Wednesday, January 14, 2015

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52 Places to go in 2015

YES! So happy--New York Time's Places to Go in 2015 is finally up.  I love reading through their annual list of “what’s hot in travel”—what cities are hosting events, where new food scenes are popping up, what political changes have happened to make new travel possible.  Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the New York Times is KILLING IT on their digital integration.  The videos bring the destinations to life in a way print could never do—maybe that’s saying something negative about the attention span of my generation, but I eagerly consume the online version regardless.

On my radar this year:
  • New Orleans.  One of my best friend’s from college is moving there—I can’t wait to visit!  I’ve been once before but I’m so excited to see it with a local (and indulge in a few of the local watering holes, as the last time I traveled there I was 20). 
  • Cuba.  Travel from the US isn’t as straightforward as we’d like quite yet, but maybe soon!  A hop, skip, and a jump from Florida, amazing food, beautiful history and culture, maybe some drinking and dancing… I imagine that’s what the perfect 3 day weekend getaway in Cuba would be like.  100% accurate?  Maybe, maybe not.  The mystery and allure of Cuba is part of the fun!
  • Medellin, Colombia.  Really anywhere on Colombia is on my list, but Medellin’s daily average temperate (the entire year) is 72 degrees, earning it the title of “The City of Eternal Spring.”  Yes please! 
  • Sri Lanka.  Okay, so I probably won’t get to Sri Lanka in 2015, but I’ve heard so many praises of the country that it’s been on my radar for a while now.  The beaches look incredible, so does the food, and the surfing, and the diving, and basically everything I read and hear about it.  One day! 
  • The Catskills.  This one is a little more feasible for this year, ha :)  Exploring the state of New York has been really fun—a little more difficult than road tripping around California, as I have to rely on public transit, but luckily there’s fairly accessible towns and sights from the city thanks to trains and buses.  So far I’ve been to a yoga ashram in Monroe, discovered my new favorite art museum during a weekend in Beacon, and gone hiking a few times in the state parks in the Hudson Valley.  Next up: Woodstock in the summer!
  • Kas, Turkey.  Turkey is another one of my “sometime in the next few years” places to visit.  I’ve been fascinated by the country ever since taking a political science class on the recent political history of Turkey, and island hopping on the coast combined with a few days in Istanbul sounds about perfect.  I hadn’t heard of Kas before, but it sounds like a particularly delightful place to spend some time diving, chilling, and drinking those sunset beers I’m so fond of. 

So giddy about all the travel possibilities 2015 brings, and inspired to see where it’ll take me!  (Even if it’s just returning to the NYT Travel section for some daydreams.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

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Is it too late to talk about New Year’s resolutions?  I know it’s the 10th but since we just started work on the 5th I feel like my year didn't really start until then.  I’m going to go ahead and give myself a 10-day grace period.

When I look back on 2014, I'm pretty happy with myself: I moved to New York, got a job I love, worked out every week (including going to yoga 2-3/week, a concrete goal I set!), visited Central America for the first time, met new friends and spent time with old, and generally succeeded at "making it" in New York.  Of course, there's plenty I failed at too: I hated the first job I had when I moved here, I'm kind of terrible at balancing my schedule so I get enough sleep, I abandoned photography for the first few months, and I didn't save very much money.  Hey, it's hard to be perfect here!

As I said last year, I’m kind of torn on New Year’s resolutions.  Most of them fail—and no, I’m not just being cynical—resolutions have less than a 10% success rate.  However, there is something to say about the optimism for a new year, and who am I to be negative about others’ hopes to improve themselves?  An unexamined life isn’t worth living, after all.  So while I don’t try to reinvent the wheel with my resolutions, I do enjoy the process of reflecting on last years’ goals, accomplishments, and spending time thinking of what I want from the future.  

Here’s what I’m resolving to do in 2015:

  • Improve my Spanish.  I have been talking about doing this for so long and haven’t done anything about it.  Luckily my trip to Nicaragua re-ignited my desire a bit (what’s the point of taking 10+ years of Spanish classes in school if you promptly forget it all 5 years later?), and while I was on the trip I started researching classes to take in New York.  (Sidenote: I love that there’s so many options for doing anything you want in New York.  It truly is the city of endless opportunities.)  I signed up for an 8-week session at Idlewild, which focuses on conversational Spanish.  Woohoo!  I also joined the “New York Spanish Language Meetup”, which hosts fun cultural events with people looking to learn Spanish.  Since Zack wants to move to Spain one day, he’s also motivated to improve his language skills—having a buddy always makes goals easier to accomplish!  Ahora es mi tiempo por hablar Espanol!

  • Visit 2 or 3 new countries.  Trying to make headway on my “visit 30 countries before I’m 30” goal!  I’m not getting any younger ;)  Currently on my radar: Cartagena, anywhere in Central America (maybe Honduras to go diving with Zack), somewhere warm this winter (maybe Tobago or Jamaica?), Norway due to $250 RT flights (not in the winter, ha), Eqpyt to visit family, really anywhere in Africa, ah so many places!  I could go on and on.  I want to go everywhere.

  • Get a promotion.  I love my new job and want to succeed here.  There’s tremendous opportunity for growth I want to take advantage of.  Sup career development!

  • Continue my awesome workout schedule.  I joined ClassPass this April, which allows me to take unlimited classes at the normally cost-prohibitive boutique fitness studios in New York.  When I lived in Santa Barbara, I was SO lazy about working out.  I had a yoga studio I liked, and I loved running by the beach, but most days I drove to work (which was only a mile away), sat at my desk all day, then went home and watched TV or read a book.  So I knew when I moved to New York I wanted to shed a little bit of that lazy-weight.  Although ClassPass might be a little expensive compared to other gym memberships out of NYC, it is such an amazing deal here (my 24 Hour Fitness membership costs $30/month in California, and is $80/month here, with no discernable differences in the quality of the gym or classes).  Since joining ClassPass, I’ve taken underwater cycling, yoga with a famous Brazilian guru, ballet barre, mega-former pilates, and classes at those studios you read about in the New York Times or Vogue that are famous for training actual models (one time I saw Karlie Kloss in a class!).  Anyways, I started working out a ton (sometimes 5-7 times a week, never skipping a week entirely), and I’d love to keep it up this year—which won’t be hard with the amazing classes I get to take!

Let’s see if my cynical self can accomplish any of these! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

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amanda's weekly reads 1/9

Partly because of my job, and partly because I’m a voracious reader, I consume a ton of media every day.  Normally I send off my favorite finds to my family’s list-serve, but sometimes they get a little inundated and bored.  So what's the point of having a blog if you can't share things your family doesn't even care about?? :)

^missing springtime in New York right now (as I type it's a whopping 11 degrees out )

Here's what I've been reading this week:
Penned by a sufferer of Bell’s Palsy (which paralyzes the muscles in your face), this made me reevaluate how much I rely (and take for granted) non-verbal communication, especially my smile!

Interesting article on how champagne’s public image has changed over the past 15 years, and how one company is marketing to millenials.  Made me want to pop open some bubbly!

Fun read for any other Wes Anderson fans out there: while I’ll admit I don’t know very much about cinematography, I do know I love Wes Anderson’s amazing visual style.  The Grand Budapest Hotel might have been my favorite movie this year (and definitely my favorite of all of Wes Anderson’s films!).

Short but sweet post from Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker.  I agree with #2 the most—I think it’s incredibly important to demonstrate resourceful-ness in any position.

Your Big Box Vacation (another slight oldie)
One of my favorite NY Times travel writers explores something a little less exotic: the deals offered at warehouse wholesalers.  As my family has taken a Costco vacation before (airport pickup included!) it was fun to take a look at some of the trips available.  While I'm not usually a pre-packaged vacation type of person, I understand they're quite easy & affordable for many travelers and families.  

The End of Food (an oldie from May)
As a staunch supporter of Michael Pollan's method of nutrition, I'm normally very wary of food scientists, "meal replacements", and anything marketing itself as healthy.  But I have to concede that Rob Rhineheart's dystopian and extremely utilitarian way of eating is appealing on an economical level to me: I spend at nearly $400/month on expensive organic groceries.  This program, that would give me the same nutrition, would cost $255/month.  But would it be as emotionally fulfilling as my nightly kale chopping and chicken roasting?  His comparison of pro-organic food lovers to fundamentalist Christians is also really thought-provoking to me.  I love the non-linear thinking and lifestyle choices coming out of startup culture (despite the sometimes douchey-ness that accompanies it).  

Anything else I missed this week?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

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trini-chinese chicken

The New York Times Cooking section (and app) is my new favorite cooking tool (sorry, Bon Appetit).  It comes in the form of a newsletter each weekday, wittily penned by Sam Sifton, a Senior Editor/former NYT restaurant critic/Harvard grad.  Despite his tony background, he constantly cracks me up on a near daily basis (one time he linked to a Tupac video).  I especially appreciate his interaction with readers--each time I've tweeted him, he's responded. :)

While I haven't used the app, I do use the "Recipe Box" and website as frequently as I read the newsletter (maybe every other day).  You can easily search by ingredient, cook/chef developer, ease or difficulty of the meal, by regional cuisine, or preparation manner.  Their Thanksgiving and Christmas coverage was equally fantastic, combining new and old in an interesting way for someone with a little bit of cooking/baking experience but not years of personal tradition.  Hey, NYT: you've impressed this non-print-reading millennial!  (That was your goal, right?)

Anyways, tonight I made Sam's Trini-Chinese chicken recipe, which I found by searching for a chicken marinade.  It seemed somewhat similar to the No-Fuss Jamaican Jerk chicken recipe I tried a few weeks ago, and as I'm so tempted to hop on a plane to Trinidad (sup RT flights for $250), I figured I'd try it.  Highly recommended!  (Along with the hilarious newsletter and convenient Recipe Box, should this particular meal not look as appetizing to you as it did to me.)

Trini-Chinese Chicken (photo and recipe via NYT)


8 to 10 chicken thighs, legs and wings, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds total
2 tablespoons five-spice powder
3 limes
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 2-inch knob ginger root, peeled and minced
½ cup neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
2 tablespoons sesame oil
½ cup oyster sauce
1 to 3 tablespoons Scotch-bonnet-pepper sauce, ideally Matouk’s Soca, to taste
 Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped scallions, for garnish.


  1. In a large, nonreactive bowl, toss the chicken with five-spice powder, then with the juice of 2 of the limes, the soy sauce and the ginger. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 6 hours. (I marinated overnight and added a Habanero pepper)
  2. Heat oils in a large skillet over medium-high heat. There should be at least 1/4 inch of oil in the pan. When the oil is hot, remove chicken from marinade, allowing excess marinade to drip back into the bowl, and fry, in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, turning the pieces frequently, until well browned and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce. Combine oyster sauce, a tablespoon of the Scotch-bonnet-pepper sauce and the juice of the remaining lime and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings with more hot sauce, lime juice and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Garnish with scallions and serve with white or fried rice, with a drizzle of the sauce over each piece of chicken and the remaining sauce on the side. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

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christmas in the city

Despite numerous trips to New York throughout my life (and all during different seasons), I'd never experienced a New York Christmas.  New York is pretty good at the whole Christmas thing: the storefront decorations along Fifth Avenue, ice skating, the huge tree at Rockefeller center (still confused as to the logistics of that thing, where are the decorations stored the rest of the year?), all the Christmas shows, the old-school subway cars, etc., etc.  While part of my holiday season was punctured by a tropical vacation, my boyfriend and I carved out an afternoon/evening to partake in some Christmas cheer.  We went ice skating in Central Park, where it started to lightly snow as soon as we got on the ice (which made worth the ridiculous entry fee and long wait), checked out the Rockefeller decor, and stopped in a few stores to sneak in some last-minute shopping.

While it's always nice to be home for the holidays, a little Christmas magic in New York is delightful too!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

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san juan del sur, a surfer's (and my own) paradise

After a few days in Granada, I hopped into a shuttle for a two-hour ride through rural Nicaraguan farmland to the coast.  Final stop: San Juan del Sur, a sleepy fishing village turned surfing party town, with a host of international restaurants, bars, and tanned expats to boot.  Upon arrival, I immediately vowed to never leave.

It's hard to say that one thing was a highlight of my few days there, since really, the whole weekend was a highlight.  But my accommodations, Buena Onda Backpackers (literal and figurative translation: Good Vibes Backpackers), was the cherry top of the cake.  A ten minute uphill walk from town (a nice stroll for me as I love walking thanks to NY, and also weeded out the laziest backpackers), Buena Onda exuded its name in all senses.  Dreamed, designed and built by Baba, the French owner, the guesthouse is made entirely of teak (even my sink pipe was teak!), with views overlooking the town, and enough hammocks to last a lifetime.  The room was a relative splurge for me, but the $22/night were well spent: my king sized bed, private bathroom with aforementioned sink and amazing shower, and everything else about Buena Onda had me declaring to Baba I was going to move in (I think he was a little freaked out).  Can we talk about that kitchen?!

In search of surf, I signed up for lessons as soon as I arrived in town.  A few hours, a windy truck ride, and new friends from the ride later, I was in the water and being pushed from the back for each wave (necessary for this weak-armed novice). Pleased to remember at least some of my skills from previous surf attempts in Hawaii and Orange County, I was able to stand almost every time (no need to share how small the waves were).  After several hours paddling, patiently waiting, standing, and wiping out, we hightailed back on to land and celebrated with a few Tonas while the sun set.  After dinner back in town, I shared rum & cokes with new friends and danced to old & new Enrique Inglesias.  Previous declarations of "never leaving" and "I wonder if I can change my flight" were repeated.  Can you blame me?

The next few days followed the same formula: awaking to ocean views, simple huevos rancheros for breakfast, surfing in the afternoon, Tonas and reggae dancing at sunset, and then more drinking & dancing throughout the night with new friends.  San Juan del Sur, as Enrique so eloquently puts it, "I wanna be contigo, and live contigo, and dance contigo."  Everyone needs a few days (or months, if I had it my way), of Nica's good vibes. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

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brooklyn bridge park

With lots of friends in town for NYE, we've been doing more sightseeing than usual.  Sometimes it can get a little tedious visiting the same spots over and over, and mustering up some enthusiasm for seeing it the fifth time (do I sound like a cranky New Yorker?).  But when I got a call in the middle of cleaning out my closet and re-organizing my room saying "we're outside your apartment, come downstairs right now and walk the Brooklyn Bridge with us!" I decided some fresh air would do me good. :)  After a week away in Portland, the sunset views from Brooklyn Bridge Park made me all giddy and just as enthusiastic as the out-of-towners.  (I'm sure the tequila shot helped with that too, haha.)

Photos taken with my new 14mm lens, so fun to play around with!

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