Review: Whitney Biennial 2017

April showers bring May flowers, as the saying goes.  For me, this year’s showers came in March, and the flowers (and sometimes pain yet always beauty) of new growth made their glorious, tentative reentry at the beginning of April. April has been a month dedicated to rediscovering my passions and reconnecting with the things that make me happy as I enter a new chapter of my twenty-something life in the city.

In the spirit of such, I recently had the pleasure of taking some time out of a perfect spring Sunday to wander down by the Hudson to the Whitney Museum of American Art. My primary reason for going was to check out a special exhibit on the museum’s 8th floor, devoted to paintings from the 1980s. While my formal training was in Italian Renaissance Art History, my favorite professor in undergraduate was my Modern and American Art History professor. He brought Modern and Contemporary Art to life in a way that this hardened “realist” had never before considered, so much so that for one of my senior projects I wrote a paper on Transavanguardia and the Italian Neo-Expressionists from the 1980s, focusing on the artists Sandro Chia and Francesco Clemente, and art critic Achille Bonito Oliva.

Inspired by the evocative portraits and painterly gestures found in the works of Chia and Clemente, hearkening back to the 1950s and the quintessential Abstract Expressionists, I developed a deep appreciation for the urban grit, grime, social and political commentary, and pop culture references found in much of the art of the 1980s. When I saw that the Whitney was showcasing this era at a special exhibit, I knew I had to meander down to the waterfront to check it out – especially as the museum touted the presence of works by one of my favorite artists, Jean Michel Basquiat.

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Jean Michel Basquiat, LNAPRK, 1982 (acrylic, oil, oil stick, and marker on found paper on canvas and wood), Whitney Museum of American Art

As excited as I was to finally be re-immersed in art, I have to admit – I was largely underwhelmed by the exhibit. There was only one Basquiat that I was aware of, and the rest of the show consisted of largely disconnected lesser-known works scattered among what seemed like attempts at bulking up the show’s quality – i.e. remarking on the “Keith Harings” in the show, when in actuality there was only one Haring and a large wall covered in Haring-esque wallpaper (pictured above) which was, at times, quite distracting to the works of art placed on top of it. Placing a Haring on a Haring, or even a Basquiat on a Haring, skews the viewer’s visual field and takes away from the work itself. On top of that, it was a pretty meager collection that I spent less than 20 minutes viewing, and I would have left disappointed were it not for the Whitney’s 2017 Biennial Exhibition taking up the remainder of the museum’s floor space.

Showcasing young contemporary artists engaging with current political and social climes, the Biennial started off with a bang – literally. The first work of art that the viewer is confronted with is Puppies Puppies’ series, Triggers, referring both to the actual mechanical trigger of a handgun as well as to the catchy buzzword used today to refer to words or situations that might set off certain unwanted emotional reactions. Puppies Puppies removed the firing mechanism from three handguns and placed them on the wall, where they ominously, yet innocuously, confront the viewer. This certainly set the tone for the rest of the politically-charged show and its confrontational undertones.

Continuing through the exhibit, several works of art stood out to me – An-My Le’s photographic series titled The Silent General, for example. In this series, the images showcased the ways in which present-day Louisiana alluded to its (oftentimes unsavory) past, including issues of racism and immigration. While the images were striking for their sense of nostalgia, they were all taken in present day.  The below inkjet print is an image of a town square in New Orleans where a statue of a Confederate general can be seen appearing through a sheer banner, alluding to both the “hidden” racism of the present and the outright racism and social injustice of the past.

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An-My Le, Monument, General P.G.T. Beauregard, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2016. Inkjet print. Collection of the artist. Photograph: Miguel Benavides

Another image in the series showed a movie set’s reenactment of a Civil War Battle on Louisiana state grounds.

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An-My Le, Film Set (“Free State of Jones”), Battle of Corinth, Bush, Louisiana, 2015. Inkjet print, 40 x 56.5 in. Collection of the artist.

The irony of replicating the Civil War in modern times on former Confederate landscape is not lost. Nor is the notion that the past and the present are fluid and oftentimes shifting into and out of each other, one and the same, written on joint pages and sharing the same genealogy. Are history and the present equivocal? How do we distinguish and separate ourselves from the past? Do we even have a right to do so? Are we able to extract ourselves to create an objective viewpoint, or are the cultural, social, and historical structures in which we’re enveloped restrict our abilities to see beyond ourselves in either direction?

Another interesting series challenging our ability to perceive was Deana Lawson’s staged inkjet photograph scenes.

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Deana Lawson, The Key, 2016. Inkjet print, collection of the artist.

Lawson’s powerful inkjet photos challenge their viewers in many ways, most obviously through the penetrating, central gaze of her subjects as well as the subtle yet stark juxtaposition of seemingly dichotomous objects. To the first point, the figures featured in Lawson’s photographs boldly confront the viewer with their intense frontal gazes, raising the question – who is looking at whom? I felt a sincere sense of unease and discomfort as concepts of reality and space-time were challenged through the somewhat personal interaction that each viewer has with each photographed subject. Are we the viewer or the viewed? Who ultimately remains the voyeur? Lawson sets up her photographs to challenge the balance of power between spectator and object in a striking way.

To the latter point, the artist highlights our somewhat comedic ability to simply assume that we know a person’s story, to strew together a biography based on piecing together certain objects. In this instance, for example, we see that the central figure is a seemingly rough-and-tough shirtless African-American male with a fierce stare covered in tattoos – protectively holding a sweet, chubby-cheeked baby boy dressed in powder blue. These two seemingly opposing sentiments share both the physical space of the photograph and our mental image of their joint “story” in one of Lawson’s pointedly-jarring juxtapositions. Furthermore, to the left we see a heavily-muscled and tattooed arm hovering over a thick wad of cash, yet no other bodily context, which ultimately begs the question: what do we as the viewer automatically assume about these people through a flash-analysis of context clues? Do we assume the worst? How would you characterize these people if you were attempting to describe the painting to a friend? Do you say that these men are thugs? Would you indicate that perhaps the money was earned through ill-begotten means? But why would you? Look closely in the background and you’ll notice the famous Christian “Footprints” poem displayed on the table to the left; a whiteboard tracing biblical genealogy/history; and framed pictures of school children and families. These objects certainly do not seem to be the typical objects one would associate with criminals or gangsters; in fact, they are objects typically associated with family and traditional values. Lawson’s powerful and seemingly opposing juxtapositions make the viewer question his or her preconceived notions of reality and truly emphasize the importance of not jumping to conclusions, stereotyping, or judging a book by its cover.

One of my favorite parts of the show was artist Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s paintings, modern-day scenes tinged with nostalgia, a somewhat retro-throwback to the art of painting that seems to have gotten lost in today’s contemporary art world.

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Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Fall with Me for a Million Days (My Sweet Waterfall), 2016. Oil on Canvas, 60 x 48 in. Private Collection.

The beauty of Dupuy-Spencer’s paintings is in the details. I found myself spending a significant amount of time with each one, connecting with some more than others due to the presence of relatable every-day objects that establish an intimacy between the viewer and the subject, as well as the viewer and the actual painting as an object itself. At times I held up the line of eager viewers behind me, looking closely for hidden details as I visually devoured the somewhat rough, gestural brushwork of Dupuy’s paintings, admiring its simple yet emotive qualities. It was a delight to the eyes as they wandered over the canvas in search of recognition, familiarity, and signs of the self – something to connect with. In this particular painting, I loved the fact that if you got close enough, you could read the actual iTunes playlist on the Macbook; you could admire the Sam Cooke vinyl and collection of records (drawing your own conclusion about the man’s taste in music), the blue ashtray with stumped-out old cigarettes, a couple of meager houseplants and unframed posters adorning the walls.  These specific details create an intimate connection between the viewer and the subject – who, completely unaware of us, shoulders hunched and jeans sagging as he looks through his playlist, is completely wrapped up in his own little world. We the viewer are given a very personal, yet lovingly rendered glimpse into one man’s life, again able to draw our own conclusions based on the objects present.

Many of Dupuy-Spencer’s paintings contained such sweet, specific details. A can of Cafe Bustelo coffee. A book I might have read in high school. Text messages exchanged between a group of teenagers. The relatability of her works, rendered with such sympathy and understanding, make them something to be savored.

Not shying away from controversial contemporary issues, Anicka Yi’s 3D film The Flavor Genome explored biology at both the micro and macro level as it evolved throughout the past and into the present; or rather, a past that mutates into the present through human-controlled biological modifications. In her film, Yi explores the idea of a piece-meal Nature constructed by man. One particular example that stuck out to me was video footage of the liger, the infamous 19th-century cross-breeding experiment between a lion and a tiger. She discussed how ligers were found to have certain traits particular to lions only – such as sociability – as well as traits found only in tigers – such as a love of swimming. Ligers only exist in captivity and would be unable to survive in the wild – their existence, she states, is personified futility and purposelessness – a mere whim of the human mind.

There were hundreds of other interesting pieces at the Whitney, so I highly suggest you go and check out the biennial for yourself. For more information on individual artists, works present, museum opening hours, and ticket prices, check out the museum website.

For a quick pick-me-up after your visit, I’d recommend a cappuccino at Blue Bottle Coffee on W. 15th St. to round off a cultured (and caffeinated) afternoon.

What to Do in NYC this Weekend

Last weekend we were #blessed with unseasonably warm weather here in the Big Apple. I’m talking temperatures in the mid-80s, breezy, sunny, and warm – it was like Spring in all of her splendor was welcoming us with open arms!

Alas, like a lover scorned, she turned away too soon and shed her tears – in the form of constant drizzle, wind, and temperatures in the 50s. It was a short-lived blissful reminder that summer is just around the corner.

This weekend we can expect a hybrid of the two, a salty-sweet combo of sun and rain, cold and warm, the last dredges of winter and the first buds of spring. Given the unpredictable nature of NYC weather and the wrench it can throw into weekend plans, I wanted to share a couple of fun indoor AND outdoor activities to pass away this upcoming April weekend.

If you find yourself in Queens…

Make your way to Queen’s Comfort in Astoria for hands-down one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.

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Not only is the doorman, James Avatar, a class-act entertainer who makes the wait in line actually fun (who would’ve thought, a cliche NYC line, FUN?), but their food is UH-MAZING. Thanks in large part to the Donut Diva’s ever-changing list of outrageous sweet concoctions to tempt even the most avid dieter. Our particular treat that weekend was a New York Classic with a sinful twist: Rainbow Cookie Crumb Cake. OH. MY. GOD. I would come back just for this, and wait in lines twice as long, to enjoy the dense, moist (I know, *cringe*), colorful cake separated into layers by raspberry and apricot (?) jam and a light layer of chocolate, capped off with a decadent and thick crumb topping…absolutely to die for!

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Not only were their desserts delicious, but so was the rest of their cardiac-arrest-inducing menu. We shared some of their famous “Atomic Fireballs” – deep-fried macaroni and cheese balls topped with sriracha drizzle and a ranch dressing. For my meal, I opted for a twist on the classic Eggs Benedict: Pecan-crusted bacon and a poached egg on top of house-made butter biscuits and a creamy hollandaise sauce, topped with a slight drizzle of honey…again, heaven on a plate. Also, the coffee is legit Cafe Grumpy coffee and that is a side of REAL cream. REAL CREAM. Not skim or whole milk or even half and half. The coffee lover/addict in me was in heaven.

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I had a hard time choosing what I wanted, so I will definitely be returning.  We split the coffee cake and I could only eat one of my Eggs Benedict, yet I was still grateful that the rest of the day’s activities included much walking around. I think my heart and cholesterol levels were pretty happy about that, too.

To try Queen’s Comfort for yourself, I recommend getting in line a few minutes before it opens (at 10am) on weekends. You’ll get seated right away. Otherwise I’ve heard tales of the dreaded two-hour wait, which is enough to make anybody #hangry enough to not enjoy the experience. It will definitely be worth it!

From there, I would suggest a visit to the nearby Museum of the Moving Image, or, if the weather is nice, a trip to Long Island City’s beautiful waterfront Gantry Plaza State Park, which offers fantastic views of the Manhattan Skyline!

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And of course, the iconic Pepsi Cola sign:

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If you find yourself in Brooklyn…

Spend a day outdoors at the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden! While their most famous event of the year – Sakura Matsuri 2017, or the festival of the Cherry Blossom Tree – doesn’t take place officially until April 29, many of the garden’s hundreds of cherry trees are already in bloom. Plus, you’ll beat the inevitable crowds that show up for the two days of the weekend festival (it was already crowded enough when we went in the early afternoon, with lines pouring out onto the streets just to buy tickets as we were leaving!).

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It was hard to do their beauty justice on my phone’s camera, and I expect on a sunnier day they would have been absolutely brilliant. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be fully enveloped by pink and white and rosy flowering trees, where the petals drifting through the wind felt like giant snow flakes falling softly onto hair and coats before blanketing the grass.

Even more photogenic were the eye-popping tulips – my personal favorite.

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The bright red “Emperor tulips” in this picture are absolutely unfiltered and sans Photoshop. They really were that bright and beautiful, reminding me of Andy Warhol who, on admiring a certain work of art, said “I like it; it makes my eyes hurt.”

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After spending a few hours like Alice among the flowerbed, make an afternoon of it and head over to Black Brick Coffee in Williamsburg for a delicious Iced Chai or Flat White. The no-screens policy in the front room of this dimly lit dive with exposed brick walls and wooden tables and chairs makes it a pleasant spot to catch up with friends and family without the distraction of someone (bloggers, perhaps?) clicking away on keyboards.

If you find yourself in Manhattan…

Grab a friend (or four ) and visit my personal favorite part of town – Greenwich Village near Washington Square Park/MacDougal Street – to play some games at “Manhattan’s Only Board Game Cafe,” The Uncommons! A group of four friends and I made a reservation in advance (they only take reservations for five or more, so plan ahead and invite a crew) and what I thought would be a couple of hours playing Cards Against Humanity turned into an epic 5-hour long Sunday playing an assortment of different, original, never-heard-of-before-in-my-life board games. There were a ton to choose from and we made several trips to the game wall.

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We landed on this pile for our first round:

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…and ended up playing Telestrations (an awesome cross between Pictionary and Telephone) for nearly half the time because it was so much fun.

If the weather is nice and the sun is still up, take a stroll through Washington Square Park (MORE cherry blossoms!) before grabbing dinner at a nearby restaurant or, in my case, catching the train back to Queens.

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As for me, this weekend I’ll be checking out the Whitney’s “Paintings from the 1980s” exhibition going on until May 14.

Stay warm, stay dry, and have a wonderful weekend, New York!

Postcards from My Past

Recently I was cleaning out my Hotmail inbox (yeah, I still use my high school Hotmail email address – don’t judge) when I stumbled across a folder I had created in 2011 called “Archived.” I had forgotten about that folder entirely.

I clicked on it.

Inside was a nice slew of old emails from my past – letters and notes that I didn’t want to lose for some reason or another. Mixed in with a few recipes and random notes, “Archived” was like a digital scrapbook or forgotten junk drawer of old phone books and takeout menus that I was only now cleaning out.

Lately, as many mid-to-late twenty-somethings are apt to do, I’ve been self-reflecting a lot, so it seemed appropriate to sort through some of the emails I had saved from my past, to see what 21-year-old Lauren deemed worthy of saving for 26-year-old Lauren.

I could not have been more proud of 21-year-old Lauren for her foresight at knowing the exact emails I would want and need to see today.

Here are some things I found in my digital scrapbook:

  1. Recipes from my mom! I remember there was a boy I liked in college and I wanted to bake him some cookies and scones for Christmas to try to win him over. I turned to my mom for a few of our family classics – snowball cookies, peanut butter balls, and “Grandma Johnson’s Scones.” Sadly, the baked goodies didn’t work their magic on their intended romantic recipient, but I did enjoy the flashback to the tiny little 4-person apartment I made them in during Junior year of college, and the memories of hopeful anticipation at the prospect of blossoming love. Now, six years out from Junior year, the pain of such unrequited love seems somewhat sweet, somewhat bitter, simple and yet, trivial; but it reminds me of an act of courage and bravery that I made in being completely honest and open with someone. It reminded me that strength, conviction, bravery, and a sense of adventure are a part of the core authentic voice I (we all) must try to listen to within ourselves.
  2. Letters from a boy who kept trying to ask me out. For some reason, I never accepted. He tried emailing me three separate times over the course of two months – suggesting coffee after class or dinner on a Saturday night – and I refused, pushing it off with some excuse or another (alas, I also saved my replies – “too tired,” “I have French homework,” and finally, to put the friend-zone nail in the coffin, “why don’t you come to Taco Tuesday with me and two guy friends next week?”). I never gave that boy a chance. I suppose it was because I wasn’t really attracted to him, but my views on such and what really make a person attractive have changed a bit over the years. I wonder what would have happened if I had said yes, and actually taken the time to look beyond the surface to really get to know someone. So while I was getting over my own unrequited love, the shoe was now on the other foot – instead of being rejected, I was now the rejector.  Such is young love and life as a twenty-something – but the email served as an endearing (and yes, flattering) snapshot of feelings expressed by a boy who said he “couldn’t help but smile when he looked at me.” It was sweet to read, even 6 years later.
  3. My grandfather’s family tree research. A few years before he passed away, my grandfather got really interested in researching the family history, in particular finding out about our Italian heritage. I’m not sure exactly how he undertook the research process, but I know it took a while and that he was really proud of it when he was done. Regretfully, I never really took the time beyond a quick glance to thoroughly read it when he first circulated it to everyone. But this go-around I paid attention to the names and the places – it even listed the small town in Italy where his great grandfather (and his middle namesake) was born – Castel di Sangro in the Province of L’Aquila in Southern Italy. Having now spent a considerable amount of time in Italy, this small piece of information passed down by my grandpa is a little bit more personal, more meaningful, more connected. I think about him and his crazy antics sometimes – like that one New Year’s Eve where he disappeared outside of the house to set off (illegal) fireworks to nobody’s knowledge, only to run back in and slam the door, laughing like a hyena. It made me happy to be able to (re)discover something new about him, even as this weekend marks four years since his passing.
  4. Emails from the fellows at the artist-in-residency program I interned at in Perugia. We all enjoyed such a special and unique experience together – living in a closed-off castle in the Umbrian countryside – that it’s hard to really explain, describe, or quantify it to the outside world. Reading some of those kind emails from people rooting me on while I was studying for my graduate school qualifying exams, commiserating with me about particularly difficult fellows (remind me to tell the “Debra Winger” story sometime…), and thanking me for wearing various chauffeur/translator/secretary/gopher/art historian caps was an enjoyable snapshot of that one summer in Italy where I made lifelong friends (and Debra Winger called me a bitch before getting kicked out of the program).
  5. Emails back and forth between my beloved college professor/mentor, his wonderful wife and I after I found out I got accepted into my Master’s program with a full scholarship and living stipend. Emails discussing the restaurant we would eat at to celebrate, the art exhibit we were going to check out at LACMA, the room they let me crash in at their apartment before I left for Italy, and links to various things I should start studying and preparing for before starting grad school. Senior year was my favorite year of college and it culminated in getting accepted into my dream program. Reading these emails reminded me that with hard work, a solid team of supporters, unending perseverance, and a bit of luck, I was blessed to be able to see my dream come to fruition – and I know that I have those characteristics within me to do so again.
  6. Pictures of Italy and Paris that a photographer friend of mine had taken and sent to me as memories of our time abroad together.DSC_1061
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  7. Miscellaneous messages from family regarding inside jokes or words of encouragement, internship acceptance letters, feedback from smarter friends on cover letters, and Netflix passwords – all remnants of a bygone era in which people still added movies for delivery by post to their queue.
  8. A completely unnecessary yet encouraging “goodbye” note from a grad school colleague. My first semester of graduate school in Syracuse I took my favorite course – Selected Topics in Art History with Gary Radke, arguably the best professor I had in the program. The class was relatively small, no more than 10 of us, and one of our colleagues was an older woman – an English/Writing Professor from a local college who was auditing the class. She and I totally clicked – I appreciated her work ethic and genuine interest in the course, and her outsider’s perspective. When this wimpy Southern Californian didn’t have any heavy winter coats to wear, she let me borrow her leather jacket for the weekend and, when I tried to give it back to her, gifted it to me. I never got the chance to say goodbye to her in person before leaving for Italy, so I wrote her an email. Her response was still one of the most touching notes I’ve ever received. She told me that she had learned just as much from me and my contributions in class as she had learned from our professor. And she told me, unsolicited, that I was a great writer. If only she knew how much those words mean today, and how encouraging it is to still read them now.

So thanks, 21-year-old Lauren, for having the insight to know exactly what I would need to be reminded of – especially now – as I leave behind my early twenties and head into this next phase of my life.

What it’s Like to Live Alone for the First Time

It’s been a whole week since I moved into my new one bedroom apartment. A whole week since the grueling 72-hour weekend in which my dad and I (who am I kidding – it was mostly my dad) packed, unpacked, built, arranged, and rearranged an entire apartment. It was exhausting. We laughed. We cried. We shrugged our shoulders and said “it is what it is” a lot. We quoted random movies out of context and spoke in strange accents once we reached what I like to call “teenage girl sleepover mode,” the point of delirium. We ate at the same nearby diner three meals in a row – when we remembered to eat. I physically ached. I needed a weekend from my weekend.

But once it was all said and done, set up exactly how I (how I and nobody else!) liked it – I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.

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My dad left, the dust settled, the remaining two boxes of knickknacks and jewelry could wait to be unpacked (are still waiting to be unpacked). Finally, in the midst of all the chaos that has been my life the last month, I took a deep breath, and smiled.

I was in my little oasis in the city, a place to grow and thrive and heal and relax, to create new memories doing the things I love, simply because they make me happy. The apartment is a blank page for me to fill with the people and objects and memories that I choose – I am both author and editor.

Of course living alone is definitely an adjustment, albeit a welcomed one. Here are a few such adjustments that I’ve come across in making the transition from resigned roommate to satisfyingly single.

  1. No surprises!
    When I walk in the door after a long day and turn on the lights to the kitchen, there are absolutely NO surprises. No dishes piled in the sink, no paperwork strewn on the tabletop, no roommates blasting music, cooking in the kitchen, or hosting unexpected guests. The house is exactly as clean – or as messy – as I left it.
  2. I no longer have to “get the okay”
    I once had a roommate who wanted to know literally every. single. time. that anybody – including my boyfriend – was going to be over because she didn’t like surprises (see above). I get it; it’s the considerate thing to do, a courtesy, something you should do if you have a roommate, and if the shoe were on the other foot I’d probably want some sort of advanced notice as well. But after what seemed like the 200th “Hey, just wanted to give you a heads up that…” text, I got tired of it. I am an ADULT. I stopped asking my parents for permission 8 years ago, and I shouldn’t feel like I need to get the okay to have my boyfriend – or friends, or house guests, or anyone for that matter – over to my apartment. Not to mention that it killed any sort of spontaneity. Now I can basically do all of the above things without fear of repercussion or the need to “check in” with somebody else and their schedule.
  3. I can cook whatever I want, whenever I want
    giphy (25)I’m pretty sure I mentioned this in my last post about moving, but I used to have crazy roommates from Berlin who would cook extremely elaborate, extremely involved, and extremely messy meals starting at 10:00 at night. Not only would they frequently begin cooking as I was getting ready to go to bed; but they had an uncanny knack for cooking at literally the EXACT same time that I would come home to cook a meal.  In other words, they would either cook late at night or at the exact same time as me. If I went to work early and got home by 5:00, they would be there, cooking. If I went in late, had a happy hour drink with a coworker, and got home at 8 to begin dinner, they would be there, cooking. If I randomly decided to cook a late lunch/early dinner on a Saturday at 4:00pm, they would inevitably be in the kitchen cooking their own late lunch/early dinner on Saturday at 4:00pm.  This might not seem like a huge deal, but it is for a couple reasons, namely: (1) NYC kitchens are freaking SMALL. Try maneuvering around it when you’re one person, let alone three. (2) Cooking, for me, is a relaxing way to unwind – adding roommates diminishes the relax factor to zero, and increases the stress levels and small talk that one tries to escape via cooking to a hundred. (3) You feel obligated to share your (or try their) food – or worse, eat at the communal table when in reality all you really wanna do is take your stir fry to your bedroom and watch the next episode of The Mindy Project like the true antisocialite you are.

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  4. I can play music (almost) as loud as I want, whenever I want.
    If I want to wake up and blast “Walking on Sunshine” while I take my shower, I’m totally free to do that. I can sing like the white girl that I am to my standard go-to early-2000s hits, cry with Amy Winehouse, or cheese it out with my favorite “French sidewalk cafe” or Frank Sinatra stations on iHeart Radio. No one can judge my famously terrible taste in music. Or the fact that I listen to iHeart radio. Or ask me to turn it down. Like wayyyy down. And I’m not just talking about lowering the volume on my iPad.giphy (19)
  5. I can take a shower and use the bathroom whenever I damn well please
    I’m sure you’re starting to see a common theme here about me being able to do things whenever I want. I suppose that this entire post could be summed up in “doing the eff whatever, whenever, and wherever.” But this one is important. After years of negotiating shower times and coming up with elaborate bathroom schedules with roommates, where “I’ll take the bathroom from 7:00-7:15, then you get it from 7:15-7:42, then I’ll take it again from 7:42 to 8:03 because it takes me exactly 21 minutes to do my hair,” only to have the schedule thrown off because, you know, life, I can’t even begin to tell you how refreshing it is to wake up and know that I won’t be faced with the passive-aggressive rat race that is getting ready to go to work. I don’t have to say hello in the morning before I’ve had my coffee, and I don’t have to get up earlier than I’d like in order to accommodate somebody else’s bathroom usage. On that same note, I know that I can come home from a concert at midnight and shower away the smell of sweaty bodies and cigarettes at midnight without fear of waking anybody up. If I go out to a spicy Ethiopian restaurant for dinner and all hell breaks loose, there’s no competition for the commode. Likewise, if I unexpectedly get stuck on a train (hello, NY) for an hour right after drinking a large coffee and two bottles of water, I’m in the clear as soon as I get home. I can even leave the door open.
  6. Heck, who even cares about doors at all anymore?
    I certainly don’t. I don’t care about doors so much so that I actually took my bedroom door off its hinges. Doors and closing them are a thing of the past! This may seem like a bold and daring thing to do by one who is fully embracing the “one” in “one bedroom,” but in reality my one bed was too large for its room, and the door didn’t fully close. Alas, I spent too much hard-earned cash on new furniture, so a new bed will have to wait, if I decide to stay in this apartment long term. Then again, after sleeping in a queen-sized bed since I was twelve, do I really want to downgrade to a full? Probably not. Most likely I’ll end up getting something (beads? a curtain? a rustic chic sliding barn door?) at some point, but for now, my new motto is “No door, no problem.”

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  7. It’s a lot harder to sleep at night
    I’m not sure if this has to do with the fact that I’m alone as much as the fact that I am adjusting to a new apartment with new sounds and new quirks. Like the neighbor who ordered takeout sushi on speakerphone and the server who asked him if he wanted a side of edamame to go with that.  Or the dog who barks at anyone and anything that happens to breathe near the apartment. Or the fact that at times it can be really freaking weird not to sleep with a door. Of course it’s better than the raging frat boys I used to live next to and the forgetful property manager who seemed to forget he had properties to manage. Life is all about the trade-offs.
  8. I and I alone am responsible for making sure the house is fully stocked
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    Yay, no more coming home and finding out that your roommate used up all of the tinfoil or the last roll of toilet paper! Boo, you used up the last roll of tinfoil and have been using Kleenex for two weeks. And you just used your last tissue this morning to fix your makeup. How gratuitous!
  9. People have been asking me if I plan to adopt a cat and/or become a cat lady
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  10. And while there may be no one to vent to when I come home, or split a bottle of wine with…there’s nobody counting how many glasses I’ve had either 😉
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Ranked: Top 5 Donut Places in NYC

Does it make me a weirdo that I absolutely love mornings? Okay, maybe not all mornings, like today when I woke up to my obnoxious phone alarm in the middle of a deep, deeeep sleep – the kind that has been eluding me for over two weeks now and that I embraced way too zealously for a mid-week workday – but in general, I would describe myself as a morning person. I love the possibilities of a new day. I love waking up refreshed and languorously lazy, to a clean house and bare feet on hardwood floors, wrapped in cozy blankets burning candles to The Kinks. I love sleeping in on Sundays, watching the light come in through the curtains of my bedroom window before making a steaming pot of french press coffee with cream and sugar, before the rest of the world has awoken.

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I’ll grab a book and flip through the pages; fully rested with a clear head and a calm heart, I am able to enjoy a few chapters before getting dressed in my leggings-and-something-comfy weekend uniform to start the day.

The only thing that could make these magical moments even more wonderful, besides brunch and flowers and infinite pots of coffee, is my all time biggest weakness: donuts.

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I am obsessed with them. They are probably my most favorite delectable treat, so photograph-able, a cake disguised as a breakfast food, masking frosting with blueberries and breakfasty names like “coffee cake donut” and “apple crueller.”

Being in New York City means that there is never a shortage of food options, and donut delights are no exception. Whatever your mood, whatever your fancy, you’ll likely find it somewhere in the concrete jungle, beckoning you with its sweet sugar glazes, neon colored pink frosting and rainbow sprinkles, or creme-stuffed, crumb-topped deliciousness.

After much dedication, research, and weekend wanderings with fellow donut lovers (aka twenty-something girls with Instagram accounts), I’m proud to present my review of five of the most popular donut outposts in the city; but as any good scholar will acknowledge, my scope (and time and calories and budget) is limited, so there are myriad options to explore that I haven’t yet been to and so of course, won’t be mentioned. That being said, I’m pretty confident in the final breakdown – and I saved the best for last.  If I missed a real gem or if you have any suggestions – feel free to post in the comments! My heart (and stomach, but probably not my waistline) will thank you.

5. The Doughnut Plant (Chelsea) – 220 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011

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I’d heard so many good things about the unique flavors and sheer variety of donuts at The Doughnut Plant that when my brother – a fellow admirer of the art of dough – was in town for a visit, we decided to make a special trip down to Chelsea from Astoria to pick up a dozen to enjoy over the weekend. When I say variety, I mean it – you can choose from yeast, cake or filled; square or round; full-sized or miniature. With flavors like matcha green tea, chocolate chip cookie with pecans, peanut butter banana, black and white, coffee cake, Brooklyn blackout, and pistachio (to literally name just a few) the options were endless.  We were particularly excited to try their specialty seasonal flavors, including pumpkin spice (obviously) with pepitas and Candy Corn.

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Adorable? Yes.

Picturesque? Absolutely.

Delightfully delectable? …..not so much.

I don’t know if the biggest turnoff was the literal interpretation of candy “corn” and the resulting unsweetened, goopy, thick, corn-flavored pudding inside, or the sickeningly sweet glaze crusted onto stale dough.

We both tried to hide our disappointment for fear of offending the other and ruining the experience, so we just smiled, and said our “mmm, good!’s” and optimistically looked forward to trying a couple of other flavors. Each one led us to the same conclusion: Disappointment!

The peanut butter and banana was literally dough stuffed with unsweetened peanut butter and banana mush. It tasted like a sandwich. The pumpkin, again, was literally just pumpkin – nothing that made it particularly tasty or noteworthy. We recruited others in our judgment – the look of politeness and the strained swallowing said it all. We tried every flavor, but we didn’t even finish the dozen over the course of three days and three mouths. There is something seriously wrong with a person who turns down – or worse, doesn’t like – donuts! In this case, it wasn’t our fault; I’ll blame the nominal “donuts.”

4. Dough (various locations)

I tend to associate objects, smells, foods, and music with certain people and memories.  This can be both a good and a bad thing. I can either instantly be whisked away to one of my favorite places on earth at the mere sight of chocolate hazelnut Baci Perugina, or be sent down the Spiral of Despairing Memories when a certain song comes up on my playlist. I don’t think I’m unique in this, but I do think that my loyalty to past memories – both good and bad – tends to color my perceptions and experience of the present.

Dough, like Ben’s Pizzeria and Kesté, is one of those places. My first roommates in NYC – a certifiably insane German couple who I literally had to threaten to call the cops on – were obsessed with Dough. They would go to my favorite bagel place right around the corner from our apartment every Saturday morning and bring back bagel sandwiches and a chocolate or cinnamon donut, shipped in freshly each morning from the original location in Brooklyn to various Dough outposts (including said bagel shop) throughout the city.

While I will forever associate Dough with my psychotic  ex-roommates, I will say that every time I’ve ever split one of these huge donuts with a friend, I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s a step up from Doughnut Plant in that the doughnuts actually taste like, well, donuts. And you don’t regret eating them. My only complaint is that they are slightly over priced and overrated for what they are. Sure, they have some unique flavors, the magenta-flavored hibiscus donut being their most popular, but they focus only on raised yeast donuts without much variety in between for other flavors or styles of donuts. Nothing filled, nothing cake-like – just large ovoid rings covered with a lightly-sweetened glaze that, after a while, tends to blend in and taste like any other glazed sugary treat without much to distinguish its flavor. I wouldn’t turn down a Dough donut if someone offered it to me (blasphemy!), but I wouldn’t go out of my way to order one either. I would rather save my calories for something a little more decadent.

3. The Doughnut Project (West Village) – 10 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014

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I’ve been to The Doughnut Project a few times over the last 18 months and have to say it’s one of my favorite places – more for the presentation, customer service, and ambience than anything else. The first time I went was last summer, when one of my girlfriends and I popped in after a nearby brunch to this adorable little shop tucked away on quaint Morton Street in the West Village. It was summer, and the seasonal flavor of the day was Peach Pie. Normally, that would not be my first choice for a doughnut, but it looked so delightful that we both opted to try it out – and were not disappointed. I’ve been back a couple of times since then to try other flavors. Pictured above is their PBJ 2.0 doughnut – a yeast doughnut filled with whipped peanut butter and raspberry jam with a raspberry glaze on top.

While normally I am obsessed with all things peanut butter flavored, this one was not my favorite – the peanut butter was deceptively unsweetened, almost salty. My sweet tooth was not having it, perhaps because it had expected the sugary rush of peanut-butter-resembling-frosting as opposed to simple peanut butter. I will say, though, that everything else about this doughnut, including the jam and frosting, was delicious, as are their many other flavors. My favorites were, surprisingly enough, “The Bronx” donut (lightly glazed with olive oil and black pepper – top row center in the photo below) and Beet and Ricotta (sweetened and whipped ricotta filling with a sugar beet glaze, dead center).

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2. Peter Pan Donuts and Pastry Shop (Greenpoint) – 727 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

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Now we’re starting to get into some serious doughnuttery. Not to be confused with Doughnuttery in Chelsea Markets – another place to check out on my ever-extending, somewhat elusive NYC To-Do list.

Peter Pan Donuts is a place for serious donut lovers only. It’s the place you go to when you’re craving some good old-fashioned, sugary sweet donuts without all of the fancy schmancy hipster flavors you’re not sure you actually like/want to order at some of New York’s “trendier” donut places. It’s a doughnut shop with a 1950s vibe, reminding you of the long-forgotten era of diners and dives and sour cream old-fashioned glazes with coffee in Styrofoam cups and red stir straws. I couldn’t figure out which of the donuts I wanted to try most – so my girlfriends and I picked a few flavors each to eat on the spot, and I returned to take a few more home to enjoy and share over the weekend.

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This beauty was filled with an airy sweet creme, lightly frosted and crumb topped and dusted with powdered sugar. It was wonderful and like everything you would expect it to be.

The only downside to Peter Pan is that, unfortunately for me, it’s located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn – which is a bit of a trek from Astoria (not geographically speaking but logistically speaking – subways are designed to go into and out of Manhattan, so inter-borough travel from Queens to Brooklyn is complicated, if non-existent, and often requires travel into Manhattan. But I digress). Adding to this the fact that you should probably get there early so you can guarantee a decent selection (as they are always crowded and quickly sell out), and Peter Pan becomes a once-in-a-while treat. Again, my wallet and waistline are probably thanking me for this. So it COULD be a benefit depending on how you look at it!

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1. The Donut Pub (West Village) – 203 W. 14th St., New York, NY 10011

On an episode of Louie, Louis CK once described to a date that he knew of “a place on 14th Street that’s the last shitty little diner in New York” – referencing the authenticity and grit of a New York long lost to yuppies (Bros? Lululemon wearing yogi moms? Bougie Upper East Siders?) and gentrification. He asked her to accompany him to said 24-hour diner for some late night, post-date donuts. Me being the big Louis AND donut fan that I am, I did a bit of sleuthing and discovered The Donut Pub.

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It’s exactly as described.

Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 1964, The Donut Pub is nothing remarkable, nothing that stands out from the crowd. Tucked under a nail salon, it is as unassuming as the deli and scaffolding surrounding it on West 14th Street. It might not be the fanciest. It might not have the trendiest flavors, the greatest location, the chicest interior, or the longest line. But it does have the most delicious donuts, rightfully earning its spot as the best donut place in the city.

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Just look at the donuts above.

No frills, no games. Choose from an assorted selection of old fashioned glazed donuts, plain donuts, red velvet cake, chocolate glazed, blueberry cake, sour cream, french cruellers, raised, powdered sugar, creme filled – you name it. If you can picture an ornery woman named Ida or similar with curly red hair and an apron, chewing gum and writing down your order with a pencil and pad next to a leather booth and a jukebox, you know exactly the type of place this is and the type of breakfast fare you’ll find here.

My sweet tooth loves buttercream frosting, and this place had the perfect donut to accomodate: “Birthday Cake.” Incidentally, this was the donut all of the children order every time they come in, but I have no shame. Order it I did. The frosting was dense and sweet – exactly how I like it.

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Perhaps my favorite thing to be found at The Donut Pub is their black and white cookies, the best I’ve had in the city (rivaled only by Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, which are delicious but miniature sized. It’s not a black and white if it’s not the size of your face!)

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One of my favorite things to do when I first got here and was adjusting to the city was to take myself out on dates. Some Sunday mornings I would wake up early enough, grab a coffee to go, and take the train to W. 14th Street, where I would eagerly ascend the stairs from the underground and cross 7th Avenue to the Donut Pub. The older lady who runs the place on weekends literally couldn’t care less about speed or the proper order of waiting on who got in line first, but she did serve up some delicious counter-side diner donuts and coffee. On these lazy Sundays I would enjoy my donut at the bar stool, then take a black and white to go, walk down 6th Avenue, and head towards Greenwich Village, grabbing a cappuccino at Caffe Reggio on MacDougal Street before parking myself at a bench in Washington Square Park for the rest of the afternoon to people watch, read, and listen to music.

The unpresumptuousness of The Donut Pub, its comforting and familiar donuts reminding me of childhood and home, and its proximity to my favorite section of the city have earned it the number one spot on my list of donut places in NYC.

Honorable Mention

1. Domnique Ansel Bakery (Soho) – 189 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012

Because it’s such a well-known New York City pastry icon, no donut list is complete without at least a nod to Domnique Ansel’s famous “croissant donut,” better known as a Cronut. With the famed 2-hour lines beginning as early as 7am on weekends for one of these bad boys, boasting the shape of a fried donut and the flaky layers of a croissant, I’d heard about the cronut even before moving here. Naturally I knew it would be a place I would eventually try given my penchant for sweet things and a stubborn immunity to waiting in lines for things way longer than I should.

We were fortunate that the lines weren’t too long when a former coworker and I decided to meet up early before work to see if we could get our hands on the raspberry chocolate cassius flavor of the month.

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The takeaway? Beautiful and sugary, but definitely not worth the wait, the over-inflated cost, or the calories. The hype was real but the experience was lackluster, and I don’t plan on going back any time soon. But at least I can permanently cross this one off my bucket list.

2. Homemade vanilla sprinkle donuts!

There are some days that you just want a donut. There are also some days when you don’t ever want to leave your house because that requires washing your face and putting on real clothes. It’s unfortunate when those two days are one and the same.

Enter homemade donuts.

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I can’t say that they are as good as the real deal, but they are adorable and fun to make, cute to serve for guests and hit the spot in a pinch! For the recipe I used for these baked cinnamon vanilla donuts, click here.

Donuts are always a good thing. They make people happy. They can alleviate bad situations. They are good surprise gifts for your girlfriend when she’s mad at you.

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*Except when they’re not:

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*Editor’s Note: My mom literally JUST sent me this picture while I was in the middle of writing this blog post (unbeknownst to her) and I couldn’t resist including it. Be careful out there, folks. Anything and everything can kill you, even frosted joy. 

Moving Out, Moving Up

It’s 4am. I can’t sleep. I’m too excited, to antsy, can’t handle the anticipation of what happened yesterday and what it means to come. Like a kid before Christmas, I can’t wait to see what’s in Santa’s sleigh. It’s times like this that make me wonder what I will be like the night before my future wedding; how any bride-to-be can ever get some shut eye the night before her wedding. How can she fall asleep when the next day will bring her nothing less than one of the most beautiful, important, romantic, and life-altering steps she will ever take? How will she pull it together and STILL look beautiful and well-rested? Ambien, a friend of mine would say.

This is not the first time my reaction to excitement has been insomnia – insomnia is familiar territory for me and unfortunately, my body goes through periodic cycles of it where I can go for weeks at a time, unable to wake up feeling refreshed, or waking up at odd hours throughout the night, or unable to stay asleep once I finally fall asleep.

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I wait in bed an hour. 5am. At this point I have resigned myself to staying awake for the rest of the day, but I don’t really mind – I haven’t had a sleepless white night in a while, and I focus on the ways I want to spend the morning relaxing before the work begins.

I crawl out of bed – even though it is officially spring, it is grey and COLD. I scamper into the kitchen to turn on the hot water kettle – it’s still a bit too early to make coffee, I think. I look forward to the steaming mug with cream and cinnamon, and decide to put off that pleasure for a little longer, when I’m fully convinced I’ll be unable to fall back asleep. So I opt for a cup and saucer of hot lemon green tea, go back under the electric blanket, continue reading The Handmaid’s Tale, then doze off and on for another hour or so.

But the excitement is building. I can’t stay asleep for too long.

I just signed my very first one-bedroom apartment lease, I think.

My very first one-bedroom, no-roommate-no-guarantor ONE BEDROOM APARTMENT.

The thought of it makes me giddy again as I write.

I’ve lived “on my own” ever since I was 18 and in college. I’ve been independent (in varying degrees) from my parents for almost 10 years now, but I’ve never really been entirely on my own.

In college, I always had roommates.As a result, I can tell you that some people are just not made for roommates. I am one of them.

My best friend and I were discussing this the other day, how we are both Type A Monicas much better off living alone, even though sometimes we wish we could live like in harmony with roommates like Monica and Rachel, Joey and Chandler. It’s not that we don’t have friends or like other people, but alone time and a private space are crucial for us when it comes to recharging and feeling energized. While we both sometimes fantasized about having a Sex in the City type of lifestyle with a fun group of girls or roommates, that vibe conflicts pretty seriously with our very being. As you may recall from a previous post, I am pretty independent and never one to flock to a group. I will obstinately do my own thing just because everyone else is doing something different. Thanks, Dad! And while I do genuinely like people, living with them is another thing; I am the neat freak, slightly-OCD, I-like-t0-do-things-my-own-way-for-better-or-worse-so-don’t-tell-me-what-to-do (working on this) roommate who wants nothing more than to have some peace and quiet (except when I don’t) a clean apartment (except when it isn’t) and the freedom to do as I choose (always).

I have had 14 roommates since my Freshman year of college. Without delving into too many particulars, I can say that I’ve lived with a self-righteous/judgmental religious fanatic, a complete hermit, someone who couldn’t afford the rent and would go to extreme measures to avoid turning on lights/heat, a mental lunatic (my brother confirms this), and a bizarre German couple who thought it was socially acceptable to frequently begin cooking (and then cleaning) gourmet meals like salmon and gnocchi in a creme-fraiche and dill sauce at 10pm  in our tiny closet of an apartment, with my room right next to the kitchen, when I was trying to get ready for bed. At least they did their dishes?

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This is not to say that I haven’t found a few diamonds in the rough. My senior year of college roommate set the bar extremely high. We had a kick-ass, gorgeous apartment with three gyms and a pool, through the canyon from Malibu, nestled in the hills of Calabasas, that her interior-decorator dad decked out to the nines. My bed there was still probably the comfiest bed I’ve ever slept in, and we actually became better friends as a result of living together. My current roommate also ranks as one of the best roommates I’ve ever had, but at the beginning of March I found her tearfully confronting me: Due to unfortunate personal life circumstances/major health issues, she was moving out on April 1st.

This left me with four options:

(1) Cry and sink into despair at the thought of having to adjust, yet again, to someone else’s living habits. Passively accept the next roommate that God sent my way, probably someone super loud and messy and “420 friendly” sent by God to punish me for some sin I had committed.

(2) Storm out in anger and rage, returning to bind her to the floor boards and force her to stay.

(3) Walk around in denial until April 1st and then hope that my landlord would just forget about me and let me continue living on my own in our 2BR.

(4) Reject all potential sublessors as not a good fit, and continue to do so until my lease was up in September.

My dad and brother – who apparently know me better than I know myself – pointed out the lingering fifth option I hadn’t even dared to consider:

Get my own apartment.

You see, I didn’t even want to consider this possibility – didn’t want to get my hopes up. New York is notoriously expensive, and even in cities that are less-so it can still be difficult to afford a place of your own. Last year, working the first job I could find and accepting its measly salary, I could barely afford my current place, let alone have a social life – the two often conflicted. Of course last year, I didn’t really know anybody, so it wasn’t too hard to choose. I was definitely NOT blowing rent money on bottle service a la Katy Perry.  But what’s the point of living in New York City if you can’t have a social life and experience all of the magical things this adult playground of a place has to offer?

When I finally switched jobs, I happily adjusted to the salary increase. I was finally able to comfortably have the best of both worlds. Which brings me back to my present day situation.

“Roommates stress you out, Laur. You might have to make some sacrifices and go on a budget, but if you can do it, go for it.”

This got me thinking – maybe I actually could do this. It has been a dream of mine since my first roommate to finally do this thing on my own. To be 100% fully in control, making decisions independent of somebody else’s input or desires. To have my own place, where I can do my dishes immediately (90%) or leave them in the sink (10%) without worrying about them annoying anybody else. If I break a glass, it’s mine to break. If I want to clean the bathroom at 10pm or 10am while playing music, no one is going to stop me. I can have my boyfriend and friends over any time I like – as well as out of town visitors (talking to you, Italians!) – who can stay as long as I please without fear of infringing upon someone else. I don’t have to share my personal belongings, or use anyone else’s, because they will all be MINE. I can decorate and redecorate as I choose. I CAN WALK AROUND NAKED.

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The payoff began to sound increasingly attractive.

I weighed my options. I crunched my numbers. I took my monthly and figured out how much I could pay in rent, and what that would leave me to spend on food and fun. I made a budget. I took into account putting away small monthly amounts towards savings. I ADULTED.

Worst case scenario, my dad said, you put up with whoever comes into the apartment and get out when your lease ends in September. Not a bad plan.

But then I started thinking…why wait until September? Why not begin the search now?

Being the do-or-die person that I am, I commenced immediately, stumbling across my new apartment that very same day while searching listings on NakedApartments (coincidence? HA! I think not!). I love Astoria and was not looking to relocate just yet, so my goal was to find a small studio somewhere in this neighborhood that I could call home.

The universe did me one better and sent me a unicorn: a RENT-STABILIZED one bedroom (not a studio!) in one of the best parts of Astoria, closer to Manhattan and four subway lines, some of the city’s best restaurants, and with laundry and super on site. Whattt??? Now I started to get even more excited at the prospect. Could this be for real?

I booked a viewing with the listing agent – whose email signature said “Inviato da iPhone” (Sent from my iPhone) in Italian – another sign? Trekking over early on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago to scope out the place, I started to wonder: what was going to be wrong with the apartment that it would be offered at such a price? Would it be a glorified closet? How many people had put in an application already? Would I even be approved?

The answer, in short, was nothing. Granted, it is tinier than my current small space, and the bedroom will basically fit my bed and (hopefully) my dresser, but it would be ALL MINE. There are exactly two kitchen cabinets and zero counter space, but it would be all mine. No negotiating who gets top shelf and which room goes to whom. Because it’s All.Mine.

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After viewing the apartment I called my dad for some fatherly advice. He’s the first person I always go to when I need wisdom and encouragement and sound judgment from someone who has always believed in me. While he never tells me what to do, exactly, the sentiment was the same on all sides: go for it!

So here we are today. I won’t bore you with the details of this month-long stressful and exciting and chaotic process, but yesterday I put pen to paper and signed my new lease for a fantastic one bedroom apartment that I am beyond thrilled to call home. It’s not the most beautiful apartment I’ve ever lived in – that prize goes to the 16th century frescoed-and-chandeliered palazzo with antique furniture that I lived in in Florence – but it’s mine to fix up and make a home.

Mine to come home to and pop open a bottle of wine and listen to Flo Rida as loud as I want when I’ve had a stressful day.

Mine to take care of.

Mine to call the super about if the stove stops working. Mine to complain about if the neighbors make noise. Mine to tell my kids about when I tell them about the time I really and truly lived on my own.

Mine to invite friends and guests over to anytime and for however long I please – as long as they don’t cook after 10pm and respect the rules of the house, of course.

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The Importance of Having Someone Who “Gets” You

This weekend, my best friend of nearly 15 years is coming up to visit me and I. Can’t. Wait. It has been so long since we’ve seen each other – well, forever in BFF years, which really equals out to about three months ago when BF, brother and I stayed with her in Boston for New Year’s Eve. Even though she is coming to visit me in the Big Apple, America’s playground, we don’t have any plans to go into the city. The idea is to stay local, enjoy my neighborhood, drink copious cups of coffee, and chill with some chick flicks. Despite our rather unambitious weekend plans, I’m particularly excited for this visit.

Why?

Because my BFF is one of the few people who fully “gets” me – the good, the bad, and the weird.

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She can read my moods, know exactly what I’m thinking, laugh at my terrible jokes, love me in spite of my flaws, assuage my fears and insecurities, and build me up when I need it the most.

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If you read my last post, you might recall that I never really felt like I fit in – especially in Middle School. Until I met my BFF, that is.  When I was the super awkward preteen struggling to fit in, find myself, and make friends, she sat next to me on the steps before 8th grade gym class and we haven’t stopped talking ever since.

Okay, that’s a lie.

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There was this one stupid year in high school where we had a dumb girl fight/falling out that threatened to end our friendship for good until we called a truce and got over it exactly one year later. Sometimes I forget that that year even happened; then randomly we’ll remember it together, and roll our eyes at the ridiculousness of it.

BFF is my ride-or-die friend.  A few years ago (6, to be exact), we decided that no matter where the other person lived, we were going to “do our twenties” together. So when I was overseas, we made it a point to have weekend Skype dates. When she was going through a breakup, we set up our multiple screens to Skype and watch a chick flick together, thousands of miles and 6 hours apart.  Ever since college, we’ve made a point of visiting one another, and on her cross country road trip she went out of her way to come see me in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania.  When I was living in Italy, she decided to fly out and stay with me after her college graduation. That trip is still one of my favorite memories.

She has literally been witness to all of the major milestones I’ve experienced in my life so far.

She was there when I had my first kiss (well, not there there, but nearby).

We worked our first jobs together at American Eagle when we were Juniors in high school.

She was there when I turned 18 and planned a special birthday dinner for me.

We’ve seen each other through driver licenses and college graduations, signing leases on apartments and dealing with crazy roommates, dating boys and breaking up with boys, starting our careers and wondering if we’re doing our twenties okay.

While the list could go on and on, here are just a few reasons why my BFF is one of like 3 people who just “get” me in a way that nobody else does:

  1. She wakes up and immediately makes coffee.
  2. Terrible – like, REALLY terrible – hip-hop (I’m talking Flo Rida, J. Cole, Pitbull, any of the early-2000s throwbacks) – is our soundtrack.  As long as there’s a danceable bass, we’re dancing.
  3. We went to this awkward Halloween dance/birthday party in 8th grade dressed up as pajama kids and she stayed with me the whole time when I wanted to jump on the trampoline to Outkast’s Hey Ya when according to everyone else it was “like SOOO yesterday.”
  4. I babysat her Spanish-speaking guinea pigs. Caring for each other’s pets? TRUE LOVE.
  5. When we were 13 we played hooky to watch Johnny Depp (BFF) and Orlando Bloom (Me) in Pirates of the Caribbean for the second time in a row.
  6. I was in love with Orlando Bloom and (can’t believe I’m admitting this) carried printed out pictures of him in my purse. Kid you not. BFF knew this. She’s still friends with me.
  7. We eagerly awaited the release of the Now That’s What I Call Music 14 CD and listened to it in its entirety at a sleepover.
  8. Studying for the AP Spanish test.
  9. Surviving 3rd period AP Spanish with our borderline-psychotic teacher.
  10. She stuck with me through the tramautic dental experience that was a series of braces, plus an expander, two (temporarily) missing teeth AND rubber bands, from 8th to 11th grade.  I was a wreck. I’m surprised I could still form words with all that work going on. She still talked to me
  11. We know pretty  much everything there is to know about the other person. I can tell you her favorite color in 8th grade and how it’s different from her favorite color now, and what her favorite animal is and the name of her high school dog.
  12. She always suggests going to see art museums when we travel or visit each other, even though it’s not her thing, because she knows it’s mine.
  13. We teamed up junior year to win our AP American History class debate on the validity of “Manifest Destiny.”
  14. She knew I had a huge crush on said AP American History class teacher. She’s still friends with me.
  15. We went through our quarter-life crises together.
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  16. She’s heard my rendition of Poker Face. I think she even started it.
  17. She’s my secret-keeper. She knows my deep-rooted insecurities, the things that you maybe tell one or two people outside of your family.
  18. Food. We both eat it. And love it. Especially of the Mexican variety.giphy (16).gif
  19. We could speak in only inside jokes if we wanted to.
  20. We’ll answer the phones with strange noises that make sense only to us. No, not once, many times. Sometimes the strange sounds are followed by uncontrollable laughter which precedes actual conversation by a good seven minutes.
  21. When musing about what ever happened to a girl who used to be friends with us in 8th grade, she stated matter-of-factly “She probably just got too popular for us.”And then we laughed.
  22. Relationships must get the seal of approval. No approval, no bueno.
  23. We’ve seen literally ever single romantic endeavor each other has ever had. Our past dates have all been given Sex in the City like pseudonyms.
  24. Because we know each other so well, we can see things about the other person that the person herself may not even realize. And that outside perspective from someone who knows the entire subtext of your life is invaluable.
  25. We genuinely want the other person to succeed – no jealousy or competition, but true joy when things are going well, and true empathy when they’re not.
  26. No matter what I’m wearing or how I look, how I feel or where my level ofself-confidence is at the moment, she tells me how fabulous I am and never makes me feel less-than. Ever.

While I have been able to cultivate a variety of different friendships throughout the course and travels of my life, there are a few people who who just simply “get” me, no explanation required. The beauty of our friendship is that we chose each other back in the days of awkward hair cuts and braces and boy bands; not only have we seen each other grow, but we’ve grown together and helped each other out along the way.  And while we both have changed, we made the commitment to see each other and this friendship through.  Such overwhelmingly authentic relationships are rare, and are usually the result of time, circumstance, and yes, hard work. But the payoff is infinite. Having people who simply “get” you without having to explain yourself is refreshing, relaxing, liberating. It’s an oasis.

Oh, and (27), we like to have a good vodka martini and dance party together. Happy weekending, NYC!

On (the Beauty of) Never “Fitting In”

I’m a transplant.  Or, should I say, a transplanted transplant. I’ve moved around and made myself a home and at home in so many different places that when people ask me where I’m from, it’s hard to say; my answer often depends on the person and the circumstance.

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When people ask me where I was born

Over a period of 26 years, I have lived in 6 different cities and had over a dozen different “permanent” addresses. Others will certainly have a more impressive list, and I can’t pretend that I’m a military brat that moves every time the wind blows, but I can definitely argue that I have lived in each place long enough to get familiar, make a new set of friends, and feel equally at-home-yet-not-quite in each place. Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt different, separated, singled out. That persistent feeling since youth – almost an inability to ever fully conform or feel at ease-has characterized a large portion of who I am and how I operate. I’ve never really felt like I fit in, anywhere. Or rather, I should say that I’ve somewhat sort of fit in, everywhere. Let me explain:

Never fitting in….

As a child in Small Town, PA

For most of my elementary school days up until the sixth grade I was a tall, chubby, socially-awkward kid with a regrettably short pixie hair cut. I was picked on for all of those things, and I still remember clear as crystal some of the stinging wounds from words people have said to me going as far back as the second grade. As much as we hate to admit it, those things do tend to stick with us, and ultimately end up shaping who we are in some form or another.  A “born 30”  (as my mother claims) outsider looking in, I loathed going to kids’ birthday parties.  I was never popular, so my range of emotions at receiving an invitation went from being excited at actually being invited, to then panicking come the day of the party. I always dreaded going. What if the kid didn’t like my gift? Who would I hang out with or talk to once I was there? Who would I sit next to when we ate birthday cake? Similar thoughts ensued for school field trips, after school functions, and group sleepovers. To make matters worse for athletically-challenged me (true story: the only goal I ever made in soccer was literally AGAINST my own team), most kids chose to have their birthday parties at the roller rink. But since I was so awkward and clumsy, I usually went out on the rink to “skate” when Barbie Girl came on, fell once, and came back to chill by the Doritos and Coke table, spending the rest of the party talking to the adults.

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I distinctly remember one birthday, where all of the girls in my class started playing hide and seek at one of my “closest” friend’s house for her party. I was really excited that I found a good hiding spot, and I remember staying there for what felt like forever, eventually realizing that everyone else had gone into the living room to play Donkey Kong on the Nintendo because no one had come looking for me.

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No, I don’t cry about these moments, and yes, I know I’m not unique; all kids in one way or another face the tortures of childhood and feeling left out and unpopular. It’s a rite of passage and eventually, hopefully, most of us – bullies included – grow up and grow out of it, and we each grow into our own.

But such experiences didn’t exactly create any fond memories of youthful companions or everlasting childhood friendships for me, either. While my family created an amazing home environment for my brother and I, and we experienced a lot of wonderful things together, I wasn’t all that sad  when, right before my twelfth birthday, on the awkward cusp between preteen and adolescence, my parents made the decision to move to the other side of the country and relocate to beautiful, sunny, Southern California.  As a result of understanding but never “fitting in” in my small town, I became more open and receptive to a new experience of which the mere thought would have sent me into hyperventilate mode just a couple years earlier.

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As the new kid on the block in OC

Once we finally moved to south Orange County, California,  40 minutes from Disneyland and 20 minutes from the beach, I thought things would change, as I would be trading in backwoods country life for a new social currency. “Everyone is different out there in California,” my mom would say before we moved. “It’s not like Small Town, people come in all stripes and colors, they’re used to seeing all sorts of things and all kinds of people out there.” Except that she forgot that children in middle school are pretty much the same, anywhere.  I was growing out of that awkward phase just as my hair (finally! FINALLY!) started growing out, but it still took time. I remember having a really rough time making friends that first year in seventh grade. I didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch for a while.

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As a result, I clung to the first person that I met in Art class.  We didn’t have much in common, this cool older 8th grader from LA and I, except for the fact that we were both new to the school. But she was from Los Angeles, and grew up in SoCal; I was from Amish country. She was nice enough, but talking to her was merely an activity to fill the void of having no one else to eat PB&J or cafeteria orange chicken with; it didn’t do much besides make me feel even more lonely.

Slowly, as is wont to happen, I started to meet people, but it wasn’t easy. I was the smart, kinda nerdy kid with the weird hair and crooked teeth from Redneck City, PA. I had a high learning curve not only because I was adjusting to a new culture entirely different from my own, but also because I was learning how to relate to people my own age for the first time. That year was very much a lesson in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Thanks, Dale Carnegie! Fortunately, like most most of us, I managed to survive pre-adolescence and the 7th grade, and it led me to one of my favorite years in school – 8th grade! This was the year that I met my current  best friend, now of nearly 15 years.

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I know that my experience as the classic “new kid” in school, and of feeling left out and isolated because I was different, gave me an empathetic heart for those who found themselves in similar situations. I used to, and still do, try to reach out to the shy kids, the new kids; I would invite them to eat lunch with me or work on group projects together, because I knew what it was like to be the person that nobody ever asked. And I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

As a Study Abroad student in Florence, Italy

After graduating high school, I moved an hour and a half north to Malibu to attend a small private college right along the Pacific Coast Highway, offering spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, and a stone’s throw away from Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Westwood, Santa Barbara, and downtown Los Angeles; it was an exploratory time in which I discovered the beauty of travel and pushing boundaries during my year abroad in Florence, Italy. Yet here, too, I never felt like I fit in. My first year of college was a difficult transition, and I lived so close to home that I could get away with putting minimal effort into forging friendships, instead choosing to return home on weekends and hang out with high school friends (yes, I did eventually manage to make some really good friends and actually had a pretty great high school experience, all things considered).

Now, as a student in another country with only my fellow study abroad students, I was forced to conform to the group. Right? We were all each other had. Family and friends back home were a Skype date and a 6-hour time difference away; this group of fellow Americans was more immediate. Our experiences together in a foreign country would bring us closer together.

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No more did I “fit in” with this group overseas than I did with them back at home. Though perhaps this time was of my own choosing. Whereas before feeling “different” or like an “outsider” created feelings of unworthiness or rejection, now I began to view it as an asset. I was different because, for the first time, I didn’t want to fit in with the crowd – nor was I trying. I was in a foreign country and I wanted to have a true, authentic foreign experience. I didn’t want to be like the rest of the loud, drunk Americans stumbling around the city in obnoxious groups of 15, pretending to “experience Italy” while eating at McDonald’s, never speaking to locals beyond asking directions, and getting wasted at any of the well-known “student bars.” Not to say that I didn’t have my fair share of fun at bars and restaurants and with friends, but I wanted to do it the Italian way, with Italians. I wanted to go to local bars, speak the language, have conversations, fully immerse myself – and if that meant a separation from my fellow American collegians, who were out traveling every weekend to a new foreign country becoming “besties” in Belgium or Budapest (sorry the alliteration was right there, I couldn’t resist it), then so be it. I didn’t care.

When I came home late one night on the back of a motorino after going on a date with an Italian barista, wearing his leather jacket and coyly answering questions from curious students, I didn’t care. When I missed the American Easter celebration at the student house in favor of attending a local friend’s traditional Italian Easter dinner and going to the cinema to watch my first full-length film entirely in Italian (without subtitles!), I didn’t care. When everyone else was going to Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna – and I chose to go to a remote Italian island with one of my local Florentine friends for a weekend to visit his family and have a truly immersive experience – I. Didn’t. Care.

“Fitting in” would have been detrimental to my experience in Italy, as it would have prevented me from trying out some of the more adventurous and ultimately life-impacting aspects of my trip. These experiences shaped the person that I am today and the life choices that I have made, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I knew I had to get back to Florence, to Italy, to the place I felt I most belonged; so I hopped on a plane 3 days after walking across the stage to accept my diploma and returned to my beloved Italia for the summer, this time to a small hilltop town in the middle of Umbria, not unlike where I came from in Western Pennsylvania. That fall, I began my Master’s program in Italian Renaissance Art History in Syracuse, New York before returning once more to Florence, the city that I made my home for nearly 3 years. I would finally fit in! I was in the place where I belonged!

But yet again, as fate would have it, I never fully fit in.

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In Italy, if you’re not born Italian, you will never be Italian. You can live there for years, even decades. You can marry an Italian, have Italian relatives and pop out Italian babies. You can own a business, pay your taxes, obtain citizenship, speak the language more flawlessly than the natives, and vote in the elections, but you will still NEVER be an Italian. You will always be viewed as a foreigner.

At first it’s a novelty; then it’s annoying. Having the same conversations over and over again, that never seem to move beyond the surface of your foreignness, can be exhausting, trite, banal. Of course I have many wonderful Italian friends who always treated me with graciousness and kindness, with whom I forged close friendships beyond the surface for which I’m extremely grateful. These people welcomed me with open arms and accepted me into their lives and homes in a way like I’ve never experienced before, and I’m forever a better person because of them.  Nevertheless, and strikingly different from the American philosophy, the persistent and overlying cultural attitude is simple: if you are not born in Italy, you will always be a foreigner.

But you know what? Once more, not fitting in had its benefits. It pushed me to dream bigger, to never be content with just “okay,” to go harder and to reevaluate my dreams, my ambitions, my comfort zone. After three years and much deliberation, in June of 2015 at the age of 24, I made the difficult decision to leave behind my adopted country and repatriate into the US.  Again, looking for a sense of belonging.  Believing that life in a big city would offer me the cultural and international stimuli that I was looking for, to which I had grown accustomed while being abroad and that had become a part of my being, my goal was NYC or bust, though Boston would have been a close second. I took the first job I could find that took me to the city, and three months later, after my 25th birthday, I settled into my corner of the Big Apple.

As the classic New York City transplant

So here we are in a new place with a new address, learning yet again how to adapt and fit in to the mechanisms of another city and its people. Like a living organism, cities move and breathe and develop; living in each place is like being in a relationship with a different person. It’s not that you’re untrue to yourself when you’re in a different place/with another person, and it’s not that you’re not yourself in other places; you are simply a different version of yourself, brought out by the trials and environment specific and unique to each place. The same way that one person can be a friend, a lover, and a parent according to the situation.

I’ve been reminded recently of how I’m not a New Yorker.  How certain actions, reactions, or non-actions have separated me, distanced me, made me “other” than those born and raised in the city that I love.  And for the first time, I was okay with that.

I’m okay with not fitting in to a particular mold.

I’m okay with never truly “belonging” to a particular part of the world.

I’m okay with not being a “real New Yorker.”

Because that means I belong a little bit, everywhere, in each place that I’ve left a part of my heart. I’m equally at home in the country and in the city, on the Atlantic and the Pacific, in Europe and in America, speaking Italian or English.

My experiences are different than those of a real New Yorker. Because I’ve had the privilege of traveling, seeing the world, experiencing other ways of living and life and have been able to integrate them into one big culturally confused beautiful conglomerate that lives and breathes all of the places that have impacted me.

I’m not a New Yorker, nor am I a small-town girl, a Californian, or an Italian; I’m a mix of all of those and none of those. And because of that, I take risks, make leaps, and push myself in a way that those who claim to be from one place may never fully understand.

I’ve found my peace in the beauty of never fitting in.

My Experience with the Whole30

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This January, I jumped on the Whole30 bandwagon along with the rest of the “New Year, New Me” crew to begin a 30-day metabolism and diet reset. Initially, I was interested in doing the Whole30 wayyyy back in October, thinking “I’ll squeeze in a quick 30-day round after the Halloween candy craze and be back on track by Thanksgiving!” That quickly led to “maybe I’ll just do it between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it would be almost 30 days exactly and a great preemptive attack on the holiday pounds!” Until my mom wisely pointed out that it would be lunacy to attempt such a restrictive diet at that time of the year, essentially Black Friday through Christmas Eve; not only is it prime holiday party time, but I would also be going home for Thanksgiving and what would I eat when I was there and she was not going to cook separate meals for me and goddammit I was going to help finish the turkey leftovers! Okay, okay; I obliged.  And I’m glad I did – though my skinny jeans weren’t.

So after the holidays, I buckled down and embarked on a January Whole30 with the BF, who I forced joined me willingly. Having a boyfriend who can eat whatever he wants and not gain a pound is NOT fun when you’re someone who merely breathes around chocolate and gains 10. I needed a fail-safe support group that wouldn’t tempt me with splitting late night pints of Talenti peanut butter pretzel gelato (aka heaven in a cup; seriously try it if you haven’t)! We finally agreed to print out the recipes, meal prep, shop for groceries together, plan in advance, and stick to the protocol. No cheating, no slips.  For anyone who’s ever considered doing the Whole30, I’m sure you’ve read up about the super strict program rules on the website.  Founded by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig to supposedly solve a variety of health issues, the Whole30 diet seeks to eliminate all potentially inflammatory and system-disrupting foods, including: all grains, dairy, legumes (no peanuts! no chickpeas!), soy, sugar (including ALL substitutes), additives/preservatives, and alcohol for 30 days.

So what CAN you eat?? The focus of the program is one part protein of any kind, one part healthy fat (think lots of avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.), and LOTS of vegetables (including potatoes!). Limited fruits and nuts, no snacking between meals, and eating enough to tide you over for at least 4 to 5 hours.

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A typical day consisted of the following meal plan:

Breakfast: Paprika and garlic potatoes and onion sauteed in olive oil and topped with sunny-side up eggs and a side of avocado; a breakfast scramble with onions, mushroom, bell pepper, and ground pork or turkey; or sweet potato avocado toast with herb-and-olive scrambled eggs and compliant sugar-free bacon (below).

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Lunch: Fresh chicken salad with cucumbers, red onion, pepper, carrots, and tomato; tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Snack: If I was really hungry or knew I’d be having a late dinner, I’d eat an apple with some almonds or almond butter, or maybe some baby carrots, though I generally tried to steer clear of snacking. Sometimes I would have an apple with lunch, sometimes not.

Dinner: Depends.  We tried out several new recipes, but overall I would say our style of cooking leaned more towards Asian/ethnic food with a Whole30 twist. It was sort of our go-to comfort food, especially since our favorite local Indian restaurant – Yaar – would be off the menu for the next 30 days. We made a LOT of chicken curry (one of my favorite recipes even before Whole30!) or lamb curry with coconut milk over cauliflower rice; variations of skillet chicken thighs with some sort of side like a salad or roasted potatoes, asparagus or roasted veggies; a couple of other favorites included Buffalo Chicken, Bacon and Ranch Skillet with Roasted Brussels Sprouts (below), Boneless Buffalo Bites, Orange Sesame Chicken, Thai Chicken with Spicy “Peanut” Sauce, and homemade burgers/fajitas in lettuce wraps. We even tried our hand at homemade paleo condiments like ketchup and ranch dressing, which turned out to be surprisingly good.

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I think that what most people are generally interested in when researching the Whole30 are the bottom-line results of the program, which is what I usually skimmed for when I read up on the diet and learned about other people’s experiences. I will start by saying that while I appreciate the principles of the Whole30 diet, I am not its biggest fan. But before getting too far into the negatives, let’s start out with the pros.

Whole30 Pros:

  1. After quite a few months of jumping (no, not falling – I embraced this wholeheartedly!) off the healthy-home-cooked-meals bandwagon and relying on bagels for breakfast, Seamless for lunch, and the vast restaurant playground that is New York City for dinner, I was really happy to be shopping for fresh groceries again. I know it’s no excuse, but it’s hard when life gets busy to stay on track! It happens to the best of us. But for me, it was especially devastating because I LOVE cooking – in 8th grade I was actually convinced that I wanted to go to culinary school – so it was great to be back in the kitchen and in control of the foods that I put into my body. 
  2. It was a good way to spend some quality time with BF. We had fun grocery shopping and cooking together, and enjoying the fruits of our hard-earned labor in the kitchen!
  3. BF learned quite a few new culinary skills! When I first met him, I had to show him how to open a can; while I still have to show him how to use the can opener, at least now he’s chopping salads and cooking chicken and potatoes and pretty confident he could whip up a delicious breakfast without my help (I am going to test this theory very soon with a breakfast-in-bed request).
  4. I saved money. I could see BF having a minor panic attack the first time we stocked up his kitchen with groceries, basics, and spices, but what I knew (and what he eventually came to realize) is this: While groceries can be expensive depending on the quality and type of food that you buy, eating out will always be more so. Grocery shopping just involves a larger upfront cost, but with greater returns (see, working at a hedge fund has taught me a few things!).
  5. It was great to have a New Year’s resolution and actually see it through. Being intentional, setting a goal, and following it to its completion is a wonderful way to start a new year and sets a good precedent for things to come.

As indicated, I was not the biggest fan of the Whole30. Here’s why:

Whole30 Cons:

  1. It’s extremely time consuming. The shopping, the cooking, the planning out meals and running out to the grocery store again because crap you forgot that one really obscure ingredient you’ll probably only use once but you really want to try this new recipe because dammit you’re hungry for “Chinese” food and double crap your janky grocery store doesn’t carry that sugar-free magical brand so I guess I better run to Whole Foods and chop off my arm as payment – all that takes up a LOT of time. Not to mention the Sunday afternoon ritual of chopping up salads for the week. We didn’t have much of a social life. It felt like most of our weekends were confined to the kitchen chopping, cooking, eating, doing dishes in our dishwasher-less NYC apartments, and planning our next meal, just so we could do it all over again. Never having ONE day where we could take a break and go out to eat or just grab some takeout was exhausting. Which leads me to my next point:
  2. It’s really hard to have a social life on the Whole30. Not only is it difficult to find foods that are 100% compliant with the Whole30 rules (which state that ONE slip up, means you have to start over from day one); but food simply doesn’t taste as good, and costs twice the price, of the food you make at home. So why eat out? Why order the omelette without cheese and no toast for $22, when you can make an amazing breakfast at home for $2.50? Going out to eat is nearly impossible. Even our experience at one of the few Whole30-approved restaurants in the city – the famous organic, 100% grassfed, locally-sourced, non-GMO blah blah Bareburger – was really disappointing. We were both so looking forward to a dinner out before a movie, and eagerly ordered burgers and sweet potato fries. When the burgers came out I almost jaw-dropped: they were SOOOO tiny! And I mean like SUPER tiny! BF and I went home and made burgers two days later because those burgers did NOT scratch our itch; ours were way better, healthier, and knocked the socks off of those tiny little lettuce wrap “appetizers” we ate that were held together by a toothpick. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to eat a “burger” that’s held together by a toothpick.
  3. I never experienced any of the significant non-scale victories so proudly touted by Whole30. In fact, it was quite the opposite. One morning, I actually woke up with a completely sore and swollen bottom lip for NO REASON AT ALL. Seriously, I didn’t bite my lip, didn’t have a sore -it was just abnormally swollen and really freaked me out.
  4. Not only did my headaches not go away, I found that they had actually increased after starting the Whole30. I was taking my behind-the-counter allergy medicine literally every day, when normally I take it maybe once or twice a week. Correlation is not causation so it could be attributed to other environmental factors, but STILL.
  5. My skin, which has always been pretty clear even since high school, didn’t develop that “glow” everyone talks about – in fact, I started getting really painful cystic acne on my chin and forehead for the entire four weeks. Like SUPER nasty acne that even cover up wouldn’t, well, cover up. It was really distressing! Some people suggested that maybe it was the toxins coming out of my system, but if that’s the case, it would only last for a couple of weeks, not the duration of the program. *Note: I’ve been off the program for 3 weeks now and my skin is back to normal.
  6. I felt bloated the entire time. I’m not really sure why? The only thing I can think of is that I was eating more starches/carbs than I was used to, in the form of some of my favorite root vegetables like potatoes, beets, and carrots.
  7. I never developed “tiger blood” – aka this amazing feeling of being super energetic and alert and concentrated. In fact, I felt even more groggy and exhausted, wasn’t sleeping well, and was also concerned about the other side effects I was feeling.
  8. Worst of all, I actually GAINED WEIGHT on the Whole30. Not a significant amount, but still. UGH! When you go into something hoping for one result and the opposite occurs, it’s pretty frustrating. Meanwhile, BF LOSES 15 POUNDS. I’m not kidding. Talk about wanting to rage eat a donut.

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I guess there were a couple of indirect positive outcomes, including the fact that I learned a lot about my body throughout the process. For example:

  1. My body really doesn’t handle potatoes well – especially sweet potatoes. It caused a lot of digestion issues for me and I think contributed largely to the bloating and weight gain. So it’s probably best to limit my starches and carbs.
  2. Conversely, I think my body actually processes dairy pretty well in small quantities. I felt very satisfied and much lighter in the morning after eating Greek yogurt with berries instead of potatoes and eggs. In the future I plan to swap out carbs for dairy, as that seems to work best for my body.
  3. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that the canned coconut milk I was putting in my coffee two to three times daily was contributing to my acne. It’s extremely high in fat which can lead to oily skin, in rare cases it can cause allergic reactions LIKE SWOLLEN LIPS, and the BPA-lined cans are not supposed to be good for you at all. As soon as I switched back to half and half, everything cleared up. So I think I have to limit my intake of coconut milk.
  4. Almonds/nuts/nut butters are my downfall. I can’t have just 10, so it’s probably best to just cut them out altogether.
  5. I don’t think snacking is evil, and I find that I like to eat smaller meals and have snacks throughout the day to keep me fueled. If you’re eating the same amount food, just split up differently, I don’t really see the point of having huge meals if that’s not really your style. Some may disagree, but again, each body is different.

The best part of the whole Whole30 was my boyfriend’s success story! Not only did he lose 15 pounds, but he also developed a whole new skill set, became comfortable navigating the grocery store and the kitchen, woke up feeling more energized, and the chronic chest pain he was experiencing actually disappeared. If that’s not a success story, I don’t know what is!

This post is not meant to deter anyone from giving the Whole30 a try; it obviously has different results for different people who come from different places in their life. The majority of people actually seem to have great results.  While I probably won’t be trying Whole30 again, I did learn some valuable things, all of which can be summed up in one sentence: It’s not for me.

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A New York Twist to Valentine’s Day

This year, I spent my first Valentine’s Day in NYC. Even though *technically* I was living in NYC last year on V-Day, I took the occasion to escape my psychotic roommate and hopped on a Greyhound to Boston to visit my best friend. We cozied up in her apartment drinking peppermint vodka martinis by the fireplace on a record-setting coldest day of the year, exchanging gifts, dancing to terrible early-2000s hip-hop, eating way too much food, and watching How to Be Single.  It was a perfect weekend and an an amazing way to spend Galentine’s Day:

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This year was a little different. For the first time, I abandoned Galentine’s Day to celebrate the day of love with MY love! And he certainly spoiled me rotten. Amore mio made sure that I woke up to mini doughnuts from one of my favorite places – Greenwich Village’s The Doughnut Project!  I could probably make a whole post devoted to the best donuts in NYC; it would no doubt be in theme with the Louis CK tour of New York that my brother and I made up, the one where we discovered Ben’s pizza and the Comedy Cellar, because as chance (or an obsession with Louis CK) would have it my favorite donut place is also frequented by the comedian: The Donut Pub on 14th Street, open 24 hours and home to the best black-and-white cookies EVER. But I digress.

The Doughnut Project is another top choice, a lovely little spot tucked away on Morton Street with interesting flavors like Beet & Ricotta, Olive Oil & Black Pepper (our surprising underdog favorite!), Raspberry Lemon, and Hazelnut Crunch.  How could you not fall in love over a box of these baby beauties and a big cup of coffee?!

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The rest of the day was just as magical, with flowers and heart-shaped boxes of candy and a wonderful Italian dinner in the East Village at Il Cantinori. I am so picky when it comes to Italian food that I always get slightly nervous when someone suggests Italian. Given my long history with the country, I’m afraid that I’ll offend someone if I’m NOT overly-enthusiastic about a dish, or if I’m highly critical of something and its “lack” of authenticity, like chicken pesto rigatoni or fettucine alfredo (which don’t exist on any authentic Italian restaurant menu in Italy).

But my boyfriend is the best and chose an absolutely LOVELY location. We walked in and the dimly lit wood-beamed restaurant was full of flickering candles and pink and red balloons. It couldn’t have been more romantic. The icing on the cake (the parmesan on the pasta)? The food was soooo delicious! It was hard to decide my favorite: the creamy burrata dolloped on top of prosciutto crudo and drizzled with olive oil and pesto; the wide pappardelle noodles in a creamy red sauce with sausage and peas; or the perfectly sweetened cocoa-dusted tiramisu and macchiato. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the most delicious pearly-pink cosmopolitan. It was probably the strongest cosmo/cocktail I’ve ever had. It’s a good thing *that* was not my first post-Whole30 drink or the BF would’ve had to Lyft me home! But in my LBD and red heels, sipping a cosmo with my love, I couldn’t imagine a more magical Valentine’s Day.

What I also couldn’t envision were the subtle ways in which the spirit of New York City would infiltrate V-Day in ways unlike any other city. Here are just a few of the ways I noticed a “New York Twist” on the classic celebration of love:

1. The subway ride home was choc-full of choc-olate.
Now, I know a lot of people, especially men, are last minute planners. People all over the country were probably coming home from work, arms full of Valentine goodies. But in a mostly pedestrian city where the majority of us 8 million take mass transit to get home, the last-minute arrangements were more noticeable. Leaving my office I emerged at dusk to a bustling city of suits scurrying underground with their wrapped flowers, boxes of Jacques Torres and Godiva, and red-bowed stuffed animals; everywhere I looked I saw pink, red, balloons, gift bags. As I ran down the subway stairs a half-hour early to go home and get ready for my own date, I squeezed my way between two bouquets to get a spot on the crowded N train, only to find the ubiquitous gifts and flowers there too, so many flowers one would think (but know better than to hope) that it would almost mask the smell of the underground. Across from me was a man carrying a bag of French macaroons. Next to him, another suited-up fellow carrying a bright orange bag of expensive artisanal chocolates.  Off to the corner, a somewhat desperate-looking man cradling his bouquet of red roses, trying not to bump into the frazzled-looking guy clutching the arm of the stuffed teddy bear seen in all of the Duane Reade display windows. It was kind of cute.

2. When in doubt, Uber/Lyft/car service of your choice.
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I am probably getting into a bad habit with this one. It’s not a very nice trait, but I’ll admit it: I’m habitually 10-15 minutes late anymore (Italy holdover or New York norm?), and unfortunately, despite leaving work early, V-Day was no exception. In most other cities in the US you would either drive yourself (speed/avoid cops) or walk (curse and ruin your hair and makeup via wind/sweat), but I opted to take a Lyft from Astoria to the East Village, thus shaving 20 off of my travel time AND bank account!

3. The Empire State building was lit up in bright red in honor of the occasion.
They always change the color based on sporting events or national holidays, but I like that yesterday it was lit up for love!

4. Life in New York really is like a movie sometimes.

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You know, the one where Anne Hathaway runs around doing all sorts of chores for her extremely wealthy employers, whose wives/girlfriends would probably not be happy that said husband/boyfriend’s assistant was the one running around Manhattan picking out the flowers, candlesticks, chocolates, rose petals, and table cloths for their romantic Valentine’s date. Okay so maybe that last part wasn’t in the movie, but it could’ve been. Side Note: at least this was my excuse to pop into Bloomingdale’s to shop the Clinique sale and grab a Starbucks, and take a cab back from the Upper East Side on someone else’s (approved, don’t worry) credit card.

5. There really is nothing more beautiful than crossing the Queensboro bridge or emerging from the tunnel to see the glittering Manhattan skyline before you, knowing that, though you’ll have managed to somehow make the city smaller, more manageable, more bite-sized with each friend met and neighborhood explored, that in just a matter of a few minutes you’ll soon be a great big part of the moving metropolis that never sleeps.