brunch at sarabeth’s + cultivating a kula

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Today I had one of those days where nothing happened, yet everything happened. Forever petrified of “new” people, I spent the morning with a friend and her best friend, working out and eating all there was to eat at Sarabeth’s. When I left, I found myself staring at a woman at the crosswalk, and when I shouted, K? Is that you?, she glanced up and beamed and we embraced in the middle of the street. K and I have been friends since we met at the Columbia writing program in 2001, and she’s since moved to New Orleans to be with her boy and her writing, and she occasionally visits the office of the fancy magazine of which she’s employed. She’s also the only person with whom I’ve entrusted my novel in all its messiness and broken pieces.

After we hugged and gushed over the randomness of our encounter in Union Square, we made our way to the sidewalk where we shivered and caught up and spoke of the children we were harvesting — mine in the form of a novel, and hers in the form of a little girl who will see sky come August. When Sophie died, K told me that she cried in a hotel room in Sweden. She wept because she knows how I grieve, how I can so easily fall into a kind of private dark. I know how you love, but I also know how you grieve. Nodding, I confessed that I’d had a tough summer, the worst I’d known. I’d fallen down the stairs and come autumn I’d started to climb them again. I’m forever climbing.

Before we departed, before I promised K a home-cooked meal and proper nuzzling with Felix (so regal! she said) in February, she held me close and stared at my face in a way that would make most feel uncomfortable, but from her it was home, and she said, You’ve looked the best since I’ve known you. How do I get that glow? How do I get what you got?

I laughed, still rotten at taking compliments, still, and said, This is what happens when you go off the sauce and work out five days a week.

On the subway ride home, I thought of K, of a lesser version of myself all those years ago, and I felt humbled by my life now. While I’m still paying off thousands of dollars in graduate loan debt, while I’m still uncertain how I will be employed past May, while I don’t know where the day will take me, I know this: I’m the strongest I’ve ever been and I finally have a close group of friends on whom I can lean. No longer do I care about collecting acquaintances and strategic connections, about the people who are good to know, I care more the quality of the people I’m cultivating in my life and the time I’m committed in sustaining these friendships, knowing that there’s beauty in watching them bloom.

In yoga, there is a term kula, which loosely translates to community. In this community, there is balance and harmony and beauty and age, and right now I feel all of these things. I hear the sound of forks chinking at Sarabeth’s as we dive into one another’s plates and I squeal that the English muffins look like the ones in her cookbook! I feel the tight hug of a friend who doesn’t want to let go, a friend who tells me that I need to keep at this book, that it’s good, really good, and in return I tell her that I can’t wait wait wait until I lay eyes on her beautiful little girl.

It’s good to be on speaking terms with the people you used to be, but it’s even better to fall in love with the woman you’re becoming.

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love life eat of the week

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This week brings the crisp, blue mornings that signal autumn. As such, I’ve turned my attention toward bircher muesli, granola cereals, and all things pumpkin. I’m discovering delicious morning options from Jane Coxwell’s Fresh Happy Tasty and A Sweet Spoonful’s Whole Grain Mornings. And if this pumpkin cookie won’t properly seduce you, there’s no helping you.

I’ve also been keen on elevating my food photography game, and have stumbled onto these extraordinary resources + posts: Pinch of Yum’s e-book (also, check out her time-saving food photography post), Click it Up a Notch’s tips, and why not be inspired by the best foodie in town — this Donna Hay interview is a gem, and I’ve been a long-time fan of the austere, white-blasted images in her mag + cookbooks.

Tipped off by my friend Arlene, I’ve been shamelessly laptop shopping (is this even a term?) Crate + Barrel’s Paola Navone, and the Helena Napkin Collection, as well as cyber-stalking everything in Food52’s Provisions.

Come December, I’m headed for Fiji. I’ve long-since made the decisions to allocate my money toward experiences rather than expensive things, and I’m thrilled to rely on my friend Hitha’s expert travel tips + En Route With series, to keep me focused on traveling smart.

Finally, as I’ve unloaded six bags of clothing and books I don’t want or need, I’m craving a minimalist, airy home like this. When I’m curled up in bed, you know I’m reaching for Stephen King’s latest (on pre-order!)

Have I mentioned how much I love ice cream? A little trip to Sundaes and Scones is always the perfect salve.

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quick eats: sticky’s finger joint, new york

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Normally I shy away from telling people that I’m a foodie, as the word carries a weight that my shoulders are unable to bear. The word conjures an idea that I’m trying every newfangled eatery, and my gastronomic vernacular is reduced to the last names of chefs and the obscure dishes they create. Truth be told, I don’t care about famous chefs, their books and television shows. I can do without the obscene dinner waits and the foraged plates. My affection for food goes beyond the glamour of it, but to ways in which a meal cultivates a community or creates a memory. Mine is a passion that seeks out the small, but tasty, joints, and places where I have to don finery.

After randomly reading a special on Gilt City (of all places!), I decided to check out Sticky’s Finger Joint, and believe me when I say it’s the real deal. On my deathbed, I want to be fork-fed macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, kale and a slice of blueberry pie. My wants are simple, but the food has to be first rate. Normally, chicken fingers tend to be dry, over-fried, and greasy, but the goods at Sticky’s Fingers are the real deal. Tender breast meat, a well-seasoned crust, and a nice juxtaposition of texture and flavor. I didn’t go in for the sauces, as I tend to believe that good fingers don’t need accoutrements.

My one gripe lies with the truffle fries, which were severely over-salted. Bonus points for the fresh herbs and perfect fry texture, but I had to actually toss the fries as I couldn’t bear the salt.

Sticky’s is non-descript, far from fancy, but the fingers are absolutely worth the visit!

a week of eats, in grams

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What’s better than a life on your own schedule, writing, and yoga during the day? FOOD. Endless amounts of it. Hatching plans over long lunches, celebrating minor victories and catching up with old friends and new, each week I find myself racing around the city, eating until I have to roll home on the subway.

1/2. Kale Salad + Cheeseburgers @ Back Forty West, Soho | 3. Delectable Chicken Panini + Kale Pesto @ Kaffe 1668, TriBeca | 4. Almond Croissant that Reminds me of Paris @ Cafe Dada, Brooklyn | 5/6/7. Rosemary Mac + Cheese, Kale + Citrus Salad, Fried Chicken @ Bubby’s, TriBeca | Creamy Pasta Pesto @ La Pizza Fresca, Flatiron | Cashew (Vegan) Mac + Cheese @ Squeeze Truck in Union Square

eating through paris, rome, tuscany + biarritz: a comprehensive round-up

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Many of you have asked for a list of all the places where I chowed down, wept and snapped photos. Below are links to all my favorite {and approved for dining} spots. Feel free to also search the site for country + city keywords to find my choice picks in Cambodia, Chicago, Toronto, New York, Thailand, Provence, Denmark, California, Texas, and Bali.

Paris: (this list includes spots covered during my September trip, as well!): Sweet: Meert, Poilâne, La Cure Gourmade, Comme La Lisbonne, Carette, Breizh Cáfe (also savory), La Crêperie Bretonne, Maison Georges Larnicol, Maison Colette, Rose Bakery Tea Room (also savory), Chocolat Chapon, Pozzetto, Popelini, Sébastien Gaudard, Eric Kayser, L’ Eclair de Génie, Mamie Gâteaux (also savory), Patrick Roger, Odette, Le Loir Dans La Théière (also savory)

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Savory: Le Chat Bossu, Bread and Roses, Le Petit Italien, La Briciola, Maria Luisa, Colorova (also sweet), Cafe Pinson (also sweet + vegan), Cafe Boboli

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Food Spots + Markets: Rue Montorgueil-Les Halles, Batignolles Biologique Market | Coffee: Telescope, Ten Belles

Terrific Blogs I Adore (I searched the archives of these blogs over the past year, and they proved incredibly helpful in providing exciting places to eat in Paris): Paris in Four Months, Lost in Cheeseland, David Lebovitz, Little Pieces of Light, Paris by Mouth, and Expat Edna

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Rome: Savory: di qua, Pierluigi, Ciampini (also sweet), RJ Numbs Campo De Fiori

Terrific Blogs I Adore: Arlene Gibbs and Erica Firpo

Florence: Sweet: La Carraria, Venchi, Coronas Cafe, Migone | Savory: Trattoria 4Leoni, Gusto Pizza, Trattoria Sostanza, Caffe Pitti, Botteghina, All’Antico Vinaio | Markets: Il Mercarto Dei Sapori

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Tuscany/Cinque Terre: Savory: Barabba Bianca,

Biarritz: Sweet: Real Chocolate, Maison Adam, Le Secret des Pain, Miremont | Savory: Il Giardino, Al Dente, Taco Mex

rose bakery tea room at le bon marché, paris

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She was calm and quiet now with knowing what she had always known, what neither her parents nor Aunt Claire nor Frank nor anyone else had ever had to teach her: that if you wanted something to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone. ― Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

In the end, all cities bleed back to New York. All cities are a great, sweeping metropolis where the motley lot stack horizontal in subway cars and pretend to ignore the downtrodden who’ve taken shelter in makeshift homes constructed of cardboard boxes on the sidewalk. They sleep with pets or in pairs, but mostly alone. We’re told not to give, to report, to move right along, and whether we know it or not, we’ve become expert editors, excising all that is not beautiful out of the frame. The uncomfortable, the unsightly, never stays in the picture.

In the city, we wait on an endless succession of lines. We’re told to complete forms, bring identification, and you’ll notice we’re closed nearly twenty-four hours a day. We wake up, we work, we complain about work (and sometimes explore our options, but never really deviating too far), we work out and get drunk and go to sleep. We travel in packs; rarely do we drift from our spheres of influence unless it’s strategic. We’re card-players without ever having learned the rules of the game. But we play, and we sometimes win (dumb luck) or blame others for a bum hand (what the fuck?). In the city, we ridicule other cities and treat them like they’re quaint and provincial specks on a map should we ever visit. The country is for sleeping and the ocean is for taking pictures of our feet. Our constant struggle is the weather, and how, like the porridge, it’s never just right. We subscribe to dozens of newsletters, follow and befriend the right people, so that we’re constantly informed, always connected. Interesting how we’re vociferous about our left leanings, but keep close to the class that binds us.

There are no accidents. Arbitrary is a word that doesn’t exist in our vocabulary. This is the formula, the regimen to which we’ve subscribed, and the days become photocopies of themselves with minor variation.

But I swore Paris was not like this. It somehow escaped the drone of mobile phone alarm clocks and a rain that chills you to down to bone. PARIS! NOT PARIS!

I’ve spent the greater part of the past decade writing an ode to Paris. From the peonies painted pink to clusters of blush roses, to steamy baguettes wilting paper sacks and pink skies settling on the Seine, from cobalt blue doors and balconies for which arias were written, to manicured gardens and trains that hurtle into the countryside — it’s easy to romanticize Paris. It’s new, all talcum powder on the body and cut grass. We’ve yet to develop our blinders; we haven’t lived in the home that refuses to heat. We haven’t dragged four pieces of luggage through the underground metro system in the middle of rush hour.

Last fall, I gave serious thought to leaving a job that was slowly killing me. In three years I went from a person who created, who thrived off of the relationships I’d cultivated with others, to a person who sent all-cap emails that read, CASH MONEY. To a person who worked all hours, rescheduled, cancelled and spent months ordering take-out. In September, in Paris, I wondered about the woman I had become. Who am I? This realization was terrifying, it implied major alterations had to be made, and it was a reality of which I wasn’t ready to confront. Instead, I created this bombastic love affair with Paris. Much like April in Revolutionary Road — making Paris bigger than it is, so much so that she gets crushed by the enormity of her hope and the inevitability of her heartbreak — this affair was a cringe-worthy hot mess, replete with French lessons and culinary school research.

It took me ten years to realize that the luggage comes along for the ride no matter how beautiful the scenery.

While Paris is remarkable, magical even, it’s still a city that demands one live in it with eyes open. Part of me wishes that I would’ve taken that trip to Bordeaux, kept the romance alive for a little while longer. Stretch out the dream, slip into it, face full of childish sleep and wild hair. But I’m awake, band-aids ripped off and the bright lights flicked on. I leave Paris tomorrow for New York, ready to leave but not quite ready to go home.

Stop asking, stop checking. I don’t know. {emphatically} Start being there. Start accepting the in-betweens. {emphatically} I want to find my way back to myself. I want something sweeping, unsettling and great.

But first, a day of solitude. Of quiet. Of sitting uncomfortably in one’s thoughts. Inspired by infectious energy and beautiful photography on Paris in Four Months, Carin inspired me to take a trip to Rose Bakery, located on the second floor of Le Bon Marché. I spent the morning reading, eating muesli, scones, and banana chocolate loaves in a delightful tea room cloaked in effulgent light. While the tea room is decidedly expensive ($6 for a cappuccino?), it was a gift to myself, a lovely quiet morning before the impending storm.

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eats in biarritz, france

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Those who know me well know I’m a creature of habit. Once I like a spot, I tend to fixate on it and ignore everything else within a ten-mile radius. Closing in on a much-needed (we’re talking dire straights, people) three-week European food odyssey, I’ve had my share of mediocre food, so every place I patron is heavily researched and every menu, inspected. There’s also the issue of price, as I’ve passed a few Michelin-starred spots, whose menus are pretty exorbitant.

Naturally, my preferred spots are far from French (cue the shame chorus), but it’s been interesting to see the Basque influence on Italian + Mexican cooking.

Possibly my favorite of the lot is Taco Mex. Located down a steep alleyway, you wouldn’t think much of the place at first glance. You’re greeted with a large billboard of a menu outlined with a glowing cactus, but inside, INSIDE, the food is spectacular and the service, personalized.

The owner not only prepares your dishes in front of you, but guides you to the “taco bar” and explains the magic: sauce pairings, accoutrements and the like. To say that I didn’t dream of the potatoes cooked in chorizo fat dressed with crème fraîche would be a vast understatement. The sauces are extraordinary, the guacamole homemade, and even the CHIPS (homemade) are stellar. I’ve been hitting this place every night and it fails to disappoint.

If you adore Italian food just as much as I do, you will want to check out Al Dente and Il Giardino — a block separates the two. Both have been my go-to lunch spots, as they have a stellar prix-fixe ($13-$16 for a three-course meal), and the homemade pasta is spot-on. Il Giardino won my heart with its gnocchi, puffed pillows covered in a delicate four-cheese sauce and its tender miniature meatballs.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve traveled to capitals and small towns, and never did I think that my memories would be rooted in Tuscany, Biarritz and San Sebastian. Places where I thought I’d pass through, not remain, settle and completely relax.

pizza in paris: la briciola + maria luisa

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After spending nearly a week in Biarritz, it occurs to me how much anxiety I felt in Paris. Manic, I found myself racing from place to place. The days were an endless repetition of prayers (Will I be humiliated again for my imperfect French? Please no), eating (Is it possible to be so full you’re hungry again?), photographs (And the dread you fear editing 200+ photos come evening) and forward motion (Battery is dying) — with little variation.

Why is that enforced solitude allows for all the things we’re desperate to un-see to glow gleaming and white?

It wasn’t until yesterday when I fully came to terms with the maelstrom that was my life before the trip, and how I will manage the hours after I land in JFK. A sobering thought, but one I think {read: hope} I’m finally ready to tackle.

It also occurs to me that while I have so many notes from Paris, I have very few here in Basque country, but I’ve managed to read two books and write two stories in under a week. Funny how that is.

But back to the pizza, if I may. I’ll confess that I actually don’t adore French food. While pastry will always win over my cold, dead heart, French fare doesn’t inspire me the way that I wish it would. So often you’ll find me ferreting out non-traditional spots, focusing more on the desserts and less on obscure fish.

While these two pies are identical looking in nature, I assure you that they are their own special children in taste. I had the pleasure of visiting La Briciola (in the Marais Nord) and Maria Luisa (in the 10th), and both were exceptional in terms of the overall environ and a chewy crust.

At Briciola, you’ll find pizzas topped with ham shavings, heaping French cheeses and verdant salads, and at Maria Luisa you’ll drizzle hot oil on your pie from a smart selection that is swiftly brought to your table. Both pizzas will be achingly satisfying, so much so that you’ll inevitably regret the salad you ordered and wish you had room for another pie.

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colorova, paris + the comedy that is paris transport

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Merci, said by no one, ever, at Montparnasse Station in Paris. First, you will struggle with the seemingly endless array of steps it takes you to travel from Bastille to Montparnasse (count: 2 metro lines, 10 stations, four shoves and six glares). Part of you suspects this is some form of trickery, a way of which Parisians will do anything to keep its denizens confined to city limits, whilst mocking luggage-strapped New Yorkers. At said station, countless men will jockey for position on the steps and gleefully shove you out of the way. You will have dropped your bags four times to rest before you make it to the faux escalator Parisians call effortless commuting. There is nothing effortless about navigating rail stations in Paris, only a subterranean torture chamber that makes Dante’s Inferno look like Paradise. You consider the fact that if you collapsed on the ground, at this very moment, people will probably step over your still-warm body.

You have yet to board the train at this point, or even locate the ticket booths. The comedy on the level of the absurd that you will soon endure is nothing short of priceless. Since there are no signs directing you to the TGV ticket booth (Why should there be signs? one images a Parisian official stomping his little feet. One should just know!), you make several feeble attempts to make inquiries in your abysmal French. In response, people pretend to think you’re speaking a language that could not possibly be French. There are several eye squints, frowns, and looks of feigned confusion. Side conversations ensue regarding this confusion. One guard even retorts whether you know how to speak French. Sweaty, frustrated and burdened with bags that are the weight of several small children, you say, You’re an asshole, and walk away.

The guard will follow you, apologize, and offer to help. Ten minutes later, you will locate a slew of ticket booths that are out of service. After queuing on the one line filled with people who clearly have never used a machine in their natural born life, your tickets spit out, along with an ominous message flashing in red: You must have your ticket stamped before boarding!

Stamped WHERE? Indonesia, perhaps. As of this moment, that seems logical.

After queueing on another line to make inquiries about this ominous stamp situation, and to perhaps catch an earlier train, you hear the phrase so often uttered by Parisians, It’s not possible. Another variation: It’s impossible. Yet another variation: How can this be possible?

In a waiting room where an internet connection fails every thirty minutes, a woman pushes the doors open and shouts, Does anyone, ANYONE, speak English? You feel this woman’s pain acutely, and help her the four times she asks you about printing out a ticket. Because this was you, thirty minutes ago.

The internet connection expires, along with your patience. You remind yourself that violence is not the answer. But you do wonder what would happen if you screamed, BACK THE FUCK OFF. You imagine the motley lot sniffing and striding past. A giggle lodges in their throat and emerges into a full-blown cackle.

As you board the train, you sincerely believe that the comedy that was your life the past four hours has now come to a close. Curtain calls, roses and all that jazz, but there are more stairs, more cars, more station attendants who laugh at your feeble attempts to speak French, and at one point you just collapse against the door of the train. Your bags fall to the floor.

Then a French woman bends down and picks up my bags and places them in the luggage compartment. One by one. Startled, I rush over and commence with my usual round of désolés, when she says, in English, Why didn’t you ask anyone for help? I give her the Cliff Notes version of my story, when she interrupts, Why didn’t you plainly say, my bags are heavy, I’m lost, can you help me? The train doors close and I say, I don’t know. She touches the fabric on my jacket and says, You see, the world isn’t such a bad place. Here is a stranger who helped you with your luggage, even though you never asked. I thank her, and realize she’s right. Even though I always assume people should know when to help, sometimes I just need to stop someone and speak plainly. Ask for help.

Then I fall into my seat and eat a pastry from Colorova that somehow has survived the whole of this fiasco, in-tact. Remembering an exquisite brunch and a conversation I had with my waitress, who marveled over the fact that I was going to Biarritz, she said, Biarritz’s so very different than Paris.

As I ride up to the sea in Biarritz, speaking a mixture of Spanish, English and French to a jubilant taxi driver, I realize I know exactly what she meant.

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strong coffee: telescope, paris

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Who knew a coffee joint could accrue such mass adoration? That a single cup of brew could send the motley lot singing? Enter Telescope, the very revered coffee shop that has managed to elevate Paris’ once-tepid coffee game. Once you enter, you have your pick from a slim menu of espresso, filter coffee, noisette or white coffee, and watch as your coffee is ground to order using a Kalita Wave filter in concert with an Über Boiler. Pull up a chair and chat with the owners or friendly barista, who won’t admonish you for your appalling French, and fawn over the miniature cakes and a filtered coffee experience that feels borderline luxurious.