Tuesday, January 31, 2012

for my bisabuela

My great grandmother peacefully passed away yesterday morning at the age of 94. She was quite the woman--feisty and sarcastic, clever to the point that she became manipulative, and benevolent in every which way. She was my maternal grandmother's mother. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, then lived in various cities in the U.S. including New York and Orlando. She outlived her husband (whom I had the privilege of knowing as well) by almost two decades. 
Her life wasn't easy, but it was full. And I am so grateful to have the chance to know her. This weekend, I will spend my time at home instead of in Syracuse as planned. I will honor her life surrounded by family, some cousins of which I haven't seen in at least a dozen years. I will have more than my fair share of desserts; that beautiful woman you see above had a sweet tooth unlike any other. And later this year, I will go to Colombia for the first time, just as I'd hoped.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

lucky strike

 [Smoky Lady: Royal mezcal, St. Germaine, cucumber, and lime]
[Salade Niçoise with grilled fresh tuna, potatoes, haricots verts & artichokes]
All outcomes, even those unexpected and hoped against, have silver linings. As today's birthday girl said: "You get in life what you have the courage to ask for." And in other not-so-cryptic news, you should most definitely dine at Lucky Strike.

Friday, January 27, 2012

act your age

Today, I... wrote a freelance article, filed my taxes, cleaned the bathroom, fact-checked, a lot, and made myself dinner. I also took a break to play Just Dance 3
In the past month, I've already celebrated three birthdays, and there are many more to go. Many of my friends are turning 24. And despite the fact that 24 is the same age I will be in just five short months, it sounds old. I thought I'd have more things figured out at 24, that I'd actually know what I was doing, and that I'd be a lot more secure in my "adult" life. I highly doubt I will be. But I've realized that I was wrong to assume such things anyway. I was talking to my friend Steph (pictured above) about it. Sure, I'm still somewhat naive and I have a blast playing games targeting 15-year-olds, but I am aware of what direction I am and want to be headed in, professionally and personally. I'm more secure in my beliefs than I ever have been and I take full responsibility for taking care of myself. No matter how young or old I am, I'd say we all strive to accomplish the above at any age.
Tomorrow I might be celebrating another friend's birthday with plenty of cocktails and dancing. Yet I know that I'll also be thoroughly enjoying her (hopefully chocolate-based) birthday dessert beforehand just as much, like I always have. Happy weekend, darlings. Oh! And happy national chocolate cake day, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

pinterested, are we?

For Christmas this past year, I received something I'd been hoping for for quite a while: an invitation to Pinterest. Since then, I've become nothing short of obsessed. It's just so... beautiful (and you know how much I enjoy indulging myself with such sights.) I hesitated to join Twitter, I'm still resisting FourSquare, but I love using my virtual pinboard to organize and share gorgeous inspiration when it comes to things I'm most passionate about. It's no wonder, I've always appreciated scrapbooks and collages so much more than most.
Because I'm not always traveling, it's nice to have not just a list, but a visual reminder of the places I'd like to visit in the future. Seeing them in their unique splendor satisfies me now, and excites me for the amazing experiences to come.
Being as I'm hardly a chef, having a place to compile the wonderful recipes I come across daily is essential. Next up: banana bread pancakeschickpea & feta saladbaked eggs with leekslentil meatballs, and chocolate mousse.
Since I never did become that interior designer, it's such a treat to collect snapshots of rooms and decór I'd love to surround myself with someday. This dream home of mine will be complete with a home office like thisbookshelves galore, a huge, welcoming kitchen, and a stylish, comfy bed.
I am an artist at heart. I could live in an art museum and I really can't wait for the day when I will be able to purchase paintings of my own. Until that time, I'm thoroughly enjoying collecting these lovely prints in unexpected combinations.
With my creative passions in mind, it should be no surprise that fashion appeals to me, too. Just because I don't go shopping often, doesn't mean I don't look for fresh outfit and accessory ideas. And yes, it is also serves as a closest wish list.
Though I've never been the kind of girl that envisions her "future wedding," I am definitely a romantic, and I so admire these charming and creative party ideas.
And finally, one can never have enough well spoken wisdom:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

pizza, the vegetable

Last November, Congress called pizza a vegetable. Or did they? As a Washington Post blogger explained, the debate was actually about how much tomato paste equated one full serving of vegetables. Either way, it's a bit ridiculous. But I will say that I believe pizza to be healthy. Or at least healthy enough. Seriously, just think about it: crispy thin crust; fresh, flavorful tomatoes; mild buffalo mozzarella; and simple, picked-off-the-plant basil. What's not to love?
I love pizza, but the good kind, from an actual pizzeria. I could do without the silly named pies topped with pounds of oily cheese, salty tomato sauce, and greasy meats. I have no need for overpoweringly doughy crusts. (Sorry, Chicago.) I'd also be happy to never, ever taste non-fat--or even low-fat--cheese, again. Though I'll admit I do appreciate a whole grain crust. Depending on the day, I either crave a somewhat authentic slice with seasonal vegetables, or one prepared margherita-style, as described above. I enjoy it this way and almost always alongside a salad.

 A random post, yes, but being as we're about one week away from the last day of January 2012, I've been reflecting on my first meal in the United States this year. You wouldn't happen to be a pizza-lover too, would you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

fifty surprises

I've been having oatmeal 80% of all the mornings in the past four years. That's a lot of oatmeal. Lately, I've been enjoying rolled oats, cooked in water with a pinch of salt and vanilla extract, fruit-free, mixed with a dollop of plain greek yogurt, and topped with cinnamon. And I'm eager to whisk in an egg someday soon.
But no matter how I choose to prepare it, oatmeal is reliable. It always has been. How comforting it is to begin my day with a bowl that is so delicious, satisfying, healthy, and safe. Especially for me, who whole heartedly hopes there is truth in Goethe's words: "Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid."
A couple weeks ago, my family and I threw a party for my mom's 50th birthday. She'd only requested that we go on vacation to celebrate it (and we did) but my dad felt she deserved something more. It was my mom who first came up with le surprise. She's thoughtful and clever like that, and is so good in so many other ways, that my dad wanted to surprise her. So we did that, too. She had absolutely no idea it was coming and was thoroughly embarrassed the moment she walked into the room. Thankfully, soon after, she also had a really great time.
It was a successful evening, and by its end, I had a slice of cake. I don't like cake. Growing up, I always had brownies at my birthday party and avoided ice cream cake (and all other kinds, especially fancy ones) like the plague at all others. But I've recently found an appreciation for cheesecake and my soft spot for carrot cake is growing, so I've been trying a bite or two as the opportunity comes up. This was a millefoglie and it was incredible. It actually surprised me how much I enjoyed it... yet it also made perfect sense. Taking chances, being bold, and challenging what we know to be "safe", is worth it. Most things eventually turn out the way they should. And whether we expect it or not, we do enjoy lots of happy endings in this anything but easy life. There was, after all, a time when I didn't like oatmeal.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

like a new yorker

I think I'd call myself a New Yorker. I mean, I was born in the state, and this is the city I know best. But I wouldn't say I'm rude or pretentious about it. I understand New York isn't necessarily "the greatest city in the world" and definitely not "the center of the universe." And yet, I also believe that other cities pale in comparison--not for better or worse, but just because New York City really is one of a kind. 
In my humble opinion, this quote describes it best. 
With all that said :) I usually love living here, if nothing else, then for one reason alone: my friends can visit often and they do. Liz came most recently. For the past two years, she's been working miles away in rural Washington so seeing her is always a special occasion. It was also especially exciting to meet her boyfriend. He'd never been here before, and I wanted to show him the city's best.
Of course, I could hardly do that it one night. We began in Union Square, sampling local beers at Little Town NYC. We then took a stroll through the East Village to taste the delights of one of my favorite seasonal and farm-to-table restaurants, Northern Spy. And finally, courtesy of Elizabeth's dependable sweet tooth, we ventured to momofuku milk bar. It was a delicious evening.
This time, I chose places based on my own positive experiences, but that's not always the case. When researching new places to dine, I often return to New York Magazine and Yelp... though I've been depending on The Purple Passport lately.
Maybe I'm biased, but there really are some amazing restaurant recommendations there (in addition to nightlife venues to suit any owl personality, spas that are most definitely worth the splurge, sights & activities to be explored no matter your NYC familiarity, and the only suggestions made just for tourists, hotels.) We put our heart and soul into the New York guide, and I'm proud to promote it.
Speaking of tourists, Joanna Goddard shared 10 ways not to look like one. My favorite tips? "Confidence is key. One thing I love about New York women is that they flaunt their quirks. Got a head full of curls? Let them fly free. Six feet tall without heels? Wear them anyway. Want to wear all electric blue? Go for it. In this city, it'll only make you cooler."New Yorkers imagine that there's an invisible line down the middle if the sidewalk, and that to keep the flow going, you keep to the RIGHT. New Yorkers also walk at a brisk pace, and if they stop or even slow down, they step out of the way." "New Yorkers fold their pizza." And now,
Funny, true, embarrassing. Hope you've had a lovely weekend wherever you are!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

getting to know you

Happy Thursday, dears! Today's post is going to be a little different. In the summer of 2008, I revealed a couple of my little known quirks (here and here), but a little less than four years later, and I still don't think you realize how weird unique I am. Fortunately for us both, the 6 Weeks of Bliss Challenge prompted me to share "5 personal tidbits that may surprise my newest fans" and  Cait recently tagged me to share 7 Random Facts about myself. Let's get started. This is going to be fun...
1. I don't have a nickname. It's sad, really, because I wish I did. Nobody calls me "Lala" outside my home. In middle school, my friend Marisa called me "Dani," my friend Nicole called me "Donnie," and my friend Codie called me "Danielley." None of them caught on. In high school, my field hockey coach called me "Alvarez," but being as that is my last name, it doesn't really count. And, although ma souer took to calling me "Dela" (a combination of my initials--including my confirmation name, Lucia), nobody else (except for K, occasionally) does.
2. I am the queen of last minute packing, and with good reason; I find it sad to pack up a bag or suitcase too far in advance. Truth is, as much as I live to travel, I love home. I feel bad for my apartment or my parent's house if I pack up too soon... as if it were somehow disrespectful to be overly eager to stay elsewhere for a while. Totally bizarre, I know.
3. I firmly believe that real foodies appreciate olives. While in Europe, Elizabeth and I made it a point to order olives on each and every thing we ate dining out. Neither of us liked olives, but we were determined to change that by the end of the four months. Having olives with dishes and foods we otherwise really wanted made us acquire a taste for them, and today, I can proudly say I appreciate olives. I don't think there's ever been a more appropriate time to: boo-yah!
4. I have to wash my hands upon arriving at a restaurant. It's most likely a good thing, and definitely a sanitary habit, but I think it's rooted in OCD-ness. I literally always have to wash my hands upon arriving at a restaurant. And when you're, say, on a date with a boy, (or at least someone you don't know very well or haven't seen in a while,) it's probably rude to run to the restroom right away. Wouldn't you agree?
5. I've said this once before, but I strongly dislike most of the process of air traveling. You'd think that having done it so often, I'd feel otherwise. But I don't. It's so annoying to have to arrive early, stand on a long line to go through security, and then sit in an uncomfortable chair (and most likely pay for wi-fi) as you wait the hour or so until your plane begins boarding. Not to mention that I honestly always get a little nervous at the beginning of each flight.
6. I really, really want to go sailing. I made it my goal this summer to meet someone who could take me out on a sailboat. Well, that goal failed. Then, in San Francisco, I did meet someone who could take me out on his sailboat, and offered to do so. Trouble was, I didn't exactly feel comfortable sailing away from the unfamiliar west coast with a stranger. Plus, it looked like it was going to rain.
7. I haven't figured anything out. I mean that. I'm aware that I oftentimes seem "wise," that I'm constantly sharing romantic revelations, and career advice, and ways to live a little better, but that's only because I'm a thoughtful person (almost embarrassingly so) and this is my preferred space to share those deep thoughts of mine. Don't you ever think that someone knows exactly what they're doing. Nobody does, myself included. We all doubt ourselves sometimes! I believe we're all just trying our best, and hopefully learning along the way.
Fin. Now I'm supposed to continue this chain and tag seven more bloggers... but I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to tell you that the delicious meal you see above was enjoyed at Lure Fishbar as per the occasion of a visit from my mom and her friend, the what-a-great-deal allure of Restaurant Week, and the esteemed recommendation of The Purple Passport. I'm also going to ask that you share one of your little known quirks, just so I don't feel like the only odd one. Please and thank you :).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

le colonial

I live my life simply: "eat well, travel often." Simply enough, at least :) since those two past times are related. I don't travel to visit a place I've never been before, check it off the list, and possibly get my passport stamped. I travel to discover new things... and as such,  trying a new restaurant offers me that same thrill.
Over the summer, I purchased a gift card (through DailyCandy) to a Hamptons-based restaurant. A few months ago, I was told the restaurant had closed. But they did offer me a chance to exchange it for another icitycerts gift card. So, with my affection for everything French and my fascination with Vietnamese culture, I chose Manhattan's Le Colonial and invited my cousin on a romantic dinner date.
A fusion of culinary backgrounds often leads to a delicious meal, but when those two cultures have as much history as the French and the Vietnamese, the entire meal becomes an entire enchanting experience; "Set in the backdrop of the bustling Upper East Side on 57th Street, Le Colonial transports you to another place in time, recapturing the beauty, romance and spirit of French Colonial Southeast Asia."
In the midst of a formal, airy dining room featuring a tin ceiling, vintage photographs, wicker accents, ceiling fans, lush, potted palms, and soft 1920's French music, Bianca and enjoyed a three-course meal of truly amazing Vietnamese. We started with Goi Cuon (soft salad rolls with poached prawns, lettuce, vermicelli, herbs and hoisin chili sauce) and each had the Ca Chien Gung (ginger roasted salmon with sauteed leeks, bell peppers, asparagus and basil sauce) as our entrée. The service was also very attentive and friendly.
When it came time for dessert, we were torn between le Tarte Tatin and le Mousse au Chocolat. Thankfully, being as we'd also enjoyed an exquisite Pinot Noir, we were tipsy open-minded enough to order both desserts. It was a very good choice as both were absolutely divine. And afterwards, with the icitycerts gift card, we were able to return to our average "twentysomething in the city" lives unscathed.
As far as my upcoming plans go: my next big trip is going to be a homecoming, I plan to visit K at least once, and I hope to use the JetBlue points I've acquired to organize a very affordable week or two staying in Colombia with my grandmother's family. In the mean time, I'll continue to explore as I make the most of one of my favorite seven days of the year: NYC Restaurant Week.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

sunday brunch

It was a beautiful day last Sunday. I woke up naturally at 9 , took a stroll through the farmers market, made myself a slice of toast with almond butter for a light breakfast, and then helped my roommate  Catherine straighten up the kitchen.
She had invited two of her friends, Dan and Andrea, over to make brunch. I was looking forward to it (1) because brunch is my favorite meal of the week, (2) because I hadn't really spent time with them since we wore floppy hats to Governor's Island, and (3) because Andrea is a culinary school graduate.
We started with drinks. First, coffee. Next, (after prepping the pomegranate Dave and Andrea had unexpectedly brought), we put a spoonful of arils into each glass, followed by champagne and a splash of St. Germain. It was a delightful, spur-of-the-moment creation of a brunch cocktail. Then we got to work on the menu. Catherine sliced, toasted, and buttered the country bread she'd bought fresh that morning while I helped Andrea prepare Baked Eggs in her adorable ramekins. 
In addition to the plate above, I also helped myself to yogurt and orange slices. We drank, ate, and were completely and utterly merry for the rest of the afternoon. 

To recreate the experience for yourself, I couldn't recommend this recipe more. It's quick, tastes impressive, and is much less intimidating than any quiche I've ever made. Even with just garlic and thyme (the only herbs we had on hand), and divided amongst four (the recipe is for two) it was delicious. Try it this weekend.

1/4 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
1/4 tsp minced fresh roesmary leaves
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
6 extra-large eggs
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving
  1. Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.
  2. Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 3 eggs into each of 2 small bowls or teacups (you won't be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It's very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)
  3. Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tbsp of cream and 1/2 tbsp of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5 to 6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren't cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread. 
For more, check out this New York Times round-up and have a fabulous weekend.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

the grand grand canyon

I had my first hot toddy tonight. This cold weather cocktail (originating in Northern England) is traditionally prepared with a mixture of whiskey, boiling water, and sugar or honey. Mine at the Cover Club was made with cloves and a lemon slice too. It was delicious... and needed in the way drinks sometimes are.
Even with all I learned in 2011, apparently no amount of wisdom could ever rid me of my worries. And I'm assumedly not the only one. Last November, Joanna Goddard admitted to being plagued by her own and how, at 27, it lead her to a therapist for a few months. How did the therapist respond? With this:
 "Picture that the Grand Canyon is your life--your past, present, and future. Start envisioning the various parts of your life within the canyon: Over there is the day you were born, your third-grade choir performance, your job as a babysitter. Picture your present: There's your apartment, your friends, your mom, the book you're reading right now. Picture your future: There's your next vacation, the love of your life, your future children, the Top Chef finale :)."
"Now, my therapist told me, picture the enormous Grand Canyon and drop your worry into it. Whatever you're worrying about--your cranky boss, your dating life, a salty comment from a friend--will be barely visible. 'See how tiny it looks?' she says. Suddenly your problem will seem much, much smaller in comparison to the grand course of your huge, rich, long life."
I don't know about you, but I'd agree that it's brilliant. It really helps put each worry into perspective. 

That, and gives me a reason to reminisce about my 2005 visit to the Grand Canyon. I was 17 and had applied to the 10-day program that brought myself and a dozen other high-schoolers to study the Earth sciences in Arizona. It was fun, educational, and absolutely spectacular. On our first night, we took the inns towels out to the edge of the canyon to stargaze. I saw more shooting stars in the those twenty minutes than I had in my entire life. Similar to how good everything has turned out to be in the past seven years since then, that memory continues to amaze me.

P.S. Turns out, Wednesday is Hot Toddy Day :) enjoy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

proof that beer is healthy

It's no surprise that I love wine. I was conditioned to, having studied in notable wine countries like Chile and France, and continue to explore my refined (ha) tastes in unexpected places like Central New York and Williamsburg. I do like beer too though, and I prefer it on the hottest summer days and coldest winter ones.
Plus, (didn't you hear?) beer can be really healthy. The fact that Whole Foods is serving beer should be proof enough, but I'll expand further... 
(1) Hops, a primary ingredient in beer, is "a significant source of cholesterol-lowering, cancer-fighting, and virus-killing compounds called polyphenols."
(2) Brewer's yeast, which is added to beer bottles right before they're closed, "is a rich source of B-complex vitamins, protein, and minerals such as chromium." Furthermore, "as a probiotic organism, yeast helps your body break down nutrients, regulates your digestive system, maintains your nervous system, and even helps modulate blood-sugar levels."
(3) The dark malt roasting process, used in brewing stouts, porters, and browns, fuels the formation of more than twice the amount of antioxidants found in the average lager. "What's more, 'The antioxidants in beer are better at reacting with toxic-free radicals than the ones in antioxidant vitamins pills."
(4) And perhaps the most important piece of health information (discovered through personal experience as opposed to an article in Men's Health): blowing off a week of steam with three great friends is always really good for you.

So cheers, friends. Hope your Monday is filled with many happy hours... ;)