Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Three Harlem Coffeeshops

We all know I love a good writing session at a coffeeshop and during my time living in Harlem (for a whole year!), I visited three that I really liked. Luckily, I’ll still be able to visit the first two on the list without it being a complete inconvenience from where I'll be living in Uptown Manhattan.


The Chipped Cup: I first visited The Chipped Cup several years ago during an apartment viewing, but never returned until just a month ago. For a stretch, it became my go-to suggested place to meet Uptown friends for a coffee date* that was walking distance from my place and easily accessible for those who lived in Washington Heights. It can get a bit packed inside and it’s not the most inspiring of interiors, but the backyard more than makes up for a little retreat from the Broadway traffic out front.

*Disclaimer: I don’t drink coffee so can’t comment on how tasty the java is at any of these places. I’ll stick to water or fruit smoothies if they serve it. One friend has completely brushed aside my opinions on whether a coffeeshop is good or not based solely on WiFi and seat availability, but I hope you’ll humor me.


Max Caffé: After inviting a friend for a coffee date at The Chipped Cup, she returned the favor by telling me about Max Caffé, and as soon as I walked into the place, I fell in love with the dark and cozy atmosphere. There’s outdoor seating, but I wanted to stay inside. Exposed brick, big comfy couches, spaces separated by curtains, paintings and mirrors on the walls, red and wood everywhere. I found a quiet corner for the afternoon and then waited for my friend to join me for what would be four hours of chatting and laughing. Next time I'm there, I’m totally devouring one of their Prosciutto di Parma sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and basil on pressed ciabatta bread.


Astor Row Café: I discovered this spot in early January and was so happy to have found a coffeeshop within walking distance from my house that had plenty of table space, free WiFI, played fun music, and served delicious smoothies and sandwiches (their mozzarella with tomatoes and avocado on ciabatta bread...so yummy and yes, I clearly have a sandwich type). I remember it was a Saturday night when I first walked in and spent hours getting a head start on my tax expenses. A part of me thought wow, this is what my life has become, but I didn’t seem to care much after that.

I also remember telling my friends that I was never bringing anyone into this coffeeshop after a friend broke up with me at another local place. Exactly two weeks later, I invited Alex to Astor Row Cafe to meet for the first time. I guess I'll never learn, but it probably won't matter as I doubt I'll ever return to this place after this month is through and I'm completely moved out of the apartment. Boo.

But onward and upward, literally. Soon, I'll be spending more time in Uptown spots in Washington Heights and Inwood and sharing new places I've fallen in love with or old ones I'd forgotten all about.

What local spots are you frequenting these days?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hanging Ten


This weekend was so humid and hot in New York City that when Alex invited me to learn how to surf with him and his cousin, I was on that Long Island Railroad within the half hour. We spent our Sunday morning splashing around the cool water in Gilgo Beach and even though I still can't really swim, I decided to give surfing a go anyway. Wouldn't you know that I actually managed to hop on the surf board, hop on an incoming wave, jump onto my feet, and ride that wave for a few feet?! I wiped out so many times before and after that, but it was such a fun experience and one that I'd never even cared to try before this weekend. It feels awesome to see myself slowly shedding my fear of drowning at the beach and I can't wait to jump on a board again.

Now to squeeze in more pool time and swimming practice before the summer is over. I can't believe I haven't gone to a beach or a pool since our cruise trip back in April. I feel like I've been wasting the summer away, though with the way this humidity has been brutalizing us, I won't be sad to see autumn come earlier.

This little getaway was a needed one, too. A week ago, I started moving back in with my family and have been readjusting to living in my childhood home again. After struggling to hold it together in Harlem, I've decided to give up the apartment and spend time refocusing on some goals before jumping into a new lease. It's going to take a little getting used to, living with my mom and brother, but overall it hasn't been as bad as I feared. Of course, there are some major pros (way more family time, saving money, familiar and beloved neighborhood) and cons (goodbye privacy, sleeping on the couch, bickering family), but I think the act of leaving such a stressful situation and being around family as I figure out my next move will prove to be so much more valuable than the sacrifices I'll have to make over the next several months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Simple + Yummy Vegetarian Dishes


I like to cook for others, it's how I show I care, but dating a vegetarian has come with its own set of challenges. Not only will he never get to taste my baked chicken or juicy ribs, but my expertise in the vegetable department is severely lacking. Growing up in a Dominican home, our dinners consisted of our three major food groups: rice, beans, and meat. Any small amounts of veggies were either mixed in with the rice or the salad so as to ensure that consumption went unnoticed by us picky eaters.

Last fall, my weight had dipped back down to 76 pounds and by the time the new year rolled around I was barely clocking in at 79 pounds. I haven't been my baseline weight of 86 pounds (and even that just barely gets me into "normal weight" territory) since 2008, but just a couple months into the new year, I gained five pounds. I'd met with a nutritionist and started making my daily smoothies again. I was feeling happier, eating more overall, and stocking up on two of my boyfriend's favorite foods: eggs and avocados. We'd start the day with a hearty breakfast often consisting of vegetable omelettes, banana pancakes, and a homemade smoothie. We'd snack on fruits throughout the day (mandarins were my obsession as I began weening off of juice) and then have a variety of pasta, salads, rice, beans, and veggies for dinner.

Below, three tasty dishes you can whip up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


Breakfast: Quinoa is a nutrient-rich food, high in protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. And while I'd only ever had it once before this year, I've come to see it as a healthier alternative to white rice. Cook quinoa in a rice cooker or a saucepan according to instructions (typically one part quinoa and two parts water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and cover until liquid is absorbed). In a separate frying pan, sauté tomatoes and onions with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add in an egg or two and continue cooking until eggs are done. Turn off heat and mix in quinoa. Top with avocado.


Lunch: I don't see myself ever being able to say goodbye to bread. I could attempt to curb my sugar consumption in all kinds of ways, but bread will always have space in my heart and in my tummy. For a filling sandwich, try using eggs, avocados, tomatoes, greens, and sprouts. I love sprouts so much when I order Asian food, but I don't know why I don't keep them in constant stock. They add a fun texture to my sandwiches.


Dinner: Pasta! And green stuff? Apparently cooking kale properly is tricky. Sauté a washed bunch in a large pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cover for 30 or 40 seconds until it turns a deep green color. Then turn over and remove from heat before it overcooks and turns bitter. In a separate skillet, sauté diced tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix in kale and tomatoes to pasta of your choice like gemelli shown here.

Do you try to limit your meat consumption? What are some of your favorite vegetarian dishes?

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Little Prince Debuts on Netflix

When Paramount suddenly dropped the animated adaptation of The Little Prince, Netflix swooped in to save the film and is finally debuting for streaming today. It’s been a good decade since I read the tale about a stranded pilot and the boy who would watch a string of 44 sunsets when he was sad, so I revisited it a couple nights ago before I fell asleep. It’s supposedly a children’s tale, but clearly meant for the adults who might read it to them and to the children those adults used to be. The story is somewhat inspired by the life of its author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French writer and aviator who disappeared over the Mediterranean during a mission in 1944. This was just one year after he released a book that would go on to be translated into more 250 languages posthumously. I even have a second copy in French so that I could study the language as I read both versions side by side.

The stop-action film looks so dreamy, I can’t wait to see this beloved tale come to life on screen. On my agenda for this weekend: PJs + cereal + Netflix + chill.

P.S. Check out the other titles Netflix is releasing this month.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Toys from your Childhood


In cleaning out the junk in my house, I’ve been thinking about all the stuff that did manage to escape my clutches. Growing up, my siblings and I had so many playthings, more than we knew what to do with. We were very lucky in that sense. I spent most of my time playing pretend with upcycled junk or building tiny dollhouses out of toothpicks (for my teeny Poly Pocket doll), but we were also blessed with loads of toys that were all stuffed into a closet that needed to be opened carefully to avoid an avalanche of plastic.

When we moved from our first apartment to our next one, for some reason my parents felt the need to purge big time…and most of our toys never made it to our new home. I didn’t understand why we had to leave our books and dolls behind when we had so much more space in the new house. I’d go rummaging through our things only to realize that this thing or that thing I once treasured so much was now gone forever. I especially longed for a particular journal, one that was special because it was a gift from my favorite elementary school teacher, with a Renoir painting on the cover.

Eventually, I stopped missing some of those things so much, probably because they were later replaced by others I learned to love just as much, but every once in a while I’ll remember a beloved childhood toy or book and wish I’d held onto it just so that I’d have something to pass on to my own children or nieces and nephews. But knowing how kids roll, I could throw them a paper towel tube covered in aluminum foil, tell them it’s an ancient sword from the 1980s, and they’ll have a field day with it.

By the way, that’s Alex’s childhood bear in the photo. His name is Fred :)

Do you still have any of your childhood toys? Tell me about them. The best story gets Fred in the mail! (Kidding, kidding…)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Adrift


I wanted to write about creativity and such, but after a tough week - physically and then emotionally - I’ve had my mind on other things and it’s left me feeling rather torn. Torn because I keep coming up against measures of success that indicate, to me anyway, that I’m failing, but then there’s still an underlying current of fight inside. Even though I’ve been home with a stomach bug all week long, it wasn’t until I tried to tackle yet another batch of medical bills that I was so sick to my stomach I burst into tears. Money earned instantly disappears to get debts paid off. And they just keep coming in, every day, from all around. Cancer treatment. Imaging. Therapy. Psychiatrists. Just when I had finally paid off surgery and radiation from three years ago, I had to land in the hospital and start another trail of bills. This in addition to paying hundreds upon hundreds for health insurance “coverage” that doesn’t cover very much and charity care that clearly believes I have more money than I actually do.

After hanging up on the attorney now handling my medical case after throwing another $600 into the hole, I buried my face in my knees and lost hope. I work and work to create the kind of life I’d like for myself, but then I look around and wonder, what’s the point? I’m not rich enough for that luxury. I’m not even rich enough to get sick.

*****

This blog goes back so far that I’ve taken to clicking through the relevant stories at the bottom of these posts. It’s like a tiny time capsule for me because I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve written over the past nine years. Some of those earlier thoughts feel so foreign and immature, but I have to remind myself that I was 25 when I started sharing my life online. “A quarter of a century,” I’d say as if that were anywhere near old enough to know anything.

Last night, I stumbled upon two things that are so close to how I’ve been feeling lately. First, the post “Up in the Air” from August 2011. My life was in flux at the time. I was just given notice that I would be losing my full-time job at the end of that month and wasn’t sure if I should continue with plans for a trip I’d dreamt about for so long. I was struggling with the shock that came with the news as well as disappointment and anger over being so dispensable (I’d also been laid off just two years prior). Did I want to keep hacking through the traditional route working for one company in an office or did I want to break away from that? Could I make it as a freelancer and write about the things I cared about rather doing whatever it took to earn a paycheck? Should I finally start that stationery company I’d been talking about for years?

It’s easier to do what is expected, the norm. Land a job with benefits, climb the ladder, and hope they don’t fire you. Rent an apartment, buy a home. Get married, have kids. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. It’s not because they’re inherently easier to achieve, no. They take a lot effort and motivation, but there are also countless roadmaps to follow and so many mile markers along the way if you want to see how you measure up against others. How long have you been at this job? Does your employer match your 401k? How many vacation days do you get? How big is your home? How long have you two been together? When do the kids graduate from school?

You know you will fit in because most people will have been where you are and they will be more than happy to share with you their similar story of struggle or triumph. To me, it’s felt slightly harder to do something different. Not only because it feels riskier and less stable, but because the urge to compare my trajectory to others' is still there.

I never did go back to an office job. Since that second lay-off in 2011, I’ve worked remotely taking on jobs, going full-time with contracts, then back to part-time, losing jobs, freelancing for others, launching a company, in and out of projects, working from home, abroad, the park, a coffeeshop. The constant churn of ideas is relentless as is this never-ending need to figure out, “What’s next?” What if I don’t know what my next should be?

After I finished my sobfest, I let myself get lost in Vimeo films where I found Adrift. It’s a time-lapse of fog rolling over the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s simple, with beautiful sweeping views of the landscape at dawn, and it stuck with me. Sometimes I feel like I’m not tethered to much of my own. Wayward, in transit, “still figuring it out.” Or rather hazy, and sometimes consumed by it.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Museum of Ice Cream?! Yes, Please!


I don’t know why somebody didn’t think of this before, but a Museum of Ice Cream is popping up in New York City through August. Located right by the Whitney Art Museum and the Gansevoort Street entrance to the High Line park, this ice cream playground will feature a pool of fake rainbow sprinkles to dive into, edible balloons, an ice scream scooper seesaw, ice cream sandwich swings, and other fun interactive art for visitors to experience. And with each ticket, attendees will be treated to a scoop of the week created by a selection of heavy hitters in the NYC ice cream world that includes Black Tap, OddFellows Ice Cream Co., and others.

Bad news: Tickets for the museum’s entire run is now sold out.

Good news: Complimentary admission and ice cream will be offered on opening day July 29 from 11am to 3pm. It’s first come, first served so get there early because it’s the only time you’ll get a taste of this cool treat if you haven’t snagged a ticket already.

Speaking of ice cream, this summer I’ve been indulging on a childhood favorite again: Häagen Dazs vanilla-milk chocolate-almond bars. It’s clearly a sign of the times that I’m now more than satisfied with the mini snack size of these bars (read: I’m getting old), but they still hit the spot during this wretched humidity NYC has been experiencing. I was, and still am, also a huge fan of Häagen Dazs’ mango sorbet, which was great because I grew up to prefer sorbets and didn’t feel too deprived when I developed lactose intolerance in my twenties. This love only grew stronger after traveling to Italy and experiencing legit passion fruit gelato. YUM.

I’m pretty discerning when it comes to what deserves a Lactaid pill and what gets a pass from me, but I’ve had my eye on Black Tap’s monstrous milkshake concoctions for a few months now and a trip to the SoHo burger and beer joint needs to happen ASAP. I mean check out the photos and tell me your mouth isn’t watering at the sight of those desert towers?! That Cookie Milkshake has my name all over it, and I don’t even like cookies. I shall report back once I’ve devoured one of those heavily creations. That is if I don't slip right into a diabetic coma when I'm done.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Is It So Hard to Part with Our Possessions?


For the past two weeks, I've been trying to declutter my house. Actually no, I'm trying to do something a bit more drastic than that. What I'm really aiming for is to completely minimize my life by unloading as much of my material possessions as possible so that it'll be easier for me to be more mobile. When I needed to find a new home last year, I almost chose a tiny studio apartment because the larger spaces I was viewing were out of my price range. While the idea of giving up hosting opportunities made me sad, a part of me was looking forward to getting rid of crap I'd accumulated over the years. I don't consider myself a hoarder, but I have my piles of things I've been too sentimental to part ways with. Things like old school papers, art projects, every letter my friends and I have sent to each other, craft supplies, all my childhood diaries, etc. Mind you, these are things I only look through once every couple of years, but every time I do, I'm so grateful I still have them.

When I eventually signed a lease for a one-bedroom apartment, everything came with me and here I am a year later, looking around wondering what's the point of all this stuff I've acquired. It feels more like a home when I fill a place with my things, but I know I don't need most of it. I know this because I can't remember the last time I ever touched that book I thought I'd be all the better for having read. Clothes in my closet still have tags, waiting for the day I can fill it out just right. Do I need 50 pairs of underwear? No. And what about all those tops when my actual rotation only consists of about 10 choices? I'll amass art supplies to nurture whatever hobby I've taken up for the season and then add them to the growing collection when I move on to something else. I've heard a tip that suggests if you haven't touched, used, or worn it in the past year, chuck it. Only when I tried to do that, it was much harder than I thought it would be. I went into the mission thinking it'll be a piece of cake. How much could it possibly mean to me if I've never cared to use it? I even had visions of being able to fit all the things most important to me in this world in one suitcase. I could up and leave whenever I pleased completely unburdened by my earthly possessions! Huzzah!

Yeah, okay, lady.

What really ended up happening was I started picking through my clothes and telling myself, "Oh! But so-and-so gave this to you and you tailored it and everything. Surely, this will be the summer you wear it?" Or "But if you throw this out, one day you'll end up wanting to wear something just like this and then look, you'll have to spend time and money to find it all over again. You don't want to be wasteful now do you? Do you??"

Argh.

Eventually I ended up hacking my clothes pile at least in half if not more, but I'm still not satisfied. I can do better. If I'm struggling with parting with an item, I'll ask myself, "What's more important to you? Keeping this in your life or living abroad?"

But then wanting to part ways with clothes, books, and furniture isn't even the biggest challenge. It's actually going through the task of getting them out of my house. So far, I've participated in a neighborhood flea market that was a total bust unless we go by the number of plastic hangers I managed to sell to one lady. I've started listing books on eBay just to learn how the site works and Craigslist is currently housing my ads for furniture and household items. I'll probably hate myself once I get rid of the storage before I've sold the things I stored inside them, but I just want to plow through. My goal is to spend the next couple of months unloading as much as possible...and then move on.

I've only been in this current apartment for a year, and while the beginning was a rough start that made me reconsider my decision every night for three months, eventually I settled into it and started feeling a bit more comfortable in this new space. Inside, I created a colorful little haven in the hopes of separating me from its crappy surroundings and management. I didn't have a housewarming party until six months into my lease, that's how long it took for me to want to invite friends over. Now, it's as if we're right back to June/July 2015 and I just can't handle the endless string of maintenance issues that go unfixed. This isn't home, this is Chateau Shithole. And while last year I was much too stubborn to call it quits so soon after moving in (and how badly I wanted to move on from my last situation), this time I'm throwing my hands up and saying you win, apartment 1J. It was fine attempt on my part., but now I want out.

Have you tried to minimize your life? How'd you go about getting rid of your things? Donate? Sell? I'll probably do a combo of those, but would love any suggestions you might have before I say screw it and leave it all in a pile on the street.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Animation Block Party Will Satisfy Your Cartoon Cravings


If you love animated films and live in or near New York City, you'll want to check out the 13th annual Animation Block Party. Discover new movies for the young and young-at-heart, creations both local and from abroad, student films, and experimental projects. Then reminisce about your childhood with a look into old animated ads (you know, back when they were almost as good as the shows we were watching) and beloved classics like the Pink Panther, Cowboy Bebop, and the Transformers. Screenings during the four-day event will mainly take place at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, but there will also be a free outdoor screening at Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan to kick off this year's festival July 28. Cartoon lovers can then gather with other like-minded souls at after-parties taking place Friday and Saturday nights.

For more info, visit animationblock.com or grab this week's issue of Time Out New York with my article on this year's screenings.

Image: bam.org

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Koala Goes on a Cruise

A couple months ago, I mentioned that my friend had begun crocheting cute little animals as part of her daily project for the year. When I saw that she had put a Winnie-the-Pooh up in her Etsy shop, I immediately jumped on it. (Pooh Bear was my absolute favorite character growing up.) Then I saw her little koala and I adopted it for Alex due to an inside joke we developed early on after watching this YouTube video on our first date. She'd named him Toby, by the way.

When we planned for our cruise, Alex had a funny idea. Why don't we bring Toby along and take photos of him "having fun" on this trip? And so I present to you Toby's travel photo album...