Sipping October

This article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.

One of my best friends was in town for the first time, so I was showing her my sleepy little corner of Ravenswood Manor.

“There are a few breweries nearby,” I offered after we’d walked enough to work up a thirst. “Show me!” she said.

We set out east on Wilson Avenue, taking us through Lincoln Square into Ravenswood proper. We stumbled upon Dovetail Brewery and Begyle Brewing Company, which were jointly hosting a cheery little block party. As families and Cubs-clad 30-somethings mingled, we nibbled on golden pretzels and sipped golden ale, happy with our discovery.

We could have stopped there, but I’m glad we didn’t. Our glasses empty, I suggested we leave behind the jolly crowd for quieter confines, heading a few blocks north to Band of Bohemia, the brewery-meets-beautiful-restaurant opened last year by two Alinea veterans: former head sommelier Craig Sindelar and former baker Michael Carroll, who has turned his talents toward brewing.

Settling in at the bar, we ordered more snacks and a flight each ($15). Each of the five pours was delicious in its own right, but one stood out as a liquid manifestation of that autumn day: the pear fenugreek wheat ale, a seasonal brew that won’t be around for long.

On the nose, the softest whiff of maple sugar escaped the glass, bready and sweet and warm, not unlike the smell of maple syrup itself when poured over just-made pancakes. The palate, too, was soft and comforting, the pleasant, mouth-filling fizz commingling with subtle pear and aniselike flavors.

It was October in a glass — full of change and flux, but as comforting as an old friend coming for a visit.

Warm Weather Bubbles

It’s summer here in New York City. Or, you’d think it was, given the bonkers warm weather we’re dealing with right now. This time last year, the world was a wet, dark place, one of slushy, knee-deep puddles of dirty melting snow and crowded subway rides thanks to everyone wearing downy sleeping-bags-as-jackets. (Thanks, Canada Goose.)

But today? A pleasant 60 degrees with just a hint of crisp winter air. People were wearing shorts! I mean, come on.

Now normally, I hate summer. I hate being hot, as my islander genes kick into overdrive and turn me into the Swamp Thing. One can only get so naked before decency prevails, while the presence of air conditioning dictates my activity level. That said, this spate of summer-in-winter has actually been pleasant, as there has been no humidity here in Brooklyn. Hallelujah.

I am still confused by it all, though. Not just about what to wear—can I get away with no jacket today? Is my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt too casual?—but what to eat or drink. I’m a creature of comfort, and often let weather or circumstance dictate my meals. If things were normal, you’d find my face hosing down a big ol’ pile of pasta as soon as the mercury even hints at dipping, but with summery weather, I’m instead reaching for (*gasp*) salad. Likewise, I’m shelving my hearty reds (for now).

Francois Chidaine wine

When temps start to creep up, I’m definitely fucking heavy with whites, and if you know anything about me, you’d know that I’d prefer it, shall we say, jazzy. Sauntering over to my wine rack today, I found the right bottle, Francois Chidaine’s traditional method sparkling wine. Listen up: This bottle is out of control. Chidaine is a revolutionary in Loire, having made a name for himself with insanely expressive biodynamic wines that remain surprisingly affordable. With a hands off winemaking approach and ultra low yields, his pours are some of the most exciting bottles I have the joy of seeking out.

Like this guy. Hailing from Montlouis-sur-Loire, it is a 100% Chenin Blanc done in the traditional Champagne method. I’m basically feeling fancy and free with this stunner. Its delightfully tight bubbles deliver flavors of ginger, lemon and tangerine, hinting at summer and oysters and all-day beach hangs. True to form for this style of wine, it also smells of pastry, like a freshly made lemon-curd Danish. I downed this bottle over the course of a few hours today, treating myself to some alone time cleaning the kitchen and doing chores.

Sure, that doesn’t sound at all glamorous but what do you think I was gonna do? Enjoy the unseasonably pleasant weather by going to brunch with my friends and sharing this wine? GTFO.

Done is Better than Perfect

I’ve been sitting on this blog now for eight months.

Eight months of generating ideas, practicing my photography, cooking meal after meal, waiting for “the right time” to post… And what do I have to show for it? Eight months of a blank blog taking up all-too-common Internet space, gathering dust.

I’ve been racked with the guilt of the lazy and the restless. I battled myself over what I thought this space should be, trying to define its purpose, how to make it “different” from everything else that’s out there, but in the end, I did nothing.

Until now. Done is better than perfect, and with that, I will enter the wide (and admittedly saturated) world of words and food and drink and travel and just do the damn thing.

…Big breath… and jump.

16 Lessons I’ve Learned After 4 Years in New York

I’ve made it something of a regular occurrence to post anniversary checkins every year at August 15, but this year, my fourth anniversary as a New Yorker came and went. Rather than a long winded essay—as is my wont—I thought it’d be appropriate to post some lessons I’ve learned so far. (Hashtag basic, amirite?) I posted a version of this on my Facebook, so apologies for the repetition.

Without further ado:

It’s ok to cry on the street. It’s even better to cry in an ATM vestibule. Let your account balance be your guide.

If you believe a cab is a quicker way from Point A to Point B, you WILL get stuck in traffic.

More money makes it easier to live here, yes, but don’t underestimate the restorative power of a walk through Central Park while eating a plain slice.

New Yorkers are a lot nicer than their reputation belies. Except the Times Square Cookie Monster. He’s an asshole.

Never tell a cabbie where you’re going until your ass is firmly in seat. Until then, be prepared to “call” the “cops” to “report” your cabbie’s refusal to drive to Brooklyn. Or Queens.

Queens liquor store

Your local bodega always has the best sandwiches. Boar’s Head for president.

New York/Harlem/Brooklyn/Queens is safe. Stop asking, MOM.

It’s ok to leave a date halfway through. Especially when they have to “take a coke break.” Bai, Crazy!

Be nice and smile. At the very least, people will smile back. At most, doors open.

If someone invites you to weekend country escape, TAKE IT. Go to a farm. Visit the North Fork. Travel upstate. Hating the city? Refresh and recharge by getting the fuck out of town.

Avoid liquids in public at all costs. Yes, that was a hot puddle of human garbage you just stepped in. And yes, you did just sit on pee in the subway. Accept the inevitable.

Flowers beneath the Manhattan Bridge

Feeling down? Find a song that makes you strut, put in your headphones and hit the pavement.

Never wait in line. Whatever is inside the door is never worth it. Spoiler: it’s a bar with shitty and expensive drinks.

Tip your bartender, server, busboy, any service person you cross paths with. Tip them well. Service karma is real, and service industry employees are paid too little to put up with shitty customers.

Get out of your neighborhood. Visit Harlem. Take advantage of the Met. Ride the Staten Island ferry. Go to Prospect Park. Eat everything on Arthur Ave. Don’t brag about having “never left the Island.” You sound like an idiot.

Holding hands in public with your boyfriend on a beautiful day is therapeutic. Make a habit of it.

Escape from New York: Long Island


There we were, just wandering through Greenport, Long Island, looking for oysters and wine, when we stumbled upon this buzzy little shack upon the waterfront. Oysters? Check. Wine? You betcha.

Owned and operated by Little Creek Oyster Farm, this little bait and tackle shop was the wheelhouse of a whaling ship in a past life before being brought to shore. Sitting mostly empty for the last few years, its current iteration is bright, laid-back and personality-filled as the headquarters and shipping center for the oyster producer.

As soon as our group walked in, we were greeted with, “Are you my gin-and-tonic people?” Turns out the girl behind the counter was mine and Fiona’s regular server when we used to frequent Two Boots in Grand Central Station for a post-work happy hour drink! It was a pleasant surprise to run into her so far from New York; she recently moved to Greenport toescape city life, and who can blame her? The village, with its waterfront and smattering of shops and restaurants, is at once charming, welcoming and relaxed.

Bait and Tackle Greenport

Little Creek Oysters is stocked with vintage tackle gear, oyster knives, hot sauces and even oyster tasting journals. The main attraction, though, are the buckets of locally grown oysters (current offerings appear on the wall).

We glanced at the menu before rapid-fire ordering a bottle of Muscadet, a bucket of “shuck yourself” oysters and a selection of pickles. After everyone tried their hand at prying open the bivalves, I became the designated shucker in between sips of the crisp, salty white. Talk about a perfect pairing.

More Oysters

shucking materials


Of course, you can always order the platter of oysters (and clams!) pre-shucked, but where’s the fun in that?

Little Creek Oyster Farm
37 Front St, Greenport, NY 11944

Mix it Up: Apricot Collins

This refreshing cocktail upgrades the classic Tom Collins with a hit of melon vodka and seasonal, ripe apricots, resulting in a fruity summer sipper.


Apricot Collins Recipe

1 apricot, quartered
1 sprig mint, plus extra for garnish
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1½ ounces Grey Goose Melon Vodka
Seltzer, to top
Apricot slice, for garnish

In a cocktail mixer, muddle together the sprig of mint and apricot. Top with the lemon juice, syrup and vodka, cover and shake until cold. Strain into a Collins glass with ice. Top with seltzer and garnish with the remaining mint and apricot slice. Serves 1. 

Escape from New York: Hudson, NY

Hudson River Lighthouse

It was just another one of those weekends when Ian and I had nothing on the books, but our need to leave the city was overwhelming. Adventure, or something like it, was calling.

Hudson, NY is by no means an exotic getaway, but it promised some respite from the urban grind. Just two hours via Amtrak from Penn Station, we both knew nothing about it except the direction we needed to head: North. Oh, and rumblings that Hudson and the surrounding region are the “new Brooklyn,” whatever that means.

Matthiasson Rose Label

We traded a sky that threatened rain for the verdant expanse of the Hudson River Valley.  The train ride up was pleasant enough, made all the more pleasant with gentle pop of a Matthiasson rosé, as crisp as the sky we traveled under. Between sips of wine and glances of the sweeping views, we were lulled into many micro catnaps, arriving at our destination just in time for lunch, rested AF.

Ferry lifesaver
The red train station greeted us as we began a short walk to Warren Street, the main drag. The area is marked with hundreds of historic homes, pretty-faced Federals and Victorians lining the quaint thoroughfare. A bevy of galleries, antique shops and small businesses are tucked into ground floor commercial spaces, offering up wares to the city folks who trek out of the way for deals and art that, in the city, would cost a month’s wages.

Ever watch Gilmore Girls? Yeah, Hudson is basically Stars Hollow. Young families strolled the streets, nursing melting ice cream cones from the scoop shop, Lick. Folks ducked into storefronts, greeted by proprietors at the door. Strangers smiled at strangers. It was all some kind of charming.

While we were only in town for a quick overnight, it was enough to whet our palate for more. Having taken a few trips upstate now, we’re increasingly feeling its pull. Here’s to more trips like it.
Sign: Lost Innocence, $6.98

Message in a Bottle: “Dude, It’s Rosé Season”

Some times, you want to wander through Brooklyn on a gorgeous spring Sunday, call up one of your favorite people and share a bottle of wine at the hot neighborhood wine bar. All this before heading to said friend’s place to gorge on a large pizza and scream-chew through Game of Thrones.

It’s all good, so long as the bottle you’ve fortified yourself with is Broc Wine’s rose-gold Cassia Grenache 2013 Mendocino Rosé. ‘Tis the season, after all. Gotta drink it up before the Hamptons get to it. And there’s no better place to do it than June Wine Bar in Cobble Hill. Delicately floral and bright, the Broc has the soft touch one needs before an hour of teeth-grindingly brutal television.

(Pro-tip: While at June, avoid the disapproving gaze of newly minted helicopter moms by steering clear of your bluer haha-material. And don’t trip on the strollers.)

Homesick for Mama’s Cooking: Filipino Garlic Rice

Like other Filipino boys growing up, my brothers and I would wake up on Saturday mornings to the sound of spitting oil and the hiss of garlic, a pungent cloud of hot allium filling the house. It was instinctual: Mom was thirty seconds from adding the last night’s rice to the pan. A minute or so after that, three ravenous little boys eager for grade-A cartoon time would descend on our poor mother, noisily feasting on garlic-studded rice heaps, crowned with an olive-oil fried egg and Jufran banana ketchup, a staple of Pinoy kitchens. We’d make short order of breakfast like locusts plaguing Egypt, before holing up with our Gameboys and TV for the rest of the morning. Dishes could wait.

Growing up, rice was available at every meal. For Mom, rice reaches levels beyond comfort food. Even if pasta graced the table, she’d still make a pot, anticipating her garlicky breakfast the next morning. Rice was mixed into pancit (stir-fried rice noodles—more rice!), accompanied lumpia (rice-paper wrapped egg rolls!) and spooned over adobo chicken (no rice in the dish, probably to my mother’s great shame). I felt like such an adult when my mom taught me how to wash and prep the fluffy, starchy white stuff for dinner, like I was doing my part for providing for the family. If only growing up were so easy.

When I visit home, without fail, there’s a heaping bowl of fried garlic rice awaiting me downstairs in the morning, Mom already digging into her breakfast. These days, I don’t make a lot of rice, but when I do, I always make a bit extra for that next-day hit of nostalgia. I’ll put an egg on it, natch, and I still add some Jufran, but mixed with Korean gochujang for a kick of spice.

Continue reading “Homesick for Mama’s Cooking: Filipino Garlic Rice”

How to Make a French 75

Light, elegant and über-refreshing, the French 75 is the classic cocktail you should be sipping all Spring and Summer.

As cocktails go, I love me a boozy fizzy lifting drink, and few are as classic as the French 75. Like all classic cocktails, it’s history is mired in murk and hearsay, but most people agree that it was likely invented in its current iteration 1927, at the height of Prohibition.

According to, though, the drink may have roots as far back as 1867, when Charles Dickens would sip a drink called the Champagne cup with a boost of Tom gin. And of course, nothing is new under the sun: adding gin to bubbly (plus citrus and sugar) ain’t really all that creative, but it sure as hell is delicious! Continue reading “How to Make a French 75”