georgia aquarium

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On my recent trip back home, my family and I stopped by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. As someone who complains about the summer heat a lot, I find aquariums ideal. Pretty, colorful animals that don't smell in a contained cool space... perfect!

Apparently everyone else thought so too because this place was packed on a Tuesday afternoon. Nonetheless, I managed to snap a few gems that captured some of the beauty of these creatures.

There's no Momofuku Milk Bar Exam today, but don't worry, I have something lined up very soon! And remember: FISH ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD.

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Georgia Aquarium 357 Luckie Street, NW Atlanta, GA 30313 [entrance to parking garage] (404) 581-4000

tip: make sure to see the dolphin show that occurs at designated times throughout the day... I'm sorry I mean, dolphin 'musical'. It's very kid-oriented but still quite spectacular.

an apple a day

Last weekend I went apple picking for the first time! Being from the South, I've been berry picking a couple times-- fresh summer blueberries and strawberries are absolutely the best. But fall has now officially begun and I honestly couldn't think of a better way to kick it off than driving to upstate New York, picking apples while sipping wine and spiced cider. I just love Fall!

My friends and I decided on Applewood Orchards and Winery as our apple destination. It was only an hour and a half north of Manhattan but felt like a lifetime away from the bustle of the city. Sometimes it's just nice to get away from the noise of everything and just immerse yourself completely in nature. I would really recommend this orchard as it's HUGE! I don't think we even explored a fraction of the grounds yet managed to pick plenty of apples.

Another plus is that there is a winery on the grounds as well. For $6 you can sample 5 different wines/hard ciders. They were all delicious but the pumpkin spiced cider was my favorite. It tasted just like (tipsy) pumpkin pie in a bottle!

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Applewood Orchards and Winery
82 Four Corners Road, Warwick NY 
(845) 986.1684

The Spence

For most of this week I will be in Georgia visiting my family: catching up on So You Think You Can Dance, eating my mom's cooking, and soaking up the last few days of summer. September is also a nice time to celebrate birthdays as both mine and my sister Christine's fall within the month.

As an early birthday celebration, our whole family had dinner at The Spence last night. I've previously talked about what a HUGE fan my whole family is of Richard Blais and he certainly does not disappoint with his new restaurant! He was actually at the restaurant last night and was super nice and welcoming. I genuinely loved every dish we ordered (and we ordered A LOT) but my favorites were the lobster knuckle sandwich, the bone marrow and tuna tartare, and the pork belly entree (my first time having bone marrow or pork belly... I'm SOLD!).

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The whole experience of dining out is something I just thoroughly lavish in. I love the whole process. What I loved about The Spence, though, is that it's not stuffy, more like a barnyard industrial warehouse... very urban and unfinished which creates a nice relaxing environment. The food is just so unique though. If you're in the mood for some adventurous eating I'd really recommend just going all out... it's totally worth it.

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The Spence
75 Fifth Street NW, Atlanta GA 
404.892.9111

beach week: savannah & tybee island

The only bad part about a vacation is coming back after it's over. After spending the past week with my family in Tybee Island and Savannah GA, I wasn't quite ready to come back to New York. Even though our trip began with some rainy weather, it cleared up just enough for us to soak up some rays, stroll Savannah, and even take a fishing boat out to catch our dinner!

correction: my dad and brother Ben caught our dinner (17 fish total!) as my mom, sister, and I were much too busy getting seasick...

We had a great time on Tybee Island! But I'll let the pictures do the talking as I know that's the only part I really pay attention to these days on blogs.

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Besides the beach, we also spent a day exploring Savannah, which is a charming little city. The Historic District is pedestrian-friendly and looks like a time capsule with historical storefronts and buildings. It's a good mix of old and new and made for a perfect day trip.

Savannah also has some seriously amazing food. I know the South prides itself on home cooking but I love that in each area you'll find such distinctly different regional cuisine. In Savannah and Tybee, we made sure to take advantage of the plethora of seafood! There were also a number of really cute shops that I absolutely loved. Savannah definitely ranks at the top as one of my favorite Southern towns!

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Savannah & Tybee Island recommendations

to do/see:

to eat:

  • Olde Pink House [Savannah]: best meal of the trip hands down; everything is good but get the flounder with apricot shallot sauce!
  • Vic's on the River [Savannah]: great lunch spot; amazing view and service
  • Leopold's Ice Cream [Savannah]: an old fashioned ice cream parlour; this place was made for my ice cream addicted family
  • Lighthouse Pizza [Tybee Island]: with their 'Authentic Tybee dough' it was surprisingly one of the best pizzas I've ever had (we ate there twice!)

DC weekend: Easter edition

So how've you been?? No really, I feel like it's been ages since I wrote a proper post (although I hope you did enjoy my Broadway tips). I've been busy, I've been lazy, I've been plain neglectful. But I'm back! And ready to unload not just any post but a travel post!

This Easter weekend I visited my friends Lisa and Meghan who live in the DC area. We all met while studying abroad in Siena, Italy and have stayed in touch throughout the years. They're two amazing gals. I've traipsed around Paris with these two and the last time we spent Easter together was in 2009 when we spent the day in Pompeii and then feasted on Neapolitan pizza and Sri Lankan food for Easter dinner. I love traveling with them because we travel "by sense" meaning there's no itinerary, no real plan, just relaxed fun and always amazing food. But you should know by now that's a given with me.

Friday evening started with dinner near Meghan's place in Arlington, VA at a really nice bistro, Lyon Hall. They have some excellent wine and even after we could eat no more, we ordered the crème brûlée for dessert. It was marvelous. At night, we went down toward Georgetown, which is so adorable, and danced til we could no more... well more like til Meghan and I could dance no more cause Lisa will dance you under/over/around a table.

Saturday was 'DC tourist day for Margaret.' The last time I was in DC was my 8th grade field trip and honestly all I remember about that trip was sneaking off to dip my toes in the Washington Monument reflection pool while yelling 'Jennnyyy!' à la Forest Gump. I was due for a second impression.

Our day started with lunch at one of José Andrés' restaurants, Jaleo, which specializes in Spanish tapas. The interior is incredibly trendy and just plain cool. The drink list is shown to you via iPad and the staff was incredibly knowledgable about the menu. The only gripe I have with tapas is that the portions are so darn small but Jaleo definitely packs flavor into every bite. We first ordered a cheese platter because we were starving. My favorite was the Caña de cabra (the middle one) which is a soft, sweet goat cheese.

Then we moved onto the tapas: bacon wrapped dates, asparagus with romesco sauce, sautéed spinach with apples, pinenuts & raisins and garlic shrimp. Of course, all of these had incredibly complicated Spanish titles which I attempted to pronounce until having to resort to lots of pointing at menu items. Regardless, these were the best tapas I've ever had! Everything was very fresh and flavorful and the atmosphere was fun. If I lived closer I would definitely be going to Jaleo Happy Hour for $4 drinks and tapas. Anyone in the DC area, please go for me on a regular basis. Report back with your favorites.

The rest of the day was spent doing really touristy things. Secretly, I love being a tourist. It gives me an excuse to walk around aimlessly and ogle at beautiful sites, which I probably should be doing on a daily basis. If it weren't for the visors and fanny packs, I honestly wouldn't mind becoming a professional Japanese tourist.

After lunch, we (aimlessly) walked around the National Mall, stopping by the National Gallery of Art and going to the World War II Memorial. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the cherry blossoms in bloom but they were long gone due to the freakishly warm winter this year. The weather that day was absolutely perfect though. An ideal sunny spring day so I couldn't hold too much of a grudge against global warming.

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After all that walking, we all decided we were due for 'snack time.' One of my coworkers went to college in DC and had recommended that I go to Good Stuff Eatery during my trip. It's a burger joint owned by Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn. If you go, make sure to get the Spike Village fries which are sprinkled with thyme, rosemary and sea salt as well as the Toasted Marshmallow milkshake (it really does taste like toasted marshmallow!). The burgers are also delicious (I had the Michelle Melt, named after Michelle Obama) although I don't think any of us enjoyed ours half as much as the two guys sitting next to us. There were so many 'Mmmm this burger is SO GOOD' and 'Ughhh I love Obama... the burger' coming from their table that it fringed on the disturbing. They were either extremely hungover or incredibly lonely. But then again, I just called this meal our 'snack time.'

After our delicious snack/early dinner, I went to Lisa's aunt and uncle's house out in Clifton, VA. Clifton is a tiny, tiny town but the surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous. It kinda reminded me of Tennessee with all the trees and woods and openness. Such a refreshing departure from New York. That evening, I also helped play Easter bunny for Lisa's 7 year-old cousin by hiding chocolate eggs all around the house.

On Easter morning, Lisa prepared some delicious homemade yeast waffles topped with strawberries and powdered sugar. They were delicious!!! I was so tempted to take a picture of them but I could hear Lisa's voice saying 'Haha really?! You're taking a picture of this too?' so I didn't. But now I regret it so much! Cause they were so good!

Lesson: Never listen to what you think your friends might say

I'll just have to have her make them for me again the next time I visit. That'll show her. So Lisa, I'll be visiting again soon. Say, next week?

Thanks to both of you for being such great hostesses!

Lyon Hall 3100 N. Washington Boulevard, Arlington, VA (703) 741.7636

Jaleo 480 7th Street NW, Washington DC (202) 628.7949

National Gallery of Art 4th Constitution Avenue NW, Washington DC (202) 737.4215

Good Stuff Eatery 303 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC (202) 543.8222

 
 

so American, so delicious

I rarely talk about my work on this blog which is a shame as I really do adore where I work and what I do. I suppose most of the time I think it would bore people which, to be honest, it probably would. At certain times, however, I can't help but contain my excitement about something new happening at the Met!

This past Thursday was the press preview for the new American Painting Galleries (which opens to the public, Monday January 16!). It's really such a classic space, with natural wood floors and open sky lights-- very American indeed. The paintings, however, are really what glow. Iconic ones like Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emauel Leutze (above) as well as works by other American artists such as Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins and...

this absolutely beautiful painting by John Singer Sargent. Reminds me of my favorite show, Downton Abbey. In fact, the makeup artist of the show said that she was greatly influenced by Sargent paintings... I like to think this one in particular.

Madame X also by Sargent. Stunning.

The New York Times has even posted this interactive tour of the galleries which gives you an amazingly realistic sense of walking through the space. I'd really recommend you check it out... as your duty as an American.

Now, when I think of America one of the foods I think of is macaroni and cheese. And when I think of macaroni and cheese, I immediately think of Thomas Jefferson. Although the dish most likely existed centuries before in Italy, he can certainly be credited for popularizing the dish in America. In fact, "Thomas Jefferson is known to have had a pasta maker as early as 1793 and to have served a macaroni pie at the White House in 1802." Are you thinking what I'm thinking... what is a MACARONI PIE and where can I get some?

Below is a recipe for stovetop mac & cheese, you know, like the kind that comes in the blue box (only much better). I remember my mom used to slice hotdogs into our mac & cheese when we were younger... I thought she was a genius.

 

  

This version has been lightened up a bit and incorporates broccoli, but still remains very classic, very American, and of course very delicious.

Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese (lower fat) adapted from skinnytaste.com

  • 12 ounces high fiber elbow or shell noodles (I used Barilla)
  • 12 ounces fresh broccoli florets, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese

(1)  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente (or slightly under cook 2 minutes). In the last 1 minute of cooking the pasta, add the broccoli. Drain in a colander once done. (2)  While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a large heavy skillet. Add onion and cook over low heat about 2 minutes until the onions are translucent.  (3)  Whisk in flour and cook another minute, or until the flour is golden and well combined.  (4)  Whisk in the milk, vegetable broth and Dijon mustard, raising heat to medium-high until it comes to a bubble. (5)  Cook about 5 minutes or until the sauce becomes smooth and thick. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. (6)  Once the sauce is thick, turn heat to low, add cheese and mix well until cheese is melted. (7)  Add cooked macaroni and broccoli and mix well. 

Makes 8 servings

The 'Experience'

Wondering why my dear friend Alyssa looks like an extra for the next Star Trek film? Read on...

Yesterday was Alyssa's birthday and lucky for me, she chose to spend it visiting New York City with her new fiancé Trevor and our friend Alex! It was one of the most fun, relaxing days I've spent in the city thus far.

First on the list was a delicious brunch at Freemans. Freemans is a bit difficult to explain. It's a tucked away-cozy-yet-eclectic-lodge-hipster-gastropub... see what I mean? What they do have is an excellent brunch menu with an equally good drink menu. I ordered the poached eggs on top of white cheddar grits with roasted tomato and sourdough toast along with a star anise-flavored lemonade. Both were pure yum-ness. I honestly have only great things to say about Freemans. Although the brunch crowd was there in full force, we were lucky enough to be seated in the private wine room with no wait at all! Our waitress Phoebe was also just amazingly sweet. I am absolutely going back there again.

side note: what's with this freakish weather?? 50 degrees in January is not what I imagined when I moved to New York. Back in the sweltering summer months, it seemed every New Yorker was warning me about the brutal city winter that lay ahead. 'Winters here are so bad. They'll make you want to hibernate indoors because every time you venture outside your eyeballs will freeze to death.' I remember thinking 'Oh dear... but I don't want frozen eyeballs!' ... And yet yesterday I walked around in a silk blouse and a trench coat with not an eyeball popsicle in sight. Not to complain but where's my snow?

Anyways, next on our list was the New Museum which currently has an exhibition called the 'Carsten Höller: Experience.' This is also hard to explain (or maybe I'm just really bad at explaining things). In general, it's an adult amusement park with every art piece in the exhibition having an interactive sensory experience linked to it. The main attraction is the giant slide that goes through three floors of the museum. The wait for it was about 40 minutes long but I would say worth it... I mean, when else can you scream at the top of your lungs going down a giant steel slide?

Other installations include a mirrored carousel (beautiful to look at but not very fun to ride... too slow), a Psycho tank (sensory deprivation tank in which you float weightlessly in water, meant to mimick the Dead Sea), a fish tank in which you can stick your head underneath and watch all the fishies swim around you (my favorite!) and other works meant to stimulate/disorient your senses.

Another fun element in the exhibition were these upside-down goggles. A prism inside the goggles turns everything you see completely upside down. Quite disorienting to say the least (in fact, you have to sign a waiver before you enter the galleries) but SO MUCH FUN! We all got such a kick out of the simplest tasks, such as watching someone drop a quarter into their hands or trying to walk in a straight line, all done UPSIDE DOWN. Plus the goggles just made us look plain silly.

We ended up spending close to 4 hours in the museum... granted most of it was spent waiting in line for each of the activities. As you would expect, this has been a very popular exhibition and everything you do (slide, carousel, goggles, etc.) requires you to stand in a separate line. All in all though, if you know what to expect before you go there, it's definitely a worthwhile experience. All four of us had a blast!

After the museum, we were dizzy with hunger, and just plain dizzy. So we headed uptown to one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Café Sabarsky. Attached to the Neue Galleries, Café Sabarsky is an Austrian-German café with a rich decor of dark wood-paneling and a beautiful marble fireplace. The food is fantastic but the Viennese coffee and desserts are to-die-for! I first was introduced to this place by my boss who adores the restaurant. Last night was my third time there in the past month (second time with Alyssa who requested it especially for her birthday) so you could say I kinda love this place as well.

I won't go too much in detail over what I ate because, holy cow! this post is long... and pretty much anything you get here is guaranteed to be delicious. As long as I am there with you when you get it.

I honestly could not have wished for a better day.

Happy, Happy Birthday to Elvis!... oh yes, and to Alyssa as well. xo

Freemans 8 Rivington Street (down Freemans Alley), New York, NY 10002 (212) 420.0012

New Museum Carsten Holler: Experience (closes January 22, 2012) 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002 (212) 219.1222

Café Sabarsky 1048 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10028-0111 (212) 288.0665

 

Siena Again-a!

The best thing I ever did in college was to decide to study abroad. The spring semester I spent in Siena, Italy has really had an impact on my professional and personal life. Not only did it shape my passion for art but through it I also met some of my dearest friends. So I was completely overjoyed this weekend when my roommate in Italy, Laura, visited NYC from Florida this weekend! I hadn't seen her in a year so it was wonderful to reconnect.

As with every other person in our Siena program, Laura is a HUGE foodie. So of course, our weekend composed of some delicious eatings. We started off Saturday with a brunch at Poco where for $25 it's all you can drink Mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Sangrias + entrée. I ordered the Florentine Benedict (crispy arepa, spinach, poached eggs & pimento hollandaise). I love any Eggs Benedict variation and the potatoes that came with it were divine. As a warning though, the service here is not the best and there is a 1.5 hour limit to how long you can stay at the table. So once you are seated, drink up!

Afterwards we spent the day walking around the East Village up to Eataly (of course!) in the Flatiron District. But inevitably no visit with me is complete without a stop at the Met. As we meandered Central Park we eventually ended our evening looking at Duccio's Madonna and Child (one of the most famous Sienese painters) as well as making it up to the rooftop for sunset.

As with any good friend, every reunion is a chance to reminisce over old memories as well as make some wonderful new ones. Next reunion: il Pallio 2012. Long live the Aquila!

xo Ciao Bella!

Poco NYC
33 Avenue B, NY NY
(212) 228.4461
 
the Met rooftop (open only until October)
1000 5th avenue, NY NY
(212) 535.7710
 

happy new year?

In fashion, September marks the beginning of a new year. A time to shed those old clothes and last year's Louboutins in order to forge yourself a new identity. This seems highly appropriate for me these days with my new job, my new apartment, and my new designer wardrobe (hah... i wish!).

For me, September also brings about a reevaluation of sorts. Change is in air. Fall is approaching, kids have headed back to school, and last but not least, another birthday creeping up on yours truly. More so than during the New Year, during this time I find myself setting new goals and aspirations for the future. I always feel too pressured on New Year's Eve to slap together some bogus list of resolutions (this year, I will not eat chocolate, and pick up gardening... and take ballroom dancing?!). In September, I feel genuinely inspired to create a list of priorities that hopefully will propel me into the direction of becoming a wiser, kinder person. So far the list I have compiled is thus:

(1) apply for graduate school for fall 2012... or eventually (2) volunteer at a soup kitchen, shelter (sadly, I haven't done this since high school) (3) workout more regularly (4) don't stress out if I don't workout regularly (5) read more. blogs, twitters, and emails don't count-- time to get a library card! (6) explore New York City. It's the greatest city in the world, and now my new home. (7) put together a kick-ass grown up wardrobe (my work clothes are waning) (8) never be too busy for my friends (9) never ever be too busy for my family (10) remember that loving others starts with loving yourself  (my friend Oprah tells me everyday)

So far, the start of September has been great. I was able to visit Nashville and Murfreesboro during Labor Day weekend and boy, was it nice! First off, I stopped by Nashville Friday morning where I met up with one of my former Art History professors and then went to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to meet with the director/another of my former professors. It felt like being home. It was so nice to get some professional advice as I have been quite confused about how/when/why I should apply for graduate school. Having my questions answered and my worries slightly eased has boosted me to take the plunge.

After a day in Nashville, I went to the Boro to see some of my high school friends and in particular to celebrate the engagement of my friend Morgan! There are moments when it hits me that I really am growing up, and this summer has been chock full of them.

And last but not least, I am so happy to no longer have to keep this secret: my college-roomie for all 4 years and 1/2 of the renowned Dynamic Duo, JESSIE CAPPS, is back in the states!! She made an early surprise trip back home from Ireland to surprise her brother and his fiancée! The timing could not have been more perfect. After one full year of not seeing her, we were finally reunited on Sunday morning over one of her favorite pasttimes: venti Starbucks coffee (and chai for me). Welcome Home JESSIE!

Now, I'm back in New York City having just finished the first day of my big-girl job at the Met. Today seemed completely stress-free and natural. It felt good to be back. Moving into my apartment yesterday, however, was quite an adventure! When my flight got in at 3p, I called my apartment manager to tell him that I would need someone to let me into my new place since both my roommates were out-of-town. Turns out, he's in Costa Rica. But no problem, his replacement said he would send someone over to meet me at the building at 4p. Perfect! Fast forward to 7.30p, NO SHOW. no one but me sitting in the lobby of my apartment building with both my suitcases, my September Vogue and a growling stomach. Luckily, a middle-aged French lady in my building saw me stranded and invited me to her apartment to have some tea. Turns out she and her fellow Frenchie roommate are both artists who have lived in New York for 20+ years! We sat and chatted about art and the city while I tried to decipher their snippets of French. They were so incredibly sweet, and I will forever be indebted to their hospitality. When one of my roommates finally arrived at 10p, I bid them adieu but not before exchanging numbers. Who said this city is rude? Non moi!

athens, GA

sisters can be bossy, selfish, and teasingly cruel. trust me, growing up i was one. i used to lock my sister christine out of her own room, tell her that i was actually part of an alien breed, or confide to her that i was conflicted with a debilitating disease that could only be eased by eating her Starbursts. but that was last year.

now i like to think i've grown out of this brat phase and have truly developed that special bond that can only exist between sisters. she knows all my quirks, my expressions, my true self. and vice versa. sadly, we now live far apart (about 846 miles apart to be exact) and i miss her dearly. so i was delighted when during my visit home, i had the chance to see her yesterday in athens, ga where she has just started her sophomore year at the university of georgia.

athens is completely charming. it's an archetypal college town where everything is imbued with bulldog pride. the campus is beautiful (but quite hilly!) and the many quaint shops and restaurants are sprinkled throughout downtown or the five points. i got a little private tour of north campus via christine where i saw the famous arch (which you only walk under once you've graduated UGA), the many historic buildings and even saw a glimpse of the colossal football stadium.

afterwards, we had worked up quite an appetite. one of the best restaurants in athens is five and ten, run by top chef masters alum hugh acheson (aka mr. unibrow). it's elevated southern food with a focus on good quality, local ingredients. and deliciousness. it must be one of those places that all the locals know a.k.a. there was no obvious sign outside, causing us to drive right past it two, okay maybe three or four times.

i was so happy once we did find it, because the small restaurant is adorably eclectic and the food was top-notch. to start off with, i had the fresh corn soup with sautéed leeks and crispy almonds on top. it was so creamy yet light and really tasted like biting into a fresh corn on the cob. dinner was the wild striped bass with this pea/bean puree that i had to keep myself from licking off the plate it was so good!

and for dessert, of course, we had a buffet of choices. my favorite was the très leches cake with espresso cream-- such a brilliant combination of flavors. definitely one of the best dining experiences I've had recently. does the South know how to cook or what?!

what a great way to spend the evening with my favorite essy! ILY xo

Five and Ten
1653 South Lumpkin Street, Athens, GA
 

what a difference two weeks makes...

(somewhat) controlled chaos. that is how i would describe my life these days.

to begin with, last weekend, my family (aka the Choo clan) finally came to visit me in the Big City! in a span of about 3 days, we crammed together so many sites and of course, delicious food! here are some photos of our weekend:

secondly, most of my chaos can be boiled down to two words. Alexander. McQueen. if the Met was giving out free crack, i think we would have had less people than we did this past week. a 2 hr. long wait outside just to get into the museum, 3-4 hr. long lines to see the McQueen exhibition causing us to reach full capacity and close the museum for 20 min on friday, i understand why people have been... perturbed. but to burst into hysterical tears and tell me i 'need to get my sh*t together!' uncalled for LADY. needless to say, unless you are planning on getting me a present, don't mention the words ALEXANDER or MCQUEEN in the same sentence for a while :)

for some good news, about two weeks ago, my supervisor asked me if i wanted to stay on at the Met after the internship! my answer: HECK YES! i feel so lucky to be a part of such a world-class institution with so many incredibly passionate people. and now that i've found a place to live after a week of apartment hunting, i'm officially going on cruise control...

whether you like it or not Manhattan, i'm here to stay!

Balthazar
80 Spring Street, NY NY
 
Otto Pizzeria
1 Fifth Avenue, NY NY
 
Staten Island Ferry
departs from Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal (South Ferry stop on the 1)
 
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street, NY NY
 
WICKED
Gershwin Theatre, 222 W 51st Street, NY NY
 
 

i got friends in low places

i've always been someone who values quality over quantity, and this applies directly to my friendships. to me, friends are people who complement you, challenge you, and support you, all the while humoring you at every step of the way. i must say i've missed my friends oh so much during my stay in nyc. so imagine my surprise when i had not only one but TWO sets of friends visit me this weekend! my first friend, molly, is a familiar face from WAY BACK in high school. you know those 'instigator' friends who get you to do pretty much anything? molly is my instigator friend, numero uno. i remember us ditching 6th period one time to go try on prom dresses, drinking cosmopolitans when it was still considered trendy (you do the math), and many other unmentionables that i unfortunately cannot commit to print. she's also one of the most reliable people i know and is always there to dole out her sage advice. so when she called me thursday night to say that she and her family were making a day trip to nyc the next day, i dropped everything to meet up with her... that, and i was only working a half-day :) although her visit was short and sweet, i was just so happy to see her!

the next day on saturday, i was excited to welcome one of my former college roommates, alyssa, and her boyfriend trevor. although they both live in connecticut and have honky-tonked in nashville with me several times, trevor had actually never explored the big city! so we hit up some of the hot spots (and i mean HOT!)

      

and even enjoyed ourselves a fancy dinner at le cirque (courtesy of restaurant week in nyc!).

on sunday, we hung out at the met (of course) and then headed down towards madison square park to check out the beer garden la birreria and eat pizza at EATALY. it was glorious!

aren't my friends just adorable?!

btw, shout out to my beautiful friend morgan who just got ENGAGED to her high school sweetheart nick! their very first date was our senior prom-- the adorableness is overwhelming, i know.

Le Cirque
151 East 58th Street, NY NY
 
Birreria (15th floor of EATALY)
200 5th Avenue, NY NY

the south meets nyc

everyone knows that the south knows how to do bbq. apparently even new yorkers.

so when my friend anne larimer asked me if i wanted to go to a barbeque block party at madison square park i thought, 'heck yes!' and when we learned that martin's bbq from nashville, tn was coming, i took it as a message from God saying 'Go, eat barbeque and be merry.' which we did.

not even the pouring rain on saturday could stop dedicated fans from having a good ole southern time. both the food and the bands reminded me of honky-tonking in downtown nashville. i felt so at home as i ate my bbq sandwich and listened to the guitars playing and just a tinge bit homesick.

luckily, i was quickly comforted by an old friend from high school (and fellow tennessee girl), sonia, who has been living in brooklyn. we had dinner at le verdure in eataly (an AMAZING italian market!). the gnocchi with tomato and mushroom ragu was delicious and at $14 a great deal. unlike this little chunk of cash!

we then headed to a small joint where all the local new yorkers like to hang... TIMES SQUARE. i have to say i did not want to like times square. it's garish, hectic, and filled with slow tourists. but boy was it FUN! i was completely swept away by all the glittering lights and massive signs. it was my HELLO new york! moment.

i cannot wait to see WICKED with my mother and sister when they come this summer!

big apple bbq block party
madison square park, ny ny
(646) 747.0584
 
eataly
entrance on 23rd street & 5th avenue, ny ny
(212) 229.2560
 

wandering about

every time i walk back to my apartment, i seem to take a different route. not purposefully. i just happen to be prone to wandering (i refuse to call it getting lost).

oftentimes, i'm so concerned with looking 'like a new yorker' that on the outside i appear confident in knowing exactly where i'm going, while on the inside i'm completely panicking as i cross every street. i'm not sure exactly what i'm so worried about. i guess i'm afraid that people will just look at me and know 'ohh she's not from here. doesn't know her way around, totally lost.' no duh, i've only passed you by like three times trying to find my metro stop. i can't help but feel embarrassed.

this monday, after my first day at the Met, I met up with one of my friends from Vanderbilt, Sophia (who is probably secretly reading this post right now). Catching up with Sophia is like the best of the best girl talk. We met up at a trendy tapas bar, Boqueria (Sophia's pick of course) and talked about all things fashion, boys, and life in general. Between our chatterings and sips of sangria, we dined on a relatively healthy array of a crab salad served with a basil sorbet (very refreshing and tasty!)

as well as a green salad (which could have been a meal in itself), sauteed spinach and garbanzo beans, baby squid (with more frisee salad) and shrimp cooked in garlic oil. like typical former Vandy girls, we forgot to order any carbs and were quick to order some more bread with our shrimp. pronto!

the highlight to me was the dessert, torrija y helad, which i can only describe as a crispy, buttery bread pudding topped with a scoop of yogurt ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. yum! the atmosphere of the restaurant was intimate but constantly lively with the bustling of small tables in animated conversation. it was a great pick-me-up to what had been a very exhausting day.

on my way back home, yes, i took yet another detour. but instead of panicking or feeling embarrassed, i took a deep breath and remembered something sophia had said during dinner, 'i stopped feeling embarrassed in new york a LONG time ago.' so i forgot my ego and really took the time to look around at my surroundings. as i paced down third avenue, i stopped to look at all the people and the buildings lit up in the new york night and realized... this place is stressful. it's crowded, dirty and gives me an inferiority complex to the extreme. but when i stop trying so hard to fit in, i also realized that new york can sometimes be utterly and completely, enchanting. and these days, unbearably hot.

 
boqueria
53 west 19th street, ny ny
(212) 343.4255

three cheers for BUTTERBEERS!

i've been known to use harry potter jargon in everyday situations. like 'you know in harry potter and the goblet of fire, when harry opens the dragon egg and lets out the shriek of the merpeople? that's what a cicada sounds like.' or 'osama bin laden is dead? SOMEBODY FINALLY FOUND HIS LAST HORCRUX!'

but nothing beats the full hogwarts experience like the wizarding world of harry potter at universal studios in orlando. my family (sans daddy choo who is visiting family in korea) recently went to orlando to feel all the hogwarts magic.

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forbidden journey

we ended up riding this three times, so you could say we liked it. it was much more terrifying than i had expected (too many spiders!) but is THE ultimate in the harry potter experience. the line takes you through hogwarts past talking portraits and dumbledore's office which actually makes the waiting time fun.

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  • tip 1: ride this either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. any other time (especially 12-4p), the line will be LONG
  • tip 2: any purses or bags must be stored in lockers (which are free during the ride), so if you can, pack light (ID, money, phone only) in your pockets to avoid these locker lines

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flight of the hippogriff

this is the most kid-friendly ride of harry potter world but it still had my sister shakin' in her boots. it is a 'roller coaster' but rather tame and short. still fun and definitely worth doing.

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dragon challenge

please do not eat before this ride. of all the rollercoasters in both islands of adventure and universal studios, this was definitely the most dizzying, scariest one. at one point the two separate coasters (chinese fireball and hungarian horntail) come within 18 inches of each other. so much fun, just don't ride them back-to-back or you'll feel like you just ate a puking pastille.

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three broomsticks & hog's head pub

this was my favorite restaurant of the trip (surprising for theme park food). i just loved the atmosphere and the service was very efficient. come during dinnertime when most of the crowds have left and the restaurant is much more mellow. make sure to get the fish and chips!

       

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butterbeer & pumpkin juice

so how were they? delicious.

the butterbeer is like cream soda on the bottom and butterscotch foam on top. the frozen version is the best! i'm not much of a soda fan and even i drank 3 butterbeers during our trip. i could actually use one right now...

  • tip 3: skip the long lines at the butterbeer stands outside and get them at three broomsticks or hog's head. they're much colder and tastier there.
  • tip 4: the commemorative mug is a bit expensive (~$10) but makes a great souvenir. refills of butterbeer are $3.25 ($4.25 for frozen) and soda refills are $.85 at both parks. definitely worth it for us!

i think you either love or hate pumpkin juice. it's not too sweet and reminded me of a spiced, pumpkin-y apple cider.

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honeydukes/zonko's joke shop

i think i'll let my sister christine, the sweets expert, write this section. afterall, she did go into honeydukes four times.

Honeyduke's was by far the place I was most excited to visit in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Two items that I knew would be purchased before even entering the store were Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans and a chocolate frog, mostly for novelty purposes. The chocolate frogs come with trading cards just as shown in the movies, so they were a must! Items can be quite costly, but of course are well worth it. Chocolate frogs were $9.95 each (yes, ten dollars for one frog!) and the beans were $10.95. There are a plethora of tasty treats offered to satisfy all taste buds! There are jelly beans, hard candies, and gummies sold in a serve yourself fashion that are priced according to weight. There are also more prepackaged Wizarding World style treats such as Peppermint Toads, Tongue Toffee, Chocolate Cauldrons, Chocolate Wands, and much more! Peppermint Toads were also purchased and I can tell you from personal tasting that they are smooth, dreamy, delicious, and well worth the $7.95! As you make your way further into the store there is also a display case which has loads of bakery style goodies and caramel apples behind it. This leads me to my favorite Honeydukes purchase: a caramel and toffee apple ($7.95). It is just as the name would suggest, a granny smith apple coated in the most delicious caramel I have ever eaten, and then covered liberally with toffee chunks. Needless to say, all four trips were both worthwhile and practically necessary! (P.S. Margaret just gawked at the length of this.)

  • tip 5: make sure this is the last stop of your visit unless you want melty chocolate frogs.

ollivander's 

i'd hate to tell anyone to skip anything while here, but if you're short on time, pass on ollivander's. the line is always long as they only allow 25 people into the shop at a time. it can also be disappointing for little ones (and some of us older folks too) since ollivander only picks one participant for the wand experience. either way, you end up having to buy your wand at the next door owl post anyways. 

  • tip 6: like the forbidden journey ride, make sure to avoid going here during peak hours. when we went around 8p, the wait was about 15-20 minutes for ollivander's (10 min for forbidden journey)

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owl post/dervish and banges

wands, robes, monster books galore! these connected stores offer everything from quill pens to gryffindor scarves. if you get a postcard, make sure to get it stamped with a hogsmeade postmark at the entrance of the owl post.

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rest of islands of adventure & universal studios

while most of our time was spent with harry potter, we did manage to explore the rest of islands of adventure and universal studios. of all the other rides our favorites included:

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  • brother: men in black II ride (universal studios), the 3D adventures of spiderman (islands of adventure)
  • me: return of the mummy (universal studios), train trolley in seussland (islands of adventure)
  • sister: return of the mummy
  • mom: popeye & bluto's bilge-rat barge (NOT! soaking wet mother = unhappy mother)

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mythos restaurant 
inside islands of adventure, next to harry potter world
(407) 224.4012

as with most theme park restaurants, the emphasis is more on service than food. but mytho's does provide a more gourmet menu for those sick of chicken tenders and french fries. my pad thai was especially good (and huge). and even though they messed up my sister's bbq chicken pizza the first time, our server was so incredibly sweet, we almost felt bad for complaining.

the location is also ideal as it provides for a cool oasis in the middle of the day. make a reservation as this place seemed very popular.

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emeril's tchoup chop
6300 hollywood way, orlando, FL
(407) 503. 2467

as my first emeril restaurant, i was pleasantly pleased. the interior was upscale polynesian and the food was very seafood-ccentric. our service was top-notch and i loved the interior pond at the center of the restaurant.

my seared black grouper served with thai sticky rice and peanut vinaigrette was delicious. but i would skip the desserts, both the banana cream pie and guava dumplings were just alright.

what a great way to start the summer!

FLIP (burger) out!

i never craved hamburgers, until i became a vegetarian.

now i crave them voraciously. and while my appetite is often subdued with burgers of the black bean or Boca variety, sometimes you just have to go all FLIPpin' out! now if you're a fan of Top Chef, you'll know that atlanta resident and Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais has several burger joints in the area named Flip burger boutique. my family are all huge fans of the show and of Richard so we were dying to try out the place, which we did. twice.

we even met Mr. Top Chef himself!! he was super cool and sweet. and his hair is just as spiky in real life as i had imagined.

having visited both the midtown and buckhead locations, i have to say that both atlanta locations have similar modern decor but the buckhead restaurant seemed cozier to me with plenty of plush booths. and the food? well, the fauxlaffal, a chickpea based burger, i ordered was decent but i have to say the real winner was the pimento cheeseburger (pictured above). as my first bite of a hamburger in 5 years, it was cheesy, messy, fatty... and completely worth my vegetarian guilt.

the fries were incredibly crispy and delicious with the smoked mayo but then again, i never met a potato i didn't like. and the tempura onion rings were so good accompanied by a beer honey mustard. but i think the coolest part of the meal were the liquid Nmilkshakes which arrived at the table with wisps of subzero smoke coming from the glass. we ordered both the nutella-burnt marshmallow and the strawberry shortcake. i have to say the nutella marshmallow was my favorite.

so did we enjoy our meal at flip?

maybe a little.

(sorry for the poor quality of the food pics. i only had my blackberry with me, but better than nothing.)

Flip Burger Boutique
locations in Atlanta and Birmingham, AL
(404) 352.FLIP (West Midtown)
(404) 549. 3298 (Buckhead)

i ♥ nashville

dear nashville,

if ever i were to truly call a place home, it would be nashville. a beautiful city full of all the conveniences of a big city and the warmth of a small town, nashville encompasses the best of the south. while known for its country music and fried chicken, there's so much more to nashville than that. and now that i don't live there, my recent visit made me miss it even more. so if you've never visited this wondrous city, here are some of my favorite spots.

hope y'all enjoy! xo
 
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prime 108 in union station hotel
1001 broadway
(615) 726.1001

my sister promises that when we grow up she will buy this hotel just so we can have brunch here every day. set in an old railway station in downtown nashville, the architecture and interior of the building remind you of setting foot into a gothic cathedral. it's a great way to treat yourself or someone special to a high class experience at a relatively low price (most dishes are under $15).

my favorites are their crab cake benedict and silver dollar blueberry pancakes.

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sambuca
601 12th avenue south
(615) 248.2888

for a swanky meal set in the swanky gulch, sambuca fits the bill. i've celebrated both my past birthday and graduation at this restaurant and at each occasion both the food and service were top-notch. the menu is heavily seafood based with latin and asian influences but there's something for every palette. dishes such as the shrimp & crab dip and miso sea bass are amazing but i always wait to hear the specials of the night. they're usually just too good to pass up. if the food wasn't enough, every night there's a live band that is guaranteed to put you in a festive mood.

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monell's
1235 6th avenue north
(615) 248.4747

if you (and your stomach) are in for a good home-cooked marathon, look no further than monell's. the atmosphere is family style which means you'll find yourself at a large table passing baskets of biscuits and bowls of banana pudding with strangers. but by the end of the meal, you will all share the kindred bond that can only come from making beautiful food babies.

each night monell's features weekly specials ranging from spinach lasagna (my favorite) to bbq ribs along with the everpresent fried chicken. but make sure to save room for the banana pudding. it's beyond blissful.

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fido
1812 21st ave south (hillsboro village)
(615) 777.FIDO (3436)
 
i cannot tell you how many times i've sat at fido proofreading a term paper or cramming for an exam. but the truth is i usually tried to find an excuse to 'study' here just to eat their delicious goodies. it's part art gallery, part hipster hangout with a coffeeshop core. from breakfast to dinner, they offer a variety of first-class nosh, including many veggie friendly dishes. make sure to indulge in their unique bakery selection as well which offers goods such as beet-chocolate chip muffins and bagel concoctions. 
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the stage
412 broadway
(615) 726.0504

if i am downtown, i will inevitably find myself at the stage at one point of the night. it's mostly filled with out-of-towners and tourists but i love the place. the band is ALWAYS amazing and the openness of the two-story bar keeps you from feeling like you're sweltering in a smoky dive. if the line at the front is too long, go to the somewhat-dark, totally safe alley behind the bar and get in through the back entrance. there's usually no wait, and you'll just feel so darn honky-tonk cool.

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big bang
411 broadway suite 201 (upstairs)
(615) 747.5851

with employees wearing t-shirts that say 'bang this,' this dueling piano bar provides a really low-key environment with tongue-and-cheek humor. the two pianists who sit face-to-face behind grand pianos will take any song request from beethoven to lady gaga mixed with their own comedic riffs in between. unlike most downtown bars, there is a cover charge of $6 (which is completely worth it). but on a slow night around 1am, i've gotten in without paying.

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frist center for the visual arts
919 broadway
(615) 244.3340

nashville is not known for its art scene but the quaint venue of the frist center hosts many traveling exhibitions. this means that there's always something new and interesting to see. on my last visit, they were showcasing an exhibit solely dedicated to the hindu god vishnu. the building itself, once a post office, is a renovated art deco structure and a work of art itself.  i had the chance to volunteer here during college and can say that the people who work here are truly dedicated to enlightening your experience with art free of any pretense or formality.

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belcourt theatre
2102 belcourt avenue
(615) 383. 9140

i love films. and when i'm in the mood to see something a bit off the beaten path, i always go to the belcourt theatre. an intimate space that showcases indie and foreign films, there's always something to stretch your cultural knowledge. another plus, they serve booze at the concession stand!

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jack daniel's distillery
280 lynchburg highway, lynchburg, tn
(931) 759.4221

when in paris, you take a day trip to see versailles. when in nashville, you take one to the jack daniel's distillery.

found about 1.5 hrs south of nashville in lynchburg, tn, the jack daniel's distillery will make a whiskey lover out of you. the tour is completely free and walks you through the entire process, from water to whiskey. the tour guides are always hilarious, just don't mention the cursed words: jim bean.

        

my alma mater, y'all

my friends and i would often joke about how at times our university seemed more like a finishing school than college.  but the truth is, i'm so incredibly proud to call myself a graduate of vanderbilt university. and although i technically graduated last december, it didn't seem to truly set in until this past friday, may 13, 2011 when i walked across the stage to receive my diploma. 

i have to admit the entire day was not all strawberries and champagne (which were to come after the ceremony). at 5.30 that morning, i received a text alert stating that commencement had been moved from the beautiful alumni lawn on campus to the basketball gymnasium due to severe weather (which never came). i then arrived late to the gymnasium and haggardly ran onto the floor of the gym after the ceremony had started.  yet even on this unluckiest of superstitious days, some wonderful moments seemed to have slipped by.

sitting in the sea of thousands of black caps and gowns, i couldn't help but think back to my own high school graduation 5 years earlier. the 18 year-old me saw graduating high school as completely passé. it was merely the last hurdle to the ultimate goal: college. i felt ready to leave, ready to move on to bigger and better things. and now the 23 year-old me was sitting in a similar gym, wearing an almost identical cap and gown completely humbled by the fact that somehow i had managed to graduate college. i felt grateful for every moment because i knew that i had worked for it so much more than i had ever worked for anything in high school. i don't know if anyone's ever told you this but, college is tough. if you don't have moments of sheer panic or existential meltdowns about what classes you're going to take next semester, you probably don't care about your future. honestly, there were times when i didn't know how i would ever finish a paper, much less graduate.

so i didn't care that they handed me an empty diploma (because my real one had already been mailed to me months earlier) or that i was sweating bullets due to the lack of AC in the gym or that i didn't graduate summa cum laude of my class. because for once, finishing the race actually felt better than winning it.

Margaret Choo, Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University

i cannot tell you how elated i felt when the last name was finally called. because now, i could finally celebrate! my friend and fellow graduate alyssa and i did just that. our families and friends dined at one of our favorites restaurants sambuca and then headed downtown that night to boogie as only newly-minted vandy alums can.

congrats to all the graduates of 2011!  as for me, i'll be off to nyc in 3 weeks :)

my outfit: Tibi dress, Target wedges, David Yurman jewelry