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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Review: The Nazi Officer's Wife

The great thing about traveling is the amount of time I am able to donate to uninterrupted reading.  Considering I sat on the tarmac for four hours before my plane took off for Indianapolis on Thursday, I had plenty of time to finish my latest book.  The Nazi Officer's Wife is Edith Hahn Beer's memoir of life as a "U-boat" (aka: a Jew posing as a German with false papers throughout the war).

Beer provides a unique perspective as most Holocaust stories I have read come from religious Eastern Europeans who were entrenched in their Jewish lives.  Conversely, Beer grew up in the sophisticated, secular world of Vienna, which likely made it easier to hide as a Christian.  Like many, she did what she had to do to survive in a complicated world.  Very few survivors are able to tell the story of Nazis in their natural habitat, with their guards down.  It is odd to see someone who does such awful things humanized.

I have always found Holocaust stories intriguing (albeit dismal) and if you do too, add this to your list.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gleecap:5/25 Episode

Due to my extreme Glee love (or Glove, as i now like to say), the show has officially made its way to weekly recap status, aptly named The Gleecap.  See what I did there?  I combined the words Glee and recap...kinda like what I did a second ago with Glee and love.  That's punny.  This Gleecap comes complete with a Diva-meter measuring the episode's awesomeness.  We'll start each episode at zero, award points for great moments, lines, and songs, and subtract points for song irrelevance, too much cheesiness, and overall blah-ness.  Let's dive right into this week's episode...

  • Poker Face should have been a duet with Quinn and Puck.  With the mother/daughter duo, it was a forced GaGa song that did not fit the plotline.  My biggest qualm about this half of the season is how it's more about just throwing in songs they like vs. songs that match the story.  Oddly, Poker Face's message of hiding your feelings does mesh with Quinn and Puck.  -5 for chanteuse choice, but +2 for a divalicious rendition featuring two of Broadway's greatest.  -1 because they were overly bubbly/happy while singing but devastated immediately before and after.
  • Glee clubbers walking around school all week in crazy costumes = weird, but +1 because only a diva could do it.
  • Santana has flown under the radar but recently showed off her phenomenal pipes during Like a Virgin, The Boy is Mine, and last night's Bad Romance.  +3 for this diva on the DL.  Also, one of my favorite lines since the show came back from the break came out of her mouth (meriting a +5):  
    • Rachel: (trying to talk about boy trouble) I have a question
    • Santana: Yes, you should move to Israel
  • Rachel: I need a pen.  I need a pen.  The ideeeas.  They just come to me.  +2
  • Mike O'Malley's lecture was even better than his performance in the Time Warner vs. Fios commercials.  +1 for a diva tirade.
  • Where's Jesse?  -2.  He's a divo (aka male diva, to quote an old episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen).  It's high school.  Just because you're a transfer student with a good voice doesn't mean you get to stay at home because you "feel like it" or because [more likely] you're "not essential in the episode."  Not an excuse.  That Matt kid didn't speak until last night's episode but was always at least sitting in the background
  • -3 for Kurt's room design.  Even though he's over-the-top, he's not so oblivious that he would think it's ok to decorate a super straight boy's room that way.  +1 because it led to good confrontation.
  • Idina Menzel's Funny Girl gets a -3 because it didn't have much to do with the lesson she was trying to teach her students (though we understand it was really only there for Rachel to make the mommy connection).  But +3 for finally giving her a song after four episodes.
  • +1 for Quinn's suggestion that Tina's new identity should be a computer programmer since it sorta seemed like she said that because Tina's Asian.
Total: 5-->This episode is the diva equivalent of Britney.  Her voice is nowhere near diva quality but her behavior is...well, her behavior is more nutjob than diva, making behavior a wash.  BUT she is just enough of a diva to be known occasionally by just one name.  So it was with last night's episode.  Not overly diva nor was it the best we'd seen in a while, but just diva enough to keep us interested in its shenanigans.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A+ for A+

Last night, I was lucky enough to have a sleepover with one of my old roomies from college, Michelle.  She was in town checking out NYU for grad school to help her decide between there and GW.  I would really like her in NYC with me, so please feel free to type all the reasons you dislike DC in the comments.

We didn't want to stay cooped up in the apartment so we headed to a new Thai place in the neighborhood called A+ Thai.  Located on 53rd and 2nd, the tiny restaurant has only been open two months but already seems to have a good following.  The loyal customers are probably the result of the BYOB policy.  I have mentioned before how special BYOB places are in this city and this one is exceptional because they do not charge a corkage fee.  True, it was a Monday night, but since I only have a three day week I felt entitled to a little vino.  Monday was my Wednesday.  Booya.

I can't really complain about the food.  The green salad left something to be desired.  I was happy to find fried tofu on the top, but it was soggy and better off pushed to the side.  The rock shrimp were nothing out of the ordinary but good.  I liked that they put the sauce on the side so my shrimp weren't slathered with the spicy mayo.  The entree was easily the best part of the meal.  My pad see ew had great flavor and large chunks of meat and veggies.  Overall, it was solid neighborhood Thai food, but the free corkage BYOB made it atypical and amazing.  The service was also awesome.  The owner himself served our dinner and was unbelievably nice.  In case you go looking for him, his name is Peter and when he talks to you, he actually seems interested.  Refreshing.

Choc it to Me

I LOVE customization.  The whole DIY thing makes me feel accomplished and unique.  Let's face it, I'm a busy gal who doesn't have a ton of time to craft a set of cutlery out of recycled bottles like Martha Stewart, so I like a little help here and there.  You get me started and I'll make it happen. 

That is why I love Mix My Granola.  I've never been able to find the perfect trail mix but don't want to go to twelve stores buying all the ingredients to make it myself.  Almost all of the store-bought versions include a superfluity of nuts.  I like nuts fine, but I don't usually like them in things like brownies, ice cream, or trail mix.  This site allows me to pick all the items I want in my granola (omitting the nuts) and ships it to me.  It has served me well for the past two years.

Life just got better.  Granola is cool, but if you want something a little less Widespread Panic and a little more Lady GaGa, you have to work with chocolate.  Brilliant!  Go to Chocomize and see for yourself.  You can add dried fruit, spices, nuts, and candy.  The options are virtually endless.  I recommend a little cayenne pepper for some spiciness and dried raspberry and mango for a sweet tang.  Caramel and sea salt is a new favorite combo.  They even have strawberry Gushers.  Remember Gushers?  They were the difinitive candy of my childhood.  I can't wait to become a little Willy Wonkette and build the perfect candy bar.  I can already hear those catchy Oompa Lumpa songs.  

Monday, May 24, 2010

Taco Town

One of the best/funniest books of essays I have ever read is My Custom Van: And 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays that Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face by Michael Ian Black.  Included in this hilarious book is an essay about a taco party that will be "f*ing awesome."  I am reminded of this because on Saturday, I attended Jen's birthday bash, which included a taco bar that was, indeed, f*ing awesome.  The table was covered with fish, carnitas, hanger steak, and about five toppings so everyone could customize their perfect taco.  The food was perfectly seasoned/marinated and the DIY aspect created a fun atmosphere.  This was the second party I have been to that featured a taco bar, leading me to believe that it is edging out Dippin' Dots as the wave of the future.

The tacos paired nicely with me and Matt's box of Franzia wine.  Everyone laughed at us; but by the end of the party, I saw lots of people putting their cups under the box's spout (not sure how, but that phrase sounds sorta dirty).  It may have taken a layer of enamel off my teeth, but I look at that as a positive - I won't have to spend money on whitening strips.  Who's laughing now?!

So I am hoping you take away the following from this post:
  • Read My Custom Van.  However, I urge you to lay down a towel because milk may spew from your nose as you read due to excessive laughter...assuming milk is your drink of choice and I'm not quite sure why it would be.
  • Host a taco party.  Your friends will love you.  Hint: do it all from scratch.  Though I have professed my love of Taco Bell in the past, you should really pull out all the stops when hosting one of these get-togethers. 
  • Become the life of the party by toting a box of Franzia.  Ladies, it may not be small enough to fit in your handbag, but carrying that box screams fashion statement.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Kids Do the Darndest Things

My Mommy likes to say my Terrible Twos lasted 'til I was four.  While I may have had my own personal timeout chair in pre-school (really, one of the other children pointed out the timeout chair to her mother and said "That's Tess' chair"), I never did anything this bad:

Shit My Kids Ruined is a new favorite blog that should make my parents feel a little bit better about their offspring.  After scanning the blog, Mark and I look downright angelic.

Along with going to Dylan's during a child's birthday party, this site ranks as some of the best birth control out there.

One if by Land, Two if by Sea, Six Satisfied Diners

I'm a little late in reporting this one, but I could not forget about it altogether because my dinner at One if by Land, Two if by Sea was truly unforgettable.  Make sure you've got deep pockets for this one because it will set you back a small mortgage, but it was delicious.  We were celebrating Dana's Columbia Masters, so the Smiles fam pulled out all the stops. 

When I consulted Zagats before heading to the restaurant, I read that it is the place to go to pop the question (don't get your panties in a wad - I am not engaged).  I was happy to find that the West Village spot was not syrupy with the romance vibe, which would be a tad much for a Monday night group dinner.  Instead I found Aaron Burr's former carriage house to be a warm, unique setting.  I must admit I only really remember Aaron Burr from the original "Got Milk" commercial, but I thought the historic ambiance was nice.

There is no such thing as à la carte.  There is a chef's tasting menu ($105 or $160 with wine pairings) or a 3 course prix fixe ($78).  I opted for the prix fixe but then came the tough part of choosing my courses.  In the end, I went with the following:
  • Appetizer: Trio of housemade sausages (venison, rabbit, and pheasant) served with pesto rice a la plancha, caramelized red onion, and smoked blueberry sauce.  I kept going back and forth trying to pick my favorite sausage but decided it was pretty much a wash because they were all delicious and the creamy rice and sauce rounded out the dish perfectly.  Sausage also seemed like an appropriate choice for the old English hunting feel of the restaurant.
  • Entrée: Roasted rack of lamb with saffron gnocci, fiddlehead ferns (a new fave), wild ramps, fava beans, and crispy mint.  Crazy good.  The lamb was cooked perfectly and was not overpowered by the accompaniments.  I also tried a bite of Dave's lobster ravioli (my Mommy ordered the same and deemed it a hit), which was awesome and unlike any lobster ravioli I have tried before.  Lumb lobster meat versus the typically minced/blended made a huge difference.
  • Dessert:  Almond milk panna cotta with sable breton, strawberry tapioca, strawberry soda, lychee sorbet, fresh strawberries, and fresh lychee.  I was a little worried about this one because while I love almonds, I hate almond flavoring.  But when the waitress proclaimed this the chef's recommendation, I had to try.  SO glad I went with the suggestion.  The creamy panna cotta was juxtaposed with the fizzy soda and tapioca bubbles for a little shindig in my mouth.  After the heavier app and entrée, the lighter dessert was a great finish.  Again, Dave and my mother ordered the same thing and their oohs and ahhs were enough to guide my fork to their plates for a rich and delicious peanut butter fondant cake filled with dulce de leche and served with root beer gelé, root beer sorbet, and peanut brittle.
Yes, it's pricey, but at least the prices are set so you know exactly what you're getting into.  There's no surprise of your date ordering a $50 entrée forcing you to get the salad to ensure the bill is covered.  This is definitely a place for the parents, so if they beg and plead to go somewhere fancy in a cool neighborhood (I'm sure they'd really have to twist your arm), they will definitely like this one.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dining at Dovetail

I have a very good reason for not blogging recently: my parents were in town!!!  Not sure if you know this, but my parents are incredibly cool, so when they're here, they receive every ounce of my attention.  We pretty much did everything there was to do, so let me start at the beginning. 

Friday began with the mandatory Ess-a-Bagel breakfast and then it was off to Hoboken so my Daddy could check out the Carlo's Bakery (as featured on TLC's The Cake Boss, his new obsession).  The baked goods were yummy and cheap.  Thumbs up to both the bakery and Hoboken itself, which I had no idea was such a cool area.  After scarfing down our conolis, we hopped back on the Path for a stroll around Chelsea and a quick bite at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar.  Some may say this place is overrated, but I'm a big fan.  There are 7 different dumplings to choose from, each paired with a dipping sauce.  For less than $9, you get an order of dumplings (6 come to an order) and your choice of salad (about 5 different dressings) or soup (4 or 5 choices).  It was just enough food to tide us over until our Socarrat Paella feast later that night.  The wait was long but worth it, as always.  I have now tried 4 of the 8 paellas and determined the best are the carne (which I tried the first time) and the pescado y mariscos, a new fave from this trip that was full of formerly sea-dwelling creatures like fish, shrimp, clams, mussels, squid.  After talking up Socarrat Paella so much, I was nervous no one would find it as amazing as I do.  Thankfully, everyone loved it and my restaurant rep remained in tact. 

We worked up an appetite after checking out the King Tut exhibit at the Discovery Times Square.  Before I go any further, I urge you to go see it.  the artifacts look like they were made yesterday and the Egyptian culture is so interesting.  You may feel like a tourist walking around Times Square, but that should be no reason to miss out on this exhibit.  These antiquities have not been in New York for 30 years, which means this is kind of a big deal. 

Anyway, back to the food.  I felt the need to maintain the awesome restaurant streak so I made sure to line up a winner on Saturday night.  Dovetail proved to be exactly that (and not just because it was so close to the Lincoln Center theater we were heading to afterward).  I have wanted to try this restaurant for quite some time.  I have heard it described as the restaurant that catapaulted the fine dining scene in the Upper West Side when it opened about two and a half years ago.  The small portions arrived with large price tags, but it was worth it for such innovative flavor combinations.  Daddy got the six course chef's tasting menu, which included a fois gras that was seared to perfection and served atop a graham cracker purée and huckleberry gelé.  Mommy ordered the crab salad and halibut and Dave got the ravioli and sirloin with beef cheek lasagna.  Theirs looked good, but I can attest that mine tasted great.  I started with an onion velouté (velvety chilled soup) that was heavy on the cucumber (one of my favorite flavors) and had slivers of grapes and onions at the bottom.  For my entrée, I chose the pistachio crusted duck with beets and a sweet bacony side.  It was amazing.  So much flavor.  The desserts were not to be forgotten.  We had an Irish cream trifle, a strawberry dish with white chocolate soup, and a banana bread pudding.  Dovetail easily met my expectations and convinced my parents that we may need to spend a little more time in the UWS.

So I may be leaving out a few details from the long weekend, but that's because I'm still reeling from the amazing time that was had by all.  Eating amazing food with my amazing parents is second to none.  My only regret is that I didn't take any food pics for the blog.  I guess that just means I'll have to go back and enjoy the meals all over again!  Now I just need to start planning the restaurants when they come back to visit in September!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cheese, Please

Cheese = Best food product EVER.

One of the greatest weekend activities is heading to Murray's Cheese in the West Village to pick out some fromage.  When I found out Dave had never experienced the utopia that is Murray's, I insisted we go that very second.  We chose 5 cheeses and rounded out the platter with a baguette, prosciutto, and spicy sopresatta.  Absolutely everything in Manhattan delivers - even the liquor store around the corner- so when it was too chilly to munch on our goodies in Central Park, I had my neighborhood wine buddy send over a Chardonnay and we had a little picnic in my apartment.

If you haven't been to Murray's, go.  If you've gone, go again.  The cheesemongers really know their stuff and provided great recommendations that I will remember thanks to the handy, detailed descriptions on the labels used to wrap the cheese (that I save for future reference).  By the way, I love that word.  I would love even more to reply "I'm a cheesemonger" when someone asks me what I do for a living. 

Our spread wasn't exactly cheap ($58), but when you consider our massive order that consisted of five 1/2 lb blocks of cheese plus all the accoutrements, we made out like bandits.  One of the huge hunks of cheese came to less than $4!  Now that spring has sprung, I encourage you to compile a picnic basket and take it to the park for a relaxing afternoon.  The leftovers make for some phenomenal pasta dishes. 

Pop Goes My Heart

First of all, yes, I just quoted the cheesy Drew Barrymore/Hugh Grant movie, Music and Lyrics, for this post title.  Secondly, I can't believe it's been a full week since my last post - sorry to have kept y'all waiting!

Let me take you back a few days to Cinco de Mayo.  Usually, I'm all about celebrating Cinco de Drinko by guzzling margs, but since this year the holiday fell on the eve of my 7 AM bootcamp class, I decided to pass.  Eschewing all Mexican-related activities, on my way home, I stopped for a non-festive meal at Pop Burger.  Considering it's Burger Month, you could still say I was doing some celebrating. 

$6.75 gets you an order of 2 sliders that arrive all cozy in their little box.  Two sliders may not sound like much, but they're large sliders, so trust me when I tell you you'll be satisfied but not stuffed.  They take the guesswork out of ordering because the burgers already come topped with cheese, lettuce, special sauce, and a perfectly sized tomato.  I ordered fries on the side (which necessitated an extra side of special sauce), bringing my total order to $10.50.  They gave me a huge cup of crispy fries that I couldn't even finish.  I was impressed that the burgers were still pink, which is not easily accomplished in such small patties.  Good portion size and reasonable price makes Pop Burger a good standby.  I wouldn't necessarily run across town, but I won't deny that I am easily beckoned inside on my way home from work.  If you're ever cruising the Apple store and want a quick bite, drop the iPad and veer to Pop Burger.  Late night is supposed to be a pretty good scene so that's always something to look forward to.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Love the Smell of Burger in the Morning

Typically, you use a scented candle to cover up kitchen odors resulting from the latest fish or burger experiment.  But what if the smell wafting from that candle was burger, that of White Castle specifically?  If you're most people, you are disgusted...if you're me, you're intrigued.

Though I have never been to a White Castle, I hear it's the same as Krystal and I LOOOVE Krystal.  I especially love the way they spell Krystal, like a kind-hearted stripper.  The tiny burgers melt in your mouth and watching them hand your sackful over the counter (that would be 24 of the tiny burgers) is like being handed the mother of all goody bags at a birthday party.

The candle was created to honor the 18th anniversary of burger month.  HOLD THE PHONE.  There's an entire month devoted to burgers?  I must celebrate, and I think this candle is the perfect way to commemorate the holiday.  For only $10, the candle is a deal - a small price to pay to enjoy the sweet scent of burger.  If you're lucky enough to count yourself as one of my friends, you may find this in your Christmas stocking.

Monday, May 3, 2010

5 Guys and Pies

Most of y'all have probably heard of 5 Guys Burgers and that's because they're pretty darn good.  It's no frills, but there are several toppings to choose from - all free.  It's refreshing to grab a burger and not have to pay extra for the grilled mushrooms and onions that I believe are vital to a good meat/cheese/bun combo.  5 Guys was the perfect lunch to tote to the beach this weekend for the first warm weekend of the season.  Even more perfect was seeing the bulletin board of thank you notes by local kids.  Photos of my two faves are below:

After laying out (which in my case means getting a slight sunburn on my Casper-like legs) and digesting my massive bacon cheeseburger, I had to make a stop for dessert.  Tucked in the corner of a small shopping center in Norwalk, CT is Michele's Pies.  After seeing the walls plastered with blue ribbons, I had a feeling we were in for something special.  So did Bobby Flay, considering he chose Michele's Pies as his opponent in the November 2009 pumpkin pie throwdown.  Flay may have won the battle, but judging by the awards on the wall, Michele is winning the war.  We couldn't decide which to try, so we got 4:
  • Banana Cream
  • Tiramisu
  • Banana Split
  • Pear Apple Cranberry
I am weird and don't actually like whipped cream, so I rallied for the pear apple cranberry, which had a crust topping instead of whipped cream shell like the other 3.  My pie was delish, and if you took off the whipped cream, I thought the banana split was pretty fab.  Dave, on the other hand, loves whipped cream so he had a tough time deciding, but I think his fave was the banana cream.

My brother, Mark, and I are trying to cross all the NYC Throwdown restaurants off our list whenever they come to visit, but I just had to try this one without him.  Sorry, Bub.  At only $8, a 5 inch mini pie is the perfect dessert for two people, so if you happen to be in the CT neighborhood, it's definitely time to give Michele's Pies a try. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review: My Horizontal Life

Anyone who has read or watched Chelsea Handler knows she is no girly girl, a fact prominently displayed through this collection of essays depicting all of her sexcapades. It's rare (and great) to read this kind of bawdy humor coming from a woman. Each story was funnier than the last. I don't want to give anything away because I want you to be as shocked and amused as I was when reading each tale. This is a must-read for single girls or those wanting to relive their wild single days. No wild days behind you? Then it's time to live vicariously through Chelsea Handler.


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