FoodPorn Friday: Noodle Cafe Zen



Back in the day (meaning elementary school well through my college years), I ADORED Ramen Noodles.  Any broke college student knows exactly what I’m talking about…those little orange packets with curly, dried noodles that come to life and are swimming in MSG within 3 minutes?  Yeah, those things.

Not only did I eat them as they were intended them to be eaten, I’d also crunch the noodles up and eat them dry…add a bit of Prego and eat them ala Italiana…even soak them in butter and sprinkle with cinnamon for a delicious makeshift dessert.  Palate of a 5 year old, I tell you!  But I digress.

Up to this point in my life, I had never had REAL Ramen.  When I was in Japan I was scared to try it because it was really hard to communicate “vegetarian” effectively, and I didn’t want to risk ingesting bits of pork (shudder!).  So when I saw a veggie option on the menu of Noodle Cafe Zen last weekend, I gave it a go.

And boy did I ever.  My Asian bff filmed me going to town like a white girl who has never used chop sticks, tagging it #wps.  (Confession: I had no idea what that hashtag even meant, and after several unsuccessful guesses (world problem solving?  westside public school?  wholesale pet supplies??))  she gave it to me: white people stuff.  But of course.

Verdict?  Well, I kinnndddaaa prefer the instant ramen noodles, guys.  (Don’t judge!)  But for veggie noodles, these were definitely decent, and  excellently priced (the lunch special was a salad, huge bowl of soup, and a side for about $10.)

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What about you…any foods that you prefer the “fast food” versus the “real thing” of?  Share below!

WHERE: Noodle Cafe Zen
31 St. Marks Place 
New York, New York


By: Jessica Tiare Bowen


This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox




New Yorker Moments


L1010515{this blue door on 10th street}

Today is the 13th anniversary of September 11th, also the National Day of Service and Remembrance.  We remember those that were taken that day, and search for ways to commemorate them.  Acts of service are one important way to memorialize and honor the memory of the victims, and last year 47 million people observed 9/11 by doing good deeds.  We’re jumping on that bandwagon here at UYC today, and encourage you to, as well!

What good deed, however small or large, will you be doing today?  Share below!

L1010524   {this kid is a master}

L1010508{brick oven deliciousness at ribalta}

L1010513{vintage street fair finds}

L1010532{yep, that guy is flipping over 10 tourists}











UsedYorkCity Inspiration #1



^^Savoring the last sips of summer in NYC’s City Island.^^

1. For those of you getting a jumpstart on Halloween, here’s a list of unusual NYC cemeteries. (via amNewYork)

2. Completely digging the name of this new Lower East Side restaurant, Birds and Bubbles. (via Gothamist)

3. Stumbled upon these Birthday Cake flavored Oreos in the grocery store, which taste A.MA.ZING. (via So Good Food Blog)

4. An interactive map to help you narrow down your Midtown Manhattan lunch choices. (via DNAInfo)

5. All these happy New Yorkers. (via YouTube)

What’s been inspiring you this week?  Share below!








A Rose Garden Grows In The Bronx


As a former school teacher, I tend to look at the month of September as the official kick-off to the year.  (January = cold and so overrated!;-)  That being said, the start to fall is a time when I sit down and think about goals for the year.  One thing I plan to incorporate more in the blog this year is exploring all 5 boroughs, which I’ll curate into the Off The Beaten Path collection, making it easy to gather ideas and inspiration for when you want to venture off the island.  While Manhattan may be the main hub many non-New Yorkers think of when they hear NYC, there’s a lot of greatness residing in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and yes, even Staten Island, too.

To kick off this new series, I jumped on the D train and headed up to the Boogie Down Bronx to check out the New York Botanical Garden.  From the subway, it’s an 8 block walk (or you can jump on the bus if the weather is shoddy.)


The garden is a living museum, chock full of so many exotic plants and blooms it’s difficult to believe you’re still in NYC…let alone in the middle of the Bronx!  An oasis of green standing at 250 acres, it provides the perfect getaway to wander aimlessly and soak in a ton of Mother Nature.  Do note though, that if just the idea of walking that many acres exhausts you, the garden does have a free tram to tote you about from collection to collection.

And of course, if you’re not the wandering type, the garden offers plenty of structured classes, events, and volunteer opportunities.  A few that piqued my interest are Jazz Age Evenings (filled with cocktails, concerts, and dance!), iPhone Nature Photography classes, and their annual Antique Garden Furniture Fair.  A full list of activities can be found on their calendar.

Here’s a few snaps from my most recent visit…ever the girly girl, I was quite partial to the rose garden.  No surprise there, right?

Insider Tip: Grounds admission is free all day on Wednesdays and from 9-10am on Saturdays.  However, Wednesdays is also when the school field trips are held (because, free!), so be prepared for lots of elated children running about!  Fresh air does wonders for city kids;-)

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What’s your favorite Botanical Garden?  Share below!


By: Jessica Tiare Bowen


This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.






UYC’s Book Club: Astor Place Vintage


As a fan of all things vintage (clothes, furniture, wine…I don’t discriminate!), I was particularly excited to launch into August’s book of the month, Astor Place Vintage.  Describing the book to friends, I’ve used the words “historical fiction, with a side of chick-lit”.

It’s the story of two women, modern day Amanda and back-in-the-day Olive (and by BITD I mean early 1900’s).  Amanda is the owner of a vintage clothing shop in the East Village, Astor Place Vintage (also important to mention she’s going through a tumultuous love affair with a married man…ahh, the modern day love triangle!)  When she discovers a journal sewn into a fur muff, she gets immediately pulled into Olive’s life in the year 1907, which does much to feed her nostalgia for an earlier, simpler time…while making her realize that the life Olive and other women lived during that Victorian era were not exactly as simple as she would like to believe.


The novel goes back and forth between Amanda and Olive’s narration, and it’s quite fun to see, despite the 100 year gap between the women, all the similarities.  Olive is also interested in fashion, choosing to work her way up from sales girl in a big department store to assistant buyer…forgoing instead the security that getting married would have provided her.

Okay, so now time for discussion!  I’ve picked 3 questions from the author’s Book Club Discussion Guide at the back of the book, and for those of you that have read it, would love for you to join in and share your thoughts in the comment section below!

1. Early in the book, Amanda ponders how it’s “funny how styles from your own parents’ day tend to call out with that seductive aura of nostalgia” (page 10). What era’s styles appeal you?

Oh man, this is easy!  I’m simply in love with the styles of the twenties (so much so that our wedding reception was totally themed to this era!)  Something about pearls, drop waist dresses, and a painted red lipstick just gets me every time.

2. As a single woman in the early 1900s, Olive cannot stay alone at a reputable hotel; there are women-only areas in restaurants and bars; the idea of her working is met with significant disapproval; and the Victorian attitudes about women’s sexuality leave her ignorant and unprepared. At the end of the book she thinks, “Perhaps the day will come when women exist in the world as equals to men” (page 386). Do you think that day has come? If not, do you think it ever will?

In terms of the positive changes that have happened over the last 100 years, I do believe that womens’ equality was something that was fought VERY hard for, and in 2014, we’re lucky enough to reap the benefits of all the hard work put into this movement by women who have come before us.  (HUGE thank you, ladies!)  The novel certainly does a wonderful job of painting the picture of just HOW far we have come.

3. The theme of change as constant and unstoppable is present throughout the novel. Is the past always worth leaving behind? Is newer always better? Is it possible to strike a balance between preserving what is worthy about the past while allowing for modern developments?

There was a great quote somewhere in the story that said “nostalgia is a mild form of depression.”  While yes, I think SOME nostalgia is good…looking at old family photographs, remembering the “simpler” time in the 90’s before the internet and smart phones, recalling childhood memories…I think these are healthiest done in moderation.  Olive’s friend in the novel marveled how that crazy thing called electricity would NEVER take off…well.  I think this is a perfect example of changing with the times, and appreciating that while, yes, we can pine for the days of flapper dresses because they were adorable, I certainly wouldn’t be so keen on living in NYC with the lack of technology the 20’s provided…tenement buildings before plumbing and AC?  No, thank you!:-)

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book below, and make sure to join us next month for our discussion on Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which we’ll hold on Thursday, October 16th.  Between now and then feel free to share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #UYCBookclub!


By: Jessica Tiare Bowen