Sunday, October 31, 2010

maple sugar highs

Happy Halloween, friends! I hope you enjoyed celebrating this past weekend. 

My first memorable post-grad Halloween was a success. I mingled with the friends I'd missed, I danced my nights away, and I managed to have a fantastic holiday without being the official photographer. I was a shark, by the way :).
Nevertheless, I still wasn't feeling quite as festive as usual. I blame it on the fact that this upcoming week is a big one. So big, in fact, that what it brings about may very well impact at least the next year of my life both professionally and personally... and in great ways, I hope. 
In between preparing for it all, I finally roasted an acorn squash. I say finally, not because I've never done it before, but because it is one of the things I love most about autumn, one of the things I couldn't wait to do when I got back from roadtripping, and one of the many sweet recipes that I appreciate so much more than any piece of Halloween candy. There, I said it ;). The method of my madness is based on a recipe from the gluten-free goddess.

Roasted Maplacorn Squash
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Carefully cut a deep green acorn squash in half. De-seed.
  3. Pat the inner surfaces with real butter or Earth Balance. Sprinkle a pinch of brown sugar in the center of each half. 
  4. Place the squash halves in a baking pan and drizzle with pure maple syrup on both sides of each.
  5. Pour some water in the pan to keep the squash from drying out/sticking.
  6. Roast the squash in the oven for about an hour.
  7. Make sure it's tender. Add sea salt, extra maple syrup (and even some almond butter) to taste.
  8. Enjoy all that is this delectable fall bounty alongside a large green salad.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Picture this: It's 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. I'm sitting at a diner in the Meatpacking District with two friends. I'd just spent the past few hours pretending like I belonged in that club scene for one of their 23rd birthdays. A group of "older than 23" guys walk in, one is wearing a crown and places it atop my head. After a few minutes of conversation, I learn that he is getting married in Paris. And before long, one of the men from his bachelor party invited me to be his date.
It's probably not going to happen. But, as I was telling one of my best friends on the phone the next day she said to me, "Danielle, if you can, you should go. It's things like that that make life exciting." She's right, just as my mom was who was also very adamant that her and my dad meet him, that we go on at least one date, and that I then fly to Paris in two weeks for a wedding. 
Why the hell not? Well, how about because I am a cautious person by nature and I almost always follow the rules. Yet for as much as the world can be a scary place, it doesn't have to be. From personal experience, I firmly believe that people are inherently good; I've also have found that I'm a good judge of character and make smart choices that keep me from dangerous situations. 
When it comes to truly living, there is always a risk taken; sometimes it's worth it and sometimes it's not, but it's so important that we consciously choose. And I tell you this somewhat bizarre story because it was so random and unexpected. It's the first time something like that has ever happened to me and will probably be the last. Still, I've had my share of other serendipitous events that I couldn't have possibly prepared myself for. This is how I comfort myself with the job search. Trying to foresee the first few years of my employment is nearly impossible because I never know when who will get back to me, what unique opportunity will surface. 
Kind of the same way I couldn't have expected the unseasonably warm weather that we've been having in this last week of October. After taking my dogs out for a walk in the sunshine yesterday, (without a jacket, I might add), I was craving a fresh salad with sprouts, carrots, and avocado, not the usual creamy soup. Insanity, I know it ;). But in all seriousness, I really think it is yet another example of the ways of the world. Perhaps we should be ready to be bewildered.
Even opportunities for fun, love, and adventure surface quite often if we pay close enough attention. Earlier this week I had no idea how I would be spending my Halloween weekend, and to be honest, I was pretty bummed about it. Now? I have plans for tonight, plans for tomorrow night with two possible endings, and hopefully plans for Sunday afternoon too. Next week will bring quite a few possible leaps in the job hunting process. As for everything else in between and beyond, I have a few surprises up my sleeve, but for the most part, I truly have no idea. There are few things more wonderful. Whenever I doubt this, I look towards adages like it'll all work out in the end and everything happens for a reason. Clichés they may be, but the truth within them continues to sustain me through the uncertainty.

Take care, be safe, and have a very happy Halloweekend!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

an italian meal, revisited

As much as the concept of still living with my parents irks me, it definitely has it's advantages. In addition to the more obvious free rent, my darling father insists on taking us out to eat at least once every two weeks or so. Tough life, huh? Right before I embarked on Road Trip U.S.A., we ventured to Finalmente Trattoria
As I admired the beautiful sunset on our ride into Sleepy Hollow, I couldn't fathom the fact that I was really leaving tomorrow, that I was really going to drive all the way across the United States and back, and that I was really going to do it all by myself. I wasn't nervous, per se, but I was definitely anxious.
And yet I put on a face of pure excitement for our family friends. I didn't want to worry them, nor my parents... not yet at least ;). Thankfully, as you know by now, nothing really went wrong. The road trip went better than planned! I stayed safe, healthy, and honestly spent 99.99% of the journey, authentically happy.
[pre-dinner glass of Sangiovese]

Now I'm home again, safe and sound, with fantastic Italian food all around me. As the Jersey Shore so shamelessly exemplified, there is a very strong Italian and Italian-American culture in this region of the United States (although only a small percentage of it can be stereotyped into what they display, I assure you). 
[warm slice of Italian bread with extra virgin olive oil]

I grew up thinking that everyone had a handful of family-owned brick oven pizzerias in their neighborhood and was as familiar with Italian bread, fresh pasta, and prosciutto as they were with macaroni & cheese and chicken nuggets.
[Appetizers: frisée salad and fried calamari]

It was not until I went away to school that I realized not everyone had such a lucky childhood ;). What some others did have, however, was access to some of the best Creole, Mexican, Austrian, Japanese, and Vietnamese in the country, as I quickly discovered on my rides through their home states.
[bottle of organic red for the table]

I didn't fully appreciate the wealth of culture throughout the United States until I experienced it with my own senses. Po-boys and beignets in New Orleans really are all they're cracked up to be, eating Mexican food in southern Texas is a must, Kansas boasts a multitude of eastern European influences, and when visiting, one should be fed accordingly, get sushi in Los Angeles, (just do as I say, you'll understand,) and Vietnamese just may be my new favorite cuisine thanks to tofu-vegetable curry in Portland and pho (pronounced fuh) in Seattle.
[Entrées: fettuccine al forestal and lobster fra diavlo]

Then of course there are the true blue American classics like Southern hush puppies and grits (I recommend North Carolina farmer's markets and any restaurant in Savannah), fried chicken and waffles (it can be found amongst more sophisticated breakfast options at many Oklahoma restaurants), walleye (a river fish native to the northern midwest, I'm partial to South Dakota's offerings), cheese curds (the brainchild of Wisconsin's dairyland), Colorado beer and California wine (no explanation needed.) 
And if you happen to come by my neck of the woods, phenomenal plates like this one. Those many nights ago, I nearly died as I enjoyed the homemade spinach pasta in a pesto oil with haricot verts and garlic. Even just thinking about it...
[Dessert: decaf cappuccino]

Forget fast food, truth is, we really can eat well throughout the United States. Seasonal produce can be found almost everywhere, and for those less than healthy options, well, they  can be attributed to our ridiculously hardworking past of farmers and factory workers. Or, as in the case of Pittsburgh, miners. They inspired the infamous Primanti Brother's sandwiches that consist of a full meal between bread, fries and slaw included. So, the next time I eat out locally, I plan to make the most of the culinary riches surrounding my hometown. Maybe I'll even return to Finalmente Trattoria, a beautiful and delectable restaurant decorated with Baroque, Byzantine, and Venetian accents and intimately lit by Moorish sconces. It's certainly about time.

What fine foods can be found in your area? You know, in case I want to visit ;).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

living social

I have a lot of friends. (I know how it sounds, but please bear with me as I continue.) I say that statement with no conceit. I've been lucky in that I've been able to pursue my passions since I was little girl; that means that in addition to the friends I grew up with, I made friends in extracurricular and summer activities. Then, of course, we must consider the friends I met when I went away to college, the friends that became my sisters when I joined a sorority, and those friendships that grew from my traveling experiences, blogging ventures, and past employment/internships. 
So, when I say I have a lot of friends, you should realize that I am considering people with whom I still talk to almost daily, alongside those that I was only temporarily close to yet remain Facebook friends with...

When you think about it that way, I'm sure you have tons of friends too :).

Ha. In order to keep in touch with those that are still available for laughs, tears, and heart-to-hearts though, I need to make a conscious effort to see them. Such efforts usually translates to lunch, dinner, and/or drinks. Since I'm honestly more a spender then a saver, am anything but rich, and believe time with my best friends to be priceless, I've given myself a few guidelines:
  • Drinks are always a more financially-sound option, especially during happy hour and when limited to a consumption of one or two.
  • If a meal must be had (and boy do I love these necessities) make sure to choose an inexpensive restaurant. Also, have a protein-rich snack before going so that an appetizer is sufficient. Soups can be incredibly filling.
  • Sign up for local deals so that on the occasion that a more pricey meal is warranted, it won't actually be any more expensive. These sites include Scoutmob and Groupon, amongst others.
  • Limit these kinds of friendates to once or twice a week.
  • Every now and again, there will also be coupons for unique and discounted outings courtesy of  LivingSocial and healthy ones thanks to Vital Juice.
  • By the chance that the eating out friendate quota is reached, suggest another kind of activity such as potluck dinners, gallery exhibits, weekend picnics, nature preserve walks, or even window shopping.
  • Stay in the know of the local tourism site for other seasonally free offerings. For New York, that site is NYCgo.
  • If all else fails, inviting friends to watch a classic movie at home is still acceptable. When friendates like these do happen this winter, hot cocoa will always be a crowd-pleaser; in the summertime, opt for iced tea.
Anything to add? With tips like these I am pretty confident that I can stretch my budget to fit my social life. Which reminds me, for nights out on town, appointing oneself as the DD is the cheaper way to go ;). Anyway, I also like to show my friends how much I appreciate them by making homemade gifts (with inspiration from dear Heather) and gestures. Which brings to part 2 of this friendly post:
My darling friend, Chrissie, is working for the fundraising department at American Cancer Society and thus will be a busy bee at the ING NYC Marathon on Sunday, November 7th. I will also be there by 11 a.m., volunteering my time, cheers, and ability to distribute refreshments at 73rd Street and 1st. We ask that you please volunteer as well. It'll be a fun and inspiring event and I promise you won't regret it! All you have to do is fill out this form.

Another lovely friend of mine, Amanda, is working at NYU Medical Center. She is overseeing their National Memory Screening Day in association with the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. On that day, Tuesday, November 16th, you will be able to get a free memory screenings and evaluations from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. at 145 East 32nd St. It'll be easy, pleasant, and your participation will be greatly appreciated! To do so, please contact her directly at (212) 263-8548 or

I know I say this all the time, but thank you, blends, for all of your constant support and encouragement. You're so wonderful, and your friendships mean the world to me. Hope you're having a very happy Tuesday! Be back tomorrow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

revamping a routine

Hi sweethearts, I hope the weekend treated you well! Mine was filled with three things I love: birthdays, family, and friends. (Speaking of, you wished Leslie a happy one, didn't you?) Still, as much as I loved meeting blends for drinks, spending time with my little cousins upstate, and venturing into uncharted nightlife territory with my best friends from high school, I too appreciate the fresh start to a full week. Being a Gemini (ha, yes, I attribute these traits to my zodiac sign) I am as much spontaneous as I am planned.
Just as I loved the excitement of new adventures across the U.S., I am just as thrilled to slow down and get back to basics. As I mentioned in Friday's vlog, my new home routine is going to include yoga classes, books, outdoor runs/walks, art work, kitchen time, and real food. Can I get a hip hip hooray?
Last Monday I was greeted by my very excited-to-see-me family. We unpacked the car and talked for a little while before my dad opened up a perfect gift from yours truly, a bottle of Cambria's Pinot Noir. I say perfect because my parents loved it :). 
An hour or so later, we sat down for dinner. You have no idea how ecstatic I was for a home-cooked meal eaten at the dining room table! I helped myself to fantastic plate of salad (with lettuce from the garden), sautéed zucchini and mushrooms, fresh kidney beans, and sweet potato fries. We feasted, we chatted, and I cleaned up the table afterwards so I could pass out for a phenomenal night's sleep in my own bed.
The next morning, my internal clock woke me up before eight. I lie in bed for a few moments, contemplating what breakfast would bring, before my wonderful mother called up the stairs to let me know that she had bought multi grain hot cereal by Country Choice. Score. It was just as filling as my usual rolled oats with added texture thanks to the rye, barley, and wheat grains. 
Tuesday afternoon I helped myself to split pea soup for lunch. Wednesday afternoon I whipped up a roasted red pepper and tomato (a.k.a. heated up Pacific Natural Foods). Both times toast accompanied the meal, first with a smear of natural peanut butter, the next day with a tablespoon of hummus. I love simple yet comforting lunches like this, so much more satisfying than two granola bars. 
I'm not sure what happened to other dinners (I ate, I swear!) but Thursday brought pasta night. While my family enjoyed bow ties, I sought to do my little traveling body justice with whole grains and opted to try the Eden Organic pasta sample from the Healthy Living Summit. Kamut is an ancient grain, similar to durum wheat, that's grown in the state of Montana (hey, I've been there!).
Yum! I topped with a homemade chunky tomato sauce and peas and ate it alongside a hunk of fresh Italian bread for a hearty meal. Oh, and there was salad and wine too, of course, my two favorite parts.
What a week, and what a weekend... it feels good to be home.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Don't value money. "A new study from the University of Liege in Belgium shows that it (money) can...impair our ability to appreciate the simple things."
Get engaged. "Find an absorbing, challenging pastime that allows you to feel some mastery...Research shows that achieving this state...will allow you to function at your fullest and lead to more positive feelings about yourself and life in general."
Do good. "Studies show that those who volunteer report better mental health than those who don't. Volunteering can increase a sense of capability in the world."
Buy experience, not things. "Experiences lead to lasting memories, which can result in satisfaction, meaning and a sold sense of self. Other studies suggest that spending on leisure is smart because activities generate social connections, and strong connections contribute to happiness."

P.S. I also want to get back into sketching and collages since I've certainly collected enough material from my travels. This will be fun, we'll make sure of it :).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

from my heart, to yours

"What and if are two words as non-threatening as words can be... but, put them together side by side, and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life."

So, tonight I decided to watch Letters to Juliet. It was an interesting choice seeing as I wasn't exactly in the happiest or unloneliest (for lack of a better word) of moods, but, I wanted to see it anyway. It's one of my sister's favorites.

For me, well, I'm a harsher critic. I liked the concept, (although to be honest, even the romantic in me gagged a little at the unlikeliness of two intertwined love stories,) I liked the leading actress, (most notably Vanessa Redgrave), and I liked the setting (has anyone given a negative review of Tuscany?) but I didn't love the movie. Still, it's influenced this extremely honest post, and led to me pouring myself a glass of Spanish wine, so I'd say it was worth it.
Love is a scary thing. It's amazing, empowering, overwhelming, and absolutely terrifying. It comes in a multitude of  varieties and depths. It can so thoroughly change, or at the very least, massively influence our lives for better or for worse. If you want to talk about the most powerful word, well, ever, I'd say l-o-v-e just about takes the cake.

In the romantic sense, I've said the triple word thriller, "I love you," to three different people, although I'm pretty sure that I only truly meant it once. At the moment, I couldn't say that I was lucky enough to be in love, but I'm unfortunately not out of it. And all the while I continue to express love. Wait. You do know that love is messy, right? Yep, yep, it is. Powerful and scary. What'd I tell ya?!

Nonetheless, in the platonic and familial sense, I've been surrounded by love my entire life. I am grateful for this fact, truly, truly, and yet, it's phenomenal how even an incredibly loved person can feel so unloved sometimes.
It's almost funny. You know? In a ridiculous way, I mean.

Anyway, I must confess that even though I am well aware that I am a strong and capable and independent human being, and don't need a man in any way, shape, or form, in times of doubt, a loving male counterpart would be nice.

I'm just saying.
I don't often share my love life with the blog world, but I felt inclined to simply share my thoughts tonight. I am fine, I promise :), I just wanted other solo fliers to know that they're not alone. We may never figure love out and maybe that's how it's supposed to be, but we are most definitely are loved. Very, very much so. I can promise you that one and let me know if you ever need a reminder. Now, comment as you wish :) sleep tight, my darlings.

Words by D. Alvarez, Photos by E. Flamm

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

do you realize? (syracuse, ny)

When I was a freshman in college, I shared a room with a stranger. She was from New Jersey, a TRF and English double major, and, she would soon become one of my best friends. Down the hall from our room 209, was another soon-to-be best friend. We spent almost our entire year together--the three of us studying in C & I's bedroom, having dinner in the upstairs dining hall, braving the cold in hopes of getting into an open party--and the following summer I went to visit K in her home state of Oklahoma for the first time. K, like many of my friends, was far more knowledgeable about music than I. She introduced me to the Flaming Lips, a band of which we were lucky enough to meet and see in concert during my stay. I've been thinking about one of their songs a lot more lately.
In our English language, "Do you realize?" is simply asking whether or not you understand the given concept or statement. In Spanish, French, and other romantic languages however, the terms "realize" or realizar or réaliser signify not just a mental grasp, but a physical one.

A physical grasp on a concept or statement, what could I ever mean by that

Oh, well, you know, something like: I'm going to take a solo road trip around the United States.
When I had my one and only "oh my gosh, I'm half-way across the country, in an strange city, and all by myself... WTF" breakdown, I touched on how I made the lofty statement above possible. The idea sprung from a GPS Christmas gift and came to be because my original driving companion couldn't join me and because I had spent the past six months (graduation party included) saving up for a post-graduation adventure. I made sure to plan the places I wanted to stop in and seek out people with whom I could stay with. I already knew of friends or family in a few of the destinations; during the summer, I met even more people who were moving back home or to jobs and willing to offer me a couch and/or company. In the end, there were only six cities left, and so I joined CouchSurfing to put myself into contact with wonderful globetrotting strangers who were happy to host me.
Then I had the most incredible experience familiarizing myself with our great country. And even more so meeting at least three new people on a daily basis. By the time I made it Syracuse for homecoming weekend, I couldn't even believe half the things that I'd done nor that had happened to me. And yet, I was thrilled to be in a familiar place, surrounded by some of my favorite people, with the knowledge that I had done it. I did it! With hard work, perseverance, and a fun-loving, easygoing, friendly disposition, I had carried out an aspirational statement and made it my six-week reality. Would it be so bold of me to admit that I'm proud of myself?

I sure hope not, because I am :). Not because I thought I would fail, (oh no, I try my absolute best not to harbor such negative thoughts), but because I had faith in the childhood belief that anything and everything is possible, especially at a time in my life when most people have given up on their ability to choose and do.
With each birthday, we're faced with more responsibilities that bind us to a predictable day-to-day life. Though we're not no longer able to realize our goals, it most definitely becomes more difficult to do so. Still, after 44 days, and nearly 9,000 miles, I have met enough real-life examples that haven proven to me how much we can change and improve our lives at any time. We can take control of how we choose to live. And for those elements that we cannot control, we can surround ourselves with people that matter, be grateful for all that we have, take note of the little thing that make us happy each and every day, and hope for the best.
Now that I'm home and the job search has really begun, these words by The Alchemist, one of my many books on tape, holds a lot more meaning. I hope they can inspire you to realize whatever it is that desire to achieve as well.
"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting." / "When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too."

P.S. Today was both National Love Your Body Day and the Wear Purple, Show Support, Have Spirit event. I sincerely hope you were able to participate! Each one of us deserves a happy, healthy, and full life.

before & after

These videos were recorded 41 days and 8,506 miles apart, yet all the while in the same car. By chance, I even wore the identical shirt. There aren't words to describe how spectacular Road Trip USA has been, nor how much it has influenced me, but I will attempt to explain everything in the next blog post. If you have any questions regarding my trip, please comment below, otherwise, I'll let PostSecret wrap it up:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

the steel city (pittsburgh, pa)

I made it to Pittsburgh by two on Thursday afternoon. It was my second time in Pennsylvania since my first at the very beginning of my trip and knowing this fact weirded me out like none other. Nevertheless, I was excited to see a nearby city that I'd only ever heard about and meet two fabulous bloggers.
I'm not sure from which neighborhood I came, but I do know that I drove into the Central Business District :). Otherwise known as downtown.
The weather was cool with periods of rain and clouds so I gave drove around, slightly lost, on my quest for a café with wi-fi.
Somehow I made my way over to the Strip District. The first thing that stood out to me about Pittsburgh was about how positively industrial it was. Sure, most cities are, and I suppose I was aware of this city's nicknames, but seeing the factories and warehouses really elicited memories of it's blue collar past.
That's not to say, of course, that the areas weren't visually appealing though. Beautiful buildings, like this cathedral, are also scattered throughout. And in the area I was in, so were numerous boutiques and marketplaces.
Eventually, I made my way to 21st Street Coffee & Tea. The somewhat over-priced coffee shop is locally-owned, founded in 2006, and focuses on by-the-cup quality coffee and tea that is directly sourced.
I joyfully settled into an upstairs nook with my delectable soy latté and got to work.
At some point in between there, I had to use the restroom. Normally I don't share such unnecessary details, but I found this "wash your hands" sign so incredibly clever that I couldn't help taking a picture of it, and as such, feel the need to explain where and why. Read it and giggle, please.

Afterwards, I ventured into the Heinz History Center. I spent about three hours there,  although I could've easily spent longer. There was oh so much to learn!
So, I took notes on a few of the more interesting facts. For one, the Lewis & Clark expedition began in Pitt. If you'll notice on the map, their route was very similar to the one I took east, in the opposite direction.
Furthermore, many things began in Pittsburgh, for instance: miner safety precautions, the Jehovah Witnesses movement, the first "human" robot, the World Series, America's Dream Highway (I-76), the first polio vaccine, Dr. Rogers, Heinz ketchup, the Silent Spring, the Big Mac, Mr. Yuck Stickers and Rosie the Riveter (first published on what would become my birthday, May 29, 1943).
Other exhibits looked back at Pittsburgh's cultural pasts with focuses on the Polish, Slovak, Italian, Jewish, Irish, German, and African-American influences.
Randomly, yet all the while interesting, there was also an exhibit on the French-Indian-American War. The written displays were in French, as well as English, so I had fun translating (and quietly reading aloud to practice my accent).
And last but not least, the Sports Museum. It was awesome. According to the exhibit, sports are central to city's identity and Pittsburgh's athletic success has been unmatched. It sounds biased but they did have examples to back it up :).
I suppose there's a reason some call the place, the City of Champions. 
Please also note that although I have little football knowledge, I may have officially became a Steelers fan for the rest of my life. Oops.
Dangerous things like that happen when you go to the Heinz History Center ;).
Like I said though, I really would've stayed longer. I didn't though because of one very special person: Rose
Her and I have "known" each other for quite some time in the blogosphere but it was our first time actually meeting. And what a great time it was.
Following a short introduction, we made our way to The Church Brew Works. Another blogger, Susan, was wonderful enough to join us for the bloggie meal too. I wish I would've remembered to take a group picture!
I had a seasonal beer and a Pittsburgh salad with salmon. Usually they come with grilled chicken, but they are always served with fries. It was news to me that you could opt for almost any salad to be topped with french fries in the city of Pittsburgh. Crazy cool and just one of the many things I learned that night. Dining with bloggers, especially local ones, is amazing.
After saying goodbye to Susan, Rose gave me a driving tour of the city that ended atop Mount Washington.
There were such beautiful views of the city! How we got there exactly, I have no idea, but I do know that we made our way through Lawrenceville and Oakland. The latter is where U.Pitt and many other colleges are located. For daylight photos, I suggest looking at Caitlin's visit to her alma mater :).
Then we had a drink at Brillobox, an artsy East Village-like bar, before heading to Belvedere's for their infamous 80's night. I had an absolute blast!
And yet I still woke up early the next morning to say goodbye to Rose, a lovely person, host, and blogging friend, and hit the road. Syracuse was my next and last road trip stop. It was time for homecoming...