The Weekend Getaway: The Catskills

If ever there's a time to enjoy New York City, RIGHT NOW IS NOT IT. It's already common knowledge to avoid the city in the summertime, but with consecutive 95+ degree days, the point cannot be made clear enough. Yesterday, I went from zero to full-upper-lip-sweat-bubbles in 30 seconds on the subway. And it wasn't even an overly hot cart! Obviously - and as my mother likes to remind me - I'm a "sweatball" and something like this could very well happen to me mid-winter. But even if you aren't a naturally-gifted sweatball like myself, it's still fucking hot out. 

ANYWAY, I luckily had the chance to visit the Catskills last weekend and breathe in some cool, fresh mountain air. The weekend in its entirety was a pleasant repose from city life and I would recommend the trip to anyone. So, if you're going to do the Catskills, here are some things you should consider...

1. Go for a wedding!

While I know this can be a tough aspect to plan, it certainly enhances the experience and if you have any influence on an upcoming wedding, I'd nudge for it. I'm just sorry you couldn't be there for last weekend's wedding, because it's prob/def the best one the Catskills has seen to date. Mimi and Rae got married in an old church/now house and then we partied in an old school/now house - it's hard to explain, so just view the pictures and stop assessing my poor sentence structure.

2. Drink the water

Seriously. Drink the tap water. Or the water from the streams while you hike. It's that fresh. Also, you should "drink the water" a la "drink the cool aid." Buy into it. Soak up the small town life, saunter around the downtown area, and kick back. Act like you're on mountain time. 

3. Go hiking

After a hearty breakfast of country-fresh eggs and corned beef hash, Matt and I asked a local for a recommendation on where to hike. What we got back was a pure gift. Through a series of instructions, we were directed down a few miles to the ranger park, back over a few lakes and through no less than three parking lots to find a sign for the Mountain House. We edged along the side of the mountain on an unnamed trail (thanks to the local tip!) and got into some serious rock-climbing. Matt almost catapulted himself off the side of the mountain, but besides that, the hike was perfect and the views? The views were nearly to die for, as Matty illustrated.

4. EAT!

Come on, I wouldn't have left this out. You should know me better than that.

and just as a bonus for making it to the end of the post, here's a really nice picture of everyone that I ruined

3 Affordable Ways to Rejuvenate in NYC

Okay, I know it's been a while. I don't have any excuse other than I've been extremely busy ramping up with my new job, traveling for work/pleasure, and getting up to speed with the social calendar of summer. In the midst of all of this, I have (shockingly) found myself physically tired, emotionally stressed and battling a month-long summer cold. However, I'm happy to say that I'm FINALLY feeling back to normal and looking forward to this glorious holiday weekend that is almost upon us. And since I'm getting back into the swing of things, it felt right to post about it! Here are my top 3 suggestions for how to rejuvenate on the cheap in NYC:

1. Get a Chinese Massage $20-$45

Also known as a Qi Gong parlor or hey-that's-a-sketchy-looking-place, these massage joints literally hit all the right spots. You probably pass by them regularly, thinking to yourself, "no way would I dare walk down this strange, dark alleyway." Next time, you should dare and you just may be rewarded with a glorious massage by an authentic Chinese Qi Gong masseuse that actually knows what they're doing. And have no fear, they cover the cleanliness basics by changing the cotton sheets and paper face thingies in between each session. Sure, the walls are more like soft dividers and there's no steam room to lounge in afterward, but at $37 for a 45 minute massage, you still can't beat the bang for your buck.  I mean, that's like a brunch bill. Come on.

2. Treat yo'self at Juice Generation $4-$10

As mentioned, I had been battling an epic summer cold for about a month, during which time I ingested somewhere around half of aisle 5 at the pharmacy. While medication certainly has its place, I'm also a big proponent of natural remedies. Enter: Juice Generation. For $5.45, you can get a 12-ounce fresh-pressed Cold Warrior, which includes: green tea, fresh orange, ginger root, echinacea, zinc and Vitamin C. It's a pleasant indulgence AND extremely good for you. Even if you're not sick, a trip to Juice Generation for a drink and some of their delicious meals will leave you feeling like you just experienced a mini health retreat. And all for $15-$20. Next girls night adventure? I think so. 

3. Get. Out. Side. FREE 99

I've said it before: never have I interacted with nature on such a daily basis as I do living in New York City. It sounds strange to most people, but it makes plenty of sense when you think about it. First off, I live a stone's throw away from Riverside Park and three blocks from Central Park. Because of the layout of the city, I walk nearly everywhere, including the 2+ miles to work. If you live uptown, this is a no-brainer. However, even if you're downtown, I bet you're not too far from The Highline, Madison Park, Washington Square or an accessible rooftop - so make use of it! You don't necessarily need to kayak in the Hudson or take a day trip to the botanical gardens (though, kudos if you can swing it!), you just need to get outside for a little bit each and every day. We've all heard the factoids about the positive benefits of even just 15 minutes of Vitamin D and they're all true. Even if you're super crunched for time, take 10 minutes to stroll outside in the sun on your next lunch break while counting your blessings or calling a loved one and then try telling me you didn't have a good day.

Getaway: Pacific Beach, California

My friend Erica and I met in first grade and have been #bf4ls ever since. In fact, we were so close growing up, there was even an online thread posted about us once in middle school that claimed we were lesbians. (We ain’t mad ‘bout it.) We went on to graduate college together after she finally transferred to UMD her sophomore year.  Then, that pesky “real world” attacked and I ended up in Virginia > New York and she in Arizona > San Diego. It’s been a little tough and very odd not living side by side these past four years. But once she moved to Pacific Beach last year and I finally felt settled in New York, I knew it was time for a visit.  So, I finally got out there! Below are a few of my favorite things about the trip:

1.      Seeing my BFF, DUH.

There’s only so many people that you can crack up laughing with after only minutes of being together. For me, Erica is one of those people. There’s also only so many people that wont second-guess spending Sunday afternoon of MDW with you at the CVS minute clinic when you come down with a killer sinus headache (#FTL!). Thanks, bae.

2.      Breakfast at The Fig Tree

Situated around the corner from Erica and Drew’s apartment is the most adorable and delicious breakfast place of all time. It looks like a big tree house and the food is phenomenal. (the rosemary potatoes and fresh-squeezed OJ were especially d-lish.)

3.      Riding bikes through La Jolla

After a hearty breakfast, we rode bikes through the streets of La Jolla and played pretend House Hunters. Even with all the mansions and over-the-top residences, though, it was these cute little surf huts that stole my heart.

4.      Lounging at Wind and Sea

Known for being a famous surf break and a hotspot for photo-shoots, Wind and Sea is also a pretty divine location to simply lay out and kick back. Which we managed perfectly, just like the professionals we are.

5.      Acai / Pitaya Bowls

Acai / Pitaya bowls are all the craze these days and they’re seemingly sold on every corner in San Diego. The bowls are made of frozen acai berry or dragon fruit mixed with a small amount of liquid (coconut water, almond milk, soy, etc.) into a sherbet-like texture. They’re then topped with healthy pickings like berries, granola, peanut butter and coconut. #omnomnom is right.

6.      Strolling the Pacific Beach boardwalk at Crystal Pier 

Lined with old-school cottages that have a 2-year waiting list, there’s plenty of history at Crystal Pier. As for the rest of the boardwalk, people-watching alone can be a full day’s activity. We strolled the boardwalk one day and then met my cousins (!) for lunch at World Famous, yet another great foodie find.

7.      Oscar’s Fish Tacos 

Also around the corner from Erica and Drew’s place is Oscar’s. About the size of a small food truck, this North Pacific Beach taco haven crushes it with fresh seafood and ridiculously low prices.

8.      An outdoor BBQ

On Sunday night, I managed to come halfway-back to life after a healthy dose of Sudafed. We barbecued and played corn hole in the front yard.

9.      Experiencing Club Pilates 

I love exercising, so while I wasn’t feeling up to a crazy workout thanks to my sinuses, I wanted to get a little something in during my trip. Enter: Club Pilates. I tried out my first class on the reformer machines for a meager ten bucks. It was actually a ton of fun to maneuver the reformer and definitely the perfect workout to settle on.

10.  Massages & kickin’ back 

I’m a massage fiend and a total diva when it comes to pampering myself. Unfortunately, I’m not made of money. So, it’s always a beautiful thing when I can score a solid massage at a low price. At Health & Wellness Arts Healing Center, I was able to do just that. Located in Pacific Beach amongst a strand of restaurants and shopping, the Healing Center offers a $50 massage for a full hour. It’s clean, relaxing, and best of all, the massage was absolutely top-notch. On my last day, I enjoyed a massage and then kicked back with Erica to crack up over Broad City and Best in Show.

Can’t think of a better way to spend, or end, a vacation!

NYC Coffee: Who reigns supreme?

At some point circa 16 years old, I discovered coconut coffee and started drinking it regularly. Having lived across the highway and then some from the nearest Dunkin Donuts, I would drive there early on Monday Mornings to buy one of those extra massive 36-oz cups and a few 8 oz cups to match. Then, I'd keep the larger container in my parents fridge and heat up a cup each morning for the next 3-4 days, satisfying my teenage sweet tooth. After a few weeks of this, however, even my  immature taste buds knew something was wrong. Apparently, old coffee isn't as tasty as a freshly brewed cup. Who'd a thunk it? 

That was my first early lesson on a good cup o' joe: freshly brewed is best. And of course, freshly ground is even better. And good, filtered water is an absolute must.

Over the course of time, I went through various coffee phases. During college, thanks to a hefty monthly food allowance (hey, Dad!) I enjoyed the daily consumption of skinny vanilla lattes from Starbucks. Post college and no longer free-wheeling it off my parents' funds, I formed a McDonald's coffee addiction (and a hash brown one, too, but that's for a different day). Surprisingly, Mccy D's has a solid cup of coffee and it's always $1, regardless the size. But when I really want a good caffeine fix, I go to Rook in my hometown. Without going too deep into the rabbit hole regarding my undying love and obsession with Rook coffee, let me just put it simply: it's the best cup of coffee you will ever taste. They treat coffee beans like any other crop and buy seasonally. They pack the beans in single-serving airtight containers to preserve freshness. And then they make you a freshly ground, freshly brewed (in, of course, good filtered water) delicious cup of coffee. No lattes, no cappuccinos, no frills. Just good coffee from around the world.

So, NOW, with the understanding that there is, very unfortunately, no Rook in NYC (yet!), allow me to suggest my personal favorite coffee joints in the big apple.

For a single-drip AND the best espresso: JOE COFFEE

Quite honestly, if I was giving an award for best experience, it would also go to Joe's. Each shop I have visited is inviting, clean and friendly. 

For a solid cup and a bite: BIRCH 

Always bustling, always reliable. 

For that french-press craving: GREGORY'S 

I'm a french-press fiend. When brewed correctly, it's richer and stronger and I can buzz 12 hours off of it.

For something fancy.. MAGNOLIA BAKERY

Magnolia Bakery does lattes like nobody's business. For a hint of luxury, go late morning on a Saturday, order the chai latte, add a famous cupcake to your order, and then sit back and enjoy breakfast overlooking one of the many cute streets Magnolia happens to be situated on (Ahem, Columbus and W 69th!)

For the best iced coffee... MOLLYS MILK TRUCK

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Available in whole foods and (eventually) most bodegas, this is hands down the best iced coffee you'll ever taste. It has almond milk, agave and some spice to it, but the shot of espresso (RedEye version) really takes it over the top. Plus, Molly's is the ONLY coffee I can consume when hungover - it's that good. 

**when in doubt or when looking for an affordable and reliable option, I always go with street cart coffee. Not only is the cart on 51&7th serving up delicious coffee, but there's nothing quite like putting money directly into the hands of the guy pouring you a cup o joe!

Sonoma: Wine Country in Pictures

And on the last day, God made wine... isn't that how it goes?  At the least, that's how it went for us!

See the pics below for a small snapshot of the day. And if you'd like to scope out the awesome accommodations Ana found us in Healdsburg, see here!

San Francisco Day 2: steep Hills, tears & bicycle beers

After an active day on the water and a few evening cocktails in Luke and Ana’s sweet new loft, I was feeling pretty hungry come morning. Luckily, they just happen to live right around the bend from an old, tiny diner in Oakland called “Lois’ Pies” which serves up southern specialties and prides itself on, you guessed it, pies.

Certain eateries just have something to their aesthetic that lets you know they’re going to be good, and Lois’ is one of those places.

It wasn’t until we sat down that we learned Lois’ was a pretty famous spot. Lois herself is the adoptive mother to Reggie Jackson.

The vibe was warm and the food was good. After meals like this, we were ready to take on the day!

Prior to jumping further into today’s post, I should circle back to a brief conversation Luke and I had during our redwoods/SUP day. See, Ana and Luke had initially been living directly in San Francisco for the past few months in a sublet. The day before my arrival (literally), they moved across the bridge to Oakland. For those unaware, Oakland is somewhat comparable to Brooklyn or Asbury Park, circa 10 years ago.

In terms of energy, my entire Oakland experience was an excessively friendly, quintessentially-Californian one. From the coffee shop owner who absolutely insisted upon giving me a free cup when I realized my credit card wasn’t working to the eclectic group of locals that stopped by their loft to say hello and welcome them to the neighborhood, Oakland felt charming and unique.

When I shared this observation with Luke, he told me how he not only felt the same, but felt that people in Oakland were significantly kinder than those in San Francisco. Interesting, right?

Now, fast-forward to Friday afternoon in Haight-Ashbury. We planned on riding bikes around the city and since I couldn’t fit mine in my carry-on, we had to rent one for me. As we approached a small bike shop, I went to slide past a man halfway in the doorway to scope out the bikes. What then ensued was one of the more unnecessary and unprovoked confrontations that I’ve experienced in a long time.

And, look, I’m from Jersey. 

When faced with a rude stranger, my initial reaction is generally to snap back. It’s something in my DNA… thanks a lot, Dad. 

However (and as my boyfriend will tell you), I sometimes find myself trapped in a figurative glass case of emotion. This, unfortunately, is also something in my DNA... thanks a lot, Mom.

Much to my dismay, the latter occurred and… I just started crying. In public. And fled to the bar next door. It wasn’t embarrassing at all.

P.S. the irony of this occurring in the center of Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood known for being the origin of effing hippie subculture, did not escape me. Hashtag Blessed. 

After recovering from a few tears-over-nothing, I emerged from el bano to find mom & dad (i.e. Luke and Ana) at the bar poised to welcome me back to emotional stability with a sympathy beer! We finished our Guinnesses and meandered down the block where I was able to successfully rent a bike from a much nicer group of San Francisco(ines/ites/ans?). 

Then, as a finer version of hell's angels, we took off into the day, making our first stop at Inspiration Point.

We then maneuvered down to the Palace of Fine Arts and biked through the posh Marina area.

Soon enough, we figured it was time for another drink and some food. Down in the Cow Hollow area, we posted up at  Pacific Catch for some wine and fried seafood. That calamari though… #OMNOMNOM

We then made our way up to Russian Hill and rode our bikes down the steepest street in America, Lombard Street, which was both terrifying and exciting. A few people walking up the winding road gave me very justified looks of doubt that seemed to say “eh, really?”

Luckily, we survived. Cruising back to the Marina/Cow Hollow area, we finally ended our 3.5-hour bike tour and celebrated with a shot and a beer.

In a sad attempt at rallying for the evening, we made one last stop at Peet’s coffee shop for espresso. Instead of rousing my party energy, I think the warm chai flavor just made me that much more ready for bed.

San Francisco & The Gift of Adventurous Friends

Preface:

Meet Ana. Full Russian, Ana was born and bred in Sweden for the first 16 years of her life before immigrating to America to finish high school and go off to the University of Maryland for college. She has no concept of time or distance (seriously, I wouldn’t put it past her to drive three hours and back just for a lunch date) and somehow possesses an endless repository of energy. The first time we ever went out together, I came home without any shoes on.

In short, she’s “my crazy Russian friend.”

Naturally, though, she is much more than this. She’s cultured, kind-hearted and very sharp. However, her open-minded, adventurous spirit is pretty unparalleled and, to me, that makes for the best of friends.

Having recently moved out to San Francisco to work for Apple (#bosslady), I purposely conjured up time between jobs for a trip to visit her in her new digs. Here’s how it went.

Part 1: Taquerias, Redwoods & Sea Lions, OH MY!

Upon arriving, Ana instructed me to take a cab downtown to a taqueria named “lolo.” As the cab pulled up to the address, I noticed two things: a shady-looking place across the street called “The Make Out Room” and a sign on Lolo’s door that was being flipped to “Closed.” Oh, Ana.


Luckily, Lolo had a sister restaurant down the block so I made my way over to Valencia Street and met Ana and her boyfriend Luke. Unfortunately my taste buds overthrow my brain when food is in front of me and I didn’t get any pictures of the spread, but it was phenomenal. Here’s a small idea of what it’s like, thanks to #Instagram.

While Ana had to go to work the next morning, her boyfriend, Luke, who is also coasting on his last days of funemployment had plenty planned for a solid first day.

Instead of touring the city, we skipped town and drove through the uniquely winding hills that are so synonymous with the California coastline. We dipped in and out of fat pockets of gorgeous redwoods and emerged each time to find an expansive view of mountains beside a crisp, rolling ocean. John Muir State Park welcomed us onto roads with fitting names like “Panoramic Hwy. The fog was nowhere to be found.

Finally landing in a tiny community in Stinson Park, we took out the stand up paddle boards for an epic session. While Luke played in the waves, I snuck into the nearby estuary to do some exploring. Almost immediately, my curiosity was rewarded. I had a close up encounter with a sea lion, followed by a 5-minute paddle alongside a large stingray and my first-ever baby sand shark sighting!

The coolest part came about an hour into the mini-exploration. I heard some noises and couldn’t figure out what they were. As I paddled around the calm back area, I skimmed past a few large sandbars at a distance but didn’t notice anything much.

At first, that is.

When I looked and listened a little closer, I noticed around fifty beached seals, hanging out on a sandbar about 50 yards from me. Having rolled around in the sand, they were difficult to discern from far away. A few more strokes toward them and about 20 seals started flopping their way into the water.

So as not to frighten them, I slowed down and took a seat on my board. Soon enough, I had a whole group of interested,  new friends just a few feet from me! I am really bummed I didn’t have a waterproof camera of sorts to capture the moment, but as my mother likes to say “sometimes the greatest moments are best left to be captured only in memory.” I’ll trust you on this one, Mama bear.

Before leaving, I did get some photographic proof. Lucky for all of you, not only is there this solid shot...

but there are all of these leading up , too: 

To top things off, Luke introduced me to The Lunch Box and I had my first-ever salmon po’boy.  BOOM.  

New Yorkers: How to Weekday Staycation

There are myriad ways to spend a free day in New York, not one of which are "wrong" per se. Between five boroughs, 800+ languages and enough cuisines and cultural events to match, excitement lies every day in every pocket of this great, vast grid we call home. That being said, allow me to now share with you how I decided to spend the past few glorious days off. 

I am currently transitioning jobs and decided to take a little time off in between. At first, I was apprehensive to take more than a long weekend, but after some thinking, I changed my mind. And let me tell ya, I'm glad I did. This break has been a truly wonderful period of reflection, enjoyment and relaxation. At a time when spring is finally coming out of it's half-frozen shell, 10 days off couldn't have been more aptly received. 

1. Head to the Museum

One of the greatest aspects of this city is its rich collections of art and history. But, what New Yorker wants to spend their free Saturday afternoon being suffocated by throngs of crowds just to get a short-lived peek into some of even the most wonderful exhibits? This past Monday, I grabbed a cappuccino from my favorite cafe, Cafe Lalo, and strolled over to the American Museum of Natural History. I most enjoyed the Butterfly Conservatory (duh), the Hayden Big Bang theater, and the Countdown to Zero (Disease Eradication) exhibit. My entire experience was easy, swift, and relatively quiet. I spent a solid 20-25 minutes in the tiny conservatory with 500+ butterflies and maybe 10 other people, tops. I waited less than 4 minutes for the Big Bang theater, and was virtually the only person in the Disease Eradication exhibit. 

If you have only one thing to do on a free weekday in New York, this is it. 

2. SPA (affordably!)

Yes, I know. I adore spas. But, who doesn't? With some nifty research and calculated planning, I've been able to score hour-long massages for as little as $30 in the city. That, however, did not come without its fair share of work. I've used deal sites like Groupon or memberships like CandleSpas and then literally had to plan 4-8 weeks ahead of time for a weekend pampering session. Why? Because you don't get massages that cheap without it coming at a price -- the price being convenience due to mass competition for weekend appointments by other "savvy" New Yorkers who are doing the same exact thing.

However, if you've ever tried to schedule a spa appointment Monday-Friday, the tides radically shift. Spas are virtually empty during the week and you can schedule one as little as 24 hours ahead of time usually. So, when I received a nice little text from Red & White spa in Soho advertising their 50-minute massage & 50-minute facial for $99 total, viable during the dates I was conveniently on staycation, I jumped at the chance. What ensued was a luxurious friday afternoon at one of my favorite spas, feeling like a total princess.

3. Shop

Whether we're talking clothes shopping, food shopping or simply window shopping, shopping in New York on the weekend can be stressful. Like most other activities, everybody's doing it. On an easy Tuesday, however, it's so peaceful it's almost, dare I say, therapeutic. I took the liberty to skim thrift-store racks for some new spring clothes (sans the dressing room wait) before navigating empty aisles of full shelves at Trader Joes. On the way home, I slowly enjoyed the magnificence that is Columbus Avenue in the sunshine, without being shouldered by pedestrian traffic. Though, it's admittedly always a little calmer on the Upper West, this was even surprisingly enjoyable for me. In the evening, I dressed up in my new spring finds and crafted a delicious spread of charcuterie and wine for dinner... on my own couch, in my own little apartment.

Q&A with John Ridley & 5 Things About American Crime

It's cliche to say to begin a sentence with "it isn't every day..." but it really isn’t every day that you have the chance to meet an Academy Award winning writer. So, when I recently heard that John Ridley would be gracing Norwood Club with his presence, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Beyond taking home the 2013 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years A Slave, Ridley is also the mastermind behind ABC’s current drama, American Crime and is slated to further impress the masses next year with a new Marvel series.

All. Hail.

The talk was moderated by highly esteemed Journalist and author of “Columbine” Dave Cullen, who, surprise, did a phenomenal job co-piloting Ridley as he navigated the American Crime landscape and its spectrum of hot points. Over what seemed to be the shortest hour of all time, I picked up a number of interesting American CrimemorselsHere were my five favorites:

American Crime is not about the trial, it’s about the people.

While the series is centered around a racially charged murder and the ensuing trial, don’t mistake it for an indie Law & Order (though, another thing I learned from the talk was just how difficult writing for Law & Order and all of those plot-always-changing series must be. But, I digress.) American Crime focuses on the multifaceted human aspect of each character and storyline. The show is not meant to exist in definitives, but rather, to flourish in the very gray nature of mankind.

Editing is (almost) everything.

Editors are artists. This was a significant take-away from the discussion. As an audience, we cannot possibly identify key edits in a film or show. After all, that’s the whole point of editing. However, Ridley gave great praise to the American Crime editing team, reminding us once more that what happens behind the cameras is just as critical as what happens in front of them.

American Crime is sort of like… American Horror Story?

And, no, not because of excessive gore, thankfully. American Crime is similar to American Horror story in that, if it returns for a second season, it will present an all new plot with an all new cast in an all new city.

The season was written without regard for commercial breaks.

Again, this is the type of tidbit that most people might shrug their shoulders at. However, anyone in writing-for-TV or TV productions will tell you that to write without regard for commercial breaks is almost unheard of. Think about it: what keeps you from switching the channel when the commercials come on? Sure, you may watch a show regularly and so you may be inclined to stay tuned, but could a quick 2-minute flip to “Big Bang” reallyhurt? Well, if you’re left with a mini cliffhanger, you probably won’t want to risk missing the opening scene upon return. Thus, writing for commercial breaks. However, Ridley’s strategy when taking on American Crime was to write with so much emotional velocity that each and every scene was as powerful and engaging as the next. #Ambition, #achieved.

It was also written mostly by people of color and directed principally by women

Of course, this doesn’t need much explaining. However, in a world and certainly an industry where both groups are largely underrepresented, it is absolutely worth noting.

A HUGE thank you to the Norwood family, Dave Cullen, and of course, Mr. Ridley himself!