Sunday, January 1, 2017

Read (2016 Year in Review)

So I haven't blogged in over a year because baby. It's not that I haven't had stuff to share and damn, there are mommy bloggers who have multiples and still get this done, but really it just wasn't a priority. BUT I thought I'd try for a quick Year-in-Review on the big three from this blog: reading, teaching, traveling. I'll admit that they often overlap, but here it goes.

This year was strange for me as a reader. While I opted for the larger phone once Orion was born so that it would be easier to read articles while breast feeding (and scroll facebook and watch videos and take better pictures...), I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be for me to sit down and read an actual book. The baby, who was less than 2 months old when the year began, often required the dedication of both of my arms, making it awkward to hold a book or turn pages. It took until spring break in April for me to finish my first full length book, No Summit Out of Sight.

Two factors brought me back to consistent reading: an idea for a memoir unit for my freshmen and Audible. The first came when I returned to teaching after my maternity leave and began my unit for Elie Wiesel's Night. In the two years I've taught the memoir, I have paired it with the required freshman research paper by creating a compare/contrast between Wiesel's work on the most well-known genocide of our time and excerpts from memoirs from the genocides in Guatemala, Cambodia, and Rwanda.

When I first created the assignment/unit, I think my goal was to expose students to history beyond Europe. While everyone seems to know about the atrocities of the Holocaust, I felt like too many students leave school without realizing that intolerance, prejudice, racism, and even genocide didn't end in 1944. I also feel like our curriculum can be too Eurocentric, so I wanted to expand the purview of the unit.

But, WOW, is that unit depressing. It's depressing to teach and it's depressing to learn. I also didn't really feel like reading excerpts of a few pages really accomplished my goal anyway. I really wanted my students to read a second full-length memoir, so I started researching teenagers and war memoirs. The prospect of vetting a bunch of these was unsettling, though. I already knew it would be difficult to find time to read a dozen or more memoirs in order to find some my 14-year-old students could connect with, but the idea of spending all of my free time reading about the horrors of war was just too sad. Instead I started finding other memoirs by teens. Teens who had overcome adversity. Teens who had invented something or accomplished something. Teens who had lessons to teach my students without enduring abuse, addiction, severe tragedy, or war.

So I set out on a year (really 8 months) of reading nothing but memoirs. The first one was wonderful but difficult to finish with an infant trying to grab it out of my hands, which is when I turned to audiobooks. I've never been a big fan of audiobooks except for long road trips because they tend to read slower than I do, which is frustrating and often sleep-inducing. But Audible allowed me to speed up the reading. Audiobooks meant I could listen/read while making dinner, taking a walk, or during my 40-minute-each-way commute. I could listen while playing on the floor with my baby or while feeding him. Audiobooks meant I could get back into reading without giving up time for sleep or seeing my husband or any of the other activities vying for my very limited time.

Here is the list of books I went through this year, mostly on Audible.

Jordan Romero, No Summit Out of Sight
9 year old decides he wants to climb the tallest mountain on each continent, completes the task by the time he is 14 and becomes the youngest person to have done so. Awesome. Easy read. Great for my students. Love. This one confirms my plan for memoir-based lit circles.

William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Been on my To Read list for ages and this memoir thing gives me an excuse. Teen in Malawi discovers a science book with a section on wind energy and decides to build a windmill to harness energy for his own home. Awesome. Great for my engineering-minded kids. Definitely going on the list.

I Wasn't Strong Like This When I Started Out: Stories of Becoming a Nurse
Short stories by multiple authors. Interesting but didn't really work for my purpose. Stopped before the end and returned, not because I didn't enjoy listening to it but because I couldn't devote time to a book that wouldn't ultimately be used for my project at this time.

Mark Owen, No Easy Day
Memoir of a member of Seal Team 6 who participated not only in the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but also several other significant events of the past decade. Totally out of my comfort zone but I LOVED it. Great for students but also great for me to read something so completely different.

Jeanne Watkatsuki Houston, Farewell to Manzanar
Young Japanese-American girl's experience before, during, and after WWII. I assumed this one was a no brainer for inclusion in my unit since the internment camp experience dovetails well with Night, but after listening to it I just wasn't sold. I'm glad I finally read it, since I'd had it on my list for about a decade, but it just didn't work for my memoir unit. Returned to Audible despite finishing (love Audible's return policy!).

Firoozeh Dumas, Funny in Farsi
Recommended by a friend for this unit but it was a no go. While I thought it was interesting and kind of funny to listen to, the book is mostly set in the 1970s and just too dated for my students. Stopped early and returned.

Bethany Hamilton, Soul Surfer
13-year-old surfer from Kauai suffers a shark attack that takes her arm, learns to overcome her struggles with faith and family. While I personally cringe from all the God stuff in this book and it made me really uncomfortable to include it, I know it will jive well with some of my students, particularly my Mormon kids. Plus the religion thing works really well as a contrast to the loss of faith in Night. It's a must-include despite my personal hang ups.

Chrissie Wellington, A Life Without Limits
In an effort to find something for athletes, I found this one by a triathlete who stunned the world by winning the Iron Man competition in Kona, Hawaii not once but three times. As a super-amateur 5k run-walker this year (more on that in Travel), I was stunned by how much I related to Wellington's journey and how interested I was in her story despite it being so far from my own life (a professional athlete? ha!). Great for my athletes, especially the girls.

Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle
This one had TONS of recommendations. It was recommended by friends and teachers all over the internet, including all kinds of lesson ideas for including it in classrooms. But I just couldn't get on board. The premise of the story - two parents who choose their own interests and goals over providing for their young children and how the children manage in spite of this - just felt too much like neglect for my new-mom heart. I couldn't handle it. I was often with my infant son when I was listening and the behavior of the parents just disgusted me. Stopped and returned.

Malala Yousafzai, I am Malala
Another that's been on my list for a while, but I wasn't sure I could handle as an audiobook because I struggle with Ms. Yousafzai's accent. Luckily, she only reads the forward and the rest was much more manageable for me. This Nobel Prize winner who talks about peace and the importance of education despite being targeted for assassination by the Taliban is exactly the kind of teen-with-a-message I was looking for. Added to the list!

Jo Anne Normile, Saving Baby
I was looking for something for my FFA-types or even just a good book with a dog and I found this story of a racehorse owner turned activist. Again, I was surprised by how moved I was by the story considering I have no experience with horses and have never been one of those girls who dreamed about riding or owning one. Still, I fell in love with Baby (and the cause of mistreated racehorses) through Normile's words and I think my students will, too.

Kevin Hazzard, A Thousand Naked Strangers
This fast-paced, in-your-face, sometimes-gory account of the life of an EMT was gripping, funny, and just raunchy enough to be perfect for my teens. After the nurse book didn't work out, I still wanted something for my potential future medical workers. I considered Atul Gawande's Better, which I read a few years ago for the PSAT summer program at Elite, but it was too cerebral. I wanted something that was more hands-on. BINGO. I think the chapter titled "Death By Broccoli" will be the intro material when I show it to my students later this month. (Plus that title, man, way too perfect.)

Johnny Anonymous, NFL Confidential
I had a surfer girl, a woman triathlete, a racehorse book, and a boy who climbs moutains, but I still didn't have a book for my traditional football-baseball-soccer boys and I really wanted to fill that niche. I polled a lot of people and did a lot of searching in this category. I liked the idea of a really famous player but I also wanted the memoir to be current. I needed something that was going to be accessible to a demographic of traditional non-readers but that would also work in a literary-educational environment, since I know I'm going to assign writing topics like theme, character development, conflict type, and compare-contrast to NightNFL Confidential was gritty, raw, vulgar, and totally delightful. I knew my students would absolutely love it but at the same time I knew I could never assign it. Ugh. The search continues.

Ben Utecht, Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away
A football player who was recently in the NFL talking about the damage caused by his many concussions? Sounds awesome. Got preachy really fast. Stopped and returned and ran away.

Nate Jackson, Slow Getting Up
At first I wasn't wild about Jackson's style. It's full of terse syntax and simple vocabulary. It includes cussing (but so does A Thousand Naked Bodies and No Easy Day - certain professions seem to be either profanity-laced or way-too-preachy and there doesn't seem to be an in between). Jackson isn't a star or even a starter and most students won't recognize his name. BUT he's basically Joe Football. He's the every player that my kids could probably relate to. And by the end of the book, I really liked him. While NFL Confidential was funnier and possibly more interesting, Slow Getting Up fit more of my writing topic criteria. Done. Put it on the list!

Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer
Still looking for a traditional pet-lover book. Found a guy who inherited a herd of wild elephants on a conservation in Africa. So NOT a traditional pet-lover book, but I still listened to about a third of it before I realized that it was also about twice as long as I could accommodate for this unit. I wasn't invested enough to finish for my own enjoyment. Stopped and returned.

Misty Copeland, Life in Motion
The first African American woman to become a principal ballerina for the American Ballet? Yeah, that works. Plus she's young and current and students will recognize her name and she's great for my dancers.

Mike Brown, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
I was still concerned that I didn't have enough for STEM kids, which is why this one made it on the list. It's the story of the astro-scientist who, in his quest for a tenth planet, actually proved that there are only eight. It was surprisingly funny and written in a way that non-astroscientists could completely understand the controversy and the result. LOVE, again.

At this point I felt like I had enough for my students. 11 books made the lit circle list that I will be introducing in just a few weeks now. I'm still working on funding all of the copies I need (130+ books is a challenge), but the parents have been amazing so I'm not (too) worried. I wanted a variety of demographics, interests, ages, and locations. I wanted to find something for every student (because I really believe everyone can love reading if they are reading about something they love). I wanted people who had overcome adversity (both internal and external) but who hadn't been involved in the severely damaging lifestyles or events that normally lead to book deals: eating disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, physical or sexual assault/abuse, gang/prison time, abandonment, etc. I wanted inspiration.

This project stretched my reading to completely new areas of interest that I never would have ventured into before. I had experienced this a little when I taught the PSAT book camps from 2010-2013 since they often included books, especially nonfiction, that I may never have found on my own, but this was different. Reading outside my comfort zone was shocking mostly because I didn't really feel uncomfortable at all and actually felt incredible kinship with the various authors I read. I never thought I'd enjoy a book about football or triathlons or racehorses, but I fell in love with all of them.

Due to the success of reading nothing but memoir from March - October, I decided to complete the year with all non-fiction titles. These included Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, the story of the black female mathematicians who helped NASA win the Space Race and that is now a movie coming out next week; Elizabeth Royte's Bottlemania, the story of big business and natural water and fight over America's drinking water; Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, a memoir about her life leading up to and including The Office; and Originals by Adam Grant, a book in the vein of Outliers or others by Malcolm Gladwell that probes how people who rebel against conformity succeed in changing the world around them. I even started (but have yet to finish) The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, a book that Joe has been begging me to read for years.

I'm excited about the reading I did this year because it has been a while since I've read this consistently for pleasure but also because I was able to find pleasurable reading in so many different areas. I'm now looking forward to books that range from a video gamer's memoir to Reading Lolita in Tehran. Between Audible and the time I spend commuting, I have a lot of books to get through.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#CraftWhenIHaveTo Classroom Update

This summer I had big plans for all the things I wanted to accomplish both personally and in preparation for the coming year. For the first time since starting my teaching career, I already knew where I would be teaching, had a contract, had a classroom that was mostly set up, and had a skeleton of curriculum from the previous year that I could actually completely repeat if I wanted to. It was also the first summer break since Joe and I started dating that I didn't take on the usual SAT and PSAT boot camps, meaning I'd have time to do other things like read books for pleasure, plan for Baby, and get things done for the coming school year.

Mostly, I did crafts for my classroom.

This is A Thing because I am not the craftsiest of people. When an 8th grade teacher once offered me craft supplies during a long-term subbing stint, my response was, "Why the f*** would I need craft supplies to teach English?" I'm more of a craft-when-I-have-to kind of girl.

Because of the whole cycle of pink slips, subbing, and less-than-ideal placements that was the beginning of my career, this is only the second classroom I've had to myself. I had one year 1, subbed for years 2 and 3, was a rover my fourth year, got a shared desk station (which we couldn't even personalize with a framed picture) for years 5 and 6, and finally moved into "the cave" last year. Despite my colleagues sympathy at my being assigned an interior room with no windows, I LOVE my classroom.

Here's what my classroom looked like when I got to it (basically):

I was able to liven it up with some bulletin boards, but I never had the time to really do all the things I wanted to with it last year because I was too busy, ya know, teaching.

My desk is in a nook to the right. This is one of the things I LOVE about this room - the teacher area doesn't encroach upon the student area. I also added a second station in the nook for my collab teacher and TAs this year.

This summer I had a few new goals: create a piece of string art, finally put together a display of novels from around the world (almost as good as traveling and way less expensive), put together a place for student-use supplies, and update my other displays so that they were neater, better labeled, and just overall more interesting.

Here's what I ended up with:

The view from my desk

Left Wall with student supply center. My string art piece is in the middle. The other posters I had last year. The supply center includes the drawer unit with paper supplies (notebook paper, index cards, post its), the hole punches (Polly and Jeanine), the staplers (Aaron Burr and Guy Fawkes), the pencil sharpener (Joel), and flower pots with pens for students to borrow. The feather pens are one of my favorite additions to the room. White feathers for red scoring markers, blue feathers for regular pens, and green feathers for highlighters. Students can borrow but not take my stuff and they're already using them! (Feathers from Amazon for about $4/10 attached with washi tape.)

Back Wall: Read your way around the world board. I found the cork board map at Michael's, painted the water to make it more interesting, got suggestions for books set in different countries from lots of friends, and created half sheets for each that are connected to the map with multi-colored yarn. I'm kind of in love with it, which is good since the back wall is mostly what I stare at all day and it was BLANK last year.

Left side of the board
The Library isn't new, but the printed labels are.
Some are too big, so I may re-do them... next summer.

Front of the room, right of the board. The posters I created on last year.
The quotation is new. I cut the extra butcher paper I had into sheets and ran them through a regular printer.

All posters I created on covering (by accident) the major areas of the ELA standards: read, write, listen, speak. The labels and the middle poster are new this year. I finally got the courage to test out the die-cut machine we have in the staff room and I LOVE it!

The crafts included:

I've wanted to do a string art piece for years, but couldn't find the right home for it.
I mostly used this DIY tutorial but I may still do a post of my own since no one seems to
have any out there for how to do the actual stringing. 

I had extra paint and my feather pens needed a cute home.
These were 78 cents each at Home Depot and the paint cost less than a dollar.

Loving my feather pens! No excuses for not having supplies and no stealing! Win win!
ugly oak clock + extra paint = quickie art project
If you can't tell, I like art projects that are hard to screw up.
I'm really pleased with how the room has come out. I may not have managed to complete my wedding album, year abroad album, maternity-leave sub plans, or complete my goal of reading 10 for-pleasure books this summer, but damn, my classroom makes me happy.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

All American S'More Bars

S'mores are one of those all-American traditions that evoke thoughts of summer and camping and cozy time with friends and family. They are such a staple of the American experience that full end-caps and displays are devoted to them in grocery stores all over. In fact, s'mores are such a part of American life that Joe and I spent probably hours discussing them - their ingredients, construction, etc. - with non-Americans when we were in Europe. (The fact that graham crackers are perforated was especially baffling to some people...)

Recently my mom was told that she just HAD to try the recipe for s'more bars in the Weight Watchers All American Comfort food cookbook. Being a diligent employee (and always looking for an excuse to try a new recipe), she obliged. I then decided to make these perfect party snacks for every event I had in June and July. Yum!

Since I promised to share the recipe with many people during that time, I am finally getting around to posting. Here it goes:


(Every batch I have made has been a double, so you'd need 2x everything on this list)

- 8.5 plain low fat graham crackers (only 15 fit in our double pan)
- 1 can fat free sweetened condensed milk
- Baker's unsweetened chocolate bar
- 3 tbsp low fat butter (we used regular; original recipe calls for 4 but we found we didn't need that much)
- 3 tbsp sugar
- about 30-40 mini marshmallows (the original recipe calls for regular size cut in half)


1. Line your pan with foil. (9x13 for a single batch; 8 graham crackers will fit perfectly. ALL PICTURES ARE IN A DOUBLE-SIZED PAN.) Then place the graham crackers into whatever pattern works.

2. Melt the butter and sugar together on the stove top. Make sure to actually let the sugar melt all the way. (This is the step I'm too impatient for, but it does make a difference.) Spread the mixture over the graham crackers as evenly as possible.

3. Put the "crust" in the oven at 350 for 8 minutes. It should come out all bubbly. Turn off the oven when you take it out so that it can cool a little before you have to broil the marshmallows.

4. While that part is baking, combine the sweetened condensed milk and the baking chocolate in a bowl and microwave for a minute (2 if you're doubling).

5. Mix the chocolate and condensed milk together until the chocolate is totally melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny.

6. Spread the chocolate mixture over the graham cracker crust.

7. Immediately spread the marshmallows over the chocolate. The chocolate will solidify pretty quickly, so it's important to get the marshmallows placed.

8. Put in the broiler with the light on. Watch the whole time and don't let the marshmallows get too toasty. For a double batch, it took about 3 minutes and I usually turned the pan about halfway through.

9. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours but up to 24 hours (or overnight). Cut into pieces and enjoy!

She doesn't look excited, but I swear she couldn't stop asking for more.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New York-style Foodie Adventure (and the Courtney Wedding)

We've been back from New York for a week now, but (being birthday week) it was a bit busy and I didn't have a chance to blog all of the tasty things we ate yet, so here it goes. (Beware, this is a lengthy post with lots of details about several course meals.)

Joe and I had both been to NYC on several occasions both separately and together before this, which released us from the pressure to site-see and tourist-it-up on this visit. We were mostly there to celebrate the wedding of our friends Devin and Amy, for which Joe was a groomsman. The wedding itself was in Connecticut, but the bride and groom live in Manhattan and JFK is the easiest airport, so we used the opportunity to cash in our last three free reward nights (saved from our European travel adventures last year) and have a relaxing few days in the city, filled mostly with wandering from one gourmet experience to the next.

Devin and Amy live on the Upper West Side, so we situated ourselves mostly on the lower west corner of Central Park near everything we cared about: nature, restaurants, Shake Shack, the Hayden Planetarium, the Natural History Museum, and more trees than cars. Yup, just like in London, we like to trick ourselves into thinking we're not actually in a bustling metropolis by surrounding ourselves with an oasis of green.

Central Park, walking the plane off

First day:
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and took the subway in to our hotel (after a year of nothing but public transportation, there was no way we would spend $60+ for a taxi; the subway is easy enough from JFK if you plan your suitcases accordingly and definitely have a working map app. I used CityMapper, the same app I used in London, which works in many major cities around the world.)

One of the things we definitely can't readily get in north county San Diego is good dim sum, so that was a priority. We chose Red Farm for its location but we would have traveled further if it hadn't also been on Zagat's top 10 lists for Chinese food, dim sum, AND soup dumplings in Manhattan. Three separate Top 10 Zagat distinctions for one restaurant in a city known for its restaurants? Sold.

Dim Sum choice: Pac Man Shrimp Dumplings
Pac Man was a tempura sweet potato on a stand of guacamole (weird for a Chinese restaurant but actually delicious). Each of the little "ghosts" had a different flavor combined with shrimp: lobster, leek & mushroom, blue crab, bamboo shoots. This is a Red Farm specialty and was recommended by our server. (A+)

Soup Dumplings: Pork and crab mix.
We'd never had soup dumplings before, but since we'd heard that Red Farm was one of the Top 10 places to get them, we had to at least try them. Basically, soup dumplings are exactly what the name suggests: soup in a dumpling. There was a soy mixture to pour into the dumpling once you'd drunk the broth part, but I preferred them without. Either way, yum. (B)

Main Dishes: Wok Fried string beans and brussel sprouts, BBQ'd beef fried rice
Drinks: Blackberry Ginger-Lime soda, Cucumber Thyme cooler
For the whole first trimester of my pregnancy, green vegetables have been a MAJOR food aversion. Even the smell of broccoli could put me off my whole dinner. Joe and I both commented many times throughout this trip how happy we were that my eating has basically stabilized, especially because I would not have enjoyed our cuisine adventures nearly as much (or at all) if this trip had been just a few weeks earlier.

One example is this dish of green beans and brussels sprouts. It was tossed with a savory blend of garlic, onion, and sweet brown sauce and was absolutely delicious. (A+)

The drinks were also extremely tasty, if also especially pungent. Mine was listed as blackberry ginger-lime, but it should've been GINGER (blackberry-lime) for better accuracy. It was distinctive and yummy but had more than a little bite of ginger. Joe's, similarly, was VERY cucumber with a little thyme, which he loved. (B, mostly because some people won't go for drinks this strong)

The fried rice dish was also good, though I'm the wrong person to ask about meat dishes at the moment. Joe thought the beef was delish, though, and ended up eating most of what I left behind. (B)

I'm not going to lie, Red Farm was expensive for us. We both agree that it was completely worth it and we knew that having a food-based vacation in Manhattan meant we'd have some steep bills, so we would absolutely recommend it to others looking for the experience. (overall A)

After dinner we walked down Broadway to the corner of Central Park and eventually made it back to our hotel via a quick detour to Shake Shack for evening treats - a strawberry almond milk shake for Joe and a creamy, strawberry cheesecake "concrete" (frozen custard) for me. More on Shake Shack later, though.

Day 2
Breakfast on Day 2 was at Good Enough to Eat, a comfort food stop that was highly recommended for us and I'm shocked wasn't covered wall-to-wall in Americana. We got the apple pancakes (B) and Astoria omelette (A) with a side of thick-cut, crispy bacon. We enjoyed our breakfast enough that we forgot to take pictures, but if you're on the Upper West side and have TWO days for big breakfasts, save one for this place (the first one should go to our other breakfast stop).

From there we decided to head down to the southern tip of Manhattan for one site that we had not seen (because it wasn't done yet): One World Trade Center. A few weeks before our trip, Joe saw this video of the elevator ride to One World Observatory and, since we can't pass up a high place with a sweeping view, we knew this newest of New York sites had to be on our itinerary.

southern facade from directly below

Walking up to the tower is somewhat daunting. Even in NY, this building is meant to stand out and the symbolism of the whole area hits pretty hard. The 9/11 memorial, which can feel like a park if you are just enjoying the scenery, is pretty spectacular. (My photos didn't do it justice, so I borrowed some.) The spots where each of the towers used to stand is now a recessed multi-level waterfall into an infinity pool. It has the illusion of falling directly into the ground forever. Each is bordered by a ring that bears the names of the people who died and the police and fire stations who came to the aide of survivors. Moving but also beautiful.

The elevator to the See Forever observatory ascends over 100 stories in less than a minute and includes video that takes the rider from the prehistoric bedrock of Manhattan to modern day in the same time. When you arrive on the observatory deck, the "reveal" is also breath-taking, but it's worth not spoiling it for those who will have the experience themselves, especially since it had been open for less than a month when we got to go.

Downtown, with the Empire State Building almost dead center 

view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges
The day we went was a bit hazy, but sometimes you can't do anything about that. We've both seen the view of the city from the Empire State Building and now from way down south, but we still have one high place to knock off our list: Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. (We've been told that this is actually the best of the views, despite not being the highest, because you can see all of the major landmarks - Empire and WTC included - PLUS Central Park, which is one thing we couldn't see from the One World Observatory.)

Thursday evening was the Rehearsal Dinner at Calle Ocho inside the Excelsior Hotel. When choosing our first hotel for the weekend we were between this one and another but quickly decided on Excelsior when we realized it would give us zero commute to the rehearsal dinner. Great option even if you don't have an event there - it's less than a block from the 81st Street Subway station, one street over from the Natural History Museum and faces Hayden Planetarium. It's on the corner of 81st and Columbus, ridiculously close to Central Park, Shake Shack, and tons of great restaurants - all of the amenities we cared about. The room was decent-sized, too, especially for Manhattan; we even had a small sitting room in addition to our bedroom.

Calle Ocho is a Latin restaurant with exciting takes on traditional dishes and drinks. They're known (partly) for their extensive sangria options, which I was particularly disappointed about missing out on (I don't miss wine really, but damn I could go for a cocktail sometimes). We were on a limited menu because of the event, but Joe has already agreed to go back to this restaurant the next time we're in New York because there are so many things I still want to try (Chivita salad and Langosta ceviche just to start). Here's what we did have:

Arepa: sweet corn cake, ropa vieja, creole salad, crema nata (A+)
This dish was excellent. Everyone who had it couldn't stop commenting about how rich and wonderful it was and how we all would've eaten it as a main course. Honestly the sizes of the appetizers here was really satisfying and it might be possible to make a meal out of a few of them, especially if you want to do a tapas-style dinner and share with someone else.

Calamari frito with honey, cashews, salad (B)

Vegetarian Mushroom Paella, chosen entirely because I'm having a major aversion to chicken and I didn't want steak or fish. If I had had the whole menu to choose from or I hadn't been pregnant, this would have been a very different story. (B-)
Bistec: steak with chimichurri verde and steak fries - delicious but not enough veggies to please Joe (A-)

Crema Catalana - basically coconut and dulce de leche creme brulee (B+)

Afterwards we headed out to a few local bars for the after party. I, of course, couldn't drink, but Dive 75 did have candy!

with the bride- and groom-to-be

Friday morning we had time for one more big breakfast in the city, so we chose to walk a few blocks west to Sarabeth's. In terms of atmosphere, Sarabeth's is the absolute opposite of Good Enough to Eat - chic, white, and clean, though it still felt comfortable and homey. This, again, was a bit of a splurge but definitely worth it. There are 5 locations, so if you're near any of them, it's worth going for breakfast or lunch.

We ordered the Four Flowers juice (A++), Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (A+), and Spinach & Goat Cheese Omelette (A). Everything was completely scrumptious and filling. We couldn't even finish the famous scone and jam that came on the side of the omelette we were so full. The lunch menu, it should be said, also looked amazing and there were definitely items we would go back to try, especially after seeing the flight of ice cream sandwiches delivered to a nearby table. (O.M.G.)

After breakfast, we wandered Central Park for a bit before taking the train to Connecticut. Here's me at 18 weeks pregnant and Joe, just because.

In Connecticut we stayed in Stamford. I have no idea why anyone we know would be going to Stamford, but if they are we would recommend the Sheraton hotel. It's walking distance to the train station and a cute little downtown that had a bunch of restaurants that looked worth trying. The hotel itself also had a pretty tasty menu and a nice bar area.

The Main Event:
Amy & Devin's Wedding at Waveny House

Introducing Benjamita

Congratulations, Courtneys!
With just one full day back in the city after the wedding, we went full fledge gourmet and jumped on Benjamita's reservation at Lincoln Ristorante, a Michelin-rated, locally-sourced, Italian experience in Lincoln Center. At $76 pp for a 4-course prix fixe meal, we felt this was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. The menu changes regularly depending on seasonal ingredients and various themes, so it doesn't make much sense for me to give specific recommendations. Instead, you can drool over these:

Caprese salad made with mozzarella di bufula, heirloom tomatoes, basil, and mint (A+ - even Joe loved this and he usually won't eat raw tomatoes)

Strozzapretti Neri: squid ink pasta, shrimp, pork sausage, beans, basil, bread crumbs for texture (A+)
Ravioli di Piseli: English pea and ricotta filled pasta (separately - I've never seen anything like it), shiitake mushrooms, brown butter (A+)

Anatra Arrosta: Duck breast and confit of leg, grilled peaches, and peppercorn-cardamom au jus (A+)
Bisteca alla Griglia: Wagyu top sirloin, parsnip puree, spring onion (A+)

Cheesecake: Goat's milk & ricotta cheescake, pistacio sauce, limoncello cream, honey ice cream (A+)
Chocolate & Hazelnut: Chocolate gelato, hazelnut cream (A+)

We honestly can't say enough about this restaurant and have vowed to embrace the Michelin experience whenever the opportunity presents itself again. We were lucky enough to share the event with two other amateur gourmands, Ben and Amita, who savored every course with as much appreciation as we did. (Lincoln also offers a wine pairing for the 4-course, which is absolutely worth sharing with another person., like they did.)

Our last day in New York had only one major event on the schedule: Shake Shack. Fortunately, this was also on Devin and Amy's schedule. (For this last part we stayed at the Warwick Hotel just south of the park, which we would also recommend though it was a bit noisier.)

There are many people with opinions about hot dogs in New York, and I know there are probably thousands of options, but Shake Shack is the only one we care about. They also serve burgers, frozen custards, and crinkle cut fries with the best cheese sauce you've ever had. The outdoor location in Madison Square Park has been featured in movies and television shows, but we tend toward the one at the corner of the Natural History Museum on the corner of Columbus and 77th. No trip to New York would be complete without a visit. (Each location does have a slightly different menu, though, and the frozen custard and shake flavors vary, which could be fun to try.)

After lunch we took one more walk through the park and then it was off to JFK. Thanks for a great city-break, Devin & Amy!

I found a book sculpture!


Courtneys & Reschans