Coffee in NYC

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Bard.

But first, some backstory. It started as one of those quintessential city moments– I was on the subway headed downtown on a Saturday afternoon to run a couple of errands when I noticed a young woman reading a book whose cover caught my eye. Picnic in Provence, it read, adorned with the familiar bright watercolor illustrations, and so excited I was, that I immediately diverted my afternoon plans to include a direct stop at Strand so that I could pick up a copy asap.

My love of Elizabeth’s writing and their particular resonance date back to the first few days after my college graduation just before I was set to go on a three week trip to Europe. My sister gave me Lunch in Paris as a graduation gift and had scrawled, “create some amazing memories…bon appetit!” on the inside cover. I carried the book with me throughout the entire trip, feeling the full weight of the proverbial phrase, “the world is your oyster.” I relished every moment, imagining the myriad paths my life could take as I simultaneously read about Elizabeth’s experience as a young woman in Paris.

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As a graduate student living in London, Elizabeth, a lifelong New Yorker, met her future husband during a chance encounter that would lead her to build a life in Paris filled with all of the trials of culture shock, new challenges, as well as fantastic food, rich cultural experiences, and new beginnings. Her story is so approachable, so human, and so warm that you feel as though you are speaking to a friend, but also touches on those broad, nagging questions that many of us ask ourselves on occasion. “Can I really make this leap? What happens if I don’t? Am I ready to imagine my future differently?” Reading her words while lying in the Montmartre apartment where I was staying, or while sitting in front of the Villa Borghese in Rome, my heart felt full and I was often moved to joyful tears with the hope and promise that all of the uncertainty ahead would work itself out and that my life, too, could be extraordinary and shaped by the very uncertainty I feared. Little did I know, that less than a year later, I would make a sudden move to New York, with no apartment, no job, in the middle of a blizzard. I endured and developed my own love story with a city and its food, its culture, its largess and quiet familiarity. I thank Elizabeth a bit for this too.

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Apart from being a love story and a coming-of-age tale, Lunch in Paris details how Elizabeth discovered Paris through food, the epicenter of French culture. Filled with glorious recipes like braised beef with red wine, garlic, and thyme and chocolate cream with creme Anglaise, I was giddy to see what gems the next book would behold. Having spent years in Paris and expecting their first child, Picnic In Provence is the story of Elizabeth and her husband falling in love, this time with a tiny hamlet in Provence. They impulsively bought a house, made a move, had a child, and serendipitously opened up an ice cream shop. I am clearly oversimplifying here, so please read the book to enjoy all of the beautiful nuance that Mrs. Bard brings to her second story of discovery, motherhood, and of course, food that feeds the soul. This time, recipes like lavender honey and thyme ice cream and truffle toasts with salted butter were enough to make me want to sprint across to Provence and take up permanent residence.

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Reading this book five years later at a different stage in my life reminded again of how important it is to take those leaps of faith, allow your life to divert in order to chart a more fulfilling path, and not to be afraid of doing the unexpected thing. I have spent almost five years in this city and have allowed myself to be a little hemmed in by my expectations of what this stage of my life should be, what my career should look like, so on and so forth. So like a breath of fresh lavender-scented air, this book gave me renewed energy to start writing again, start questioning and get cooking.

Back to the meeting, which took place just after I randomly saw on Facebook that she would be giving a reading and a book signing at the James Beard Foundation, mere blocks from my office. Meeting someone with whom you already feel intimately acquainted yet have never seen before can be somewhat disconcerting. Of course, in my mind, I’m thinking up my speech, which always starts with “we’re like the same person!” Not creepy at all… I had so many questions for her such as “What is the hardest part about writing a book? Is it the decision to just do it? What was the biggest challenge of starting your own business? How did you learn to make ice cream? How do you manage a business from far away? Do you ever envision returning to the United States to live? Is it difficult to be away from your family?” So many questions and yet after listening to her speak about the book, so calmly, so elegantly with just as much warmth with perhaps a little less sass, I found that all I could muster was a nervous sputter about how much I loved the first book, my experience in Europe, and how excited I was to chance upon the second. We had a nice little exchange, but of course, there was a line and I couldn’t really say what I wanted to say which was, “thank you, thank you for sharing and for allowing me to feel a connection that makes me feel there are others out there, like me, with the same passions, the same feelings, and a similar way of looking at the world.”

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All in all, I walked out of the quaint West Village townhouse that afternoon, into the sunlight, feeling renewed. It was just a lunch-break detour during my arduous workday, but for me, it was the unexpected twist that took me somewhere different, even if only a different room on a different street with a familiar voice. It was one of those moments that feels rife with possibility and that (with an extra bite of a fluffy madeleine) was enough.

Splendid Nothing

I’m a strong believer in taking time; time for oneself, time with family, time to just be, and I indulge myself whenever I can. The chill, crisp air has been coaxing me into nubby sweaters and though it seems like everyone else is speeding up, I’m slowing down and admiring the change. It’s my favorite time of year. Oddly enough, I’m often reminded of Florida in the fall; the first day when I walk outside and am greeted by a cool gust always takes me back to the excitement I felt when the temperature would actually drop to below 70 and I could run back inside and grab a sweater on my way to school. Fall makes me think of libraries and pumpkin loaf and buying school supplies and new shoes and all I want to do is walk and take it all in before the fleeting moment passes.

It’s on these days of rustling leaves that I like to find a good spot to have a cup of coffee and catch up on magazines, read a good book, or just watch people in flux. Right before I moved further north in my neighborhood, I got a chance to pop into Maison Kayser, a French bistro that was in its opening weekend. The brass and marble tabletops, Hermes orange banquettes, Thonet-style bentwood chairs, and vintage fashion prints had me at hello, I mean who could resist feeling like they’ve just stepped into Paris, in New York?

The place is lively, the seating is close, very Euro-style, and the servers all wear iconic Saint James boatneck shirts. I wanted to move right in, and so I did, for a couple of hours. I read Elle collections, took a peek a W and Vogue, looked at the ladies who lunch and mostly, I just savored the afternoon, languid and without urgency. It was simply delicious.

Sundays and Cones

Okay, okay. So I know I’m not allowed to write about ice cream ever again, due to my overzealous eyes for the treat, but I thought I could excuse it because it’s almost going to be too cold to eat it soon…. ummm, yea right. I’m not a fair weather ice cream eater! Ice cream is always appropriate, so I guess you’ll just have to get used to it around here.

In all my ice cream craze, I have yet to post about my absolute favorite ice cream shop. When I was living in East Village a few summers back, Sundaes and Cones was my savior, as I knew no one here and it provided me with a comforting little evening ritual. Just a couple convenient blocks away from my apartment at the time, the welcoming parlor has benches outside and is open til midnight on weekends, so I spent many a sweltering night grabbing a cone and watching the passersby and the evening action. Coconut, mint chocolate chip, and good old rocky road always made summer nights feel a little more special.

Still a go-to place for my sister and I, Sundaes and Cones was the perfect place for a girly catch-up on a crisp, sunny fall Sunday. There are few old school ice cream shops in the city, with gelato stealing all the thunder (not like I don’t love gelato), so it’s nice to have a friendly neighborhood shop to always count on. Really fresh and creamy, with traditional and clever flavors including lychee and sesame, this sweet little place reminds me of the simple pleasures of childhood and the all-American comfort of this classic dessert. In my book, there is no season for something this good!

The Friendly Farmer

Since moving to New York, brunch is now my favorite meal. Little compares to the comfort of sleeping in, rolling out of bed and going straight to a cozy haven where they feed you warm delicious food before you even realize what time it is. When I first moved, it was the dead of winter and my sister and I decided to go to a place that she said would provide just the sort of cozy country atmosphere that would warm me up, inside and out.

Since then, Friend of a Farmer has been a staple on our brunch circuit. Stepping inside, you feel as though you’ve entered a quaint B&B in the English countryside. Creaky stairs, slate tabletops, and charming chintz complete the homey atmosphere, and the savory aroma immediately invades your senses. When we go here, I feel relaxed, as though we could be entirely somewhere else, waking up after a restful stay.

The food is just as inviting, with fairly priced offerings like pumpkin pancakes with apple butter, crab cakes benedict, and a wide array of omelets gracing the menu. Hearty, fresh, and simple, the food will leave you satiated and wanting to crawl back into bed for a midday nap. Now if only it was a bed and breakfast…

Crystallized

So what was it that I said about designer treats just last week? Well, I’d say Magnolia’s Swarovski cupcake sold exclusively during fashion week fits the bill. Yep, you read that right, even the uber-trendy bakeries have to stay on top of their game with a fashion collaboration. When this tidbit of info came up on my Racked news feed, you know I had to get in on the action. Only available for one week at the Bloomingdale’s (how apt, shopping and cupcakes!), I woke up super early to snatch one up! The press photos featured a glistening jewel of a cake, complete with sparkling sprinkles and some big blue bling in the center. Just like a runway ready look, desserts are getting accessorized.

I’m still not entirely sure what cupcakes have to do with fashion other than the fact that they’re pretty to look at and somehow spark a little bit of pure sensual joy. I can’t think of many things that actually make me smile and gasp with glee aside from cupcakes and shoes, so there you go. Either way, this confection isn’t made to just look pretty or it wouldn’t be a Magnolia cupcake.

The bakery responsible for making cupcakes synonymous with “trendy” now draws lines of people waiting to score one of their treats or just to take a picture in front of the shop that Sex and the City made famous(it’s actually part of the walking tour). People don’t stand in line for nothing, though. On the hunt for the perfect cupcake for years, I thought the hype about Magnolia was just that, hype. But I’ve got to say, these cakes are stupid good. My favorite is chocolate on chocolate; smooth, rich, creamy frosting that’s not too sweet and melt-in-your-mouth cake make this a mean sweet. Forget diamonds, cupcakes are a girl’s best friend (especially ones with faux edible diamonds!).