Monday, May 30, 2011

Pizza Pizza!

Paulus Hook Brick Oven Pizza
Cafe La Rustique
La Sicilia
Great pizza can be found in New Jersey too. For the third year in a row, I got to participate in Jeff Orlick's pizza tours. This year Jeff collaborated with Annalisa and put together Annie's Jersey Pizza Tours. The tour spans all of New Jersey over four days and a wide variety of pies from thin crust to grandma types and even one in a league of its own: tomato pie. For full write up on the pizzas above, visit my guest blog post on Jeffrey Tastes.

Annie's Jersey Pizza Tours

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shiny Happy Decorating: The Jonathan Adler Warehouse Sale

I moved back to NYC seven years after college. I hopped on Craigslist and for the very first time I went to check out apartments where I would be living with strangers. At the time, having my own place was just not an option. I ended up in a 3 bedroom apartment just across the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ with 2 roommates. They seemed normal and we actually became very good friends. The key was that we all respected each other's space and we were rarely in the apartment at the same time. Even though my living situation was prime in regards to NYC scenarios, I couldn't help but feel as if I had regressed back to dormitory style living.

king & queen vase $42
One day while walking through Soho, I browsed through Jonathan Adler and bought a little king & queen vase. They wrapped it in a brown box and tied it with a ribbon. It wasn't a gift for someone else but it was a gift for me. I told myself I would open it up when I got my own place and then start from there to build my dream apartment. The box sat in my closet for a little over two years.

Six roommates later, I couldn't take instability any longer and decided to set out on my own. I got a wonderful prewar one bedroom apartment in Queens and had more than enough room to house and fit all of my existing furniture and future tchotchkes.

I love Jonathan Adler. His design philosophy of having everything to invoke happiness and whimsy into a home is totally me. I love prints, bright colors, retro, and clean lines. Every year Jonathan Adler has a huge warehouse sale in Brooklyn. I first learned about the sale through email and was bummed when more important things came up and I could not attend. This year, I scheduled it into my calendar and made it a point to check it out. I brought along my sister and a friend. The three of us outfitted our apartments for less than $150 combined. We bought bowls, picture frames, end tables, vases, etc. Many items were on sale for $8 and less! Next year I am bringing a car.

New Yorkers with their SUVs and station wagons!
Furniture up to 50% off
X Bench 
Alpaca Rug
Pillow Cases
Warehouse/Sample Sales are an excellent way to shop. Many of the items are closeout items, floor samples, production samples, and overstock. Brands just want to get rid of stuff to make room for the upcoming season and stock. I've shopped many a sale for designer jeans, housewares, furniture, and purses. The good stuff usually goes on the first day but the last day has the best deals. Good bye second hand/college style living and hello high style.

Jonathan Adler

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Ideas for a Newer York City

Last weekend was the first Festival of Ideas for The New City. The festival lasted for 5 days and incorporated conferences, a street festival, and group projects. Over 200 organizations in the Downtown area participated. The goal of the festival was to promote effective change within the city, for organizations and individuals to imagine what the future will hold in urban lifestyle, and to explore new concepts that will help shape and improve city life. Ideas ranged from getting the community together, going green, recycling, upcycling, supporting farmers and small business, innovative design, etc.

Here is a glimpse of some of the participants from one day at the street festival all along Bowery. Imagine what the whole festival entailed.

Hearth by Audrey Berman
  • Hearth is a mobile bread oven used on site to bake bread and as a conversation piece to help bring the community together.
Front oven and fresh bread
Back powered by bicycle
Project PeaceBomb
  • Project PeaceBomb is a collaboration between artisans and organizations (Article 22, RISE Project, Swiss NGO, Helvetas) to support clearance of unexploded bombs from Laos. Jewelry and home items are made from the bombs and other scrap metals. Each purchase will help a household in need and further develop sustainability of the villages.
Spoon Herb Garden Markers $66
Bangle Set $36
Bushwick Art Park
  • The real Bushwick Art Park is not open yet but is in the works. Let's cross our fingers that the park gets enough support so that in can become a reality on Flushing Avenue and Vandervoort Place. If there's one thing New Yorkers are famous for, it's creating usable space out of just a few square feet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Spicy Challenge Part II: Grand Sichuan

I was invited by a friend to partake in the Spicy Challenge. It is not a contest but rather a three part series where spicy restaurants are explored and conquered. Part I was Peaches HotHouse in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I did not attend but from what I hear their fried chicken will have steam blowing out of your ears. Part II ventured into Bay Ridge and Part III is a secret.

Grand Sichuan in Bay Ridge has a little bit of a reputation. It is authentic Sichuan cuisine (somewhat also catering to the American palate) and of no relation to the chain of Grand Sichuans in Manhattan and Jersey City.

My table got quite a few dishes to share. The food was so good that we had to reorder more dishes of the same to go around. We also coveted their spicy hotpot.

On a scale of 1 - 10, I would rate their spicy factor a 7. We think they toned down their spicy for us since we were obviously American. Most of their spice was from chili oil. The one exception was the Spicy Crab which had about a million red chili peppers. The dish reminded me of Chong Qing Dry & Spicy Chicken from Grand Sichuan in the East Village location. That dish was so spicy it was difficult to swallow. That was the level of spicy I was expecting. We finished off our meal with a bag of Blair's Death Rain Habanero kettle cooked potato chips. If you didn't feel any burn during the meal, you definitely will with one of those.

Beef Tendon w/Spicy Pepper Sauce
Sichuan Dan Dan Noodle
Sichuan Wonton w/Red Oil
Mapo Tofu
Shredded Beef w/Cumin
Spicy Crab
String Beans w/Pork
Grace: Ginger Scallion Steamed Whole Fish
Blair's Death Rain Habanero was our version of fortune cookie.

Photography Credits: Jocy Chang

Grand Sichuan
8701 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209

Friday, May 13, 2011

On Location: Life, Camera, Action!

"Mr. Big, you are one good looking man."
"Mr. Schuester, why yes. Yes I am."
Two weeks ago I had some pretty good celebrity sightings on my walks after work. The first one was Chris Noth, Mr. Big himself, on the corner of 47th and 8th Avenue. He was with his fiance and son. I am looking forward to watching him in The Championship Season. The play ends this month. The second one was Matthew Morrison, a.k.a. Mr. Shuester, filming Glee outside the Belasco Theater on 44th and Avenue of Americas. I did not have my camera on me both times. 

The Amazing Spider-Man or "Fiona's Tale" is filming in Woodside, Queens. Since Woodside is about a 10 minute walk over from where I live, I decided to check it out and see if I could catch a glimpse of Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, or Sally Field. The movie has a whole new cast along with a new director. I'm not familiar with the other actors and was quite disappointed there would be no Toby sighting.

If you have ever watched the filming of a movie on location, you would know that it is actually quite boring. There are a lot of lights, people waiting around, and a whole lot of nothing going on. Filming can last for hours and they will do the same scene over and over again. I once watched Uma Thurman and Minnie Driver walk back and forth across a street repeatedly pushing a stroller for 45 minutes while filming Motherhood. I could not hear anything either. Sidewalks get blocked off and long-neckers are forced to watch from afar.

The filming of Spider-Man 4 was no different. A crowd stood across the street from the Woodside post office on 61st and Roosevelt watching and waiting patiently for anything to happen. Two production assistants did their best to control and contain the crowd. They asked that everyone follow these few simple rules:

1. No flash photography.
2. No video taking.
3. When the director yells, "Action!" please be quiet. 
    When he yells, "Cut!" talking may resume.
4. Please be respectful.

We waited while the cast filmed in the alley between the buildings. They had actually blocked the area off with two dark cloths for privacy. 

Production Assistant telling us not to be alarmed by the simulated gun shots.
 I gather a fight scene was being filmed behind the curtains.
The crew was so bored. Filming was scheduled until 3 AM.
Hair! Costumes! Makeup!
I left to carry on with my evening. On my way I walked by the trailers where they do hair and makeup. I also passed by the director's trailer and a few others which looked like storage for props and what not. It felt a little surreal that I had walked on to a movie set in my own backyard. In reality, it was just another day in New York.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Norma's: Where Funny Adds the Most Flavor

The big menu and complimentary
blueberry pomegranate smoothie shots

I have been hearing about brunch at Norma's for the last two years. Chocolate waffles with peanut butter, Eggs Florentine, The Zillion Dollar Lobster Fritatta that costs a thousand dollars... Norma's was promising a lot. I didn’t know what the appeal was other that it’s claim to fame on The Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate (Chocolate Decadence French Toast) and that it was housed in Le Parker Meridien (luxury hotel). I expected Norma's to be snooty and indulgent. The description funny never came to mind until I got an email reservation reminder from Open Table.

God bless Open Table. The online reservation process is simple. I had reserved for Norma's more than a month in advance. It was nice to get a reminder a few days before the day.

“Your OpenTable reservation is confirmed at Norma's at Le Parker Meridien.

Done. You’ve booked and you’re ready to go, almost… In preparation for your meal at NORMA’S, this is what the doctor, oops Chef, prescribes:

• 24 hrs to go—print out the menu

• 24-12 hrs to go—show off the menu and seek advice on what to order 
  (yeah, they’re all jealous!)

• 18 hrs to go—aerobic exercise and strength training (preferably the Quickie)

• Lunch the day before—remember, you’re in training, so have a protein shake

• Dinner the day before—no eating after 7pm—only bread and water allowed

• Night before—dream sweet dreams of beautiful food floating through your subconscious

• Morning of—do a full yoga session with Swami Ramdev Ji

• Arrive on time and tell me that the “Swami sent you”

• You’ve made it, now time to eat! See you soon, Catherine Farnham Guardian of the Tables”

I haven’t had a laugh off of customer service this hard since I listened to dry jokes told by Serena Williams and Tony Hsieh on the Zappos voice mail.

My party arrived at Le Parker Meridien in our best Sunday dresses. We were greeted with tourists in shorts and teenage girls in Juicy jogging outfits. I shook my head in shame and rolled with it. While Norma’s is an indulgent meal, it isn’t stuffy in the least bit. It’s good food at a price. The brunch wasn't the best thing I ever ate but at least the service was stellar.

Brunch at Norma’s:

If you order coffee, it's one giant motherfucker.

Arepa: Colombian Corn Cake, Eggs Sunny Side Up, Chorizo
James Beard Award Winning Recipe:
Potato Pancakes. Homemade Cranberry Apple Sauce, Sweet Carrot Payasam
Flat-As-A-Pancake Crabcake w/Habanero Pepper, Dill Yogurt Mustard Sauce
119 W. 56th Street
New York, NY 10019

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Burmese Cuisine 101: Get Thee to a Bazaar

Last month's post Intro to Burmese Food: A Tradition in San Francisco peaked many curiosities about the cuisine. It had me reminiscing about good times shared with friends and discovering a cuisine which is foreign to many, let alone many Asians included. If it were not for our busy schedules, my friends and I would have gotten together for a group dinner at Cafe Mingala in the Upper East Side to further explore the newfound flavors.

Once a year in Queens, there is a Burmese Food Festival. It is held in the cafeteria of P.S.12 The James B. Colgate School in Woodside.

The food festival is open to the public but unless you are involved with one of the various organizations that help put on the festival or heard about it through word of mouth it is highly unlikely you will learn about it. I was only able to find three listings for the event online via Yelp, Edible Queens, and Eating in Translation. There is little information about the event itself available. At the festival we did come across a handout but it was written in Burmese. All of the signs were in Burmese, as well, unlike previous years where English translations were written underneath. We only knew what things were if we asked. Everyone was so welcoming and explained to us all the ingredients in the dishes. I definitely learned a little more about Burmese culture and am even more intrigued about the food now. The event included performances but we were too preoccupied with the buffet to even check them out.

Mixing together Papaya Salad
Many of the dishes were made fresh on the spot. Ingredients were laid out on the tables and assembled upon request. Large dishes were 5 tickets. Small dishes were 3 tickets. Each ticket cost a dollar. Between three people, we spent $24 on a soup, an entree, some sides and appetizers, and dessert.

Papaya Salad
Pig Ears
Curried Beef, Chicken, Gizzards, Liver, and Cucumber Salad
On Noh Kauswer (Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup)
Let- Thoke (Noodle Salad) made w/ potatoes, tofu, cabbage, bean sprouts, tamarind dressing

Monpetok (Rice Flour with Shredded Coconut)

P.S.12 James B Colgate School
42-00 72nd Street
Woodside, NY 11377

Friday, May 6, 2011

An Interview with Donna Ballard, creator of Swirv Magazine

Reprinted from Beacon Day School's FLASH, Volume 10, Issue 5

Donna Ballard is the Writer, Photographer, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of Swirv (Short Writings in Real Voices) Magazine. Is there anything she can’t do? Swirv is a literary magazine of short fiction, local features, recipes, and decor. This is her first interview since the launching of Swirv. 

Rox: How does it feel to have already come out with the second issue of SWIRV?

Donna Ballard: It's exciting. I'm enjoying doing it. Its been an uphill battle. I'm really enjoying seeing it in print.

Rox: How did you come up with the idea for SWIRV? 

DB: I just felt like there wasn't anything targeted to people like me. So much out there is saturated with pop culture, hip hop, etc. I wanted something for the on the go, single moms like me. Swirv is more my pace, about things I enjoy.

Rox: How long did it take you to create your first issue?

DB: Seven months. I wasn't really sure as to what I wanted. It took a while to figure out what the issue was going to look like.

Rox: Where can people find SWIRV?

DB: Right now it's strictly an online purchase. If you go to the website and subscribe, it will be sent directly to your home.

Rox: How long have you been writing?

DB: Since '95. I wrote my first book at the age of 25, Doing It for Ourselves: Success Stories of African American Women In Business.

Rox: Were you ever trained in short fiction writing, production, magazine journalism, etc.?

DB: Nope. I have a degree in Finance. Writing is just something I enjoy and have always done.

Rox: Have you tried writing other magazines or journals in the past?

DB: This is the first.

Rox: Since SWIRV stands for Short Writings in Real Voices, do the stories you write for the magazine reflect personal experience?

DB: Some. Little bits and pieces. The influence comes mostly from people I 
know. It's kind of a combination of some of mine and from other people.

Rox: Between working at Leapfrog and raising a preschooler, how did you find time to produce SWIRV?

DB: I do it at night and on weekends. I'll work for about 2-3 hours at night. That's when I am in production mode. I always tell people, "If you met my son, you know where I get my energy from." I have a very active four-year-old. But it’s not so much just him, it's me wanting to be my own manager.

Rox: What advice do you have for others pursuing independent projects while juggling a household and a full time job?

DB: Do it. Figure out a way to do it. Even if it’s just for an hour a day. I think there are so many people who are trying to find a way to connect with their true passion and trying to live out a dream. If it's really important to you, just do it.

Rox: Anything else about Swirv that people should know about?

DB: Swirv is a multicultural magazine. It is intended for people who are in need of something to relax to. It's made up of short fiction, which you can read in 15 minutes. It's relaxing and quick. Swirv is intended to be a soothing magazine, mild, relaxing, nothing too heavy.
SWIRV is published quarterly and can be purchased on the web at