In Praise of the People I’ve Met While Out, About, and Alone

lifestyle

Don’t listen to anyone that says “don’t talk to strangers.” I mean, use your best judgment and obviously don’t talk to people that make you feel in danger, but closing yourself off to the friendly faces in the cafeteria or the waitstaff at your favorite restaurant is a huge disservice to your own world view. The flesh-trapped angels you meet at dive bars offer fascinating anecdotes and kind words. Sometimes they’re just a passing ship dumping a hilarious story to tell your friends, or even a free beer. Either way, use your invaluable alone time to open up your heart to someone new.

I get it, alone time is the best. Living along afforded me opportunities to go to the gym whenever I wanted, order sushi for one on a spicy night in and eat Fruity Pebbles from a mug at 11pm. But too much alone time can be intimidating, especially to extroverts who thrive around people. Yet there’s this odd connotation of going out to eat alone: I feel as if unless you’ve got a laptop in front of you and you’re typing away at your manifesto, you’re a loner, people-watching and drinking a beer. America lacks the communal table culture found elsewhere, and the “don’t talk to strangers” thing only worsens the isolation of being alone in a room packed with people.

Reports by The Atlantic in 2014 and Grub Street in 2017 discuss a return of the communal table in America. I can understand the discontent for communal tables at formal restaurants. Maybe you were hoping for an intimate evening out, and suddenly you’re literally rubbing elbows with a marketing executive slurping tagliatelle at a celebratory dinner. But in places like New York City brimming with not only residents but diners, communal tables should be more commonplace and accepted in casual dining spots. Grub Street cited Zagat’s 2016 survey reporting that communal dining was the second-highest reason folks would not dine at a particular location. While America seemed to try to adapt the trendy communal table lifestyle widely present in Europe, Americans lacked the attitudes to carry it towards success.

But what is the harm in talking to someone at your local bar? What is the harm in chatting up the bartender on a slow night when you’re dining at the closest thing Americans have to communal tables, the bar itself? Don’t be weird, but why not talk to someone new?

Ever since my first solo day trip, I’ve been fortunate to meet a few kind strangers on outings alone. Even on one of my worst nights ever (that I mention briefly in my 30 Days of Thanksgiving post), I spoke to the bartender, tried all sorts of his specialty drinks for free, and spoke with a newly wed couple who were absolute joys. I love kind strangers, you get the best stories from these encounters.

Montepulciano, 2017

Walking through Florence alone at 6am to a part of the city I’ve never seen before was pretty frightening, not going to lie. Market stalls were closed and the only figures out and about were likely there from the night before. Luckily, I’m a pretty no B.S. lady when I’m armored up to go out alone. When I arrived at my destination I felt like such an outcast: I was meeting up with a travel group of European Erasmus students. In case that wasn’t obvious: I was an American study abroad student. Therefore, I was the only American on the trip. I even still have the Erasmus card they gave me with my name scribbled on it in blue ink. I found two girls who seemed to know each other and asked if I could tag along with them. They heard my accent and the flood gates opened.

“Why are eggs white in America?” Girl, you’re not missing anything. “Oh my GOD have you seen that movie? Talladega Knights? I love Ricky Bobby.” I couldn’t stop laughing. We spent the whole day together. I learned that they were linguistic studies students from Scotland part of the Erasmus program which gave students grants to live and study throughout Europe. They were responsible for finding rental apartments and even jobs, very unlike American study abroad programs that could arguably be seen as vacation in comparison. We road buses through the Tuscan countryside and drank wine in Montepulciano. I’m friends with them on Facebook, but I never saw them in Florence again.

Waterbury, 2019

True, this night I was not alone, but it was still a moment spent at an unlikely communal table talking to a stranger. I just wanted wings. We’d stumbled on a place called Ordinary Joe’s and decided we like local dive bars. The place was packed and peanut shells were on the floor. Despite casual Friday at work, I was way overdressed. The only seats were at a communal table with a man drinking beer and waiting for a plate of wings. He said he didn’t bite –  which was true. Doug, this kind stranger, talked to us about the life his immigrant parents worked for in America. He’s a caretaker for a number of mansions in the neighboring town and talked about how Waterbury was once such a gorgeous city with beautiful buildings and parks. It’s now something forgotten.

He also mentioned that his mother makes hand made cavatelli for a restaurant nearby, and we should go there and mention that “Doug sent us.” He bought us two High Lifes, told me to marry Nick, and then sped away on his motorcycle.

Woodstock, 2016

The day after election day left a good chunk of people distraught. We all know this. And this particular day I had an interview for an internship up in Woodstock, NY. I got dressed, put on a black shirt in solidarity with students peacefully protesting, and drove almost an hour to my cloudy and grey destination. It was a damp November day. You know the feeling the day after you fall asleep crying hysterically? That’s what the weather felt like. And I was spending time post-interview in the quaint town. I bought a headband and a bandana and I ended up in a small art and incense shop. The shopkeeper said “how are you?” and without thinking I said “good.”

“I’m not,” he said. In that moment, I definitely was not “good.” In fact I was feeling pretty bad, even though my interview went smoothly. He noticed this and said “take some incense, we all could use a little peace today.” We were then chatting. I introduced myself and he mentioned how his wife had traveled to Italy often. “Ci vediamo, it means we’ll see each other,” I said before leaving to fill up on comfort food.

We can’t storm Area 51 anymore so I stormed Area 2

beer, drink, Travel

I hate it when someone tells me something is overrated after I express interest in going. Let me find that out for myself. Or not. I felt that way about Two Roads Brewery in Stratford, CT.

Two Roads is Connecticut’s largest brewery occupying 10 acres of land for brewing, tasting, entertaining and growing. Pretty impressive. The building’s post-industrial aesthetic and the collection of branded Air Streams gave the OG Two Roads an injection of 2010s zeitgeist. The tattoo event and french fry food truck added to that millennial vibe. So yeah, I guess if you’re over that crowd, then this place isn’t for you.

However, who cares what the place looks like when the beer is this good. Now, Two Roads is fun and the standards are abundant whether you like IPAs, sours or even hard seltzer, but if you want a wild time head over to Area 2, Two Roads’ experimental facility accessible via walkway from the brewery. While Two Roads might be perfect for tossing a frisbee, crushing a beer and dog watching, Area 2 is ideal for finding something rare and new.

In my 5-beer tasting I tried a farmhouse ale, a saison and a “hard kombucha” among the long list of uniquely funky and off-beat varieties. Of course, this is a lot of beer to drink without having any food so be sure to grab some cheese and crackers while you’re sippin’ and maybe pack a snack so you aren’t like us, waiting for french fries to sober you up.

Now for the run-down of all the beers:

  • Norwegian Farmhouse Ale (5% ABV) – this beer satisfied a craving I had for months. After leaving the Hudson Valley, a land abundant with beers and wines that taste like a full on barnyard, I needed a refreshing beer that still delivered that sour, earthy stink. This was it.
  • Table Terroir (3.7% ABV) – table wine feels like a lost tradition. In Europe, it’s easy to walk into a restaurant or tavern and grab a cask of inexpensive table wine. It goes with everything in a complimentary way, not an overpowering way. This low ABV, easy drinking beer is a three-way crossroad between an IPA, a wheat beer and a saison.
  • Brett Saison (6.6% ABV) – dude, I know I love sours and fruity beers, but the french farmhouse saison is really rocking my world. As I constantly yearn for funky flavors, I find myself ordering saisons more frequently and finding more to love with each sip. You’ll want to tuck into a wheel of brie after taking one sip.
  • Hard Kombucha (4.5% ABV) – did someone say pink beer? This deep magenta rooibos and sour cherry concoction tasted just like unsweetened iced tea. My mom introduced me to rooibos years ago and it always had a magical quality to it: earthy and beet-like. This felt remarkably healthy to drink, justifying its name.
  • Crooked Roads (5.7% ABV) – AKA the fried chicken beer. Now, I’m not sure if its because this was our last beer of the day (after a full pour AND 4 tastes) but we took a loopy turn upon tasting this. “It tastes like fried chicken.” What? Nick said this and I was confused at first until it hit me. It tasted like fried chicken. A thigh. Right off the bone. I deduced that this was from the oak aging, giving the sour ale a woody, meaty flavor.

These were only five of the 16 possibilities and you bet I’m going back for more. Area 2 can abduct me into their spacecraft of dope beer any weekend of the year.

Obercreek Brewing

Hudson Valley Hidden Gems

Travel

Diamonds in the rough. Underdogs. After living in the Hudson Valley post-college, I ventured to those smaller places off the beaten path that promise personality and uniqueness compared to the busy hot-spots covered by big New York City publications. Though those spots deserve the coverage they receive and I adore them, let’s give it up for the little local spots that more than hold a candle to competition.

Obercreek Brewing Company

Located on Obercreek Farm, this brewery barely distributes which makes my proximity EVERYTHING. I first visited in the winter and remember the beers were deep gemstone colors. The style I tried was deep magenta and flavored with currants. The IPAs are refreshing and floral, unlike the bitter IPAs that I tend to avoid. Some beers are peachy and sour and some are thirst-quenching, but all deserve a taste. A newcomer to the craft beer scene, only in the game for just shy of 2 years, Obercreek is a contender against Hudson Valley Brewery and Plan Bee, two phenomenal breweries in neighboring towns.

Palace Dumplings

Honestly, I thought this place was just called “dumplings.” From where it’s visible on route 9, the large block letters against the green background are all that’s legible. The exterior is underwhelming. It looks like a run-of-the-mill take-out spot. But there’s wizardry in that kitchen. Plates of steamy dumplings arrive, wrapped in the thinnest dough wrappers so the plate of 12 is manageable. The pork and scallion are classic, but the flavors get more interesting: lamb, egg and sour cabbage are only some of the options from multi-page menu. You’ll wait a long time on a busy night, but the result is worth the wait ten-fold.

Armadillo

I remember the first time we ever visited Armadillo. It was our first time in Kingston and we were hanging out at Rough Draft (a noteworthy spot) looking up places to eat. Stomach rumbling, I said “fine, let’s just go there.” Enthusiastic, right? I should’ve been. Hands-down the best house margarita, neither skimping on quality nor tequila. Portions are huge and of equally high quality. I remember the burrito I ordered fed me for days and I only craved more. The creamy green sauce served with chips? Life-changing. It’s just the perfect low-key spot meant for nothing but good times.

The Vinyl Room

We all know I love multi-functional spaces. Maybe it’s from Alton Brown’s aversion to uni-taskers and my affinity for Good Eats. Regardless, this vinyl shop/bar combo is genius. The beer on tap is a mix of stellar local beers and in-the-moment craft brews. You want food? There’s a pizza window. There’s constantly good music spinning, creating the ideal ambiance for flipping through rows of vinyl. Not looking to buy? The arcade games are already loaded and ready for play. So yeah, you could go there, drink beer and play PacMan.

Kettleborough Cider House

So I’ve only been able to visit this location once, but it’s somewhat of a seasonal treat. One crisp fall day we wanted to try some of the smaller cideries in the area. No offense to Angry Orchard, but we wanted a quieter experience with a different cider variety. This honestly came up in a quick map search while we were driving through New Paltz, and I’m so glad it did. The orchard sells donuts and apples, but the shack out back does cider flights. The seating area overlooks the beautiful Shawangunk ridge, an unexpected, breathtaking surprise, and the cider selection ranged from farmy to dry. Next time, I’d bring a blanket and sit outside overlooking the foliage all day.

I move out of the Hudson Valley in a week. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but I’m so fortunate to have been able to find these places and support the amazing work of the folks who put their whole hearts into a craft. Do me a favor and keep these places packed while I’m gone. Okay?

Mexico City Pyramids

Five Days in Mexico City

Travel

I’m so so so sorry it’s been so long. If you follow me on Instagram (which, duh, you should) you’d know that I left my last job and have been in non stop motion since updating you last. You’d also know that I took a break from commuting and moving to go to Mexico City with my family. While the vacation was anything but relaxing, it was everything about culture. It’s undoubtedly true that Mexico’s history is part of America’s history, but we as Americans fail to learn about much other than European conquest. This trip illuminated so much about the country, like the hundreds of languages still actively spoken throughout, the many other civilizations besides the Aztecs and Mayans and the incredibly vibrant food.

After landing in the mid-afternoon on Saturday we all made a b-line for El Huequito for towers of al pastor tacos and stoneware of molten cheese and chorizo. The al pastor, being sliced from  a shawarma-esque inverted cone of pork, starred in this culinary experience, but the limes and platter of sauces were being passed around the table as we all could not decide which was the top. Naturally, we came back two days later for more sauce. Saturday was mostly a day of walking and eating. Street corn and churros made appearances on the day’s itinerary, and I’m happy to report that both changed me in different ways. The street corn just handed me an essay on why chili and lime belongs on everything (see: chili and lime on mangos) and the churros kicked any other doughnut or fried dough treat to the curb and became number one in my heart.

We knocked out that night because Sunday would be longer. We began the day at Panederia Rosetta and I’m different. The best croissant I’ve ever had made into a bowl to cradle guava jam accompanied by a cappuccino fueled our first stop: the palacio de bella artes. This art and architecture museum had Diego Rivera murals and a special exhibit on Francisco Icaza, but the physical building, completed in the 1930’s, was the masterpiece full of art deco-style interiors and multiple domes with sunset-colored roofs. In the city center (the Zocalo) a marriage of antiquity, tradition and modernity gathered between the Templo Mayor, the unearthed ruins of a civilization, the cathedral and street vendors fleeing whenever a cop entered the area. In the beating sun we ate tamales and coconut agua fresca amid street rituals and incense burning in the summertime chaos around us, a typical Sunday in Mexico.

In the evening we returned to the palacio de bellas artes for the ballet folklorico, but not before a margarita. At Miralto, at the tippy top of a sky scraper, the margaritas lived up to the view of all of Mexico City. However, the margaritas paled in comparison to the artistry and musicianship displayed at the ballet. Traditional song, dance and costume was paraded, and I swear I would’ve given all my money to watch the same two men duel on harps. I never wanted the dancing to end.

If I could recommend one place to visit in Mexico, go to Teotihuacan. I remember reading about these pyramids in fifth grade, unable to pronounce the name of the civilization. The pyramids, once colorful, were stone steps up to a high platform. The pyramids of the sun and moon (misnomers, by the way) were both sights to behold and behold from. From the tops of each, you can see the expanse of the archeological site as well as Mexico’s diverse landscape. Between the small temples lining the “street” between the pyramids, friendly wild dogs roamed protecting the space and posing politely for photos. The hike was intense up hundreds of narrow and steep steps, but it wouldn’t be right any other way. We managed another meal full of al pastor and a night of beer and mezcal to celebrate our triumph over the hike.

On our last full day we experienced some colonial beauty at the park and castle of Chapultepec. The park, like central park, opens up in the midst of the bustling city and the castle, perched atop a hill, feels like slices of Versailles stacked upon each other and dropped in Mexico. The anthropology museum, at the opposite entrance of the park, holds that massive “Mayan Calendar” that is neither Mayan nor calendar. Tired and weary, our trip was coming to a close and we had one last sight to behold.

After a 45 minute Uber drive we all arrived in Xochimilco to embark on a ride through the swampy lagoon on a vibrant boat. Sort of like a Mexican party gondola. Mariachi sang on boats floating by while other boats, packed to capacity, became floating fiestas. The celebratory boat ride signified a successful trip and a bittersweet end to a week of better-than-expected weather and planning.

Lastly on the fifth day, we returned to Panederia Rosetta for one last buttery, flakey croissant, just so sad to leave.

I know you didn’t come here for a Rick Steves Tour, so here is the best of the best: my top 5 foods from Mexico City (plus some honorable mentions).

  • Tacos al pastor
  • Mango with chili, lime and salt
  • Pulche (a traditional fermented drink)
  • Churros from El Moro
  • Guava roll from Panederia Rosetta

Honorable mentions:

  • Mezcal with the dead worm floating in it.
  • Street corn ‘con todos’ (with mayonnaise, chili, queso fresco and lime)

The Vintage Market, Santo Spirito

Photography, Travel, Vintage

My spirit and soul yearn for one single place: Florence, Italy. Every morning I sprang out of bed to the sound of Santa Maria Del Fiore’s bells, sometimes with a grand plan and other times with the desire to just explore. One Sunday I found myself in my favorite corner of the city, Piazza Santo Spirito. Brunelleschi’s austere church facade loomed over the sun drenched square, demanding attention and reverence despite the hustle and bustle below.

Every second Sunday vendors lined the square with vintage knick knacks, clothes and furniture. I encountered a smiling man selling brass kitchen wares (a bottle opener shaped like a woman’s legs, decorative cabinet hardware, interesting stuff), women picking through vintage clothing and tables cluttered with photos and trinkets emblematic of the past. I saw real communist pins next to embroidered cloth panels. And, of course, there would be no market without food in Italy. Next to the old vases you could pick up a hot porchetta sandwich. Ideal.

While anything and everything seemed available, clothing stalls expressed the most stark dichotomy of all. Some stalls featured clothing racks with vintage and restored pieces costing over 25 euro while others had piles of weathered and worn garments all costing 5 euro, no more and no less. I approached the table with hope and started picking through pieces with local nonnas.

I finally found it. THE shirt. A white embroidered linen blouse, slightly too big for my frame, but utterly perfect. Vertical vines dropped from the shoulders to the mid-torso. This white blouse embodied summer in Italy and I knew I had to have it.

Quanto costo?

Cinque euro.

Yes, 5 euro later and I toted home my favorite blouse in the Florentine sun.

This shirt feels gorgeous and vintage. I think it’s a men’s shirt but it has a feminine quality that I love. I remember wearing it during the firsts few days of my first internship. I remember wearing it with my great grandma’s silk scarf tied around my neck. It just feels right on my skin.

Not to mention, Santo Spirito is one of the most gorgeous and underrated parts of Florence, in my opinion. Sure, I’m a typical American student and flocked to Gusta Pizza a few too many times for heart shaped pizza and a plastic cup of wine (“per porta in via” means you can take your wine to go which is magical when you find yourself drinking wine in a bank vestibule at 9pm), but I made sure to walk beyond the square into the artists’ quarter of the Oltrarno. Papier-mâché clowns and vintage jewelry took over storefront windows. Wisteria grew atop the old city walls. Hidden aperitivo joints came to life at night. To not visit Santo Spirito while in Florence would be to not see the soul of the citizens. It’s as if the oldest and youngest parts meet in this one square.

This white linen shirt brings memories of Santo Spirito to life. The texture of the cloth on my skin conjures memories of sunny days eating berries at the market or getting sucked into the oldest streets of the city completely unsupervised. Reflected in the stitches I see the cobblestone streets and treasure chests of wonder.

Every coffee shop in Beacon

drink, Travel

I love two things: coffee and espresso. Luckily I work on Main Street in Beacon, New York, a hub of coffee shops and cafes just waiting for me to tear through them begging for a mid-day cup o’ joe. I’m trying to cut back, I swear. And yet, relapse never tasted so good.

My portal to Beacon’s coffee wonderland was Bank Square, the iconic coffee shop at the western entrance to Beacon’s Main Street. The interior is shabby chic complete with exposed brick and mismatched vintage furniture. I adore the yellow wall and this one chair with the same yellow colored velveteen upholstery on the cushion. Quite honestly, it never looks the same twice. There’s also an outdoor patio complete with string lights, perfect for a sunset date. I like the young, laid back vibe of the entire place. It can get crowded, however. The prime real estate is both good and bad: good for business, bad for the coffee shop intimacy that I love. The coffee is delicious, obviously. I don’t think any place on Main Street serves coffee that is anything shy of perfection. Now I rarely visit Bank Square due to my proximity to other coffee shops on Main Street. Nothing personal.

Geographically next despite the approximately ten minute walk is Big Mouth Coffee Roasters. All I have to say is damn girl. Big Mouth stole my heart the moment I stepped inside. The space is that perfect marriage of intimate and social with secluded spaces in the back to have a conversation, a more work-friendly space by the counter and window seating perfect for watching the eclectic neighborhood characters that walk by every day. Their logo is ingenious: a hippo peeking it’s head out of water. They feature local artists and host gallery openings and closings, supporting the art community present in Beacon. And the coffee is, mwah, perfection. I drink my coffee black (which shocks people for some reason) and Big Mouth’s dark roast has those deep cherry notes that just makes me want to bathe in it. Just kidding that’d be gross.

Next is my beloved and convenient Beacon Pantry. Coffee is literally seconds away. I can afford to walk back to my office without wasting a plastic lid! Coffee is quick, inexpensive and gets the job done. While they don’t roast their own coffee like Big Mouth does, they use the dearly beloved Stumptown roasts. Unlike Big Mouth, the Beacon Pantry is not just a coffee shop. They’re a full service restaurant AND specialty market, which is the REAL reason why I love them so much. The curated meat and cheese selection makes me drool almost as much as the wafting scent of bread that enchants my senses daily. Many a daydream have been spent simply thinking of the selection of butter. I’m thinking about it right now.

Next is Ella’s Bellas, a gluten free bakery and cafe just one block east on Main Street. Personally, I like their iced coffee. I’m not sure why. I just do. I must also praise them for their gluten free baked goods, but it is important to remember that glutenless baked goods will naturally taste different than glutened baked goods. Both of those words are definitely made up. After eating my fair share of sub-par gluten free goods in solidarity with my gluten-intolerant friends I can confidently praise Ella’s Bellas for doing something right in the gluten-free baking world.

Last but not least Trax, the easternmost coffee shop on Main Street, is the quiet, brooding guy if Bank Square is the loud, opinionated friend. It’s only fitting that they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum given their opposite positioning on Main Street, however I think they use the same coffee beans. Each location’s cup sleeves feature both logos. Regardless, Trax has the intimacy that I crave at Bank Square, but Bank Square has the decor I love. Trax brands itself as an espresso bar so naturally I tried a cortado. I loved the size of the drink and the barista’s artistry in pouring the milk in a perfect leaf atop the espresso. A perfect pick-me-up and effective remedy for a rainy day. I could spend hours staring out of the wide storefront window at the old brick buildings across the way. It’s definitely a good place to feel inspired.

Life is too short to drink bad coffee so don’t. Whether you’re close to Beacon or not, find a local coffee shop and support that business before resorting to a larger chain brand. Chances are your coffee will be better quality and your experience will be unique every time.