Tuesday, November 29, 2011

treating myself

I don't know if you've realized this, but in addition to embarking upon "the most wonderful time of the year" we're also in the midst of that frightening holiday season with gift stress, family drama, and empty calories. The horror!

At least we're enjoying spring-like, late fall weather?

In all serious though, I'm excited. I feel secure with where I am personally and professionally. My social calendar is filling up with potlucks and parties. This year (as opposed to the last) I'm feeling especially festive, thankful, and ready.
In order to enjoy everything to the fullest, I'm rededicating myself... to myself. When I get the fun kind of busy, I tend to exercise less, eat out more often, and not get enough sleep. As much as this lifestyle is fine for a short while, it becomes anything but when it lasts for weeks on end. So, here's the plan:
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. I like my planner, and my to-do list, and all the productivity that is meant to come from it. Trouble is, when it comes to settling down in the evening, it's tough to slow my mind down from that go-go-go. Enter a book before bed. Although I read regularly, shutting down my computer and opening up my next good read of choice isn't a habit of mine. I've decided to make it one. Reading before bed calms me down and truly prepares my body for sleep. And when I am able to get those solid 7-8 hours, my days are brighter, as is my skin. Just last year, Swedish researchers found that "people deprived of sleep for long periods appear less attractive and more unhealthy than those who are well rested."
  • Prepare myself (at least) two meals a day. Working from cafés by day and making dinner plans in most evenings means that I too often only make myself breakfast. I wouldn't dream of waiting for oatmeal until I was out and about ;) but I also need to pull in the reigns (reindeer pun intended) on my lunches. I'm usually more than capable of channeling Heidi Swanson and whipping up one of the recipes I'm constantly collecting. As for those days I can't be home around noon, well, I'm pretty sure convenience is why sandwiches were invented. Prioritizing these midday meal options will surely be more beneficial for my health and finances.
  • Get fresh air on a daily basis. Being that I have the unfortunate desire to become less active in the colder months, I was inspired to write Four Reasons to Stay Active This Winter. Even if it's just taking a walk with my roommate's dog along the East River or around Central Park, I know that being outside and moving makes me happier... and helps me maintain my weight. (There. I said it.) Thankfully, I'm also responsible for reviewing fitness classes for Pravassa. I'm hoping it, along with publicly declaring my goal of 4 classes/week, keeps me accountable.
  • Only celebrate when celebrating. I am the first person to advocate for plenty of bubbly and sweets this holiday season. With that said,however, there's no real need to open three new bottles of wine in one week, or have three homemade pumpkin scones in one sitting; even if both or either are gifts. Furthermore, prioritizing health and maintaining mindfulness when I'm eating on my own will surely make those many special occasions with family and friends (and drinks and desserts) that much more special.

Monday, November 28, 2011

my big fat greek wish

Happy Cyber Monday, friends. For many, I know that discounted shopping opportunities like this are exciting, but for me, well, I could care less. You see, I've never been big into beautiful things. Beautiful places though... yes, please! I hope this means I'm visually-driven and artistic rather than completely superficial.
I just cannot get enough natural beauty or that of architecture, photography, dance, art museums, design, and the culinary arts. These aesthetic forms delight and inspire me, and unseen ones often help determine my next destination. It should be no surprise then that Greece often tops this "beautiful places to go" list. 
It was the Ancient Greeks that first defined beauty as pure, simple, and symmetrical. Since then, the word has been shaped and reshaped by culture so that it is not only seen as a quality of perfection, but also imperfection. (Remember the Japanese ideal of wabi sabi?) Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Still, there is one aspect that seems to have remained consistent throughout the world: the connection between aesthetic appeal and well being.
I began this year with my healthiest resolution and these words, "Is it a coincidence that when I look back on the happiest parts of my life, they're also the times in which I looked and felt my best? I think not." Hippocrates, a Greek doctor, teacher, and "father of medicine," would probably agree with me. He believed in treating the body as a whole and that optimum health would be reached through a proper diet, fresh air, good hygiene, and plenty of exercise. Most, if not all, Ancient Greeks agreed with him on that last part; exercise had become a physical activity to reflect their belief in the beauty of the human form.
Of course, I am no health evangelist. I believe that seeking pleasure is equally as important as maintaining optimal health. And for that, I look towards another school of thought originating in Ancient Greece. Epicuris, an atomic materialist, believed pleasure to be the greatest good. He believed you attain the greatest good in living modestly, gaining knowledge of how the world works, and limiting one's desires. These days, epicureanism has been misinterpreted to mean a love of enjoyments, especially good food and drink. As for my personal understanding and practice, it falls somewhere between these two extremes.
Each day, I combine Hippocrates' philosophy on health with an adaptation of Epicuris' philosophy on pleasure as I strive for "good living." And according my favorite authentic Greek Yogurt, FAGE, good living is actually a Greek tradition. Interesting. Apparently, in spite of my attempt to combine all the yummy philosophies I've acquired throughout my travels and life experience, those from this beautiful country I've never actually seen seem to have resonated the most.
The best way to enjoy life is to keep oneself intellectually stimulated and physically satisfied, and that, my friends, just may be the most beautiful thing of all.
I would love the opportunity to experience Greece for myself some day, and that is why I wrote this post... As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here: http://www.fageusa.com/community/fage-greek-getaway.
Words by D. Alvarez, Photos by M. Egkolfopoulou

Saturday, November 26, 2011

daily gratitude

Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite holiday. 
It's not because of its pleasant historical beginnings, no matter how factual or inaccurate. It's not because of the morning Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, nor the afternoon NFL football game, nor even the following Black Friday.
It's not even because of the food... although I do adore my aunt MA's baked brie, crusty french bread, oven roasted turkey, crisp green beans, fresh cranberries, sweet potatoes, braised cabbage, my aunt Gret's salad, my mom's stuffing, and my sister's apple pie.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of what it means: a day spent with family and loved ones, a day to remind us that it matters not what we want for Christmas (in my case), nor hope for in the New Year, but what we already have.

I literally jumped out of bed with glee this past Thanksgiving day. I made myself breakfast, helped my roommates prepare for their own dinner with friends, toasted to being thankful with champagne, met my family across town for our annual Thanksgiving feast, came back to my apartment just in time for dessert and Buzzword, and wrapped up the night with dancing at a bar a few blocks away.
These past few years haven't just been plentiful in uncertainties, but in pure joy, exciting opportunities, and inspiring support too. Even if I were to focus on recognizing life's generosity each and every day, it probably wouldn't be enough. So, like Jess, I took Seth's Thanksgiving words to heart:
A great way to give thanks...

for the privileges we've got, is to do important work.

Your job, your internet access, your education, your role in a civilized society... all of them are a platform, a chance to do art, a way for you to give back and to honor those that enabled you to get to this point.

For every person reading this there are a thousand people (literally a thousand) in underprivileged nations and situations that would love to have your slot. Don't waste it.

Whether or not you recognizes this favorite holiday of mine, I hope you will be able to take something away from them as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

top cities to travel to

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I have a little something for you:

Quite a few days ago, the lovely Rose commented: "Danielle, you've been to so many cities. I feel like I want to see a top 5 list from you sometime. I want to know your favorite (for suggestions on where to go!)" The complimentary advice was very much appreciated because, to be honest, such a post idea had never occurred to me before. On principal, I choose not to compare places. I believe that each city, community, and country has at least one uniquely special characteristic to it, and who am I to say that some are worth discovering more than others?

That being said, having become well-versed in the journalistic world, I know that readers like lists, guides, and tips, and I do understand why. So, fine ;). To give the world a special thanks for hosting my adventures across it in these past few years, I will try my absolute best to potentially inspire your next trip...
Most recently, I read the 10 healthiest cities for women by Self magazine. According to it, the healthiest eaters are in Santa Barbara. It didn't surprise me. Santa Barbara is so overwhelmingly beautiful, in part, because of it's nearly perfect climate, clean beaches, rich soil and vibrant flora--all aspects which encourage agriculture and healthy produce year-round. Furthermore, it's located in Southern California, a region known for it's unapologetic vanity and early embracement of the organic lifestyle. I wouldn't ever choose to live in Santa Barbara because I found it almost too manicured (even the buildings adhere to strict aesthetic rules), but I certainly understand the appeal. And I commend their healthy eating habits, of course. I'd love to return one day to explore the dining scene more.

Within The Daily Beast's best cities for College Grads, I was thrilled to find Madison, Wisconsin listed as the second. It's reasons included Money Magazine listing it as one of the best places to live and Forbes noting it as the city with the least amount of unemployment and largest number of residents with Ph.D.s. It failed to mention, however, how generally awesome Madison is. The Mad City is naturally beautiful thanks to it's location between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota while also being culturally strong as a result of its various restaurants, shops, and artistic attractions. It has Midwestern charm, convenient proximity to cities like Chicago and rural towns with farm tours, and Holly. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and look forward to a reason to go back.

Then there's New York City. I have yet to discover another American city that is as famously celebrated as it is despised. I believe Broke-Ass Stuart put it best when he wrote, "She's not the one that got away, she's the one you never had the chance of getting, and that's what makes just being near her so exhilarating. There's a quote from Thomas Wolfe that goes something like, 'One belongs to New York instantly; one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.' And I think old Mr. Wolf was onto something . . . Anything you could ever want is here, as long as you're willing to work for it and know where to look. Magic happens on a daily basis; the hard part is finding time to take it all in." It is a city unlike any other, and I say that with no bias whatsoever. It's no wonder it topped the list of Forbes' America's Most Entertaining Cities. There is a seemingly endless list of opportunities in every area of life; Almost too much, but not. I believe that every single person could find a happy place here, though I also completely understand why some would not want to. For as much as I've been loving life in Manhattan, I know I could never stay forever. Still, please do dine here when you visit/stay.
I cannot wait to have experiences in each of the countries included on my friend Nomadic Matt's Cheap Places to Travel on the US Dollar, but having been to three of the seven, I'd have to say I recommend Hungary the most. I didn't see as much of the country as I one day hope to, but I fell in love with Budapest. Eastern Europe gets a lot less attention than Western Europe, but it's history is just as rich, it's architecture is just as beautiful, and it's cuisines is just as exciting. Budapest was gorgeous in a different way than I'd ever seen before. And having the opportunity to stay with my neighbor's family allowed me to enjoy the kind, soft spoken Hungarian hospitality first hand. It's wonderful, really, and obviously notably more inexpensive than other nearby destinations.

Today I stumbled upon Travel and Leisure's World's Best Cities. I can't imagine taking all the world's cities and rating them against each other, but somehow Istanbul and Barcelona are in the top 10, and I simply cannot argue with that. Istanbul is a sprawling city at the juxtaposition of three of the world's largest religions, with more influences that it somehow knows just how to deal with. It's hectic yet devastatingly enchanting. My one qualm is that come nightfall, I did feel uncomfortable as a woman. I didn't feel outwardly threatened nor disrespected, but it was bizarre to know that you're the only female in a restaurant of dozens of diners. Speaking of machismo, though, let's talk Spain. Barcelona is one of the most fun cities I've ever been to. I'd quickly go again at a moments notice, despite having received my fair share of catcalls. The city boasts distinctly magnificent architecture, in addition to fantastic Spanish food and nightlife. And I have to admit, I find the Catalan language to be yet another fascinating aspect. There are so many reasons why these two cities deserve their "best world city" statuses. 
As far as cities that aren't given enough credit, in my opinion, many of them are located on the South American continent. Travelers flock to Peru for it's "natural, cultural, and human legacy," but I'd encourage Ecuador for those same reasons. Cuenca is a gorgeous colonial city and the perfect jumping off point to explore the country's mountains, beaches, and rain forest further. Many gravitate to Brazil and Argentina for tireless excitement and beautiful people against glittering scenery, but I'd urge a stay in Chile as well. Santiago is a vibrant capital city with so much to offer the senses and mind. Being that the culture is somewhat more low-key, I also found it to be an easier cultural adjustment. Moreover, it's worth mentioning that those traveling from Santiago have an incredibly easy commute to amazing beaches, wine country, dessert, mountains, and Patagonia.
What about the spectacular cities of Vietnam, South Africa, Japan, and Egypt? Well, I haven't been to any of them yet, but I can assure you they're all at the top of my must-go-soon list. I also hope to make my way to Reykjavik, Vancouver, St. Petersburg, and Charleston, South Carolina in the next few years. Are there still cities I haven't gotten enough of too? Yes. My affection for Paris, for example, is everlasting. Perhaps one day my dream of living in the City of Lights will come true. Until then, I'm content with basking in the delicate beauty of the French language and cafe culture at Le Moulin a Cafe, my current favorite neighborhood find.

I am bubbling over with gratitude for this wonderfully small world and all the amazing people, places, and things within it; many of the reasons this warm, fuzzy (delicious) holiday is my favorite. Once again, Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

weekend reservations

I hardly ever dine out on the weekends. But this past weekend, I found myself with dinner plans across Manhattan on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. With the promise of great food and even better company, I just couldn't resist...
[Friday: Blue Point Toasted Lager, Market Veggie Burger with lettuce, tomato, and special sauce on a multigrain bun, and Sweet Potato fries at Bill's Bar & Burger with a few sorority sisters]
[Saturday: Cabernet Sauvignon, Fried Oysters and Clams with fish camp tartar sauce, Calamari, 
Seared Sea Scallops With Chickpea Tagine, Fayeh Yogurt and Harissa,
a Market Fish Taco with Pico De Gallo, Chipotle Aioli, and Picked Jalapeño, 
Roasted Cauliflower, and Sautéed Broccolini shared amongst Aubrey, Gabriela, Ilana, Lily, and myself at Mary's Fish Camp]
[Sunday: Grenache/Syrah blend, Pear salad with celery root, walnuts, malted grains, herbs, red mustard greens,
Long Island striped bass with bok choy, pickled peppers, cranberry beans, (bites of) Crispy potato gnocchi with brussels sprouts, brown butter, sage,
Chocolate hazelnut torte with hazelnut florentine, sweet potato sorbet,
and Poached pear bombe with pecan brittle, chevre ice cream, caramel enjoyed alongside Leslie, Anna, and my roommate, Catherine, at Northern Spy Food Co.]
I may have awoken this morning with a lighter wallet and an extensive to-do list, but each meal was very much worth it. And for that, I am very thankful already.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

cantina by cascabel

I literally just read this tweet: "Mexican food is unbelievably regionalized. To call one city 'the kitchen of Mexico' is inaccurate, there are a nearly a dozen." I couldn't agree more, despite the fact that I'm not sure to what/whom Adam Goldberg was responding. I also believe it's undeniable that the majority of Americans adore Mexican food, no matter what version they're accustomed to.
My dad, on the other hand, rarely seeks out Mexican restaurants. He was born in the countryside of Jalisco, one of the 31 states of Mexico, and is often disappointed in the adaptations of his native cuisine. It should also be noted that he's the kind of person who only believes things are great if he likes them. If he doesn't like something, it's obviously just bad. I get my affinity for exotic flavor from my mom.
Anyway, now that you know all the important information :) the point... I've been meeting my dad for lunch in my neighborhood about once a week since he's been conveniently working nearby. I love being able to spend one-on-one time with him (and expand on my Upper East Side palate.) This past Friday, I insisted we try Cascabel, one of the highest rated Mexican restaurants in the area.
For whatever reason, we ended up at their sister restaurant, Cantina de Cascabel, instead. Thoughts? Guacamole, mediocre. Hot sauce, fantastic. Baja Fish tacos, perfect. My dad didn't love their Pollo Chipotle Burrito, but he was thrilled they were serving Captain Lawrence, and at happy hour prices. 

Thanks for being open minded enough to treat me to the casual, Southern California-style Mexican lunch, Dad. I cannot, cannot wait to share a more authentic meal when we're in Mexico at the end of December.

Friday, November 18, 2011

a homecooked meal

Hey, guess what? I cook. I'm just not that great at it, and hardly ever create edibles as beautiful as those eaten outside the walls of my apartment, so I most often prefer to tell you about the fabulous meals I have at restaurants "around the world." But today, today, I thought I'd share two recent creations from my own kitchen. I don't want you to get the wrong idea and think I live an extravagant lifestyle of non-stop wining, dining, and traveling. I can assure you, I do not :).
This fall has been an interesting one weather-wise. It's been rainy and cold, then warm and sunny, and rainy and cold again. My recent cravings have been a product of such craziness. A few days ago, I made myself a spicy minestrone soup. I immediately enjoyed a big bowl of healthful swiss chard, tomatoes, chickpeas, string beans, onions, white beans, and whole wheat penne, in addition to garlic and red chile pepper. Then I placed 2 servings in the fridge, and froze the rest.
I love how soup can be saved, and how it gets better with each passing day. For that very reason actually, the following evening I prepared a quinoa dish. It was super easy too--I just added chopped spinach and leftover chickpeas to a Quinoa Blend by Near East (former HLS swag). And there you have it, the limits of my culinary talents. I could probably be more creative, but when cooking for myself, I really only strive for simplicity, flavor, and nutrition... alongside a glass of wine. 

Inspire me:  What's your go-to solo meal? or cookbook? or cooking site/blog?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

upgrading to a purple passport

I've been working for The Purple Passport for nearly a month now. And being that it's going extremely well, I wanted to tell you so :). I'm learning more and more about what it takes to create the exciting city guides that feature "the finest hotels, restaurants, nightlife, spas, shops, sights, cultural venues, and other notable spots in the world." I'm thoroughly enjoying my responsibilities, as well as completely enjoying the company of my coworkers when I see 'em. 
Although I work remotely most of the time, getting to know them slowly but surely has been wonderful. Most have lived abroad before (if not at that time being) and understand  and appreciate what it is to enjoy real, authentic food. And all are passionate about travel, obviously.
The two that I most often spend office days have spent a considerable amount of time in Asia and have been teaching me a lot about Japanese cuisine during our lunch breaks. Trying oden (a light Japanese stew) and a green tea mille-feuille (a French puff pastry with green tea cream) have been an absolute delight.
We've also been occasionally meeting at cafés, public libraries, or hotel lounges. A habit of which I've fully been practicing solo as well.
My favorite part about being a part of The Purple Passport though, is knowing how uniquely special it is. Unlike many "travel guides" that read dry and boring, TPP is fun, pithy, and honest. To speak further to TPP's honesty, each Purple Passport pick has been personally visited and judged without bias.
And the best feature in my opinion? Once you sign up for The Purple Passport, you have the ability to create "passports" or itineraries of your very own featuring TPP-approved venues in Los Angeles, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Beijing, and soon, New York. While working in a French café the other day, I selected places to stay, eat, shop, and dance on my next trip, and thus, "Dreaming of Paris."
Actually, if you sign up for The Purple Passport in the next few days, you'll have a chance to win a new eBook--The Purple Passport to London/The Purple Passport to Paris--for free.  All you'll have to do then is send an email to promotions(at)thepurplepassport(dot)com with "Gimme London!" or "Gimme Paris!" in the subject line. It's worth a shot, right? And even if you disagree :) I still hope you'll check out the website to find out more about this job I love so much.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

a date with sausalito

Last year, a stranger invited me to be his date to a wedding in Paris. I was caught off guard, I didn't know how to respond, I became overwhelmed with all the reasons why I shouldn't take him up on the offer. I missed the opportunity. 
This year, a stranger invited me to spend a late afternoon with him in Sausalito. I just happened to be at the Ferry Building picking up a vegan Pumpkin Pie Scary Spice donut from Pepples Donuts. The ferry to Sausalito was leaving in only 20 minutes, from a dock about 20 yards away. Most of my friends had already left San Francisco and I had 6+ hours before my own plane took off.
This time around, I accepted the spontaneity. It went a little something like this...
...a drink beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, a drive into the mountains to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, a Vietnamese pho dinner, and a ride back to San Francisco. I'm convinced: It's almost always worth taking an unexpected chance.