Month: September 2011

What I’m reading

Part of being a good writer is being a good reader. These past few months I’ve been doing a lot of reading, but I have done so in a very spastic fashion. Let me tell you all of the books/publications I have been in the middle of for the past few months:

Waiter Rant: Currently 100 pages in, this “Front of the house version of Kitchen Confidential” is everything I need on a bad day at the restaurant. Written by the Waiter, whose real identity is unknown to me because I have almost forgotten everything I’ve read, is a balls-out confession of what it’s like to be a professional waiter. And I thought I was the only one who couldn’t believe certain clientele’s requests, last minute restaurant emergencies or other ass-backwards ways of surviving the “business.” This read usually elicits a chuckle of fond recognition of certain situations, but more often than not has reminded me that I like to spend my off time AWAY from the restaurant, not reading about its contrived nature for fun.

Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge: Left at my house by accident by a friend visiting this summer, I’m 95 pages in. This is a beach read. Since I haven’t been to the beach in sometime, it’s obvious this one’s collecting dust on my nightstand. It started out fun and cheeky; practical and whimsical observations on how to live a bohemian lifestyle and why. It continues on in a cornball fashion, though, reiterating certain stereotypes about the alternative culture that I don’t necessarily agree with or find cute or funny (ie; the Bohemian so craves rounded edges to life that he/she never dusts, but since he/she smokes so much, they always paint their apartment before moving out. What?) This one might be retired to the hokey graveyard. Or I can do the right thing and return it to my friend (who admittedly doesn’t miss it much, either).

A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines: Ah, Anthony Boudain, you complete me. I needed SOMETHING to read of yours since I’ve gracefully finished Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw and the Nasty Bits. I figured another collection of essays would be right up my alley. I’m somewhere in the middle of the book and somewhere in the middle of an essay about Mr. Bourdain’s time in Morocco, right when he begins lamenting over and admitting to being very uncomfortable with certain aspects of making television. I have put this one down far too long and it’s time to pick it back up. Plus, this guy makes me laugh harder than anyone.

Kingdom of Fear: Hunter Thompson, you are my hero. I just finished this one today after YEARS of on-again off-again reading. I think it took me five years to read this book. Every time I pick it up, I put it down. This year it got serious, though. I was halfway through with it and then, as if a sudden star burst of energy only identifiable as complete insanity overtook me, it was suddenly time to finish what I started with the Doctor. I’ve read only a few of his books and I look forward to getting started on others’ of his. I think he might be one of my greatest inspirations, a drugged-up genius too crazy for his own good. But at the end of the day he’s funny, poignant, interesting and RIGHT. Stand for no injustices! Buy the ticket and take the trip! Live fast, die young, always embrace the weird and face fear with a sense of fun and reckless abandon. Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, create your own brand of journalism, name it Gonzo because it sounds fun, get caught up in the lunacy of your own mind’s twisted fantasies and get paid the big bucks do it. RIGHT ON!

Creative Nonfiction, Food Edition: This was an impulse buy from a store closing sale at Border’s. I have only read one essay in this magazine so far and have had a hard time feigning interest in it. After not being thoroughly impressed with the publication (seeing as I haven’t even had enough piqued interest to delve into other stories), I have decided NOT to subscribe and perhaps spend money on The Lucky Peach, a new publication on food with guest writers like Anthony Bourdain and David Chang.

National Geographic Traveler Magazines: I jumped into the deep end and figured that if this is my career of choice, I better start reading the pros. I have YET to be disappointed and I’m sure I never will be. Every month or so I get a new copy delivered to my door and what a treat it always is. So far, I have taken a river tubing trip based on a recommendation I saw in Traveler, read a spread about my friend Kelly’s hometown in Easton, Maryland, learned about the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal (inspiring me to travel to Montreal myself a few weeks ago) and have torn out countless beautiful photos for my wall.

Cocaine’s Son: Bought at the same time I purchased Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter, this book is NEARLY done, but I gave up on it. The author comes off as pompous, spoiled and whiny. I grew tired of him incessantly complaining about how his father got high and wronged him. Instead of taking proactive steps to mend his relationship with his dad, he shut down, crossed his arms and “HMMPHED” his way out of contact with his cokehead father. Want to read a better father/son relationship doomed by substance abuse? Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City draws far deeper conclusions from a hybrid of complex imagery and form shifting (a whole chapter is comprised of slang terms for the word “drunk.” Poetic and brilliant)

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A summer read borrowed from a friend and just finished yesterday. It’s a philosophy book written by none other than Alan Watts, a brilliant man who’s penned many philosophy and religious books said to be translations of the philosophies of Zen and Buddhism. A fantastic, quick read (would have been quicker had I not lost the book behind my bed for 2 months!) I’m glad I finally got to finish!

Reviewing this list has shown me that I’m a chronic book non-finisher. That needs to improve. I have made a point to finish what I’ve started (unless I refuse under grounds that the book is so crumby I’d rather not proceed) before beginning a new book. Needless to say, I have to finish half of this list before I start the handfuls of others that await me. What are you reading? 
 “If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” — John Waters

Nothing Little about Eataly

My trip to New York City last week rocked, period. End of statement. As you read, I visited my friend Rachel and the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy. This was of course after a trip to Eataly, Mario Batali’s mammoth indoor Italian marketplace. If you haven’t been, go there. Now. It will change your life. Below, find a list of 5 things I loved about Eataly.

1. Meat, anyone?
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a girl with a little meat on her bones, am I right? Far from vegetarian, I scour the world over for meat: cured, brined, pulled, confit, roasted, toasted, grilled, you name it. Eataly did not disappoint. If soppressata could talk, it would say, “I love you, Jill. Eat me.” Hey, no problem, you delicious Italian sausage, you. And maybe I’ll snag a bite of your friend prosciutto while I’m at it. Pick your spot at the salami bar and get your taste on!

2.  Plates of pasta
My, what an extensive and impressive spread of pastas you have, Eataly! The glowing deli case illuminates some old favorites and newly discovered finds simultaneously. Gnocchi? Don’t mind if I do, so long as I could save room for Tagliolini, Pea Raviolis and Fettucce Romane. Never heard of half of these? Neither have I, but that’s the beauty of Eataly, you see. You can get next to ANYTHING from any region of Italy, all under one roof!

3. One word: Gelato
There’s nothing quite like quieting your insatiable sweet tooth. What better way to do it than with a scoop of homemade gelato in a little waffle cone? Damn! I could have walked the aisles of Eataly forever given enough chocolate chip cookie gelato.

4. Bread and cheese

Perfect lunch

I have had to lump these into one category because I just can’t bear to leave out number 5. There is an entire CORNER of Eataly dedicated to Focaccia bread alone. What more do I have to do other than reach my arms through the computer screen, grab you by the neck and shake until you understand how awesome that is? It’s said that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Wrong. It’s focaccia. Not to mention cheese. Sorry lactose-intolerants; pass the stinky stuff this way! I made out like a bandit for lunch: a slice of Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago and Gorgonzola dolce later (all for $11, by the way!), I was in a cheese coma.

5. Birreria
Oh, the rooftop restaurant. I hardly knew you existed, but when I arrived, via elevator, only to see the Empire State Building as the backdrop to my microbrews and cheese plate lunch, it was then I wondered if I had died and gone to heaven. Casks of wine line the bar, and a friendly and knowledgeable bar staff  lets you try any beer they have on tap before committing to a pint. My particular bartender hooked me up because it was my birthday. I was able to sample tons of different beers and somehow even stumbled out of there with a few shots of tequila in my system. This restaurant’s a no-brainer. You just show up and they do the rest, unleashing you into the night feeling pleasantly fed and happy.

San Gennaro Festival

It’s my 25th birthday and I’m walking, seemingly aimlessly (although I know what awaits, just not exactly where) through the streets of lower Manhattan with my longtime best friend Rachel. We spend red lights at crosswalks breathlessly catching up on each others’ lives as we do every few months or so. A little drunk and tired from an afternoon excursion at Eataly, Mario Batali’s indoor Italian marketplace, has left me lethargic but eager and hungry for a real meal. A left turn here, a right turn there– watch out for the taxi!….and enter San Genarro Festival on Mulberry Street in Little Italy.

85th Annual San Gennaro Festival, NYC 2011

This is the 85th year of the festival, but my first time here and it’s surreal. The fest goes on for blocks and blocks, with overhead Christmas lights twinkling under a spread of endless red green and white booths. The first order of business is to make a lap, take it all in, and THEN commit to a food.

Enjoying some spicy sausage

Booth after booth of sausage and pepper stands greet me. Someone is mincing fresh garlic in infomercial-like fashion on a serrated clay plate; the smell intoxicates me. When my friend Rachel inquires how long the booth will stay open, as to not make any serious monetary commitments at this exact moment, the woman says they will shut down earlier than the normal 11 p.m. “The crowd gets drunk and rowdy. We don’t like dealing with them.” A spread of jewelry, black light t-shirt and gelato stands later, Rachel and I commit to a hot Italian sausage sandwich with peppers, onions and broccoli rabe. It’s magnificent and everything I’d hoped for out of the iconic Little Italy.

No street fair is complete without shenanigans. Rachel grabs me by the hand and pulls me into a nook I recognize as a make-shift salon alongside a gelato stand. Perplexed at first, it dawns on me that her and I would soon be donning feather hair extensions. After about 10 minutes and a painless experience, her and I both walk away from the stand with eccentric, cute feather strands hanging from our heads, thanks to our friend the gelato scooper. These Italians really are a jack of all trades.

Kept alive through a miracle of science

While perusing the many booths and taking the scene in, Rachel and I discover what is practically the coolest thing I’ve ever seen: A real, live freak show exhibit. You can’t make this stuff up. Signs are plastered all around a Winnebago trailer advertising 50 cent looks at the incredible, living headless woman. We absolutely could not pass it up! Admission paid to the freaky carnie, her and I glide our way through the turnstile, eager for our look at the headless woman. Signs warn, “Oxygen in use- No smoking!” and we are stunned to see a real, live headless woman. “Is she a robot?” we wonder until she moves so realistically we are convinced she really is a living, breathing? headless woman. No one said any of this would make sense.

Our next stop is a stint watching a tribute to the Rat Pack perform. Frank Sinatra is on stage doing his best rendition of “Summer Wind” while Sammy Davis Jr. dances nearby. A slightly drunk Dean Martin flubs his way through some classics and  Sammy is a little tone deaf, but it makes the experience that much more authentically fun and hilarious. Rachel and I sway back and forth in our chairs, dreaming of the old days we didn’t even live through, intoxicated by Italian love songs and Old Blue Eyes’ charm. Rachel gets pulled on stage for a duet with Frank and does a bit of a dance number, making her a few bucks from pleased audience members.

We leave and take the money Rachel made tap-dancing her way through unknown lyrics to buy an assortment of cannolis. We stroll down Mulberry street watching couples arm in arm, passing the best authentic Italian restaurants in the city, if not country, eating our pistachio cannolis and talking of old times together. We’re having fun. The merriment abounds and San Gennaro Festival is everything I’d hoped it to be.

25 Things

A year and a half ago, when I was 23, I wrote a post in my old blog called “25 Things I want to do before I turn 25.” Considering that tomorrow is my 25th birthday, I figured I would revisit the list, see what I accomplished and to what extent and what I slacked on. Below first find the original list, and following find a short explanation in bold of where each goal stands today.

1. Quit smoking  
 Miraculously, I quit 5 months ago.

2. Purchase a new car  
 Still rockin’ the VW Beetle…

3. Have a steady, full-time job  
I do work full-time, steadily. The restaurant is definitely NOT my career, though.

4. Fall in love
I think this was meant to mean a person. I have not fallen in love with anyone. I have fallen in lust with a few people. But I have fallen in love with certain places, sights and sensations.

5. Finally lose that extra weight
For the first time in all my life, for the last year or so, I have been VERY happy with my figure. I could use to lose a few more pounds but it’s not THAT important to me anymore.

6. Feel confident being self-sufficient
This is an on-going goal. Moving out on my own has definitely helped.

7. Quit worrying about money so much

8. Become a better listener
I believe I’ve developed as a listener.

9. Entertain at home more 
Absolutely accomplished.

10. Learn to cook a few signature dishes
Chiles rellenos anybody? How about Pork Roast? I can also cook a mean Pad Thai!

11. Take care of my appearance better 
I have actually decided with my appearance that less is more. I have taken care of myself by being less-excessive.

12. Go on at least 3 or 4 vacations  
Florida Keys, Las Vegas, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Vermont, Montreal….

13. Quit dreading and start embracing a career
Getting there…

14. Find out what I’m really good at 
Hm. I have figured this out somewhat, but this will be another on-going battle

15. Move out  

16. Develop my own grown-up persona  
Getting there…

17. Make new friends, grow closer with current ones 

18. Visit my sister in Vermont 
Done, and hopefully going back one day! It’s beautiful there!

19. Give up on trying to get a tan 

20. Buy a vinyl record player
Didn’t buy one, but acquired one through a friend. I’m a vinyl junkie now with a little bit of a collection, actually!

21. Quit feeling bad about things I figuratively and literally lack
I have gotten MUCH better in this department. I have learned to handle rejection and brace optimism.

22. Develop as a writer 
Absolutely accomplished. I was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I write freelance for the community newspaper, maintain a blog and pitch as often as I can.

23. Spend more time in the city 
Well, at the time this was written, I think the “city” referred to Chicago, but I now live in and spend lots of time in Philadelphia.

24. Learn as much as I can about my family and relatives
Again, another on-going goal. Once you get older, though, you find out more and more.

25. Ask lots of questions..learn, learn, learn 
Always. I have done a lot of this lately and will continue to do so. It’s the only way to discover.

There you have it. I am happy with the list of goals I initially made and happy with how I accomplished each one in my own way.

Hear, hear! Beer, here!

Nicknamed the “smallest big town” in America, Burlington, Vermont is full of pleasant surprises that make this little place a bangin’ destination. It doesn’t hurt that Burlington is chock full of awesome breweries in and around the city. Below are some that I visited for tasting and touring.

1. Vermont Pub & Brewery, 144 College Street, Burlington, Vermont:

Saison d’Automne was the best

This was an awesome last-minute lunch find. Walking through downtown Burlington, I noticed that a lot of the nearby restaurants were pricey. That wasn’t going to do it for two gals on a budget. Turning the corner, a bit put off by our culinary choices, we stumbled upon Vermont Pub & Brewery and were immediately won over. Sandwiches ranging from 5-8 bucks and $4 pints of hyper-local microbrewed beers? Sold! My sister and I shared a sampler of 4 different beers for only $4 and we were already feeling toasty afterward.  We also shared a Vermont cheese platter for a very reasonable $7 which included seven different cheeses, apples and crackers. Hell yes. What’s more is that the menu is designed to help you pair your favorite brews with your favorite foods. You can’t go wrong when the place you’re eating at offers good eats for cheap and spells it all out for you upfront. I would definitely go back.

Beer tasting flight: half gone…literally

2. Magic Hat Brewery, 5 Bartlett Bay Road South Burlington, Vermont: 

 As if one brewery in a day wasn’t enough, my sister and I went over to Magic Hat Brewery for a tour. We went on a Friday at 5 p.m., the last tour of the day which was great because we were able to take our time and ask questions rather than be hurried along for the next group’s turn. The inside of Magic Hat looks like the way I would like my house to look around Halloween time…or all year long. Funky decor, fun souvenirs, odd phrases and paintings all over the walls, and most importantly, a long bar with 8-10 beers on tap at all time make this “Artifactory” worth the visit alone. You can sample beers and then take the free tour of the brewery which includes a short video, a walk through the plant, and a lesson on how to brew beer from start to finish. At the end you can get a “Growler” of your favorite beer to take with you for 8 bucks. Magic Hat’s #9 was my potion. What will yours be?

Trapp Family Lodge

3. The Trapp Family Lodge Brewery, 700 Trapp Hill Road, Stowe, Vermont:

 Have you ever seen The Sound of Music? The family whose life’s legacy IS the sound of music owns and operates this mountaintop resort in Stowe, Vermont, skiing central of the northeast. What a beautiful place to stumble upon on a rainy afternoon! Inspired by the family’s Austrian roots, this resort boasts beautiful villas, and even more beautiful views of the mountains. Not to mention, the resort plans activities every single day for visitors to partake in, whether it be a fly-fishing lesson, an excursion to meet and greet Vermont cows or a private cellar wine-tasting (what we came for). Before our wine tasting, though, we were recommended to visit the resort’s brewery for a quick beer. I ordered the Trapp Vienna Amber which was a great lager. Stepping onto the deck for a quick mug of Austrian-inspired lager while taking in all the scenery made me fall in love with Vermont instantly.

There you have it. Three Vermont Breweries down, 18 to go.

The best of street performing

Since the inception of this trip, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some of the best and most interesting street performers. Below are a few videos I’ve captured of all the fun:

1. Mr. One-Man-Band on Church Street in downtown Burlington, Vermont:

Next is a woman on Avenue du Mont Royal in Montreal, Quebec. She is standing on and playing a makeshift/homemade upright bass. When the string snaps, she continues to sing. After the video ends, she fixes her instrument and continues on with the performance. After all, the show must go on:

 Last, and certainly not least is the Tam-Tam performers on the east side of Mount Royal, the mountain the city of Montreal is so famously named after. In the summers, people gather to the park to hear the drum players do their thing. Anyone is allowed to join in and drums are sold in lots of neighborhood shops nearby. A place where old, young, hippies, business-types, babies, travelers, freaks and transients abound, everyone comes together for hours of dancing, marijuana smoking and general jubilee. The atmosphere is calm, yet exciting, and the energy level only increases as the eight-hour event continues into sunset. The tam-tams are a tradition started in the 1970s and have continued every Sunday until present day. One can hardly describe the ambiance of this event without wholeheartedly cheapening it. Rest assured that an event this liberal and free-spirited would not likely take place on the central mountain top of any U.S. city. Not to mention, the forest in which people hike, lie around and generally relax (similar to New York’s Central Park, and actually designed by the same person, Frederick Law Olmsted) is full of open-air bong-smokers, live action role-players, families, hypnotists, starving artists, picnic-goers and bike riders. It was quite apparent that I was not in the U.S. anymore. What a lovely park in a wonderful city. The best Sunday I’ve ever seen:

And one last one for good measure:

Greetings from Vermont!

I arrived in Vermont yesterday after a…well, let’s say major snafu. I missed my bus to Boston and to Burlington, so I was faced with the monumental alternative of driving. With my hands tied and little choice in the matter, I fueled up on the extra sleep I needed (what caused me to miss my bus in the first place was oversleeping), packed my car and head out on the open road. A beautiful drive and a real chance to see ‘God’s Country.’

Self Portrait- Lake George, New York

Let it be known that Lake George was an astounding and beautiful discovery and just the change-up I needed after a boring through-New York drive. It was like stumbling into the Northern Woods of Wisconsin, but with mountains. NY-9N N follows along mountainous roads all around the massive lake. I was totally in the sticks when I jumped out to catch this shot. When I closed my car door, I heard an echo. I knew in some sense of the word I had made it.

My car, the VW Beetle on the Ferry to Vermont

I can say with certainty that my car has been to many places, but never on a ferry across a lake to get into a seemingly mystical, magical place called Vermont. It was a short, fun and most importantly free ride over lake Champlain. Since the bridge that connects New York to Vermont is still being built, slated to open sometime late this year, people must use this ferry for the daily commutes. Fun for me, a pain in the ass for them, I’m sure.

You’re beautiful at sunset, Vermont

Upon arriving into town and meeting up with my sister, we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner of Indian food and spent the evening drinking, catching up and painting records. I could think of worse ways to spend an evening.

Today it’s a tour of Magic Hat Brewery, downtown Burlington, the lakefront and some sort of going-out debauchery later. Until later, my friends.