UYC’s Book Club: Spiced

When I first came up with the concept for a NYC-themed book club, well over a year ago now, one of the first books read was foodie extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, where he shared secrets of the NYC restaurant world.  Now, Bourdain is an impossible cookie to beat, so while I wouldn’t put this month’s book, Spiced: A Pastry Chef’s True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen, in comparison to it, I would say that author Dalia Jurgensen did a lovely job of sharing her pastry chef adventures–and it was interesting seeing the restaurant industry from a female’s perspective, something Bourdain most definitely cannot provide.

unnamed-7One thing I gleaned from this read that I honestly had no idea of before was how much f@#$*&^ work goes into making these desserts!  Honestly, call me naive, but I guess I always imagined the pastry chef in the back, cutting off a slab of chocolate cake, scooping out some Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and putting a drizzle of Hershey’s syrup on top.  Done and done!  I never realized that the pastry chef is responsible for BAKING the cake, MAKING the ice cream, and CREATING the syrup–all from scratch, mind you–all while keeping the creations aesthetically engaging to the customer’s eye, and tantalizing enough to the tastebuds to have the dish be ordered again and again.  Long hours of standing on your feet, in a hot kitchen, with obnoxious cooks, for very little pay (even in the top NYC restaurants, ((Nobu!!!)), it seems!)–for sure a career of passion.  Next time I go into a restaurant, I’m going to send my compliments to not only the chef, but also the pastry chef.  Well deserved, indeed.

Jurgensen’s strength in the book comes when she describes the creations in detail, having the average reader that doesn’t know a thing about cooking (err, me), learn a thing or two:

The chocolate was dark and shiny, with two thin stripes of white chocolate decorating its top.  He often made hand-molded chocolates as a treat for VIP customers.  It was a delight to watch him temper simple slabs of chocolate or boxes of pistoles (chocolate that came in small drops) and turn them into beautifully shiny miniature works of edible art.  Tempering the chocolate (melting it down and then re-emulsifying the fats and sugars) made it easier to work with and gave it a more appetizing shiny surface.  He would gently heat the chocolate to around 118 degrees, then cool it down by adding unmelted chocolate, stirring until it reached around 92 degrees, depending on how high the cocoa content was.  It’s like magic!  I told him the first time I had watched.  No, Dalia, he said, sternly holding my stare.  Pastry is magic.

Keeping with the theme of the book, we had our book club meeting at Podunk, a little tea house in the East Village, where we could gobble up pastries til’ our hearts’ content.  Have you read the book?  Let’s discuss below!

p.s. For April’s NYC read, we’ll be diving into a classic, Here is New York.  Grab your copy and join the discussion on the blog on April 16th!




UsedYorkCity Inspiration #23

unnamed-6^^Gills enjoying what we hope will be the last snow of 2015!!!^

1. This podcast on 2 schools in the South Bronx, 3 miles away from each other, is a must listen. (via This American Life)

2. After 2 rigorous months, I’m completely bored burnt out on yoga.  My new “exercise” routine is a daily hour walk around NYC, because of all these health benefits–plus FREE and not boring. (via Tesco Living)

3. Finally caught the film Whiplash over the weekend. A beautiful story, taking place in NYC, that screams “follow WORK FOR your passion”. (via Amazon)

4. Anyone else loving the MTA courtesy campaign? The “no fingernail clipping” is my fave, sadly seen this happen more times than I can count! (via NY Magazine)

5. Best $5 and under NYC foods. (via Time Out New York)

What’s on your inspiration radar this week?  Share below!






Tips For Tourists: Ditch The Sightseeing And See NYC Like A Local

TouristsEveryone knows that if you want to experience the authentic side of a city, you need to ask the locals. They know all the secrets, where to avoid and where to check out. If you follow a guide book, you’ll only end up in all the tourist traps, mixing with other visitors. To see the real side of New York City, you can look for hints and tips from people who live here. But if you want to discover the city more independently, there are some things you can do. From choosing leisurely walks over structured sightseeing to taking a chance on a random restaurant, you can ditch the tourist look and blend in with the NYC natives. Try these tips to start seeing the city like a local.

Find the Right Place to Stay

Do you think you’re really going to feel at home in a hotel or hostel? Nope (especially the latter in this city–gross!) You’ll never get rid of that feeling of being an outsider if you spend your time mixing with tourists and backpackers. If you want to fit in, get your own place or stay with a local family. There are plenty of apartments that will make you feel like a real New Yorker, like the ones you can find here. If you stay in a vacation house or apartment, you might get to meet the neighbors, and you can live like it’s your home (a tiny version of your home, but hey! it’s how the locals live.) Cook for yourself, do your laundry in the basement, and lounge in front of the TV, you’ll feel like a NYer in no time.

Ditch the Sightseeing

Sure, everyone wants to see all the sights when they arrive in a new city. Even people who are permanently moving to the city go and check them out. But get all that done on day one, maybe day two as well. After that, concentrate on seeing the everyday side of New York. Instead of a rigorous schedule full of lots of sights, just have a vague plan for what to do each day. Go on leisurely wanders, instead of planned out walking tours.

Get to Grips with Public Transport

NYC has a higher rate of public transport use than many other cities in the US. It’s great taking cabs everywhere when you’re on vacation, but you should use the subway or bus if you want to live like a local. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with city residents (quite literally), and you might get chatting to someone who can give you some great tips.

Take a Chance

When we go somewhere new, we like to check guidebooks and blogs, so we know the best places to go. But even if we get our tips from locals, we could be missing out on some of the best stuff. Instead of listening to anyone else, just wing it and go wherever your heart takes you. If you walk past an intriguing family-run restaurant, walk in and try it. See a group of people flocking toward a particular area? Why not follow them (in a non-creepy way) to see where they’re going? Sure, you could have some bad experiences, but guidebooks and other tip-offs never guarantee you a great time, either.

If you want to experience the city like you live there, allow yourself to get lost. Just make sure it’s lost in the fun, ‘I can find my way back if I want to’ way, not like ‘it’s dark and scary, and I don’t know where I am’. It is NYC, after all.

By: Laura Gatt

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5 Drool-Inducing Restaurants We Discovered At Choice Eats

unnamed-2I’d been in training for the 8th annual Village Voice Choice Eats. I knew there were going to be more than 50 great restaurants lined up with delectable morsels to sample, not to mention scads of beer and other libation stations, and an entire upper floor devoted to desserts.

I ate big meals all week and on The Day just a light lunch, because I knew I needed to rally for this marathon foodie event. By the time I got to the venue, held at the Metropolitan Pavilion, the crowds already stretched around the block.

I’m proud to say I ate at least one bite from every station, and I’ve whittled down the list to some of the most impressive.

Here are my Top Five:

The NoMad

Hands down the most unusual offering on the table: sea urchin panna cotta. Thank you, NoMad, for making sea urchins palettable! I’ve tried them before, turned off by the unctuously slimy texture, and tried them again, turned off by a strongly fishy flavor, and had no desire to go round three. But when at a festival with a mission to sample, food aversions be damned!  I manned up and grabbed a spoon. Panna cotta happily masks the texture of sea urchin, leaving behind a silky, clean taste reminiscent of the sea.

Sigmund’s Pretzels

Did you think something as simple as a pretzel was going to make the list? Neither did I, but one bite of soft, chewy, golden brown carb perfection sent me boomeranging back to the stall for more, sacrificing precious stomach space – but it was worth it, I tell you. Especially with the beer-cheese dip that accompanied it. You can check Sigmund’s out for yourself in Alphabet City, where they sell the likes of jalapeno cheddar and gruyere paprika varieties.

unnamed-1Rubirosa Ristorante & Pizzeria

Their Italian was delightful, and incredibly impressive considering the pasta was homemade, an ambitious feat considering the ravenous hoi polloi clamoring for delicious morsels of everything they could get their hands on at Choice Eats. If you’ve ever attempted homemade pasta, you know how time consuming it is. Respect.

Mable’s Smokehouse

This is the way to pay homage to southern comfort food. Juicy, smoky brisket with maple and bourbon-tinged glaze collard greens, and corn cakes, all in adorable bite-sized portions. ‘Nuff said.

unnamedAmple Hills

There were enough calorie-laden confections to induce one’s own sugar coma on the upper level of the Metropolitan Pavilion, but Ample Hills took the cake (see what I did there) with their signature Salted Crack Caramel ice cream. The “crack” is buttered, chocolate covered saltine cracker bits. Crack-addictive indeed. I did my research. I ate the doughnuts, the cupcakes, the dessert lasagna and the cookies. But nothing quashed my dessert craving like the cool and creamy Ample Hills.

unnamed-3If you missed Choice Eats, not to worry!  Get your elastic waist pants ready and gear up for the 4th annual Village Voice Choice Streets, featuring food trucks this May.

What dishes have you tried and loved lately?  Share below!

By: Sarah Henry of Written in Chocolate




How To Be Parisian In NYC

caroline-de-maigret-how-to-be-parisianIf I wasn’t such a die hard New York girl, I’m certain I’d live in Paris.  Never mind I don’t know a lick of French and as a vegetarian can’t eat 90% of the food–let’s not get caught up in the details.  But I’ve long had a fascination with French girl attitude and style, and own every single book ever written on the subject.  When my French girl woman idol (the one and only Caroline de Maigret, swoon!) recently came to the French Institute in NYC to discuss her book How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits, you bet I was right there, taking vigorous notes.

Here’s my takeaways on how to embrace your inner French girl, in NYC–or wherever you may be.

1. Don’t be afraid of aging, ever.

“Enjoy the face you have today. It’s the one you’ll wish you have 10 years from now.”

2. Savor every moment–even the routine ones.

“Have a Saturday night on a Wednesday.”

3. Style > Labels

“You don’t have to spend a decade’s worth of salary on your wardrobe, or flaunt designer brands the whole time.  All you need is one signature item: the one you wear when you need to feel strong.  The signature item is a gift that a woman gives herself depending on her age, her taste, and the size of her purse.  It is a symbol of independence and freedom, which states, ‘I bought this for myself.  I earned it and it makes me happy.'”

4. Makeup < Culture

“Go to the theater, to museums, and to concerts as often as possible: it gives you a healthy glow.”

5. Black will always be the new black.

“Black is the color of celebration, the color of nights that never end, of women who pull the blinds to shut out the dawn.  A long, dark silhouette, slender and elegant, walking through a crowd of long, dark silhouettes, slender and elegant.  That is the definition of a party here.”

6. Talking about diets and flaws is a no-no.

“Be aware of your qualities and your faults.  Cultivate them in private but don’t obsess.”

7. French faux pas that we Americans can learn a thing or two from.  Never, ever:

“Ask someone at a party what they do for a living. // Be ‘friends’ with your children. // Fish for compliments. // Use ‘I’ve had one too many’ as an excuse for inappropriate behavior. // Take yourself too seriously.”

8. Don’t overdo the accessories.

“The smarter the outfit, the less jewelry you need.”

9. Exercise shouldn’t be a chore.

“Agree to (at least a little) exercise but only in ‘beautiful’ surroundings: a run in a picturesque public park or a swim in a historically listed pool.”

10. Take time for you.

“Call your grandmother on her birthday and rinse your hair with cold water just like she taught you, listen to your children, breathe deeply, take the time to make fresh-squeezed orange juice for breakfast, to go to a museum, to go for a stroll in the woods and to listen to the sounds of tiny creatures in the grass.  In summer, take the time to compile a scrapbook of pressed flowers with a child, to read him a story.  Take the time to take time because nobody else will do it for you.

Her book is playful, honest, with the exact amount of dry humor/sarcasm you can expect from a French self-help book.  And anything that can justify my croissant + butter in the morning and red wine with lunch…well.  I’m all in!

Do you have any French tips you swear by?  Share below!

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