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Manarola.

I slept through most of our relatively short train ride to the Cinque Terre, missing what my husband later reported was a great, if fleeting, view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With his seat facing backwards, his view was of what the train had already passed, and he couldn’t wake me in time to see it so he decided not to. I was excessively disappointed, and I asked all about it and why not wake me, but I could tell he felt bad about it and I was just making it worse. It was a good moment early in our marriage — he repeatedly said he was sorry, but in the end, I realized I was the one who needed to apologize.

The five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso comprise the Cinque Terre, from south to north. Each is impossibly built into the craggy coastline where the top of the boot curves west toward the south of France. The region is both a national park and a Unesco World Heritage site, and because vehicle access is either limited or nonexistent, most visitors access the area and move between villages by train, ferry, or walking trail. Read the rest of this entry »

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New Orleans has a spring in its step.

I was happy to find, over Memorial Day weekend in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding, that the city appears to be doing better. Much better.

As much was conveyed to me by our taxi driver, a sweet older woman in a brightly colored muumuu who hummed to the jazz music on the radio between our exchanges. I told her I had first traveled there for business in spring, 2008 and returned later that summer. Almost three years had passed since Hurricane Katrina, but the city felt like something terrible had just happened.

No one was walking around in the Business District or Garden District, and what few drunken convention attendees and bachelor parties there were to be found in the French Quarter made the place feel all the more depressing. I stayed at a boutique hotel, a huge studio loft, and a W, all for around $100 a night, which was indicative of a weak local economy. A work contact drove me around what had once been the Ninth Ward but was then mostly cracked cement stairs leading to rotting houses or nothing at all. She showed me Habitat For Humanity’s first completed housing area, dubbed Musicians’ Village, and it was small. Philanthropic attention had long since moved elsewhere.

I started to tear up as we passed the convention center in the taxi cab, and the driver and I had a moment. But as we pulled further into the city, I noticed something was different. There were people everywhere.

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Om curry with dill from LAcha Somtum in Thai Town.

I attended a highly educational and also highly entertaining Zocalo Public Square lecture about food fads on Monday, with journalist David Sax of The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, and it got me thinking about foods that could easily become trendy. My fellow home-cook brother and I exchanged a few emails about it, and here’s my list.

Gochujang
My brother and I are both a little obsessed. Miso, MSG, and fish sauce have all had their moments in the food media spotlight as ways to add flavor, umami, and saltiness to food, so, we wondered, why not one of the most ubiquitous of Korean condiments? Among foodies, it’s not for lack of trying. Gochujang — also known as hot pepper paste or red chili paste or some combination thereof — is a thick, sticky paste of red chilis, sweet rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It’s been in (near constant) use in Korea for about 500 years, since trade routes opened up in the far east, and it is traditionally fermented in the sun. To me, it’s equal parts sweet, salty, and spicy, felt in that order. Some ascribe a fermented stink to it, but I don’t get it. It’s no kimchee. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve made it to about three hundred restaurants in four years in LA, and only one of them was vegetarian, so I’m pretty serious about these meat dishes. Pro: they’re all cheap. Con: none of them photograph well. (And in one case, photos aren’t even allowed.) So, pardon my textiness.

Kitfo
Rosalind’s Ethiopian Cuisine, 1044 S Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles 90019

$11

Rosalind’s is one of my favorite Friday date-night restaurants, and my guy and I buy up Groupons for it as often as they come along. Kitfo is hand-chopped beef served nearly raw with butter, chiles, and other northern African spices. It gets sauteed for mere seconds before being delivered to the table with roll-ups of injera, the light, spongy pancake used to pick up food in Ethiopian dining, the sole utensil in this fun and casual culinary culture. We usually order fried appetizers and a lamb stew besides, and the portions are enormous, so we end up with leftovers. In the morning, we scramble eggs with the leftover tartare for breakfast. And the morning after that, I’m craving Rosalind’s all over again. Read the rest of this entry »

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A recipe for sweetbreads in Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cookbook.

Tripe Alla Parmigiana ($10)
Osteria Mozza

6602 Melrose Avenue, 90038

Tripe has enjoyed quite the rags to riches story over the last fifty years, especially for a cut I’ve heard likened to a wet rag. When my grandmother took my mom to a taping of Julia Child in the late 1960s wherein she prepared tripe, my grandmother reportedly declined to try the dish because it was considered such a throwaway. Today, it can be found on the menus of some of the best restaurants in the country. Case in point: Osteria Mozza. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reykjavik

Iceland didn’t feel exciting to me at first. Disembarking to a wet runway at Keflavik International Airport not long after sunrise, at what felt like 11:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, I thought it was flat, barren, and colorless. I worried I was at the southwest corner of a small and uninteresting island, adrift between continents.

But after spending almost two weeks circling the perimeter of the country, I’m grateful for my uninspiring introduction to the country. Iceland is a cold bath and a hot tub all at once, both alarming and comforting, best eased into slowly. Only hours after that initial misreading, everything about Iceland was surprising to me, and to extents that I’d never experienced in my life before then.

Turns out, Iceland is pretty exciting.

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A string trio in Central Park.

Almost a year to the day after my last carload of belongings disappeared into the Lincoln Tunnel and left Manhattan forever, I found myself approaching the island on the Z train from Jamaica with just a small suitcase at my feet, gazing out the window at the Empire State Building as I had on so many arrivals before. I’d always thought the best ways to experience the Empire State Building were from the observation deck on the 86th floor and from a great distance. Even from my apartment building’s rooftop on 29th and Lexington, just a few blocks away, it never seemed as tall and majestic as it did from Queens.

I needed to see New York again. Living there was never going to be permanent — I had eyes for California — but my fifteen months there inevitably felt like a negligible scratch compared to the deep etchings so many others leave on New York’s weathered surface.

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Frank Bogert Memorial Rodeo.

So said my boyfriend, surprisingly often, who had never actually been to a rodeo until last Christmas, when I gave him the gift of, well, truth — two tickets to the Frank Bogert Memorial Rodeo in Palm Springs, CA.

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Spring in NYC

My mom’s the kind of person who feels like she’s receiving a gift when she gives one, so all she wanted for her birthday was for our family to be there for her present to her mom, a New Yorker inspired weekend of opera and fine dining in New York City. They both celebrate important birthdays this spring, the kind that end on a “0” or “5” and deserve great parties, so we were thrilled to oblige. She — some might say wisely — turned over a lot of the planning to an event planner who already lives in the city and does pro bono work. (I was thrilled just to be asked.) Here’s my story of the experience.

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Lovely photo my mom took in Central Park I am using to signify “Looking forward to new beginnings, while also looking back.”

Well, guys, this is it! In June, I’m moving to Los Angeles. I’ll spend way too much time writing a self-aware, verbose, seemingly contrived evaluation of my time here in the next month. But right now, I just want to post my “To Do In NYC Before I Move” lists and solicit recommendations from friends and colleagues in the comments field for what needs to be included! Because this list might seem a bit short, I’m also posting my “I accomplished this!” list of my last 14 months of culture, dining out, and nightlife.

So please, recommendations! I’m not leaving until I’ve done everything I want to do, and that you convince me I want to do, in this city. And contributions to my “To Do In LA” list are also welcome.

Lists after the jump!

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