Thanksgiving Weekend in Photos

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I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I know I did: it was a lot of work, but spending time with family made it all worth it. Plus, we’ve had leftovers for days—which made dinner much easier on Saturday and Sunday while we put up all our Christmas decorations. Here are some snapshots I’d like to share.

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My Thanksgiving Plans

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This year, Todd and I will be hosting Thanksgiving in our apartment for the first time. Well, my mom is going to be helping us a lot since we live in a two-family house and she’s right upstairs, but it’s the first time we’ll have both sets of our parents and a few family friends gathered around our table for the holiday. It’s really exciting to plan the menu and figure out the logistics of who’s going to sit where, but it’s also a lot of work trying to make sure there’s something for everyone and plan out my baking and cooking schedule. Luckily I’m off from work on Wednesday, so I’ll have an extra day to get things ready.

One great thing is that everyone is going to be contributing: Todd’s mom, Rachel, will make her famously delicious glazed corned beef; my mom will bring a ton of supremely yummy dishes, like Italian lasagna and meatballs, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, and a few other Thanksgiving classics; and Todd and I will make a few Thanksgiving-with-a-twist dishes, like coconut-sesame green beans, cranberry-fig chutney, and bruleed sweet potatoes. We’ll also be making an apple-cider turkey. And I’ll be baking too: a pecan fudge pie, a pumpkin pie, and a few mini fruit pies. My brother’s girlfriend, Megan, will be making a sugar-cookie cheesecake, which sounds so good!

I’m excited to see how the evening turns out, and to take plenty of pictures of family and food (if I don’t eat it all first).

Bryant Park Holiday Market Food Photos

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Since I’m swamped at work and don’t have much time for philosophical literary musings (or NaNoWriMo—I know, I know, that was supposed to be my Wednesday blog topic), I’m going to share some food photos from the Bryant Park holiday village instead. Every year, the winter market features small shops and food stands, as well as an ice rink. Todd and I visited recently to browse for some early Christmas gifts and get dinner; we tried so many places, and there are still others on our list for next time (cookie dough hot chocolate, I’m looking at you).

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Countdown to Disney: 45 Days

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20953500_10106693311536829_1695517932177272958_n.jpgMy Disney obsession is no secret. I first visited with my parents and brother in 2001, and thought I don’t remember much of the trip—to those who know me well, it’s also no secret that I have the worst memory in the world—I know I had a good time. Todd and I visited together early in our relationship, then again in 2012 when he proposed. And on our recent trip to California with my parents, we visited Disneyland for the first time (right). But every time we’ve gone to that magical place, it’s been warm and sunny—until now. This year we’ll be in Disney World for New Year’s Eve, so that we get to experience all of the holiday decor plus a special celebration to welcome 2018.

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A Runner’s Dream

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Yesterday, for the first time in 40 years, an American woman (Shalane Flanagan) broke the finish line tape of the New York City marathon! I’d been following her career with interest, so I was especially excited to watch her succeed in what she’s called a childhood dream. Her unofficial time was 2 hours and 26 minutes—only one minute and one second faster than that of the three-time defending champion. It’s so crazy to think that had she taken a slightly slower pace, she might not be celebrating victory today. It’s something that strikes me every time I run: whenever I want to slow down, I remind myself that even a few seconds can matter, though my races are nowhere near as high stakes as the marathon was for a four-time Olympian like Shalane.

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View from the Pelham Bridge in the Bronx. #nofilter

I’d never dreamt of running a marathon. In fact, a few years ago, I couldn’t begin to contemplate completing a 10K. But somehow, the sport takes hold of you, and once it does, you find yourself pushing farther than you’d ever believed possible. And in 2018, I will race the NYC marathon, even though racing double the amount I’ve ever run before seems intimidating at best, impossible at worst. About half a year from now, I’ll start looking into which training plan Todd and I should follow (yep, he’s doing it with me; I have the best husband ever) and I’ll focus on things like pace and gear and timing and energy gels and how to run 26.2 miles without having to pee.

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A perfect postrun snack: Cocoa-topped coffee accompanied by a homemade, whole-wheat, pumpkin olive oil bread with walnuts and fresh ginger!

Until then, though, I’m going to just bask in the run: short two-mile morning jogs under the few stars I can see from my neighborhood, long runs in the Botanical Garden or to the cemetery to visit my grandma and grandpa’s headstone. My running dream is to appreciate each experience, even if it’s hard or I just want to sit on the couch and watch TV instead. This weekend, Todd and I did a run to the beach and back home, seven miles in all. We didn’t worry about how fast we were going, we just took in the scenery and walked when we needed to and ran just to enjoy the run. For me, that’s the best part. That and and the post-run coffee (accompanied by carbs & protein!) I like to have when I get back.

Running: A Love-Hate Relationship (But Mostly Love)

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Every weekend it seems like Todd and I either have a race or just go out for a run. I both love and hate that schedule: I like that it’s great for fitness, and great for getting extra calories to put toward food (though too often I put them toward snacks). I don’t like that it complicates plans and means getting out of the house super early after a long week at work. But we’re well on our way to completing the nine races (and one volunteer event) we need to guarantee our entry into the 2018 marathon, and that goal is worthwhile enough that I’m willing to deal with some inconvenience. (Even though I’m still kind of scared about running the 26.2 miles.) Plus, we try our best to keep our runs as varied as possible: morning runs, a few evening runs, short, long, speed, distance, indoor, outdoor. Overall, any run is better than no run, and our love of the sport means we’re willing to sacrifice things like time and toenails.

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On an early morning run in the neighborhood, noting all the unnecessary artificial lighting and wishing I could see some stars.

My favorite runs are long runs, especially if it’s a breezy Saturday morning and we can take our time looping through the Bronx. Maybe we’ll pass through the Botanical Gardens and snap some photos of flowers or Chihuly sculptures; maybe we’ll detour across town to Riverdale and then up to the Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. The slower pace gives me time to think, to relax into my body and the rhythm of the run. Yet there’s something to be said for short runs, too. They’re faster and harder and after only two or three miles, you feel accomplished and exhausted in the best possible way. Case in point: earlier this month, Todd and I ran the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in the city. To my surprise, I achieved my fastest mile (7 minutes, 14 seconds) and placed 1,339 out of 3,646 women. I felt like my lungs might burst but I also felt glad because I had pushed as hard as I could. And I was very proud of Todd, who ran the mile in 6:26! That’s a time I can only dream of.

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After the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile

This Sunday we’ll race the out-and-back course of the Bronx 10-Mile. Though I’m not looking forward to dealing with the subways (always a mess on the weekends and sometimes not running at all), I am excited to explore a new part of our hometown—and then hopefully eat a good breakfast. (After all, what’s a love of running without a love of food?) In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: What are your favorite kinds of runs?  Your tips will hopefully inspire me to try a new workout or introduce a fresh element to my training, especially as we start preparing for next year’s marathon.

Watch My Garden Grow

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I can’t believe it’s already the end of July. The summer is passing in front of my eyes and I’m not even sure where the days are going; I’ve been juggling additional fact-checking work at the magazine I copy edit for with trying to be outdoors as much as possible, squeezing in time for family (my grandparents just visited from Florida) and friends (we had a board game day, a restaurant-week dinner, Todd’s coworkers’ wedding, and a trip to Mystic, CT). And of course, I’ve also been gardening.

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Garden haul, early July 2017

This year we wanted to focus more on veggies, less on herbs, and so far we’ve been pretty successful (though our lettuce hasn’t been as abundant as in past years, possible because we started them from seed rather than buying the already semi-grown plants sold in Home Depot like we normally do. My dad rigged up a growth lamp in the garage, and it was a lot of fun to watch them sprout up a little more each week; unfortunately, that process also left them a little weak and they’ve been struggling to produce.

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Lettuce (far left), with various herbs, peppers, and beans in the beds, and cucumbers and squash climbing along the top.

I also think we may have gone a little overboard on squash. We love to roast and grill the butternut squash our garden produces every year, and this year we tried some other varieties as well, like yellow summer squash and orange-y crook-neck squash. In fact, I just picked a crook-neck this morning and am planning to make crisps out of it—that’s my healthier alternative to snack on potato chips!

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A still-growing butternut squash

We also have cucumber, which I’ll use a bit later today in a tomato-watermelon gazpacho, eggplant (though they haven’t fully matured yet), peppers (accidentally bought hot banana peppers instead of mild—eek!), tomatoes (the yellow cherry tomatoes are coming along best; our bigger plants seem to be yellowing for some reason), snap peas and green beans, and some kind of fuzzy bean that must have been mislabeled when I bought the plants. I could have sworn that sprout was a Japanese eggplant when I planted it! And don’t forget our fruits: strawberries, blueberries (though they refuse to ripen; I have to research why), and blackberries (we didn’t get as many this year as in past years).

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Garden bounty, picked this morning!

I also have a pumpkin plant, which is really stretching its roots along the backyard fence. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a little pumpkin in the fall.

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My pumpkin patch

 

My Running Journey

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In 2012, my 5″1′ frame clocked in at about 130 pounds, and my doctor told me I needed to lose at least 10 of them. Before that, I hadn’t really thought much about my weight or about the foods (read: Taco Bell) I put into my body. I didn’t care about organic or sustainable or exercise. But I had noticed that it was harder to play ddr (that’s Dance Dance Revolution, for anyone who didn’t spend high school in arcades dancing in sync with colorful arrows scrolling on the TV screen), and I figured that my doctor might be on to something. So, challenge accepted.

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At right, in 2010, about a year and a half before my doctor suggested I lose weight. At left, me now: not my lightest weight, but at my healthiest.

I started with food: I downloaded the MyFitnessPal calorie-counting app and painstakingly plugged in my meals. It got easier over time and pretty much became a habit; I still do it, mostly to check myself when I want to eat too many chocolate-covered mangoes or coffee-nut M&Ms. Bit by bit, I gave things up: soda, fast food, mindless snacking. I still eat burgers and ice cream and candy, only I do so now in moderation instead of all the time. That philosophy became, and still is, my mantra: Everything is fine, in moderation.

Then I added in some exercise. At first I only did the warm-up to Shuan T’s Insanity workout videos, because I couldn’t complete any more than that. By 2014, I felt ready to attempt my first race, mostly because you could score a cuddly stuffed elephant if you raised a certain amount of money. Todd and I finished in 34 minutes. Afterward I wrote: “I wouldn’t call myself a ‘runner’ by any stretch of the word. I don’t pace faster than eleven and a half minutes per mile. I don’t jog more than file miles per week, most weeks.” So I started doing practice jogs; I added weight training to my routine. I struggled my way to push ups and chin ups (well, I’m still working on that; I can only do one) and burpees.

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A family photo at the hotel gym the night before the third annual Chocolate 5k Race in April.

Now I can do speed runs and intervals and long runs and half marathons. Sometimes I run alone, or with Todd, and sometimes we do races as a family. I weigh 110 pounds, give or take a few depending on the day, and I can see muscles (baby ones) in places I didn’t have any before. My best 5k pace is now about 26 minutes, and Todd’s is even faster. We’ve come a long way.

But I still want to keep improving. This past weekend, Todd and I ran a 10k in Queens, our first in Flushing-Meadows Park. It was drizzly, and the course was muddy, but we completed the 6.2 miles in 58 and a half minutes. We crossed the finish line holding hands. For me it was a win, even though I placed 1,878 out of 5,101 women and 5,963 out of 10,884 total racers, even though the fastest female finished the course in 34 minutes, a full 24 minutes ahead of me. I can’t even wrap my mind around that kind of strength and speed, but I’m going to keep reaching for it.

And I won’t stop trying to reach new milestones—like next year, when Todd and I attempt the NYC Marathon. I’m scared, but determined. After all, I am a runner.

Restaurant Review: Hudson Grille

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This past weekend, Todd and I were tasked with finding a restaurant that would satisfy both sets of parents, mine and his, as well as the two of us. After reviewing a ton of website menus and Yelp reviews, we chose Hudson Grille in White Plains, which had a menu that ranged from a standard burger with cheese to fried lobster dumplings. And to our relief, it was a success, and everyone really enjoyed their food, from the appetizers to the desserts.

ATMOSPHERE & SERVICE
The space felt large and roomy, and I was glad to see that people weren’t sitting nearly on top of each other. It was pretty empty when we arrived around 4 p.m., but started to fill up as our meal wound down. There was a bar with some kind of sports game on TV, and that area got a little bit loud at times, but we were seated a distance away and it wasn’t too bothersome. I did think that the lighting was too dim, and it made the glare of the afternoon sun coming in through the blinds even more irritating (but if we closed the blinds, it felt too dark to see our food or each other very well). Our waiter was very friendly and accommodated all of our requests, and the staff refilled our water frequently so we never went thirsty!

APPETIZERS

 

We chose the lobster quesadilla (which came with a mango salsa and sweet chili sauce), the sautéed mussels, and the pear-thyme salad to share. The quesadilla was the star of the appetizers, with tender lobster and a nicely browned tortilla. The sauces worked well with the dish, and we all enjoyed it. The mussels, too, were surprisingly good—not at all sandy, and the coconut milk, lemongrass, curry broth was so flavorful, just the right level of sweet and spiced. The large hunk of bread on top tasted great when soaked in the broth. The salad was tasty, too; I really liked the grilled pears but was kind of unimpressed by the rest of it, and I didn’t taste the thyme much at all.

ENTREES
Since we had six people in our party, we luckily got to sample a lot of different menu items for our main meals. I liked mine (the butternut squash ravioli) the best in the end, but I also really enjoyed the cedar plank salmon.

 

I’ll start with the chipotle shrimp pasta (above), which my mom ordered and asked for it to be not too spicy. The kitchen complied perfectly, and it had just the right amount of kick without being overpowering. The tomato- and pepper-based sauce was good and paired well with the shrimp, but we weren’t wowed by the dish and probably wouldn’t order it again. Todd’s parents both ordered the steak sandwich (above, without cheese or aioli) and said they enjoyed it. It came accompanied by fries, which were good but again, nothing out of this world.

 


Todd ordered the duck breast (above), which had a really nice sear and the right amount of chew without being tough. The julienned vegetables were bright and fresh, and the duck wontons brought a nice sweet yet savory burst to the plate. My dad chose the cedar plank salmon (also above), which was cooked absolutely wonderfully, with a tender, flaky inside and crusty, crunchy exterior. So delicious! And his bok choy and rice looked good, as well. And now, my pasta (below): pillowy tortellacci stuffed with butternut squash puree, served atop a bed of soft spinach, and all doused with a garlic cream sauce, then topped with a sun-dried tomato pesto. It was seriously out of this world, and I was so glad to have run 11 miles earlier that morning so that I could eat it without feeling guilty about how creamy and decadent (and calorie-laden) it was. Definitely worth it.

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DESSERTS

We chose three different desserts: the banoffee pie, the almond coconut ice cream cake, and the flourless chocolate cake. We enjoyed all three, but I think the ice cream cake was my favorite, with a subtle hint of coconut and enrobed in a rich chocolate ganache. It also came with a mango sauce that paired nicely, and I wish there had been some more of that. Here’s a pic of the pretty plating:

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The flourless chocolate cake was also really good, super dark and rich and thick. I don’t think I would have been able to eat more than a few bites if it were the only dessert I’d ordered, though, because it was so heavy and filling. It came with vanilla ice cream, but we asked for chocolate instead.

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Lastly, the banoffee pie. I loved the bananas and the whipped cream and the chocolate sauce and the toffee glaze….but I did not like the tart shell at all. It was a pretty flavorless puff pastry that just didn’t go with the rest of the dessert; I would have preferred a flaky buttery pie shell, a graham-cracker crust, or even a chocolate cookie-like crust.

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Overall we really enjoyed our desserts, and our entire experience at Hudson Grille, and would definitely return!

Restaurant Review: Bustan

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Bustan is a small, bustling, nearly overflowing space, wedged between King Food Chinese and a fairly nondescript pub on the Upper West Side’s Amsterdam Avenue. Inside, it’s sweltering, but somehow feels cozy, like you’ve been bundled into a giant womb. Unfortunately we ended up outside on the covered back patio, warmed only by heat lamps that were mostly directed at a big party sitting off to one side. And it seemed like, back there in the chilly dim light, that we’d been forgotten about; our server hardly came to our table, and it took about 20 minutes before we could even place our order. Suffice to say, I was not looking upon the restaurant fondly. But then the food arrived, and all my complaints withered away. The eclectic Mediterranean dishes were zesty and flavorful, prettily presented, and delicious.

To start, we ordered a rich, thick hummus, paired with a warm loaf of bread and olives. The bread was light and airy, perfect dipped into the hummus, and we quickly finished the first loaf and asked for a second, which didn’t seem to be a problem. We also ordered an appetizer special: lamb buns with onions. The dough resembled the soft chewiness of bao (one of my favorite kind of buns!), and the lamb was spiced and seasoned really well.

For my meal, I ordered a salad, with roasted beets, baby arugula, red onions, and pistachio-crusted coat cheese (that big circular thing plopped on top). Since I wasn’t sure if it’d be enough food, I also ordered the grilled octopus appetizer, which came on a bed of white beans and tomato and was drizzled with a cilantro oil. The octopus was really tender, not too tough or too chewy, and I loved the mix of flavors in the dish. The salad was also good, but a little too dressed for my taste. We also had an issue with our food arriving on time: Todd’s cousin’s wife and I both got our salads before our husbands got their food, even though we’d asked for them as our meal, and we ended up waiting nearly 15 minutes before we could all eat together.

Todd ordered the lamb terracotta, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. It came out as a savory bread dome, which our served cut away to reveal a sort of tagine inside, featuring hearty chunks of lamb, tomato, peppers, and a whole host of spices. The lamb had a nicely charred exterior and a soft interior, and the flavors in the dish were the perfect combo of spiced but not too spicy. And of course the presentation was undeniably cool, especially since the bread dome could then be dunked into the stew.

And lastly, dessert. Todd and I shared the chocolate cake, and Todd’s cousin and his wife opted for the doughnuts, which the kitchen was able to make without eggs to accommodate his egg allergy. (I’m not sure what they used instead.) The plating of the chocolate cake was gorgeous, and I loved the unexpected pairing of cherries and cornflakes and hazelnut gelato. The cake itself was also good, but a little disappointing in texture. Todd and I had both been expecting something a little softer and denser and pudding-like. Todd’s cousin and his wife enjoyed the doughnuts, which came with three different dipping sauces, including chocolate and raspberry.

After dinner, we enjoyed a nice stroll and pleasant conversation. All in all, despite some setbacks and frustrations, Bustan delivered where it mattered: the food.

Restaurant Review: The Hudson House

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My favorite cousin and I had originally scheduled to get together last month, but an unexpected bout of viral and bacterial conjunctivitis in both my eyes quashed our plans. Finally recovered, I met up with her on Saturday for brunch in Nyack, New York, on the Hudson River. We went to a fine-dining restaurant called The Hudson House, located in the town’s former village hall and jailhouse. The cells are still intact, but now they hold the eatery’s wine instead of the inebriated citizens who’ve drunk too much of it! The dining room is cozy yet classy, with sloping angles and dimmed lighting and formal white tablecloths, and there’s also an outdoor seating area (which wasn’t open on our visit but is probably a nice spot to enjoy breakfast in the summer months).

The brunch menu wasn’t as extensive as other places we’ve been, but it did have something for everyone, from vanilla yogurt and omelets and a country breakfast with two eggs any style, sausage, roasted tomato, english muffin, home fries, and toast to lump crab cakes, an organic salmon salad, and a half-pound burger. We’d already looked at the menu beforehand and knew what we wanted, but it still took a while for our waiter, Jose, to come to our table because the restaurant was pretty crowded and other diners had arrived before us. On the plus side, that gave us ample time to enjoy the complimentary bread basket, which contain mini corn muffins (I found them a little too dry but Todd popped one after another into his mouth no problem) and some kind of fluffy sourdough bread that tasted divine with a smear of the incredibly soft, whipped butter that came with it.

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Complimentary bread basket with butter and a cup of bold, flavorful coffee and milk.

Finally we got around to ordering our meals: my cousin had her heart set on the french toast; Todd and I decided to split the pancakes and the eggs benedict since we couldn’t choose between them. When our food came, we dug right in because we were starving. First up, the french toast. Four triangles of thick, doughy brioche bread were crusted with cornflakes and stuffed with peanut butter, accompanied by fresh berries, bacon, and pure maple syrup. It was a dish that would fill you up and keep you full long after the meal. It had just the right amount of crunch from the cornflakes, but we thought there could have been more peanut butter inside and more fruit scattered on top. But all in all it was decadent and satisfying, even though my cousin only managed to eat half of it!

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Peanut butter-stuffed brioche french toast.

Todd and I shared the toasted coconut pancakes, topped with blueberry compote. Again, though I strongly felt there could have been more blueberry on this dish to brighten it up with fruity goodness (I only got seven blueberries; I counted), it was extremely tasty. The coconut flavor really came through, and the pancakes themselves were cooked to perfection: a little crisp on the outside but warm and fluffy on the inside. Because it came with four generously sized pancakes, this was a perfect choice for sharing. I could never have eaten it all on my own!

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Coconut pancakes with blueberry compote.

And now for the savory half of our shared meal: eggs benedict with prosciutto, portobello, baby arugula, and truffle vinaigrette. This was the smallest of the three dishes, and Todd definitely wouldn’t have been satisfied if this were all he’d ordered. We had no complaints about the flavors in this dish—a mix of peppery and salty and tangy—though our eggs were a little overcooked. The truffle vinaigrette went really well with all the other components, and Todd said the english muffin paired nicely as well. (I opted to put my egg and meat and mushroom on top of a pancake instead of eating the english muffin.) I also didn’t try the few breakfast potatoes that came with it, but Todd approved.

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Eggs benedict.

Since this brunch was a belated birthday celebration for me, we couldn’t pass up dessert. All of the desserts at the restaurant are made in house, and they all sounded divine! We were torn between the banana cream pie (with fresh bananas, a chocolate bottom layer, a gingersnap crust, and tons of whipped cream on top) or the sticky toffee pudding (with toffee sauce and candied ginger). Jose, our waiter, recommended the former, so we went with that…but then he surprised us and bought us both desserts, with the sticky toffee pudding on the house! We were so excited and grateful to him. Both were really good, but I found the sticky toffee pudding a little too rich and sweet; after one or two bites, I felt like I’d had enough. As for the banana cream pie, on the other hand, I could have eaten the entire slice and more because it was the best piece of pie I have ever eaten. Ever. Sweet and soft and fresh and intensely flavorful, it turned a good brunch into a fantastic one. I’m already craving more of it. (Pictures of both are in the slideshow below.)

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So although The Hudson House could have improved some aspects of our meal, we definitely enjoyed it and would recommend it to friends visiting the area. And if you go, please do not forget to order a slice of the pie. I promise you won’t regret it (except you might be tempted to order another piece…or two or three…to take home with you)!

Restaurant Review: Zora’s Cafe

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Not only did my coworker’s get me gifts for my 29th birthday, including a giant box of Godiva chocolates and a book that’s all about coffee, they also took me out to lunch. We settled on Zora’s Cafe, an unassuming soul food spot on Ninth Avenue between 47th and 48th streets. The restaurant aims to “develop healthier soul food dishes without compromising great taste” by using cage-free eggs and organic vegetables, among other strategies. The simplicity of the menu in the window—four appetizers, seven entrees, only three lunch specials—belied the savory complexity of our meals. Once inside, we noted that the space felt cozy and welcoming, with exposed brick and the smells of the kitchen wafting out into the dining space. What’s more, the mother-daughter duo that started Zora’s were the ones who served us and cooked our food! Now that’s what I call true Southern hospitality, and it was much appreciated.

Our meal began with complimentary cornbread: soft in the center but deliciously crispy on the edges. A hint of citrus added a pleasant zing to it, and I probably could have eaten the entire basket on my own if I hadn’t wanted to save room for my main meal. Adrienne ordered an iced tea, which she enjoyed, while Lisa and I stuck to water. Our server, Zora herself, was extremely welcoming and attentive, checking back to make sure that everything was to our liking and whether we needed anything more. She had no problem answering our questions, even when we asked the same ones twice!

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Then it was time for entrees. Everything on the menu sounded good: fried green tomatoes, battered wings, chicken and waffles, slow-simmered braised beef oxtails. Ultimately we all chose the catfish sandwich; Adrienne and Lisa got theirs fried and accompanied by white bread, whereas I went with pan-seared and whole wheat. The lunch option was only $10, and it came with a side of fries, though Zora explained we could substitute any other side we liked instead. Lisa went with a simple salad, Adrienne chose the spice-dusted potato salad (in the photo on the left, below), and I picked the collard greens (in the photo on the right, below). The sandwiches also came with a hot sauce and a white condiment that was a homemade version of tartar sauce.

Adrienne and Lisa both agreed that their cornmeal-crusted catfish had a ton of flavor, despite being a little salty. Adrienne’s potato salad was rich and creamy. My fish was cooked perfectly, nice and flaky and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The sear gave it a slight char that paired really well with the collard greens. Although the dessert options, including a peach cobbler, sounded so tempting, we all felt too full to give them a try. That’s just one of the many reasons I’m already planning to go back! I’d definitely recommend Zora’s Cafe to anyone looking for a solid lunch or dinner option in the area.

 

Recipe: Applesauce Chicken Casserole

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On weeks that Todd and I are both super busy with work, it helps to cook a few simple-to-make dishes on a Sunday, especially ones that can last for a few days. But if we’re going to eat the same food several nights in a row, it needs to be tasty. With that in mind, I created this applesauce chicken casserole; it’s based on an apple-cider chicken recipe, but I added tons of vegetables and used applesauce because I didn’t have any cider. It worked really well, giving the chicken a yummy coating that crisped nicely during roasting without burning. And there was a ton of food, so we definitely had enough for the next couple of evenings! Here’s the recipe…

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The casserole: toasted breadcrumbs, crisp chicken, and a bed of healthy veggies.

Ingredients
~1 tbsp. butter, softened
~1/2 cup apple sauce
~1/4 cup chopped parsley
~1 medium yellow onion
~10 ounces sliced mushroom
~4 ounces baby carrots, cut in half lengthwise
~1/2 small head cauliflower, broken into florets
~1/2 small sweet dumpling squash, cut into chunks and softened in microwave
~1/4 cup cooked peas
~Salt, to taste
~Pepper, to taste
~1/4 cup vegetable oil
~1.5 lbs chicken thighs
~1/4 cup bread crumb tossed with a sprinkle of parmesan

Instructions
~Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
~In a small bowl, mix butter, applesauce, and parsley until well combined.

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~In the bottom of a rectangular baking dish, scatter onion, mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower florets, squash, and peas. Season with salt and pepper, add oil, then toss to coat.

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I used a purple cauliflower I found at the farmer’s market. It looked so pretty!

~Dunk each piece of chicken in applesauce mixture until well coated. Set aside  remaining applesauce, then arrange chicken pieces, skin side up, over vegetables. Pour remaining applesauce mixture over chicken and let soak into veggies below.

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~Roast for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 375 degrees. Roast until vegetables are tender and chicken reads 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about another 30 minutes. Add bread crumb and parmesan topping and roast until bread crumbs are lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.
~Serve and enjoy 🙂

A Boo-tiful Halloween

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Wow, I’ve been busy! I’d spent some time planning snacks and activities for a Halloween party held at my friend’s house in Connecticut, and I’m pleased to say that it was a success. We had a sleepover the night before so that we could wake up and get an early start on all of our creations, from chocolate cupcakes to fruit cups meant to look like candy corn.

Clockwise from top left: Elina and me, wearing matching Halloween socks, with Ghost; chocolate-covered Oreo cookies made to look like pumpkins; a salad topped with a sour cream “spider web”; spinach “toxic waste” mac & cheese; and orange, pineapple, whipped cream “candy corn” fruit cups.

At the party we also took pictures with Halloween props and watched Poltergeist, a horror classic that isn’t scary but is fun to poke fun at. We even carved pumpkins! Todd and I went the easy route and just turned out pumpkin into a bat, but some of our friends etched out some really creative designs.

On Sunday, I decided that we still hadn’t had enough Halloween sugar, so I baked a lemon-ricotta cake with cream cheese frosting and a layer of lemon curd, then decorated it with some Halloween sprinkles. I also made mini cupcake versions, but those were topped with a vanilla-malt frosting. Mom and I baked vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting, too, and had fun scarify-ing them with spooky ghosts and gummy worms and any other candy we could find.

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To burn some of those calories, Todd and I did a six-mile run to the Botanical Garden in hopes of seeing some fall foliage. Most of the trees hadn’t begun their transformations yet, but we saw some stunning fall colors near the entrance of the garden. When we got home, we quickly washed Todd’s car before it rained, falling in sheets so thick you couldn’t see through them. It was nice to relax and listen to the storm after the busy weekend we’d had.

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Unfortunately I missed out on seeing the cute costumes of trick-or-treaters because I had to work late yesterday, and it’s likely to be busy and late all week here at O magazine. But it’s okay: I have plenty of sweets and candy to help me power through!

Recipe: Apple-Walnut Quick Bread

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I’ve made quick breads in so many variations: mostly banana, but also blueberry and cherry oat. This time, armed with two bags of apples from our annual visit to an upstate orchard, I decided on apple-walnut bread with a coffee cake streusel topping; I used Ovenly’s salted apple bread recipe as a guide, with several tweaks to make it a little sweeter, softer, and nuttier. As a bonus, this recipe makes a ton of extra streusel, and you can store the leftovers in the freezer to use in other baking projects.

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Ingredients for streusel
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-3 Tbsp. sugar
-2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
-2 tsp. cinnamon
-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (melted)

Ingredients for bread
-1/2  cup unsalted butter (melted) plus extra (softened) for greasing the loaf pan
-3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. whole milk
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/4 cup light brown sugar
-2 large eggs, at room temperature
-1/4 cup maple syrup
-1/4 cup canola oil
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
-1 cup rolled oats
-1 Tbsp. cinnamon
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. allspice
-1/4 tsp. cloves
-1/4 tsp. nutmeg
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1.5 cups peeled, cored, and cubed apples
-Streusel topping

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Preparation

  1. Prepare streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, both sugars, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and use your hands to mix until clumps begin to form. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with softened butter.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, eggs, maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract, and melted butter until well blended.
  4. In a separate large bowl, combine both flours, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.
  5. Using a spatula, add the dry ingredients to the wet ones until just combined. Fold in walnuts and apples until evenly distributed through the batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and top with streusel. (Any leftover streusel can be stored in the freezer for up to one month.)
  7. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes.

Recipe: Coffee Cheesecake

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A few weeks ago I really wanted to make a coffee cheesecake, but every recipe I came across called for coffee liquor, which I didn’t want to use. Finally I stumbled across a recipe from the blog Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt, made a few changes to it based on what I had available in my apartment, and got a super-creamy cheesecake with a light coffee flavor (because I used cold brew instead of instant coffee; for more of a coffee flavor in your cheesecake, use instant coffee as recommended in the original recipe), with a chocolate ganache layer and also topped with ganache, coffee whipped cream, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. It looks like a lot of steps, but I promise it’s not actually that hard and it’s totally worth it!

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Ingredients
For the crust:
~15 honey graham crackers, crushed
~1.25 cups mini oreo cookies, crushed
~1 stick unsalted butter, softened
~2 Tbsp. sugar

For the ganache:
~1.5 cups heavy cream
~20 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
~1/4 cup cold brew coffee

For the coffee whipped cream:
~1 cup heavy cream
~2 Tbsp. instant coffee
~2 tsp. cold water
~1/4 cup powdered sugar

For the cheesecake filling:
~3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
~1 cup granulated sugar
~3 large eggs
~1/2 cup sour cream
~1/2 cup thick vanilla yogurt (I used the New York-based brand Siggi’s, which is actually an Icelandic skyr, but any type of Greek yogurt should work fine as well.)
~1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste
~1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cold brew coffee

~Chocolate-covered coffee beans or nuts for decorating

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Preparation
For the crust:
~Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
~Combine ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined. (I like to leave some large graham cracker chunks in my crust, but it’s up to you how chunky you want it to be.)
~Press into a 9-inch cake pan. (The crust will only cover the bottom of the pan, so if you like your crust to run up the sides, I suggest doubling the amount that you make.)
~Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool.

For the ganache:
~While crust is baking, start on the ganache: Bring cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.
~Remove from heat and add chocolate and cold brew, whisking constantly until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth.
~Pour 2 cups ganache into cooled crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache at room temperature for decorating.

For the coffee whipped cream:
~In a medium bowl, beat heavy cream until small peaks form.
~In a small bowl, stir together instant coffee and water; pour that mixture into heavy cream.
~Add powdered sugar and beat until thick and fluffy.

For the cheesecake filling:
~In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
~Beat in eggs one at a time.
~Stir in sour cream and yogurt and mix well.
~Transfer 1/4 of the filling mixture to a smaller bowl. Add vanilla bean paste to it.
~In original large bowl, add cold brew coffee and stir well.
~Pour 1/2 of coffee-infused filling into crust, then add 1/2 of vanilla filling, swirling with a knife to mix. Repeat with remaining coffee and vanilla filling. Bake cheesecake until golden but still slightly jiggly in the center, about 1 hour, then let cool.
~When cheesecake has cooled slightly, use a spatula to spread a layer of ganache over the top. Decorate with espresso cream and coffee beans or nuts.

New Running Record: 13 Miles

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Todd and I in Ridge Hill at the end of our run.

To get ready for our half-marathon in October, Todd and I have been adding miles to our long runs each weekend. On our honeymoon we ran 9 miles in Budapest (the Buda hills were killer) and 10 miles in Paris; it was a really fun way to sightsee and keep up with our training at the same time. Back in the Bronx this weekend, we felt bored with the same old trails to Orchard Beach or City Island, so we decided to switch it up with a run to Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. Spoiler alert: We made it! But not without some struggles along the way.

After about 15 minutes of active stretching, our journey started on Pelham Parkway near our apartment. Though it sometimes gets congested, the street itself was closed to traffic Saturday morning so we had a nice open road before us and plenty of space to ourselves. We started off easy and slow, and our first mile took us about 13 minutes to complete. During that mile, I just focused on warming up, letting my legs and ankles and feet get used to the motion of running. I’ve been doing all of my long runs in my Asics GT-2000 sneakers (which I plan to wear during the half marathon) and they’re consistently the perfect balance of comfortable and lightweight.

Mile 2 took us near the Bronx Botanical Garden but not through it. The city had recently done some construction in the area; it turned out that the bike path had been repaved with smooth asphalt, but the run/walk path remained cracked and uneven. Needless to say, we followed the other pedestrians and used the bike path anyway. After about two more miles, we arrived at Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale. Its the third-largest park in New York City, and though I’ve explored it several times, I still don’t think I’ve managed to see everything it offers! There are tennis courts, a track, some historical buildings—and the Old Putnam trail, which is what we took to make our way up into Yonkers.

The Old Putnam trail, which follows the route of the former New York and Putnam railway that extended all the way up to Brewster, travels alongside a lake blooming with algae. The upside: the trees provided a lot of cover from the sun, which was good because on Saturday the weather service issued a heat advisory due to high UV and humidity levels. The downside was that the trail isn’t paved, so we ran about two and a half miles in the mud, constantly tripping on stray rocks and fallen branches and old railroad tracks. The path became very narrow at certain points and we had to be wary of bikers coming up behind us, so I was glad to reach Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, where the trail becomes paved again.

For miles 8 through 11 we just continued up along the trail, past homes and a golf course and a shopping plaza where the smell of food kind of made me nauseous. Miles 8, 9, and 10 didn’t feel too hard physically, but mentally I just kept trying to remind myself that I was more than halfway done and that I’d run 11 miles before so I could definitely do it again. By mile 11 I had picked up the pace and was running closer to 11-minute miles. I felt tired; my legs ached. Then, around the 11.5-mile mark, we crossed off of the trail and onto a busy sun-drenched street. With no shade, the heat really hit me, and it only got worse when we reached the steep hill leading up to the shopping center. We slowed to a walk, which was harder than all of the 12 miles that had come before it. Drenched in sweat and out of water, I wanted to hitch a ride to the top.

But slowly, slowly, slowly we made it. Our total time was 2 hours and 36 minutes. We bought water at the candy shop and stretched our legs and tried to recover from the intense heat. Eventually Dad picked us up and gave us a lift home—there was no way I was running another 13 miles back. That night we celebrated with some delicious Vietnamese pho, followed by brown sugar pecan brittle ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. After eating, we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, a show inspired by the movie Avatar. The scenery and effects were really impressive, as were the acrobatics the performance troupe is famous for. All in all, it was a rewarding and exciting day.

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The closing scene in Toruk: The First Flight.

Recipe: Maple-Peach Glazed Ham

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Since returning from our honeymoon (the sequel to my Disneyland Paris update is forthcoming, as are some other posts about the trip) last week, I’ve been itching to get in the kitchen. On Friday I had the perfect excuse since two of my good friends were coming over for dinner. I had two conditions for my cooking: 1) I wanted to try something I’d never made before. 2) We had a half-day at work, so I wanted a recipe that I wouldn’t normally have time for on weeknights. That led me to a maple-peach glazed ham, adapted from this recipe in Taste of Home.

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Maple-peach glazed ham in the oven, nearly done baking, alongside a loaf of garlic bread.


I made a lot of changes to the original recipe, actually. Inspired by my mom’s recipe, which she’s been making for years and is really delicious, I surrounded the ham with Coca Cola during baking to keep it juicy. But since I had all that sweetness from the Coke, I didn’t want to also use sugar-laden peach preserves for the glaze like the original recipe called for. Instead, I used fresh peaches and a little bit of sugar to make my own peach compote, to which I added several more spices than called for in the recipe and a little bit of lemon juice and zest for brightness. Lastly, I used white peach instead of yellow peaches to give it a more subtle peach flavor, and I substituted litchi juice for the orange juice used in the original recipe…but that’s just because I don’t like orange juice. So if you can’t find litchi juice, feel free to use orange, or any other juice you love.

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Spices for the maple-peach glaze next to the little Ratatouille Eiffel Tower we got in France.

Ingredients
~1 (7- to 9-pound) fully cooked bone-in ham
~2 tbsp. brown sugar
~2 tbsp. garlic powder
~1 tsp. paprika
~1 tsp. ground black pepper
~10 medium white peaches, 3 sliced and 7 chopped (leave skin on)
~1/2 cup maple syrup, plus more for drizzling over ham
~1 (2 liter) bottle Coca Cola
~1/2 cup granulated sugar
~Spices for peach glaze, to taste: cinnamon, allspice, chili powder, pepper
~Lemon juice and zest (from 1/2 lemon)
~1/4 cup litchi juice (or any other juice)

Preparation
~Preheat oven to 325; lay ham cut-side down in a roasting tin.
~In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper. Using your hands, spread rub all over top and sides of ham.
~Lay sliced peached on top of ham and layer them in bottom of pan, slipping some underneath the ham as well.
~Starting from the top left corner of the pan and moving to the right, drizzle maple syrup on top of peaches and ham in a zig-zag pattern.
~Fill roasting tin about halfway with Coca Cola.
~Bake ham uncovered for about 15 minutes, then cover and bake until a thermometer reaches 130 degrees, about 2 hours.
~Meanwhile, in a small saucepan on high heat, combine 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, and chopped peaches (but save a generous handful of them to add later on).
~Stirring frequently, let cook until peaches start to soften, about 5 minutes.
~Add spices. I didn’t quite measure out what I added, but here’s an estimate if you want a guide: 2 tbsp. cinnamon, 1 to 2 tsp. allspice, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. pepper. Cook 5 minutes more.
~Add maple syrup and litchi juice. Cook until sauce begins to thicken slightly, about 15 minutes. If it doesn’t, add more maple syrup as necessary. Remove 3/4 cup mixture for glaze.
~Remove ham from oven; brush with some of the glaze. Bake, uncovered, until a thermometer reaches 140 degrees, about 15 to 20 more minutes, brushing occasionally with remaining glaze.
~For serving, put remaining 1/4 cup compote into a gravy boat; to gravy boat, add juice and peaches from the roasting tin. Once ham is carved, pour some additional juice and peaches from tin over sliced ham.

Recipe: Peach Pie Crumble Bars

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I keep meaning to post a garden update, but then I continually forget to take photos of the plants when I get home from work in the evenings. I’m going to try hard to remember tonight! In the meantime, I wanted to share this really good recipe (based on one I saw in Martha Stewart Living) for peach pie crumble bars. They’re great as a mid-afternoon snack when you need a pick-me-up or as a refreshing after-dinner treat. Mine came out a bit more like a crumble than a bar because I ran out of flour, but if you follow the recipe below, it should firm up perfectly. Continue reading

Recipe: Roasted Duck with Cherry Sauce

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A few times a week, Todd cooks dinner for us since he gets home from work earlier than I do. Lately we’ve been drooling over duck dishes when we go out to restaurants, so he suggested that he try to make it at home. But since we’d never made duck before, we decided to find a recipe to guide us through it. After browsing through several cookbooks (we now have so many that they don’t fit on the shelves of our bookcase and are stacked on the floor), we settled on a roasted duck recipe from Drew Ramsey’s Eat Complete. Here’s the recipe (modified slightly from the original), and some special guest commentary from Todd on his cooking experience. Continue reading