. We just wanted a snack so made our way to Woorijip, a fast moving cafe with grab and go Korean food. I can never have enough japchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles) or kimchi in my life. Not everything’s a winner here – go for things labeled “spicy” for the best experience.

Van Leeuwan sundae

Van Leeuwan sundae

Satiated, we took a quick subway ride back to East Village and remembered our PayPal deal. PayPal is eager for people to forget about those old fashioned things called credit cards and instead use their phone to make payments. They’ll even pay you to do it. So far, Nathan and I estimate that we’ve taken advantage of $500 of PayPal incentives. Sometimes the businesses that have offers aren’t worth it even with the discount but we’ve also found some real gems. When a deal comes up for a place we wanted to try anyway, all the better. Such was the case with Van Leeuwan ice cream shop. We bought a classic sundae to share with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, bittersweet hot fudge, walnuts, fresh whipped cream and house preserved cherries on top.

I originally set out to write a quick post about the phenomenon of Manhattan-henge. But as I thought back to the that night, I recalled all the other spontaneous activities surrounding the sunset that only seems possible in a place like New York. The city so seamlessly brings together a number of perks – easy access by bike and subway, the proximity of diverse neighborhoods, the many, many freebies. I remember feeling impressed by the novelty of all this when I was a tourist a few years ago. Now this is just another Friday night in NYC.

The Best Thing I Ever Ate (by Carmen)

Yang’s Fry Dumpling

Yang’s Fry Dumpling

That’s it. In the picture. The best thing I ever ate. Specifically, it’s a fried soup dumpling (aka 生煎包 or shengjianbao) from Yang’s Fry Dumpling in Shanghai. The memory of that first bite into the crisp, sesame-scented skin through to the juicy interior. Savoring each sip of the piping hot broth. Even now my mouth waters.

But it was about more than the dumpling. It was the moment, the trip, the city, the people, the cafe, the florescent lighting, the finding of the dumplings themselves – everything contributes to the experience of a true food find. So here is my ode to the holy grail of dumplings, encountered on a rainy afternoon and Huanghe Road in July 2009.

Shanghai French Quarter

Shanghai French Quarter

Alleyway in the French Quarter

Alleyway in the French Quarter

It was Nathan and my first taste of travel in Asia. The weeks before I started grad school we criss-crossed the continent for 6 weeks – Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and China. It was a culinary awakening in many ways. The flavors were fresher, brighter, stronger, spicier, sweeter, just overall more intense than I could have imagined. I was loving everything I ate, becoming intoxicated on everything from gula melaka (a rich malaysian palm sugar) to Japanese bento boxes. Our last stop on the itinerary was Shanghai. My parents, who had joined in part of the journey, Nathan and I had lingered in the old French Quarter, ate amazing bbq eel and observed the crazy fast high-rise construction in Putong.

Yang's on Huanghe Road

Yang’s on Huanghe Road

But it was in our first afternoon that we arrived at Yang’s. We were looking for a noodle restaurant recommended by the guidebook and had no luck finding it (this happens a loooot). As we gave up, I looked across the narrow street and saw a familiar yellow sign advertising fry dumplings. It took me a second to realize that I had seen it on TV, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations to be exact. Nathan and I had watched it to get excited for the new sights, sounds and tastes we were about to encounter. Everything came together at the right moment otherwise I would likely have passed what looked like every other hole in the wall cafe right up.

Workers at Yang's

Workers at Yang’s

Dumplings getting fried

Dumplings getting fried

The bowl of plump dumplings was plunked down in front of us and I gathered my dumpling with my soup spoon. As I took my first bite into the skin, I was careful not to lose the precious broth inside. From the second the flavors hit my taste buds I was floored. A beautiful depth of textures and flavors exploded in my mouth. We all had a collective moment of silence around the table. I’ve commemorated the event with a picture of these glorious dumplings on my living room wall.

Slurp!

Slurp!

My mom always said I’d find true love when I least expected it. She was right. But I didn’t realize her sage words applied to culinary relationships as well. Love at first bite. This love is not only because it tasted phenomenally good, but also because it provided a capstone to the deliciousness I had encountered throughout Asia. This dish inspired me to try more, explore more, travel more and find that next bite to take me out of this world. In short, Yang’s inspired me to dream big eventually leading to the Big Trip of 2012-2013. What power a simple dumpling can have!

Shanghai by night

Shanghai by night

Looking down the core of the Shanghai Jin Mao Tower

Looking down the core of the Shanghai Jin Mao Tower

Shanghai has been on my mind because a friend of ours moved there almost one year ago. Inspired by this blog to do more exploring, he and his wife took the plunge and moved halfway across the world – from Texas to Shanghai. We recently received a lovely email with them complete with pictures of their experiences. I’m so impressed with their adventurous spirit. So this post is dedicated to them, Tomasz and Nicola. To many more adventures – and dumplings.

Note: Yang’s Fry Dumpling is a local Shanghai chain with a few locations. I went to the one at 97 Huanghe Road, just north of People’s Square. It’s labeled 小杨生煎馆 on Google Maps as of June 2014. One friend tried to find this location and was unsuccessful, so you may want to consult the web for other locations.

Road Trip New York & Vermont (by Carmen)

New York in May has been lovely. The warmth of spring has been blissful after such a harsh, looong winter. Summer’s humid heat is just around the corner, threatening to blast my memories of numb fingers and toes into oblivion. So it is strange to think that just two months ago I was staring at a rental car that wouldn’t start, clutching my backpack and breathing fog into a crisp -8°F (-22°C) morning.

View of Poughkeepsie from the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River

View of Poughkeepsie from the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River

But let me back up a bit. Nathan and I found ourselves with a few days off around mid-March and decided to make the most of it. We toyed with the idea of hopping the pond to visit a friend in Dublin but the flight prices were just too much to bear. So we stayed local, rented a car and road tripped it along the Hudson River to Vermont. The route was the opposite of most people’s instinct to go south and escape the cold. Our goal, however, was to actually enjoy the winter. Snow and ice in a city context is a nuisance but in more rural settings winter sports become available. Skiing, cross country, snowshoeing, ice skating…the snow was beckoning us to go north.

Icy Hudson River view from the walkway

Icy Hudson River view from the walkway

We had 300 miles to plough through on our first day so we broke it up with a few stops as we drove along the Hudson River. Our first stop in Poughkeepsie found us strolling along Walkway State Park, a former rail bridge converted to pedestrian use five years ago. It offers great views of the icy Hudson River 200 feet below.

Next up was the town of Hudson, where I found the best bookstore in the world. Upon entering, you see the expected shelves of fiction and non-fiction. But look to the left and you encounter a full on bar with interesting drafts being consumed by friendly locals. Patrons are welcome to take their beer with them while browsing the books and thoughtful cup holders are provided so one can flip the pages. There should be many, many more businesses like this.

When we finally arrived in Burlington that night we were exhausted. Thankfully, our Airbnb hosts provided us with nourishing vegetable soup to take the chill off. They apologized that it was only vegetarian and not vegan, which instantly made me think of vegan-friendly Berkeley.

City Market Cooperative in Burlington

City Market Cooperative in Burlington

If I had any doubts about Burlington’s similarity to Berkeley, it was completely erased by a visit to the City Market Co-op. I dearly miss my Berkeley Bowl grocery store with its mountains of fresh produce and generous bulk section. City Market had an even bigger bulk section! And it’s a functioning co-op that provides dividends to its members. I certainly didn’t expect to go grocery shopping on this trip but that’s exactly what we did, at a fraction of the cost of markets in NYC. Take that Whole Foods.

Beautiful fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street

Beautiful fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street

Nathan, expertly snowshoeing at Shelburne Farms

Nathan, expertly snowshoeing at Shelburne Farms

Feeling at home in Burlington, we made our way down the main drag, Church Street. After a stop for a bite of rich fudge at Lake Champlain Chocolates, we walked a few doors down to the local outdoor store to chat with staff about the best places to snowshoe. They directed us to Shelburne Farms, which in warmer times is a sustainable farming education center on the lake. It was designed in the 19th century by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) as a picturesque rural setting. For our visit we didn’t see the farm’s cows but the rolling landscape was covered in fresh snow for us to tromp through. At the farm shop we picked up some of the farm’s delicious cheddar for the road. Not that we had far to go – our next destination was Magic Hat Brewery five minutes up the road. The psychedelic brewery visitor center fit perfectly into Burlington, home of the band Phish. We tasted all the beers on offer and especially enjoyed the passion fruit juice infused Steven Sour.

Walking on (frozen) water!

Walking on (frozen) water!

Wind swept ice

Wind swept ice

Frozen Lake Champlain lighthouse

Frozen Lake Champlain lighthouse

Nice day for bike ride

Nice day for bike ride

At sunset we made our way to the waterfront to take Lake Champlain. The lake was an important trade route between Canada and New York and battles between Americans and British were fought in these waters. In the middle of March, though, the harbor was completely iced in so Nathan and I took a nice walk on the ice to the lighthouse. Later that night we went to the town’s Irish bar to listen to some jigs and reels in celebration of one of my favorite holiday – St. Patrick’s Day!

Cross Country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge - note the metal maple buckets

Cross Country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge – note the metal maple buckets

Our 2nd morning was frigid beyond belief and, as luck would have it, our rented car had a dead battery. Fortunately, we only needed a jump but unfortunately we couldn’t find someone to help us out. We decided to have breakfast at a nearby cafe, the Barrio Bakery. The warm egg sandwich and blueberry scone helped us feel better and one of our fellow patrons eventually gave us a start.

We bid goodbye to Burlington and drove east to Stowe for some cross country skiing at the Von Trapp Family Lodge – yes, that Von Trapp Family. While The Sound of Music was based on a true story, the musical didn’t cover the fact that the Von Trapp’s became a touring singing group that eventually opened a ski lodge. The lodge has a framed picture of Maria Von Trapp skiing the same trails we did.

Glorious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone straight from the factory

Glorious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone straight from the factory

Working up a sweat on the ski trails meant time for a rewarding treat. And really, ice cream is an amazing thing. Even when it’s so cold outside your body aches, it’s nearly impossible to decline a waffle cone filled with rich, creamy ice cream. We had no chance resisting the pull of the Ben & Jerry’s factory, even with our snowy surroundings and cold start in the morning. I was somewhat shocked to find 20 other visitors with us on a Monday afternoon in March. Twenty more were lined up for the next tour a half hour later. We all scream for ice cream, I suppose.

Covered bridge near Woodstock, VT

Covered bridge near Woodstock, VT

After a pit stop in the state capital, our final night was spent in the tiny, incredibly cute village of Woodstock (but not that Woodstock). We were pleasantly surprised to find an excellent, casual restaurant near the village called Worthy Kitchen. After filling up on shepard’s pie, we tucked in for the night in our B&B.

On our last day we experienced more quintessential Vermont experiences – covered bridges and maple tapping. It being the start of sugaring season the maple trees were just beginning to release their sweet nectar which is boiled down to our favorite pancake topping.

The tastes and views of Vermont were everything I’d hoped for but was over far too quickly. It whet my appetite to further explore New England. Maine lobster rolls anyone?

Vermont humor (Source: Vermont Independent Clothing Co.)

Vermont humor (Source: Vermont Independent Clothing Co.)

What the Hurricane Left Behind (by Carmen)

Historic South Street Seaport

Historic South Street Seaport

As part of our hunt for a NYC apartment to call home, Nathan and I had to find a temporary sublet. Since it was only for 6 weeks, we were willing to live almost anywhere. It was only by chance that we ended up subletting in a hidden corner of Manhattan called South Street Seaport.

Looking out to the Financial District from South Street Seaport with views of the World Trade Center and 8 Spruce Street Tower

Looking out to the Financial District from South Street Seaport with views of the World Trade Center and 8 Spruce Street Tower

South Street Seaport is bordered on the north by the hulking Brooklyn Bridge, to the east by water, and to the west and south by the glossy high rises of the financial district. Originally, the area was developed on filled land as a port, with two wide boat slips to load and unload trade ships. Seafood became a specialty and the Fulton Fish Market opened in 1822 and continued to operate until 2005. In Europe, this would not be noteworthy but in America that is an amazingly long time! The fish market, the second biggest in the world after Tsukiji in Tokyo, was moved to a modern facility in the Bronx.

The masts of the Peking sail ship, part of the South Street Seaport Museum

The masts of the Peking sail ship, part of the South Street Seaport Museum

The long history of the neighborhood envelopes you. It is visible in the 1800’s architecture (some decorated with sea life motifs) and the historic sail and steam boats bobbing in the water (part of the South Street Seaport Museum). On a tour of the 1930 Peking sailboat, we learned about the typical sailor’s life. Let’s just say rough would be an understatement. It’s no wonder they couldn’t wait to get ashore and patronize the bars and bawdy nightlife of the South Street Seaport – a tradition carried on in some ways by bars like Jeremy’s Ale House and Paris Cafe.

My sublet's street flooded during Hurricane Sandy (source: kidscreen.com)

My sublet’s street flooded during Hurricane Sandy (source: kidscreen.com)

In a city like New York, it’s no surprise that developers want to capitalize on the area’s unique character. There are plans in the works to turn this area into a luxury shopping mall and condos. The community opposition has already mobilized but Hurricane Sandy certainly crippled their stance.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy were spread unevenly across NYC. For some, it simply felt like a huge storm. Others experienced major flooding, power outages and wind damage that ruined homes and businesses. Forty-three New Yorkers lost their lives. Since it’s on fill, South Street Seaport succumbed to flooding with disastrous results. With the major repair costs, many of the shops and restaurants found it difficult to reopen at all. Over a year later there are still plenty of empty storefronts awaiting new tenants/development.

Pasanella & Sons tasting room (source: Mimi and Meg)

Pasanella & Sons tasting room (source: Mimi and Meg)

Of the independent businesses that have returned, one of my favorites is Made Fresh Daily. This cheery café doesn’t win any awards for the best coffee or the most avant garde food. Instead, it makes simple pastries and lunches in a comfortable setting. For me, the best part is their collection of magazines free to read in the café. I typically grab a tea, a few ‘zines and camp out. And because the neighborhood is so peaceful, I don’t have 20 customers eyeing me for my seat. It can be full but is never overly crowded. In NYC, that’s saying something.

Another great shop is Pasanella & Sons. This small wine shop has knowledgeable staff and a beautiful brick tasting room in the back where they hold events. Since we lived there in October, we got to attend a great hard cider event where the drinks ranged from dry and fizzy to pungent and sour.

The Village FIshmonger at New Amsterdam Market

The Village FIshmonger at New Amsterdam Market

The New Amsterdam Market meets outside the old Fulton Fish Market building. A weekly market before the hurricane, it has since become a monthly one. The market sells more specialty goods than everyday groceries (think cheese, honey, sausage, etc.) and it is all of high quality. I particularly enjoyed the extremely fresh Village Fishmonger stand, which is a CSF (community-supported fishery) that I’m tempted to join.

Filming The Knick in South Street Seaport

Filming The Knick in South Street Seaport

A fruit & veg stand in "old" New York

A fruit & veg stand in “old” New York

My view of the filming from Made Fresh Daily cafe

My view of the filming from Made Fresh Daily cafe

The hidden, historic atmosphere of South Street Seaport makes it ripe for filming. It was quite entertaining to exit my building one night and find Law & Order: SVU filming across the street. A few weeks later, I come out to find a different film shoot had transformed the block next to mine into turn of the 20th century New York! In order to film for The Knick (which basically looks like Grey’s Anatomy set in the early 1900s), they brought in horse-drawn carts, new store awnings, a few vegetable carts and dozens of people in period costumes. As I drank my tea at Made Fresh Daily that morning, I was able to watch Victorian era NYC pass me by through the window.

View from our sublet’s rooftop

View from our sublet’s rooftop

While subletting drew out the moving process, I treasure my stay in this peaceful little neighborhood that makes me feel like I stepped back in time. It became one of the first steps in making NYC feel like home.

The Great New York Apartment Hunt (by Carmen)

We packed our bags yet again but this time it was more than just our backpacks. It was early fall and we were getting ready for the big move from Los Angeles to New York City. While our stuff was piled into a moving pod to be shipped across the country Nathan and I boarded our one-way flight to the East Coast. Upon arriving to the city, we dove headfirst into Craigslist ads with the goal of finding our new home within a week. Thus began the Great Apartment Hunt.

We sought out rentals high and low

We sought out rentals high and low

Finding an apartment can be equal parts exciting and anxiety-inducing. In New York, however, the latter wins out as the city is overrun with brokers who charge nearly 2 months’ rent for the doing the same thing you can do on your own with Craigslist. Given the high price of apartments already, this is an astronomically high sum for the amount of work they’re theoretically saving you. To make matters worse, brokers flood Craigslist and other free listing sites with fake ads so that you will call their company and they can try to get your business. It all makes for an extremely frustrating process for those without a ton of cash to burn. Despite the obstacles, we decided to do our best to sidestep the broker system and find something on our own.

Intricate balcony in the Lower East Side

Intricate balcony we saw during our apartment walk in the Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters to fuel our search.

Russ & Daughters to fuel our search.

Our experience started on a beautiful sunny day walking around the Lower East Side. As we meandered we called every “For Rent” sign phone number we stumbled upon. We would stop for coffee or a bagel at Russ & Daughters and scour Craigslist and other apartment listing sites from our phones. And we got exactly nowhere. No one we called had a one bedroom available and some said they only went through brokers. We felt broken by the broker system.

We broadened our search to include Brooklyn brownstones.

We broadened our search to include Brooklyn brownstones.

We knew we had change up our strategy so we broadened our search area to more neighborhoods and Manhattan and even across the East River to Brooklyn but to no avail. Finally, we gave in and called some brokers. The initial excitement of access to more listings was soon tempered when they showed us places that were extremely small, dark, poorly maintained and/or expensive. Some of the worst things we saw included a floor so uneven you had to walk uphill just to cross the living room, a kitchen with a broken stove that they simply placed a hot plate on top of to “fix,” and an extremely filthy apartment featuring a giant bong in the bathtub. I’m sure that worse exists in NYC but I couldn’t believe the asking prices of these places.  Our dreams of living in Manhattan were looking a little hopeless.

The entrance of a potential rental...home sweet home?

The entrance of a potential rental…home sweet home?

This bedroom might actually fit a bed.

This bedroom might actually fit a bed.

Then the holy grail appeared! After three weeks of couch hopping I was doing my morning Craigslist search when a post came up too good to be true – perfect neighborhood near tons of transit lines, nice light in the living area (as opposed to only in the bedroom like most places we’d seen), an open and spacious (by NYC standards) kitchen, UNDER budget and, best of all, no broker! How could it be? Nathan was suspicious, even after we met with the tenants to discuss the transition. But it actually all worked out…except for one tiny, little catch – we couldn’t move in until Thanksgiving which was still six weeks away. Thus began the Great Sublet Hunt. :)

Sweet success in the form of our cozy apartment

Sweet success in the form of our cozy apartment

We eventually did find a sublet (which was in a great neighborhood I’ll post about soon).  At the end of November we moved all our earthly belongings to our tiny corner of NYC to call home. Over the past four months we’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring our new neighborhood. I really can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.

Quick trip: Portland & Beyond (by Carmen)

Little white church in the Oregon countryside

Little white church in the Oregon countryside

Wedding guests at sunset

Wedding guests at sunset

Towards the end of last summer we had the pleasure of attending a wedding in the verdant hills outside Salem, Oregon. Oregon in the summer is especially beautiful and, honestly, we’d accept any excuse to go. To be there for a family wedding in a cute little chapel surrounded by old oak trees was even more special. Our flight back to California was via Portland so we decided to spend a day and a half enjoying the city.

Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Doughnut

Portland is known for its great food but also for its somewhat alternative culture. Both these aspects were reflected in our trip to the famous Voodoo Doughnut. This was our pre-breakfast (hey, our time in Portland was limited!) and we were jarred by the neon pink interior of Voodoo as we walked in. The case contained a mixture of appealing (maple!) and appalling (bubble gum??) options slowly rotating under florescent light. Although I was tempted by the voodoo doll shaped concoction, I kept it simple with an old fashioned while Nathan tried a yeasted and iced doughnut. The old fashioned was definitely the winner and I thoroughly enjoyed it even though I felt the amount of icing tipped this snack more towards dessert than breakfast. By the time we left there was a line forming out the door.

Scandinavian breakfast at Broder (not sure what's going on in the back)

Scandinavian breakfast at Broder (not sure what’s going on in the back)

Actual breakfast was at Broder, a Scandinavian cafe tucked into a quiet strip of retail in Southeast Portland. As we waited for a table (good thing we had the doughnut to hold us over), we peeked at what people were eating. Everything looked so unique and enticing. Ultimately we tried the “Soltice Bord” (a very European mix of cheeses, jams, yogurt, granola, soft boiled egg, ham, bread, pastry) and a smoked trout hash. The restaurant lived up to the hype and it reminded me to enjoy these simple pleasures more often.

Heart Coffee shop

Heart Coffee shop

The in-shop roaster

The in-shop roaster

When in Portland it’s required to have multiple cups of artisanal coffee a day. We obliged at Heart Coffee shop where part of the entertainment is to watch the in-house roaster spew out fragrant coffee beans ready to be ground and brewed.

Bridge over the Willamette River

Bridge over the Willamette River

Public space in downtown Portland

Public space in downtown Portland

Powered with caffeine we made our way west, past the Willamette River to downtown. We took in the wonderful public spaces in this very walkable part of the city. I love bookstores and insisted we spend a solid hour at Powell’s Books where the cooking section alone took up two long aisles. Heaven.

Salt & Straw Ice Cream (sorry for the poor photo quality - this was pre-phone upgrade)

Salt & Straw Ice Cream (sorry for the poor photo quality – this was pre-phone upgrade)

Double fisitng at Salt & Straw

Double fisitng at Salt & Straw

My favorite bite of the whole trip took place later that night at Salt & Straw Ice Cream. I’ve tried plenty of good, quality ice cream in my life but this might be the best I’ve ever had. The creativity of flavors and freshness of ingredients came together so well. It was unbelievable and Nathan and I are going to attempt to recreate it with our new ice cream maker. Yes, even despite the freezing temperatures in NYC right now.

THE way to get around town

THE way to get around town

Our time in Portland would not have been the same without our excellent hosts Tom and Fontaine. They gave us recommendations, lent us their bikes, introduced us to yummy New Orleans food, and took us to local bars with some heavy handed bartenders. Thank you! Another special shout out to Nalat who encouraged us to try Olympic Provisions and Cascade Brewery – both delicious and worthy of checking out. Reminds me that no matter where we find ourselves, we get by with a little help from our friends.

LA Dreaming (by Carmen)

We are in the cold depths of winter here in NYC. I haven’t had to live through a proper, snowy January since I was six so I was curious and a bit anxious to see how I’d handle it. The weather put up a real challenge complete with polar vortices and plenty of single digit days. Now that it’s the very end of January, I know that if this is some of the worst the city has to offer I will survive the coming years just fine.

Typical LA street - palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

Typical LA street – palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

That said, I’m still allowed to indulge in a little California dreaming on such a winter’s day. Specifically, I’m thinking back to my past summer spent in Los Angeles. Nathan and I had just got married in Chicago and for our honeymoon we landed in…my parents spare bedroom. At the wedding, everyone’s favorite question was, “After all your travels, where are you going to honeymoon?” What we really wanted, though, wasn’t a honeymoon but a home base from where we could decide on next steps and start the job hunt. In this regard, LA was a great place to set down our backpacks.

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

 As a lover of urban environments, I’m always attracted to the high rises and historic areas of downtown LA. In fact, this area is becoming so hip it was mentioned in the NY Times article “52 Places to Go in 2014.” A major favorite of mine in downtown LA is Bottega Louie. Somehow, the restaurant manages to make a crisp white and marble setting feel simultaneously glamorous and laid back. And the food is every bit as good as you hope it will be. I ordered a plate of mini meatball sliders which were juicy and rich. After the meal, the case of exquisite desserts and macarons towards the front of the restaurant beckons with a rainbow of colors and flavor choices.
Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Downtown LA's Art District

Downtown LA’s Art District

If you resisted the sweets at Bottega Louie (or even if you didn’t) head nearby to The Pie Hole. This hipster cafe is located in the LA Arts District which is full of industrial chic restaurants and stores. They serve a mix of sweet and savory pies each day. I really fell for the earl gray cream pie – it was the perfect base for that delicate bergamot flavor. I’m going to have to recreate that one at home. If I get it right, I’ll post the recipe.

The Hollywood Sign family shot

The Hollywood Sign family shot

Garden at the Getty Museum

Garden at the Getty Museum

We were so lucky to have Nathan’s aunt from Germany join us for our wedding. After Chicago, she swung by California and we joined her for a day of LA sightseeing. The Hollywood sign is always a must see for guests and afterwards we drove to the breathtaking Getty Museum. The grounds and views are just as stunning as the art inside.

Dodger Game

Dodger Game

What American summer is complete without a baseball game? We rounded up friends Joey and Michelle to join us on a warm summer evening at Dodger stadium. We sat among the die-hard fans dressed in cobalt blue…and I was reminded how slow the game is. I’m checking out an LA Galaxy game next time.

Nozomi

Nozomi

During our down time we didn’t venture too far from my parents’ neighborhood, a suburb of LA which happens to have a large Japanese community. We scouted out the best ramen joints, izakaya grills and sushi. In the raw fish department, Nozomi stood out for having incredibly fresh and silky uni, or sea urchin. I still dream about the uni I enjoyed at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo many years ago and this was the closest I’ve found so far.

The chefs

The chefs

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

When we decided to stay in, we took full advantage of my Dad’s large kitchen. It’s nice to have so many foodies in the family. In some households, discord arises regarding who will have to make dinner. We had the opposite problem – we had to agree on who would get the honor of cooking that night. So we made a menu board before our weekend trips to the farmers market. Oh, my beloved farmers markets. The beautiful California produce is a sight to behold and something I’ll always miss.

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

As we took turns cooking, we still couldn’t resist LA’s excellent restaurant scene. One of the places we enjoyed was Fishing with Dynamite, a cozy seafood themed restaurant from the same owner as the ever popular Manhattan Beach Post. Each small plate that landed on the table was a hit. And the key lime pie dessert rather speaks for itself.

Father's Office

Father’s Office

Burger at Father's Office

Burger at Father’s Office

Stout ribs at Father's Office

Stout ribs at Father’s Office

Another great find was Father’s Office. This is bar food done right. And that was the surprising thing when my family and I entered – this place really did feel like a bar. We got ID’d on the way in! But the food lived up to its stellar reputation. The burger is incredibly rich, as could be expected when it’s covered in cheese, caramelized onions and bacon, and is best for sharing. We also sampled the pork ribs marinated in stout, then covered in a sweet, spicy honey glaze. I understood why the place was packed.

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

While Modern American cuisine is gaining a strong foothold in the city, the ethnic enclaves are what I get most excited about. For example, Pupuseria La Flor Blanca. Nathan had been here a number of years ago and we were excited to discover that it was still around. It’s a simple affair with fake brick walls and formica table tops, but as soon as you enter the door you can hear the slap of the pupusas on the griddle. Our pupusa (a bean and cheese stuffed dough patty) combined with the sour tang of the cabbage slaw was exactly what we were looking for.

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

We sought out more hole-in-the wall restaurant recommendations from friends and struck gold again. My friend Kathleen joined us for a wonderful Vietnamese lunch at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead. She selected the bahn beo which are steamed rice cakes topped with dried shrimp, green onions and crispy pork skin. They were silky, sweet, salty and took us right back to the markets of Vietnam. Next up was a platter with rice paper, various grilled meats, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, tofu – basically all the ingredients you could want to make your own delicious and fresh spring rolls. Though full after all our food we made it over to Half and Half Tea House for some monster cups of boba. Thanks, Kathleen, for the incredible finds!

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Indeed, it was wonderful to have friends and family around again. Whether it was catching a baseball game, scarfing down Asian treats, sipping a drink at our favorite beach-side bar during happy hour or sitting down to share a home cooked meal, I’d say our “honeymoon” in LA was just what we needed.

Now share some of the good weather already!

New Year, New York (by Carmen)

I heart NY from the Lower East Side

I heart NY from the Lower East Side

We have some catching up to do, but where to start? Our summer in LA? Our quick trip to Portland? Those will come. But for now I’m going to fast forward to today, New Year’s Eve.

For me New Year’s eve is a time of renewal and reflection. Looking back over the past year, Nathan and I took on a lot of “new” – new countries, foods, people, scenery, cultures…even a new marital status! I will forever be grateful for these experiences because I was able to learn more about the world and myself. But this year it was time to set down roots somewhere. While deciding where wasn’t an easy choice we finally did make a decision this past fall – New York!

New York is aptly named as it’s an endless stream of new. New shops and cafes are constantly opening. Little hole in the wall restaurants to expose you to new cultures and cuisines. Snow blanketing the streets and trees every so often making it feel like a new white city, a blank slate on which you can write your own story. It’s our kind of town.

So this is a quick post to say that yes, new posts will be coming ;) We’ve got a lot of exploring to do on the East Coast and, of course, right here in New York.

New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York

- Alicia Keys

A bright and shiny New York

A bright and shiny New York

Chicago Living (by Carmen)

Lake Michigan Coast

Lake Michigan Coast

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

We just couldn’t stay away. Our last visit to Chicago was during a July heat wave. We managed not to melt by visiting the beach and ducking into air conditioned restaurants for our fave regional eats – namely deep dish, hot dogs and anything by Rick Bayless. But it wasn’t enough. So this May, Nathan and I set down our backpacks for a whole month.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait, wait – why were we spending a whole month in the Windy City? Was this an extension of our travels? There was in fact a very specific reason to plop ourselves in this beautiful city by Lake Michigan. Our wedding was to take place at the end of May and we had a lot of planning to do! It was exciting but tiring times. To take a break from all the planning we fit in a few special meals, good beers, and fun shows. Like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the excellent NPR Saturday morning show recorded in downtown each week.

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Revolution Brewing

Revolution Brewing

During our month in Chicago we were fortunate enough to stay with a family friend in the excellent Logan Square neighborhood. I thought it fitting that we were next to the California stop on the L (the name for the local train system). It was also fortunate to be very near one of the best breweries in the city – Revolution Brewing. The space has a huge wooden bar in the center of the lively restaurant. My personal favorite was the Rosa beer, which was a beautiful red color thanks to being brewed with hibiscus. It was a truly refreshing beer as the weather began warming up.

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Logan Square has a lot to offer but two of my favorites are Longman & Eagle and Lula Cafe. The former is quite the multi-faceted business with a hotel, full bar and a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all on one site. The owners are able to pull it off it with style and as well as delicious food. I find the breakfast menu to be a particularly good deal so Nathan and I walked over one morning to enjoy chicken and waffles as well as a duck hash. Every time I eat there I wonder how they make their food so tasty.

Just across the square (actually more like a large roundabout) is Lula Cafe. The food was also of very high quality but in a comforting way. Like my pasta mixed with feta, cinnamon, garlic and brown butter. Simple, a little unusual, but ultimately delicious.

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Polish goodies

Polish goodies

Speaking of comforting, Polish food ranks high for me in terms of homey goodness that just makes me happy. We found gold at Kurowski Sausage Shop, a grocery store full of delectable items like sauerkraut, kielbasa, borscht, dill pickle soup, hunter’s stew and, of course, lots and lots of pierogies. We happily stocked up and wondered if we could move in next door.

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Belly Shack bulgogi

Belly Shack bulgogi

While I love Polish food, my heart will always belong to the cuisines of Asia. So I couldn’t wait to try Urban Belly. I went with a group and we each ordered a different soup. Through the variety of noodles (udon, rice, ramen and round rice discs), broth bases (chicken, pork), and spiciness levels one theme emerged – each bowl was incredibly scrumptious. We had such a good experience that Nathan and I took a group of family to Belly Shack, a sandwich shop from the same chef. I was a little worried that the group might prefer burgers and fries to the eclectic menu offerings at the shack (example: meatball and noodle sandwich) but everyone came away happy. I particularly enjoyed my bulgogi with flatbread and kimchee.

Fat Rice, a new fave

Fat Rice, a new fave

I thought Urban Belly was an unusual name, but then Fat Rice came and blew it out of the water. Turns out the name is a translation from the more elegant sounding arroz gordo, a specialty of Macau. The whole restaurant is dedicated to Macau cuisine which has a mix of influences – mostly Portuguese and Chinese but also a little bit of everywhere else the Portuguese went. I absolutely love when east meets west so this was right up my alley! While I really wanted to order the arroz gordo (a rice dish with a variety of meats and seafoods, chinese sausage, tea eggs, linguiça and sofrito) it is meant to serve 6. We still considered it though :) Instead we settled for Piri Piri Chicken with peanuts and potatoes in tomato sauce, Crazy Squid and large spears of stir-fried asparagus. Tangy, spicy, tingly, nutty, sour – everything melded together perfectly. From the concept to the food to the decor, this has become one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

And then we got married! Or at least it felt like it happened that fast. All the efforts of not only me and Nathan but our families culminated in what will forever be one of the best days of my life. A smile creeps onto my face anytime I think back to that wonderful weekend full of family, friend and love. And what better way to cement our union than to eat gloriously delicious hot dogs at Hot Doug’s?

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Filafill

Filafill

Having so many of our family and friends in Chicago at the same time was somewhat surreal. We tried to spend as much time as we could with everyone over the wedding weekend. Most people wanted to check out downtown so we wandered around, admiring architecture together. When we needed refueling we visited Filafill, an excellent falafel and sandwich bar where you fill up your pita with as many sauces, pickles and veggies as you like.

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

I will leave this food heavy post off with a sweet ending – dessert! Nathan and I have sweet tooths to be sure. While we revisited Floriole for a moist olive oil cake we were happy to discover Glazed & Infused this time around. They offer some seriously decadent doughnuts in unique flavors like maple bacon. Based on a recommendation from my dad, we also made a trip to Hot Chocolate for (what else) hot chocolate. It was smooth and had perfectly balanced sweetness and richness. Finally, my favorite is Margie’s Candies, an institution since 1921. You walk in and you are transported back in time before artisanal gelato and fancy toppings. There is no salted caramel here. Just simple (but huge) sundaes with lots of hot fudge to drip over it. And you can’t forget the neon maraschino cherry on top!

Thank you, Chicago, for being a sweet setting for us to start a new chapter in our lives.

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