Monday, August 31, 2015

Photo Diary: Central Park

Whenever I need to escape the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, I take the subway to Central Park. The 1.3-square-mile public area has its fair share of tourist-y spots like the Mall and the beautiful Bethesda Fountain. However, more secluded parts of the park have such a dense coverage of trees that you can’t see any hint of the city around you. Central Park also has its own zoo, an amusement park, a castle, and cliffs that offer breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline. 

I’ve stayed in NYC for two summers and still haven’t experienced all that Central Park has to offer, but I rounded up some pictures of my favorite locations.

This big, grassy field would be perfect for a summer picnic.

Bethesda Fountain overlooks the Lake and makes a great photo opportunity. I love watching the rowboats drifting in the water.

Caricature artists, food vendors, and people selling NYC souvenirs line the Mall, which is a wide walkway shadowed by lush green trees.

Did you know Central Park is home to a folly called the Belvedere Castle? The building is small but hosts great views of the surrounding area.

My favorite spot in Central Park is a rock formation near the entrance at Columbus Circle. Standing on the cliff, you can see the skyline of Manhattan above you and Victoria Gardens (a mini amusement park) underneath. 

The further you venture into the park, the more beautiful and secluded the paths become.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Currently List

This Monday marks my last first day of school. Since I'm graduating in December, it also marks the beginning of my final semester at Syracuse University. Graduating early is bittersweet for sure; I'm ready and excited to start my career, but I'm sad to leave my beloved alma mater behind. 

I haven't done a currently list for my blog in a while, so I figured I'd write one now between packing and prepping for school. 

Here is what I'm currently...

Watching: I've finally jumped on the Orange is the New Black bandwagon, and I completely understand the hype. The show is so addicting and perfect for binge watching! 

Reading: I unfortunately haven't cracked open another book since finishing Twenties Girl (read my review!) but I have a long list of titles on my "to read" list. I'm also downloading an audio book today to keep me company during my six-hour drive to Syracuse. As of now, I think I'm going with The Girl on the Train 

Listening: My favorite song of the moment is the catchy country tune "Save It for a Rainy Day" by Kenny Chesney.

Eating: My mom bought me a NutriBullet for school, so I've been testing it out and making healthy green juices. Maybe I'll share some of my favorite juice recipes on my blog. My mom also picked up some Flamin' Hot Cheetos, and although I rarely eat junk food, I have been munching through the bag like crazy. I can't resist!

Drinking: I'm sticking to coffee and water, like always. However, I had one of the best margaritas at my favorite local Mexican joint the other day!

Enjoying: This weekend, my parents and I looked through old family photos from their childhood, and everyone loved the trip down memory lane. I also found the adorable picture below, which shows my dad and I at Christmastime in 1994. 

Wanting: I'm focused on enjoying my last few days of summer vacation. I'm also feeling really nostalgic about my time in Germany, since I arrived for my study abroad session one year ago this week. I would love to go abroad again sometime soon.

Wearing: Today feels like September instead of August, so I'm wearing sweatpants and a warm hoodie. I'm secretly excited to bring out the cozy sweaters and riding boots soon!

Monday, August 24, 2015

NYC Dining: A Boozy Brunch at Essex

During my summer in New York City, I came to appreciate the luxury of weekend brunch. Nothing kicks off Saturday or Sunday better than a hearty meal, a bold cup of coffee, and a few well-made cocktails. One brunch destination in particular rises above the rest as my personal favorite: Essex in the Lower East Side.

Essex is a rowdy hotspot with a lively two-story, loft-like venue. Brunchers flock here for the great weekend deal: a nicely portioned meal with three cocktails (screwdrivers, Bloody Mary's, or mimosas) for $25.95. Trust me, that's pretty cheap for NYC. However, I noticed that the waiters don't keep track of how many drinks you've had and fill up glasses whenever the contents run low. So, basically, you get a meal and seemingly unlimited cocktails for $25.95. Don't quote me on that, though.

I brunched at Essex twice – once with my mom and once with my boyfriend, Jake. Both times, the place was absolutely packed with rowdy young people looking to continue the party from the night before. Word of advice: make reservations! The wait list tends to get backed up, especially if you go sometime in the early afternoon. Also, since three drinks come with every meal at Essex, the staff checks ID before letting you in – only 21 and up allowed.

I lucked out during my two visits and sat in the less loud and more spacious balcony area, which had its own bar and attentive wait staff.

The brunch hours are 11 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday (crazy, right?!) My mom and I actually came at 11 a.m. on Sunday, and since it's illegal to serve alcohol before noon on Sunday in New York, the waiter offered us an "early bird special" – a meal with no drinks for $14.95. However, you can only order this special from 11 to 11:15 on Sunday; every other time, you need to order the meal and three drink special for $25.95.

However, since we were technically on vacation, my mom and I chose to get mimosas. I ordered the champagne and orange juice combination with Jake, too. Considering that I saw the bartender pour entire bottles of champagne into the pitchers, the bubbly drinks were undoubtably strong.

All of the food I've tried at Essex is delicious and comes in surprisingly large portions. Before ordering, each person is served a roll that has a strong onion-y flavor. I also ordered coffee, which passed my taste test – I always judge a restaurant based on the strength and flavor of their coffee.

With my mom, I ordered the Mexican Matzo Brei (scrambled eggs, tortilla chips, avocado, Monterey Jack cheese, black beans, pico de gallo, and chorizo). The ingredients sound strange mixed together, but I saw several other people order this and it looked delicious. I'm so glad I gave it a try! I'm a huge fan of Mexican food, and the Matzo Brei was like nachos and scrambled eggs combined. Even though I loved the food, I could barely eat more than two-thirds of the gigantic portion.

My mom decided on an omelet with onion, bacon, and Swiss cheese, which turned out to be one of the biggest omelets I've ever seen (the picture doesn't do it justice)! The meal came with potatoes and veggies, and my mom said everything was delicious.

On my second trip to Essex with Jake, I settled on the Eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon, which was smaller than the other options on the menu but tasty nonetheless. I gladly ate the whole thing; however, I wouldn't have minded a bit more Hollandaise sauce.

Jake ordered the "Three Eggs Any Style" and chose scrambled with a sausage patty. He loved the creaminess of the eggs and was impressed with the portion size, but thought the sausage patty was just decent. The fresh fruit and potatoes rounded out the dish nicely.

Verdict: I recommend Essex for a fun, boozy, NYC-style brunch! I loved everything from the food and drinks to the energetic atmosphere.Monterey jack | black beans & pico de gallo

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My Agenda Planner Obsession

I always look forward to buying a new agenda when back-to-school season rolls around. As someone who needs to write down every single assignment and deadline, I rely on my planner to keep me organized and focused. Jotting my to-do lists on paper also helps me feel in control of my crazy-busy schedule.

This year, I decided to splurge on a Lilly Pulitzer agenda. I'm very specific when it comes to the layout of my planner, and my Lilly has everything I like: a calendar page for each month, weekly day-to-day spreads, and extra pages for notes. The book also comes with space for vacation planning, contact information, and stickers. What really sold me, though, is the date range of August 2015 to December 2016 – since I graduate in December, this will fill the awkward transition from academic year planners (which usually go from August to June) to normal January- December planners.

As nerdy as it sounds, I can't wait to take my colored pens to the page and start planning my life!
The planner design I chose is "Wild Confetti." If you aren't interested in a Lilly Pultizer agenda, I've also heard great things about the Erin Condren Life Planner and the Kate Spade agenda.

Going on a slight tangent, I recently came across a "planner community" on Instagram and YouTube, where people film videos/ write blog posts about their extravagantly decorated weekly spreads. I don't have the time or supplies to completely deck out my planner, but I love getting inspiration from their designs! In case your interested, here are some of my favorite agenda gurus:

Tell me, do you organize your life with a planner? Do you decorate the pages?

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Two Best Coffee Shops in NYC

I am shamelessly addicted to coffee. I love everything about it: the bold taste, the dose of caffeine, the side of cream (hold the sugar), and the smell. Naturally I’m also attracted to cozy coffee shops. Although I do hang around Starbucks occasionally –mostly to use the free Wi-Fi – I tend to prefer the coffee and atmosphere at local joints. I’ve visited plenty of neighborhood coffee stops here in New York City, but two places really stand out as being my absolute favorite.

1. Le Café Coffee
7 E 14th St, NYC

Best. Coffee. Ever. I would buy coffee here every day if I lived closer… and had the money. Le Café Coffee sells “high end organic coffee” for a great price in a small shop near Union Square Park. The menu isn’t extensive, but everything I’ve tried has left a lasting impression. My drink-of-choice is the cold brew iced coffee ($3.25), which manages to taste strong and smooth without the bitterness typically associated with coffee. It’s the perfect refreshing drink on a hot day. Coming in as my second favorite drink is Le Café Coffee’s specialty, the lavender latte ($4.25), which tastes semi-sweet, smooth, and light. The helpful workers behind the counter always have great attitudes. And another bonus: the shop offers almond milk! I’ve never tried the pastries or food items, but they all look delicious as well.

2. Café Grumpy
Multiple locations

Café Grumpy is a New York City chain with locations in Chelsea, the Lower East Side, Grand Central, the Fashion District, and Brooklyn (Greenpoint and Park Slope). I’ve visited the pint-sized Lower East Side venue and the larger, neighborhood-style Chelsea one, and both settings give off a “hipster” vibe. The straightforward menu includes drip and pour-over coffee, teas, and drinks like lattes and macchiatos. Whenever I’ve been to Café Grumpy, I’ve ordered either iced coffee or drip coffee. Both options have a strong, bold, slightly bitter flavor with a hefty amount of caffeine ­– perfect for those who prefer a pure coffee taste. However, be warned: all of the shops have a “no laptop” policy and no Wi-Fi for customers.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Life Update: Saying Goodbye to NYC

Right now, a few suitcases stuffed with my belongings litter the floor of my tiny shoebox-sized dorm room in New York City. I can’t walk to adjust the A/C without tripping over some miscellaneous belonging that can’t fit, no matter how much weight I put on top of the bag. 

After spending the summer in New York City for an internship, I’m counting down the hours until I head back home to Ohio for two weeks before my last semester at Syracuse. The thought of leaving NYC brings up all kinds of thoughts and emotions.

  1. I’m about to start my last semester of college (I’m graduating a semester early). I’ll be an alumnus in five months. I don’t quite know how I feel about this.
  2. My boyfriend, who I met the first weekend of freshman year, has an internship during fall semester, so I’m facing my final semester without him there with me.
  3. Swapping bustling, exciting New York City for smaller Syracuse will be a challenge.
  4. I don’t know where I’ll end up after college. The goal is to work for a magazine in NYC, but that involves applying to jobs. Then getting hired.  And finding a place to live with rent that won’t eat up the majority of my paycheck.
But I can’t dwell on the future too much yet. I had an unforgettable summer in New York City and I’m so grateful for the memories I made. I’m also eager to get back to my school, see my friends, and take my last classes as an undergrad. 

I’ll definitely document my journeys along the way, but my posts about New York City won’t come to a halt. I’m expecting my life to be much slower-paced once I head back to school, so I’ve stocked up some NYC restaurant/ travel/ lifestyle post ideas to keep me going for a while. I'll also post more about locations/restaurants outside of NYC, and try to incorporate more "college life" topics into my articles. 

Now bring on second semester of senior year!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Comedy and Cocktails in New York City

Whenever my boyfriend, Jake, visits me in New York City, we try to take advantage of every opportunity that time and budget allows. We spent the first two years of our relationship trapped on a college campus with virtually no means of transportation, so we really appreciate that a $3 NYC MetroCard gives you access to endless restaurants, bars, and attractions. 

However, since Jake has already stayed with me in New York a few times, we pretty much exhausted all of the major tourist attractions. We've been to Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Met, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, Little Italy... the list goes on. We needed a fresh new itinerary, and I started researching online to make a new "things to do in NYC" list. 

And, thanks to that list, Jake and I just had one of the best weekends of our lives. We opted for quality over quantity and chose to do a couple of more expensive activities rather than several cheaper ones, but the weekend really turned out flawlessly. I’ll give an overview of our two-day escapade here, but expect a more in-depth post for nearly every item on this list. Hopefully I'll inspire some new date night ideas in those of you stuck in a dating rut. 

Here was our weekend itinerary:

Mexican Food on the Lower East Side
Jake and I always scour out late-night Mexican cuisine after his bus arrives from Baltimore, and we found that the Lower East Side has some of the best authentic Mexican restaurants in New York City. My favorite is Barrio Chino on Broome Street, which I reviewed here.

The Brooklyn Bridge
With its beautiful architecture and impressive views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge is arguably one of the most romantic spots in New York City. Jake and I walked it last year at sunset, but we decided to visit again in the afternoon. You can read my post about the Brooklyn Bridge here.

A Fancy Dinner At Benjamin’s Steakhouse
I know that college students typically don’t eat at fancy expensive steakhouses, but my dad had a gift card to Benjamin’s Steakhouse on 42nd Street that he kindly let me use for date night. Benjamin’s is hands-down one of the best steakhouses I’ve ever visited. Jake and I had the Benjamin’s salad with bleu cheese and crab chunks (amazing), filets cooked medium (super tender and flavorful), and a home fries/onion rings combination plate (also good). We walked out the door feeling five pounds heavier, and I’d definitely come back here again.

A Comedy Show and Drinks in the Village   
The highlight of our weekend was, without a doubt, Saturday night in Greenwich Village. We snacked on beer, chips, and salsa at Caliente Cab Co. before going to the late-night show at Comedy Cellar on Macdougal Street, where we spent two hours laughing at hilarious comedians and sipping on vodka-pink lemonade drinks. Jake and I loved everything about the Comedy Cellar, including the tasty beverages, unique venue, affordable price, and well-known comedians like Sherrod Small, Godfrey, Dave Attell, and Jeff Ross. Expect a more detailed post about the Comedy Cellar soon!

A Boozy Brunch 
After getting home from the comedy show at 4 a.m., we slept in the next day before our 1 p.m. brunch reservations at Essex. We enjoyed mimosas with our yummy meals: eggs benedict for me and scrambled eggs and sausage for Jake.

Ice cream and people watching in Greenwich Village
We rounded out the weekend with ice cream at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop ­– an eclectic locale in Greenwich that always has a line looping around the corner. Several people told me to get the “Salty Pimp” – vanilla ice cream with sea salt and dulce de leche dipped in chocolate – and the treat made my mouth water! The cone seemed a little small for the nearly $6 price, but I’d rank it one of the best ice cream concoctions of my life. After scarfing down our melting cones and trying to rub ice cream stains off our shirts with wet napkins, Jake and I spent some time people watching in Washington Square Park.
And that’s our weekend! What are your favorite date night ideas?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Recently Read Review: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Today I have my first book-related post on Meet Me in Midtown, which I’m very excited about! I used to be an avid reader in elementary and middle school, starting off with the Junie B. Jones books in first grade and eventually obsessing over the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas. I’ll even admit that I attended an early showing of Twilight when it hit theaters (commence cringing). While my busy schedule allows less time for reading now, I’m still trying to work through some of the novels piling up on my bookshelf.
First on the list: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, which initially caught my eye because I love everything related to the 1920’s.
Lara Lington is a twenty-something girl living in London and struggling with her love life and career when Sadie, the spirit of her 105-year-old great aunt, pays her a visit. Taking the form of her twenty-year-old self, Sadie still acts and dresses like she’s living in the 1920’s. Lara sets out to help Sadie fulfill her final wish of finding a necklace that she can’t rest peacefully without. On their quest, Sadie helps Lara learn a lot about her family, her relationships, her career, and herself.
First of all, Twenties Girl epitomizes the “chick flick” genre of books. I love an entertaining chick flick sometimes, but those of you who don’t like this type of novel should stay away from Kinsella’s work. Twenties Girl is the first novel I read by the author and I quite liked her style of writing. The friendly tone and simple sentences made for a quick and enjoyable read. Some parts of the plot seemed a little predictable, specifically in the romance department, but other scenes took me by surprise and kept me on my toes. Even though I found Lara’s problems very relatable, I couldn’t really find anything unique or interesting about her character. Sadie, on the other hand, stole the show. She’s funny, loud, outspoken, and also a bit irritating at times, but the annoyingness contributes to her charm.
Rating: 4/5
Twenties Girl is perfect for a light, entertaining beach read. I enjoyed the novel but didn’t have any moments where I simply had to know what happened next, meaning I wasn’t super attached to the characters or plot. I’d still recommend if you’re looking for an easy and fun read!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

NYC Dining: Seafood for Brunch at Claw Daddy’s

Note to self: Make reservations before going to weekend brunch in New York City.  Brunch isn’t just a delicious meal here; it’s a way of life. A trendy social affair. A place for those hung-over from the night before to continue the party with endless mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, and screwdrivers.

When my mom was in town, we decided to grab some brunch near my building in the Lower East Side. We didn’t make reservations anywhere, but we didn’t think we’d have trouble finding a table on Saturday at noon. However, as we walked down the streets, we saw that restaurants were overflowing with brunch-goers and most places had lines out the door.

I knew brunch was a big deal in NYC, but I didn’t realize half of Manhattan would crowd into the tiny cafes for midday coffee and cocktails.

After unsuccessfully trying to find a restaurant without an intimidating wait, we came across Claw Daddy’s on Orchard Street. A sign on the window advertised lobster and crab and my seafood-loving mom said, “Let’s try here!” Thankfully we snatched up the last open table.

Most brunch places have huge signs offering drink specials like “unlimited mimosas for two hours” or “three cocktails and an entrée for $25, but Claw Daddy’s didn’t advertise their drinks ­– which is probably why they still had an open table. And although the place did have a selection of cocktails, my mom and I weren’t in the mood for a boozy brunch that day. Coffee was fine by me.

Claw Daddy’s had a semi-small brunch menu and every dish included seafood, which didn’t surprise me considering that the restaurant’s logo is a lobster. My mom decided on the Louisiana crab cake, I got the lobster roll, and we split the lobster mac n’ cheese. My mom also ordered the “Gala Green” cold-pressed juice, which came in a pouch like a juice box! She loved the drink and it was a great photo opportunity.

Lobster roll: Delish! Why don’t people eat lobster for brunch more often? The roll had a generous portion of lobster with the right amount of fixings. The bread wasn’t the best quality but felt perfect for a lobster roll. I’ve never been to Maine, but this is how I imagine “authentic” lobster rolls to look and taste.

Crab cakes: These were good, but not great because the fried coating overpowered the actual crab filling. My mom enjoyed them nonetheless, and the side of black bean ragout was tasty.

Lobster mac n’ cheese: This stuff was creamy, cheese-y, and super filling. I didn’t see too many lobster chunks, but the actual mac n’ cheese tasted real and authentic – you could tell this isn’t the Kraft or Stouffer’s variety. Definitely recommend!

Verdict: I was impressed by brunch at Claw Daddy’s! The seafood was fresh and satisfying. I would eat here again – maybe I’ll try dinner sometimeAs a bonus, Claw Daddy’s has some great happy hour deals like $1 oysters. Even though my mom and I managed to score a table, I’d recommend making reservations for brunch and dinner.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Good Morning, Baltimore!

Good morning, Baltimore! Every day’s like an open door…

When I visited my boyfriend in Baltimore last weekend, I could not get this song out of my head! Jake works as the marketing intern at Under Armour (cue proud girlfriend moment) and I recently visited him in the southern city. He’s living in a cute little townhouse, or “rowhouse” as locals call it, within walking distance of bars, restaurants, and sightseeing attractions. 

We spent a chunk of weekend talking and catching up, but Jake also played the role of tour guide and showed me his Under Armour offices, as well as some of his favorite hangouts. Here are some pictures from the weekend, if you’re interested.

We ate lunch at Mother’s Federal Hill Grille, a pub-type restaurant, and I ordered the best buffalo chicken sandwich I’ve ever had – it came with melted cheese, bacon, and homemade blue cheese dressing. People in Baltimore love spice and are specifically partial to Old Bay, since the mixture was invented there, so my sandwich had a generous amount of spice and flavor. 

Jake ordered the equally delicious chili burger. 

From the elevated Federal Hill Park, we could see the Inner Harbor and downtown area.

This building  – which I think is the American Visionary Art Museum – has beautiful tiled art on the sides.

Baltimore recommendations: Cowboys and Rednecks (C & R pub) for drinks and county music, Mother's Federal Hill Grille for tasty and spicy pub food, and Federal Hill Park for great views of the harbor. Make sure to lounge by the Inner Harbor and try Baltimore's famous cuisine: Maryland blue crab! 

Baltimore isn't as big or bustling as NYC, but the city is great for a relaxed weekend getaway.