Restaurant Review: Annabel

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During my lunch break I often walk around the Columbus Circle and Hell’s Kitchen areas of New York City, and more than once I’ve found myself staring into the windows of Annabel, an artisanal pizza spot on Ninth Avenue. Its interior is rustic-chic, with exposed wooden beams on the ceiling and hanging industrial-style lightbulbs. The tables are sleek and square, and the soft glow of the candles on each renders the room cozy and inviting as evening falls—perfect for a romantic dinner or a girls’ night of gossip. The latter is what I was there for, with my friend and former coworker Anna.

We spent some time looking over the menu, which includes a range of appetizers, salads, pizzas, and full-size entrees like bacon mac and cheese with pork ribs and crispy rice or whole wheat tagliatelle with calamari, clams, scallops, and lobster in lemon-cilantro butter. With so many options, we weren’t sure how to choose, so we started by crossing off what we didn’t want. The buttermilk fried chicken, braised short ribs, and truffled risotto all sounded tasty, but we decided they’d be too much food alongside a pizza. We settled on the spanish octopus with broccoli rabe and a yellow chili emulsion; it seemed relatively healthy and we thought it would make a nice light start to our meal.

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Spanish octopus with broccoli rabe and yellow chili emulsion.

Anna and I both enjoyed this dish, though we thought it could have been a little larger for $12. Instead of three pieces of octopus (we had to cut the last one in half to share), four tentacles would have been more ideal. Otherwise, it was cooked perfectly, not rubbery or mushy in the slightest, with a nice char on the outside. The broccoli rabe had just enough bitterness to leave a pleasant aftertaste but not so much that it made our tastebuds pucker. And the sweet spice of the yellow chili sauce complemented but didn’t overpower the delicate taste of the octopus.

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Pizza with arugula, ricotta, duck prosciutto, and blueberry jam.

For our pizza course, we wanted something unique, and quickly decided against the simple tomato-basil or four-cheese pies. Torn between two options, we went with the more outlandish-sounding one: ricotta, duck prosciutto, blueberry chutney, and arugula. What did we think of this strange mishmash of flavors and textures? Anna said it best: “The combination of duck, blueberry jam, ricotta, and arugula was not supposed to taste good; those ingredients just sound so random and odd. But I was very surprised at how delicious it was!” And it was delicious. The arugula lent the crisp yet still soft crust a tanginess that was perfectly offset by the sweetness of the jam and the creaminess of the ricotta.

The duck prosciutto was the finishing touch: a hint of savory saltiness. Only, I wish there had been at least one slice of duck for each wedge of pizza; we ended up having to break them in half in order to get the taste of the prosciutto on every piece. But overall it was worth it. For $18, we got a six-slice pie that our server described as smaller than your average takeout pizza but larger than a personal pie. It left us pretty full and satisfied…but of course we still found room for dessert.

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Pistachio creme brûlée.

Right away we decided on the pistachio creme brûlée. In all honesty, I can’t say it was a five-star dessert: the brittle caramel on top seemed a little more burnt than strictly necessary (though personally I like burnt things so I didn’t really mind). But aside from that minor flaw, the green-tinged custard delivered a bright flavor and rich creaminess that felt simultaneously fresh yet decadent in our mouths.

All in all, Annabel excelled in all aspects: delicious food, appealing aesthetic, and prompt and friendly service. Both Anna and I plan to return—there are still so many menu items we want to try!—and would definitely recommend adding this to your restaurant circuit.

2017: Books I’ve Read So Far

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With Thanksgiving and Christmas, the end of 2016 felt barren in the way of books; I didn’t have enough time to read and didn’t get my usual giant stack of paperbacks as a gift this year. Since 2017 rolled in, I’ve been trying to read instead of sleep on my morning commute, and so far I’ve made my way through five books, all of which I liked for one reason or another. Here they are, ranked in order of personal enjoyment:

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
It all begins when journalist Lo is sent on assignment on a cruise ship and meets a woman in cabin 10, only hours before Lo witnesses what she believes is that woman’s murder. But when all traces of the woman disappear, she is left unsure what to believe at all. This page-turner has a well-developed plot, a characters who leave readers questioning the truth at every moment, and a solution that you won’t ever see coming.

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Faithful by Alice Hoffman
I immediately liked the protagonist of this novel: Shelby is a damaged girl who sends her best friend into a coma and needs to figure out how to live with the guilt. The reader follows her from the accident to her future, when she’s managed to build some kind of a life for herself, and somehow never gets bored hearing about the everyday details, like the dogs she owns or the men she loves.

9781250087935_p0_v2_s192x300The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
What a bizarre novel! Though I didn’t think it was as well done as Emma Donoghue’s Room or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it had the vibe of both, and I still found it interesting and original. The story revolves around a young girl, raised to believe she and her sisters are living in heaven’s garden—but the reality is just the opposite. Each chapter reveals another piece of this terrifying puzzle.


9780062279026_p0_v1_s192x300A Million Worlds with You
by Claudia Gray
The third book in a trilogy about traveling to alternate realities to save the word, this YA fantasy novel didn’t impress me as much as its predecessors: key characters lacked presence, conflicts and struggles didn’t seem to go deep enough, and it all wrapped up a little too easily. That said, I did find the story intriguing and the pace quick, and am glad I read it if only to learn how it all ends.

 

9780316176507_p0_v2_s192x300A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This book was nothing like Atkinson’s masterful Life After Life, despite being marketed as a companion piece to that one. It was a plodding tale that slogged through different years in the life of a World War II soldier, first as a boy, then as an older man, then as a fighter, then as a boy again, without chronology or order. The writing was too wordy and the characters banal, each generation more miserable than the last.

Following My Animal Instincts

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I might have mentioned that Todd and I signed up for the NYRR’s 9 + 1 program this year. If we run nine races set up by NYRR and volunteer for at least one, we’ll have guaranteed entry into the 2018 New York City marathon. The first of our nine races isn’t until March, but since our midnight run on New Year’s Eve, I’ve been trying to keep up my mileage, which I’ll have to slowly increase throughout the year. And I’ve been finding my inspiration in animals.

Aside from naming each run in my travel log, I’ve been assigning each an animal emoji to sum up how I felt during the run. On longer runs it keeps me distracted; I spend time thinking of which animal might best represent those seven or ten miles. On shorter sprints, it encourages me to pick up the pace: if I want to assign a cheetah to the run, I’d better earn it.

Our midnight run got a chick with its arms spread wide, signifying my willingness to embrace a new year and new running experiences. A two-mile run, my first-ever in the snow, received a penguin because I was so bundled I could barely do more than waddle. To the five more miles I did on the treadmill when I got back inside, I gave a poodle; those five miles felt like I was being pampered compared to the bitter cold and icy snow. My most recent run, Wednesday morning before work, was a camel because I did the entire thing on a 5 or greater incline and felt like I was trudging through sand dunes with belongings piled on my back.

I’m looking forward to our first race of 2017 in March, and already wondering which animal emoji I’ll assign to it.

 

Join Our TD 5 Boro Bike Tour Team!

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Todd and I signed up again this year for the TD 5 Boro Bike Tour, which takes you on a 40-mile ride through each of New York City’s five boroughs. Our experience last year had its ups and down, but it left us feeling accomplished. So we decided to give it another shot.

We’ve titled our team #BronxLatteLovers, and I’ll be using that hashtag on Twitter and Facebook to keep tabs on our progress leading up to the big day, the first Sunday in May. And if you or anyone you know is going to participate in this year’s bike tour, feel free to join our team as well! You don’t have to be from the Bronx, but you do have to love coffee! (Then again, who doesn’t?)

Here’s to a successful training season to everyone who signed up, and an early prayer that the day will be rain-free!

Starting A New Reading List

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Since January 2011, I’ve been writing notes on every book I read in one Word document. It’s gotten so long that it takes minutes to load when I open the file and even longer to scroll down to the end. This year I’m going to start a new list. My review format will include, as usual, the new vocabulary words I’ve learned, any particular quotes that really struck me, and an overall opinion and verdict on the book. But this time I’m also going to try to do a little literary analysis, and put to use some of those English Lit skills before they fade away. As a farewell to my old list and all the books I’ve read since 2011, I’m going to share six of my favorites—the best book I read each year. Only time will tell whether my 2017 reads (my goal is 55 books, 10 more than last year) will top them or not.

2011
Light Boxes by Shane Jones
Key Vocabulary Word: None
Review: This book has easily become a favorite. Filled with vivid imagery, both whimsical and macabre, the novel uses simple language to create stunning visuals that, despite their unbelievable nature, had me hooked and believing. Each little section could be its own prose poem, with enough substance to contemplate for hours, or days; each has a nugget of stark truth that can’t be denied: loss or love or protecting those we care about. I wish I could write like this.
Excerpt: “Note Found in February’s Pocket by the Girl Who Smells Like Honey and Smoke: I wanted to write you a story about magic. I wanted rabbits appearing from hats. I wanted balloons lifting you into the sky. It turned out to be nothing but sadness, war, heartbreak. You never saw it, but there’s a garden inside me.”

2012
Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
Key Vocabulary Word: cahier (French: a notebook, journal, book; sheets of paper or leaves of a book placed together, as for binding)
Review: I’ve avoided Hemingway for as long as I can remember but finally gave him a chance with this book. I absolutely loved it. The writing really captivated me. The plain declarative sentences conveyed much more emotion and information than I’d imagined at first, each detail painstakingly selected to help build and shape the scene. Though minimalistic, the prose was hardly simple, but rather brimmed with feeling and meaning.
Excerpt: “There is nothing you can do except try to write it the way it was. So you must write each day better than you possibly can and use the sorrow that you have now to make you know how early the sorrow came. And you must always remember the things you believed because if you know them they will be there in the writing and you won’t betray them. The writing is the only progress you make.”

2013
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Key Vocabulary Word: None
Review: I enjoyed this book’s easy rhythm and colloquial writing, as well as the twists that drew me deeper into the story. All of the characters rang true, and I liked the inclusion of their histories. Most of all, I liked the magical, mystical element that the author wove into the story. It ended a little too happy for everyone for my usual taste, but I found unexpected comfort in that.
Excerpt: “If anyone had been paying attention to the signs, they would have realized that air turns white when things are about to change, that paper cuts mean there’s more to what’s written on the page than meets the eye, and that birds are always out to protect you from things you don’t see.”

2014
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman
Key Vocabulary Word: suppurate (to produce or discharge pus, as a wound)
Review: I’d never have imagined a favorite book would be a nonfiction one, but here we are. Hoffman struck a perfect balance between giving us the history of New Guinea, delving into Michael Rockefeller’s harrowing story, and telling his own personal anecdote of discovery. His settings and descriptions came close to poetry, and the landscape really felt alive. Even when he settled into explanation, the writing remained intriguing, the reader alert.
Excerpt: “The peaks trap the heavy, moisture-laden tropical clouds, and every rivulet feeds another and another, and they grow larger and intertwine and curve as the land flattens, and it flattens quickly, suddenly, and for a hundred miles to the sea this land is without a hill, a rock, or even a pebble.”

2015
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Key Vocabulary Word: eldritch (weird, eerie, uncanny)
Review: This literary fantasy skillfully weaves history, folklore, culture, and philosophy into a tapestry of magic and mystery. I loved the characters, the way disparate elements of the plot ended up connecting, and an ending that the reader could mull over long after putting down the novel.
Excerpt: “He’d lived so long in anticipation of his own death that to contemplate his future was like standing at the edge of a cliff, staring into a vertiginous rush of open sky.”

2016
Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith
Key Vocabulary Word: allopathy (treatment of disease through conventional means)
Review: This novel blew me away: lyrical, tight passages of description; intelligent dialogue; and a great sense of restraint, knowing just how many clues to give the reader and, more importantly, when to hold back. The story took on a surreal quality, and yet felt completely believable, the reader lost in an illusion so complete that only truth remained.
Excerpt: “So much of our thinking is involved with things we’ve already done and things we have yet to do. It’s almost impossible not to be thinking about some future moment or some past mistake or tragedy.”

New Year, New (Old) Me

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Our first picture of 2017, just before our midnight run through the neighborhood.

While reviewing last year’s list of resolutions, I was happy to see that I achieved many of them: I lived healthier, ran a half marathon, and attempted to be more appreciative. But the year also came with some disappointments. I learned a few basic language skills, but failed to really improve my Hungarian. I tried a few new things, but not as many exercise classes or out-of-the-box activities as I would have liked, and I’m still anxious about going to those kind of events on my own. I read 50 books, but basically failed to do any of my own writing. So, in 2017, though I have a bunch of new goals, I also want to especially focus on those old ones and familiar ones that have stuck with me.

Learning
love increasing my knowledge, whether it’s by reading National Geographic on the subway or downloading a dozen apps I think I’ll use. But often I take on too many learning projects and some of them end up falling by the wayside. In 2017, I think I need to prioritize which mean the most to me, and which I’ve been trying to achieve for the longest time. My Hungarian is at the top of the list: I’d like to find a way to improve my fluency, even though I have no one here to speak it with and don’t know when I’ll visit the country again, since I just went on my honeymoon. But it’s important to me, to how I define myself, and I don’t want to lose those skills just for lack of practice.

Experiencing
I’ve always felt that part of an experience’s joy comes from the people you share it with; that’s why I try to pack my schedule with as many hangouts with friends and as much time spent with Todd and family as I can. But time alone is also a blessing; it allows you to better know yourself and to allow yourself a little space and a little quiet to think and breathe and just be. In 2017, I want to venture out on my own a little bit more. To take that ballet class or go to yoga even if I don’t have a companion. If I don’t start proactively doing things, I’m never going to try anything new. That said, I am still going to treasure my experiences with other people, like going to a French pastry-making class with Todd (it was one of his Christmas gifts to me) and training with him to run the New York City marathon in 2018.

Writing
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. The urge to put pen to paper lives inside my muscle memory and aches when it goes unfulfilled. And yet, I often don’t write. The litany of excuses is endless: I’m too tired. I don’t have enough time. I can’t get my ideas in order. I have other things to do. But my word of 2017 is focus, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. Focus on one idea, on the words, on the Hemingway quote I had inscribed in my iPad when I first bought it: “The writing is the only progress you make.”

I hope everyone has a happy, healthy, and goal-crushing new year! What are some new resolutions you’ve made? Are there any old ones you’re still working on achieving?

Blogger Secret Santa

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This year I had the chance to participate in a really awesome blogger Secret Santa exchange, hosted by the women behind Classy Cathleen and Living the Gray Life. I couldn’t wait for my Secret Santa gift to arrive, and when it did, I was so happy with what I received from Kristine, a college student who posts great advice and tidbits about her life at My Little Box of Tricks. Thank you, Kristine!!

I opened the box to see this really pretty and sweet card (the tissue paper was much neater; this was after I tried to re-create it, following my tearing open the box and rummaging through it):

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She got me sour candy! Yum! So excited I had to take a picture with it even though it was morning and I looked like a sleepy mess 🙂

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Along with the candy, I received some cookie cutters (perfect!) and a really gorgeous journal with pages that shine on the sides:

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I even used the cookie cutters today when baking my grandma’s Hungarian honey cookies!

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I definitely want to do the blogger Secret Santa again next year, and maybe some of you can join, too. And now…onto Christmas gifts!