Warm up with the hot chocolate festival at City Bakery

First posted February 14, 2014.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. If you like hot chocolate, you should go to City Bakery this month. It’s located at 3 West 18th Street in Manhattan, and right now they’re in the midst of their annual hot chocolate festival. Each day in the month of February they offer a different flavor of hot chocolate, from banana peel hot chocolate to bourbon hot chocolate to something called Ode to the Polar Bear hot chocolate. It’s definitely a good Valentine’s-Day-month activity, if you’re looking for a date idea — or just a delicious outing to do with friends!

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a hot chocolate purist. And by purist, I mean reverse snob, because I often prefer cocoa mixed with water to fancier, thicker, hot chocolate. In Italy I had hot chocolate so dense it resembled warm brownie batter. Don’t get me wrong, I love brownie batter, but not when I want hot chocolate.

But City Bakery’s flavors are fun and adventurous, and in this cold, cold month, what could be better than a nice warm cup of cocoa? What’s the most interesting kind of cocoa you’ve ever sampled? And should I someday go to Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate? Discuss!


NOT from City Bakery (from Max Brenner) but man, those marshmallows were delicious!


Popcorn and Friends

Winter has caught up with me. It’s not that I’m sitting at home doing nothing. Well, no, there are some days (Sunday comes to mind) where that’s exactly what I’m doing. But my outside of work activities have more or less narrowed down to three categories: hanging out with friends, choir rehearsals, and trips to the theater.

I don’t mind – these are all perfectly fun things to do – but it does limit what I have to write about on this blog. I’m not exactly going to give you a rundown of the dinners and brunches I’ve gone to over the last couple weeks (though, friends, if you’re reading this — and I know at least one of you is! — they’ve all been wonderful). But meals and the conversations had over them are much more interesting if you’re there, which is why I’ve been writing a lot about my trips to the theater. That’s not going to stop any time soon, and you’ll probably get a write up about the performance I saw of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” later this week.

But in the meantime, I spent Monday night watching episodes of “Friends” and eating what might be the most delicious snack in the world: stovetop popcorn.


All right, it might not top chocolate, but popcorn made on the stove is definitely better than any microwave popcorn, or even movie theater popcorn. It’s something I’ve known since college, when my roommate acquired a hot plate (don’t tell the fire marshals!) and we made popcorn more days than not. I’m pretty sure it’s what got me through my senior year! I don’t make it nearly as often now, but I keep a canister of kernels in my cupboard for days when popcorn is the only thing that fits the bill. I made it for my mom years ago and now she can’t eat microwave popcorn either!

What’s the trick? Pour some olive oil in the bottom of a covered pan, heat it up a little and add kernels. Keep covered on high heat until the kernels start popping. Shake pan lightly as kernels pop so the popcorn doesn’t burn. When the popping slows, turn off the heat and wait for the pops to stop. Pour into bowl, add salt to taste.  Should you add butter? Well, you can – but you don’t even need it.

Don’t believe me? Pick up some popcorn kernels, pick out a movie, and have a delicious night in. Another one of those and I might even be ready to venture out and do something new and exciting here in NYC… if the weather gets better, that is.

Brunch at Max Brenner

It’s a snowy day here in NYC — not as snowy as we’d expected, but snowy enough, and because mass transit was shut down last night and is only slowly getting back to normal, it’s a work at home day for most of us. So while we’re all hopefully cozy, let me share an experience I had this weekend that will make you hope you have hot cocoa in your cupboard.

It was Sunday morning and my friend and I were meeting in Union Square. We were headed to a matinee performance of “Into the Woods”, but first we needed brunch. We didn’t have a set place to meet, so when I texted her that I had just gotten off the subway, she texted back to say she was walking up from the Strand, and did I have any interest in brunch at Max Brenner, since it was right near Union Square.


I’d never eaten at Max Brenner, but I’ve walked past it dozens of times over my years in NYC. And I knew one thing about it: It’s all about chocolate. My answer, of course, was yes.


We settled in at our table and took a glance at the decadent menu. There were breakfast items like waffles and pancakes that sounded intense, and I opted to keep things simple: mac n’ cheese, and a hot chocolate with marshmallows.


My friend got hot cocoa too, and they came in these funny little handle-less mugs. I loved the plates they were sitting on, too!


By the time our lunches came I was too hungry to remember to take pictures of it, but my mac n’ cheese was delicious. Not my favorite — that still, weirdly enough, belongs to Panera — but still pretty good.

As we wound down after eating and chatted, I kept snapping photos of the decor. There were stacks of giant chocolate bars sitting along the backs of the booths.


And on the walls you might spot inspirational chocolate messages, like this one.


The hot chocolate machine behind the bar looked amazing — I want one for my apartment!


When our bill came, it was in this awesome tin.


And when it was time to leave, we took a detour to check out the chocolate shop.


We managed to leave without buying anything… this time. The meal was pricey, even for NYC brunch, but it was a fun experience and I’d go back again — maybe just for dessert. Bet they have a wonderful chocolate cake on that menu…


Sunday in Williamsburg and Greenpoint

At a party recently someone asked me if I lived in Brooklyn . When I said yes, he said, “Williamsburg?” and I scoffed, then felt bad. He lived in Williamsburg. Oops.

I haven’t spent much time in Williamsburg. Some of my reasons have to do with the fact that I’m not a hipster, but more of myreasons have to do with the fact that it feels very far away from everywhere I’ve lived in Brooklyn, and getting there involves the G train. Since i lived on the G train exclusively for two years when I first moved to NYC, I have a higher tolerance for it than most people – yes, it doesn’t come often, but it reliably doesn’t come often – but I still avoid it when I can.

A few weekends ago my friend and I headed to an event in Greenpoint, Williamsburg’s neighbor, a mini craft fair that we were not super enthusiastic about. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t anything exciting. But en route we did see something worth the trip: Brooklyn Mac. After ducking out early on the fair, we picked up some mac ‘n cheese and headed to McCarren Park to bask in the sun, eat delicious cheesy pasta, and talk about life.

From there we decided to head to the Williamsburg Flea. We’d both spent plenty of time at the Flea in Clinton Hill, but neither of us had been to the Williamsburg version. It had a lot the same vendors, and some of the same Brooklyn-y crafts as the craft fair, but there was also a ton of miscellaneous stuff, which is what I go to flea markets and tag sales for.

My old roommate once got a set of really neat silverware at the Flea for about $25, and my friend picked up a great coffee table there. I’ve mostly stuck to buying food – People’s Pops has awesome popsicles – but I love checking out all the random jewelry and keeping my eyes out for old Nancy Drews among the books scattered in the stalls.

After a lap around the Flea we noticed that the sky was filling with clouds and it was time to head home, but I plan to give Williamsburg and Greenpoint another chance to win me over – if only to go get some more delicious mac n’ cheese.

Anyone have favorite places in Williamsburg or Greenpoint to share? I went to Beacon’s Closet a few years ago and had a lot of fun trying stuff on.


PS On hiatus next week, back the following! Happy almost June!

Finding the perfect cupcake

Cupcakes are serious business in NYC. They are a Special Treat of choice, for any and all occasions, and it’s easy to see why. They’re sized perfectly for individuals – no worries about having to share, or not being able to finish, or not getting quite enough.

Well, unless you get cupcakes from Baked by Melissa, because as delicious as those cupcakes are, they are literally one bite each. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, one of those cupcakes might be enough to satisfy you, but if you’re me, it takes at least three.

And Georgetown Cupcakes, also delicious, are a little much for me. A little too rich, a little too much frosting, and honestly, a little too perfectly presented. Those TV show-honed whirls are very pretty to look at, but they’re a little over-the-top when I’m trying to take a bite of my red velvet confection.

I haven’t had a Magnolia Bakery cupcake (of Sex in the City fame) in years, and my memory is hazy, but I do know that both times I tried one of their cupcakes, I wasn’t a fan. I did like the snickerdoodles, though!

Despite their flaws, I do love getting bite-sized Melissa’s cupcakes and picture-perfect Georgetown’s cupcakes. But my heart belongs to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, a tiny bakery in the Lower East Side. My boss loves their cupcakes and has gotten many people at the office, including me, hooked.

The selling points? Big enough to be satisfying, but not so heavy you’d feel bad about having seconds. A swirl of frosting that is delicious but not fussy or overwhelming. And a reasonable price – it seems to have gone up to $2 from $1.75/cupcake when I last stopped in, but when you compare that to Georgetown’s $2.75, Magnolia’s $3.75, or Melissa’s $3 for three mini cupcakes, $2 is a steal.

I’m sure there are many cupcake bakeries I’m forgetting about, including Billy’s and the Little Cupcake Bakeshop. I read a great memoir a while back called Paris, My Sweet, which follows a copywriter who moves to Paris to work in her ad company’s office there. The author, Amy Thomas, waxes poetic about sweets in both NYC and Paris, and I’ll add “check out more places she mentions” to my to-do list for this summer.

Any have suggestions to add?

Where to find cheese, or, blogging while eating

Much like my pizza post from a few weeks ago, this blog comes sponsored by Sarah is Hungry (and has done nothing post-worthy this week), though this time I am actually at my kitchen table snacking on apples and cheese while typing this. Oh, more apple left? Guess I’ll have to eat some more cheese with it…

I am a person of fairly simple (read: picky) tastes, but I’ve always been a fan of one kind of cheese or another. In elementary school and middle school, mozzarella was my favorite. Swiss and Lorraine (like Swiss, only more delicate and stinkier) came into play later on, and cheddar was just… there. I can’t remember when I started liking it, but I do know that soon after moving to New York, I developed an addiction.

It was an addiction to Kraft’s orange sharp or extra sharp cheddar. I could polish off half – well, way more cheese than is probably healthy in one day – without any trouble. But sometime in the last two years, I slowly made the transition to white cheddar, and from there it was a slippery, delicious slope to cheese that costs $9.99 a pound.

Not like that’s what I’m eating right now or anything.

Union Market in Park Slope is one of my go-to places for fancy cheese – fancy groceries of any kind, really – but I found my favorite cheddar at Gristedes on Mercer Street in Manhattan – it has bad Google reviews, but it stocks Adam’s Reserve cheddar, which is ridiculously delicious.

Where do you all shop for your favorite cheese, or whatever your guilty snacking pleasure happens to be?

Warm up with the hot chocolate festival at City Bakery

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. If you like hot chocolate, you should go to City Bakery this month. It’s located at 3 West 18thStreet in Manhattan, and right now they’re in the midst of their annual hot chocolate festival. Each day in the month of February they offer a different flavor of hot chocolate, from banana peel hot chocolate to cinnamon rum hot chocolate to something called Ode to the Polar Bear hot chocolate.

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a hot chocolate purist. And by purist, I mean reverse snob, because I often prefer cocoa mixed with water to fancier, thicker, hot chocolate. In Italy I once had hot chocolate so dense it resembled warm brownie batter. Don’t get me wrong, I love brownie batter, but not when I want hot chocolate.
But City Bakery’s flavors are fun and adventurous, and in this cold, cold month, what could be better than a nice warm cup of cocoa? What’s the most interesting kind of cocoa you’ve ever sampled? And should I someday go to Serendipity 3 for frozen hot chocolate? Discuss!

And by me for F’ed in Park Slope, a post about checking out a singles mixer at the Brooklyn Game Lab.

Spotlight on Clinton Hill and Fort Greene

For my first few years in NYC, I lived in a big, poorly maintained apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, with friends. I’ll save our horror stories for when I get around to writing about the hellish process that is apartment hunting, but the neighborhood (and the cheap rent) almost made up for the apartment’s deficiencies.

My old roommates would be able to tell you more about the great restaurants to be found in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. I, sadly, am a picky eater, so I’ll tell you about my favorite pizza place, and some of my other favorite spots around the neighborhood.
Luigi’s is a tiny hole-in-the-wall pizzeria on Dekalb Ave, between Washington and Hall. It has a counter, and a window, but no seating. And it sells the best NYC plain slice I’ve come across. Big, hot, cheesy and greasy, with good sauce. I miss the pizza from home, with its chewy bread-like crust, and Luigi’s is nothing like it, but it’s my top pick for a cheap slice. None of the pizza places near my current apartment can touch it.
Once you’ve acquired your slice at Luigi’s, it’s a half block walk to the Pratt University campus, the perfect place to sit and enjoy your pizza. The campus is surrounded by a fence, but it’s open to the public during the day. The portion near Luigi’s is especially lovely. I’m a sucker for grassy courtyards, and Pratt’s is enhanced by an eclectic sculpture park filled with huge works of art. It’s also home to the “Pratt cats”, a number of strays who wander in and out of one of the buildings on campus.
If it’s a Saturday, it’s worth wandering over to the Brooklyn Flea, located in the warm months at Vanderbilt and Lafayette. After November 23 it will move into the beautiful building at One Hanson place, over near Flatbush Ave (also fun to visit!). The Flea has everything from junk you might find at a tag sale to expensive hand-carved furniture, so it’s great to wander when you’re looking for nothing too specific as well as when you’re on a mission. The real draw of course is the food vendors. Again, I’m not big on food recommendations, but even I can tell you the popsicles at People’s Popsare amazing, as are the hotdogs at Asia Dog.
If you’re looking for something slightly healthier (and it’s still a Saturday, any time of the year), head over to Fort Greene Park, at Dekalb and Cumberland, for the farmer’s market I mentioned last week. The cider donuts there are my favorites, and the market sells all the normal fruits, veggies, baked goods, etc.
The park itself, designed as Central Park was, by Olmstead, is small but lovely, with a hill to climb up or lie on in the summer. While you can’t quite get lost in it – the nearby buildings are visible – the city does recede slightly, there.
I’ve skimmed the surface on these neighborhoods. There are tons of restaurants here, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is nearby as are Atlantic Mall and the Barclays Center. But when I lived there, these places I’ve described were some of the places that became part of my routine, my first routine as a New Yorker, so they hold an especially warm place in my heart.
Any favorite spots (in Clinton Hill, or in your first neighborhood) to share?

Il Corallo (or, on becoming a regular)

I’m officially a regular at my favorite restaurant. It’s not totally a surprise—I’ve been going there at least once a month, and sometimes two or three times, for nearly three years. I’m a picky eater and Italian is my favorite, so of course I’m going to love a place near my office where I can get a delicious, filling meal of pasta for under $15—including tip.

The menu at Il Corallo is extensive, which is more important for the numerous out-of-town visitors that I’ve taken there than it is for me. I always order some variation on pasta arrabbiata—I like my tomato sauce spicy. It’s small, with tables crowded closely together, but you never have to wait long to get a table, and the food always arrives faster than you expect it to. In the summertime they open the paneled windows that face the street. Mismatched plates adorn the walls and on each table is a tiny, fake, potted rose. It’s cute, funky, and reasonably priced, especially considering its location in SoHo.
When my friend visited this summer and we went to Il Corallo, I thought I must be imagining things when our server greeted me by first name—but my friend had heard it too. And when he came back to the table, he asked me how long I’d been coming there now. There was no question then: He definitely remembered me from my many other visits.
I’m not sure I’ve gotten special treatment or anything since being acknowledged as a regular, but that doesn’t matter. As long as they keep serving tasty, inexpensive pasta, I’ll keep going there. And I’ll keep bringing my friends, one of whom now insists on eating there at least once every time she comes for a weekend visit.
When you find a place that fills your needs so beautifully, you don’t let go—even if the bread doesgive me hiccups.

Knights and ladies and pie at the Medieval Festival

Doesn’t every girl dream of being a knight?

Maybe not. And to be fair, I definitely dreamed of being a princess earlier, and more often—the tally is at least five princess Halloween costumes versus only one knight costume. You can bump it up to two if you count the Pink Power Ranger, which you definitely should.
But from age eleven on, knights were cool, thanks to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series, and that meant that between my culturally sponsored love of tiaras and my new love of swords, the Renaissance Faire was a favorite summer treat. I still have, at my parents’ house, a wooden dagger and unicorn shield, along with a circlet of dried flowers with ribbons that trailed down my back when I wore it. My brother acquired at least one wooden sword (which I definitely borrowed for that knight costume…which happened to get worn in high school). We didn’t go every summer, but we went enough that I remember it: the dunking pond, the puppet shows, the dragon glider ride, and of course the jousts.
I’m also fairly certain I once rode an elephant at the faire—but even if I didn’t, there were definitely elephants there.
So with my deep love of all things Ren Faire, it’s unsurprising that I was thrilled to hear about the Medieval Festival that happens at the Cloisters every year. Yes—each fall, Fort Tryon Park is invaded by an idealized version of the Middle Ages, from food vendors serving turkey legs to guys in armor jousting on horseback. Sometimes you can even catch a Quidditch match.
While it lacks the immersive feeling of a Ren Faire—the booths here are tents, rather than wood, and the vendors in costumes are not necessarily in character—there are enough ribbon wreaths, sword fights, and characters to satisfy me. Plus, there’s pumpkin pie and hot chocolate on sale.
And if the faux Arthurian style is a bit too much, the Cloisters are right there, filled with actual medieval art, including the famous unicorn tapestries everyone remembers from history class. They’re worth a pay-what-you-wish visit any time of the year, but they’re especially nice as an escape from the festival crowds. The park itself is also stunning, with views of the Hudson as well as back down at the rest of Manhattan.
My favorite act the two times I’ve gone to the festival was the showdown between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood’s band of merry men, though the knights on horseback were also pretty badass.
The festival is this Sunday, September 29, from 11:30 AM to 5 PM, at Fort Tryon Park, and while I may not be able to make it this year, I highly recommend making the trek. If you go, bring me back a sword—or at least some pie.