Monday, August 29, 2016

A Picnic in Central Park

This weekend I surprised the boyfriend with a picnic at Central Park. It's been a beautiful week and he's been working so hard that I wanted to treat him to a few hours of guilt-free relaxation. I have to admit I'd been feeling frustrated and neglected because in the beginning we used to spend a crazy amount of time together. Now? It's been work and life stuff taking over. It's all understandable, but I wanted some time to reconnect.

I asked him to meet me by the fountain at Bethesda Terrace (remember how much I love that plaza?) and then we went off to find a grassy secluded area under a tree. I went all out for this: vegetarian BLT sandwiches, heart-shaped carrot cake bits, avocado cucumber rolls, and other snackies. I even made root beer floats on the spot! Thank God the vanilla ice cream survived the journey on such a warm day.

We lounged around in the shade before packing up our picnic and walking through the park and the Upper East Side. He led me to the Metropolitan Museum, its path lit up as dusk set in, and we sat by the water fountains to watch the passersby. It's so easy to let the time pass by just focusing on to do lists, life goals, and projects day in and day out so this was just the kind of laid-back summery day I'd been craving all month.

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 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…)