NYC: a sampling of sweets

I’m a fraud.

Only a few weeks ago, I posted about the new heights of health I’d reached. Through months of careful, committed diet and exercise, I’d gotten to my ideal body composition. I’d dropped to under 20% body fat and built muscle. I looked fit. I felt great.

Then I went to New York. I indulged in every sweet that caught my eye… and gained back every single pound I’d lost. While the results of my regime were very real, they most certainly weren’t maintained. As I write this, my hard-won abs are obscured by a pleasant little layer of padding.

Was it worth it?

You tell me.

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NYC: Dominique Ansel — and yes, the Cronut™

It was still dark outside when I woke up. Murky blue light filtered in through the lightwell, dimly illuminating our New York City flat. Jay lay fast sleep beside me. I got up, got dressed, and slipped out of the building. I was a girl on a mission.

Briskly, I walked down Houston Street, crossing from the East Village into Soho and praying I wouldn’t be too late. From a few blocks away, I spotted the line. Already?, I thought to myself. Hurriedly I placed myself in the queue and breathed a sigh of relief.

I was at Dominique Ansel Bakery… and I was about to get me a Cronut.

If, for some reason, you haven’t heard of a Cronut, then why are you reading this blog? Just kidding. Really, though, this hybrid croissant-doughnut has “rocked” the “food world,” infiltrating “mainstream pop culture” and effectively “going viral.” According to the Cronut 101™ page (yes, really), chef Dominique Ansel spent two months developing his proprietary recipe for laminated, fried and filled dough. Since then, it’s enjoyed nearly hyperbolic popularity, with people going to very great lengths to obtain one. People lose their shit for this baking breakthrough; think five-hour waits, black market prices, and three-week advance reservations. It’s also launched legions of knock-offs — and subsequent copyright infringement lawsuits. What, did you think this was some kind of joke?

It was an absolute given, then, that I’d spend one of my mornings in NYC in pursuit of this popular pastry. On a Wednesday morning, at 7:30 am, I was lucky number 13 in line. Already, there were staff on hand to control the unruly mob [of sleepy tourists with nothing better to do on a weekday]. The employees would periodically make announcements: we would enter in small groups and could buy two Cronuts max; this month’s were flavored with morello cherry and toasted almond cream. About an hour before doors opened, a person donning a chef’s toque used shiny silver tongs to hand out tiny, freshly-baked madeleines: a deliciously light treat, with delightfully crisp edges. This amuse-bouche was followed by small plastic cups of juice, which made me feel like I was running a marathon (except I’d been standing around instead of engaging in physical activity and I was drinking fancy lemonade instead of Gatorade). This also made me feel like I was a mentally unstable person, waiting an inordinately long amount of time for a $5 treat and receiving charity/pity in the form of free samples.

At 8:00 am sharp, none other than the man himself opened the doors to the establishment. By that time, the line had grown and stretched around the tennis court by the shop. As part of the first batch of customers entering, I paused to gaze meaningfully upon Dominique Ansel’s noble visage. He smiled noncommittally back at me. I prayed that some of his brilliance and success had rubbed off on me through our shared moment in time. Satisfied with our exchange, I went inside — and after half an hour, I had the goods.

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NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences

Of all the tourist traps in San Francisco, my favorite is, hands down, the California Academy of Sciences. Granted, I’m not much into historical sight-seeing and I’ve still never stepped foot on Alcatraz Island. All the same, I can’t see very many places offering quite as fascinating an experience as this beloved museum — especially at night.

Each Thursday evening, the Academy opens its doors to the 21 and over crowd. Admission is heavily discounted (from $35 to $10), though you could easily negate the savings by purchasing food and drink, developed by Charles Phan and offered throughout the building. NightLife isn’t just a cash cow, however. The Academy thoughtfully curates their events calendar, offering a new theme each week and often including musical performances, film screenings, interactive games, live animals and even robots. I’ve seen Jens Lekman play in its outdoor patio and danced to Nosaj Thing’s beats in its hallways. It’s so, so much fun.

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Portland, Day 4: Broder, Salt and Straw, & PokPok

I saved the best for last when it came to Portland. I’d heard endless praise for Broder, a Scandinavian cafe, and, of course, chef Andy Ricker’s internationally famous Pok Pok Thai restaurant. In the hopes of beating out weekend waits, I scheduled these hot spots on our holiday Monday. It turned out to be an excellent idea, providing Jay and I with ample time to explore and eat our way through Portland.

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Portland, Night 3: Fly Dragon Spa & Nostrana

Our final night in Portland was marked by some major relaxation and indulgence.

Jay was determined to get a massage while on vacation, which explained how we found ourselves in a reflexology spa on Sunday night. These types of Asian-owned institutions can be found in most major cities, offering full-body massages on the cheap. Never before, though, had I found myself in a space as elaborately decorated as Fly Dragon Spa’s.

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Portland, Night 2: Tasty N Alder, bars, & Biwa

Before our trip, Jay had asked his friends for recommendations on visiting Portland. “Eat and drink… eat and drink… eat and drink,” one person suggested. Unsurprisingly, everyone else echoed the same message. Who are we to ignore such sound advice?

After our transcendental experience at Toro Bravo the other night, Jay and I were eager to return to another of John Gorham’s restaurants for happy hour. We swooped in on some counter stools at Tasty ‘N Alder, right as it was clearing out its bar during the first seating of the night. I highly recommend ordering cocktails, including the English Patient (which involves a lovely mix of Earl Grey tea, floral notes, brandy & bubbly). While chatting with some locals, we couldn’t help noticing, and then ordering, one person’s amazing-looking dish. It was an excellent decision — Jay declared the grilled octopus his favorite bite in all of Portland.

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Portland, Day 2: Mother’s, the Pearl District, & food pods

I had some high hopes for our first full day in Portland: breakfast at the farmers’ market, a daytime bar crawl during the statewide craft beer fest, and a night spent snuggled in the seat of a movie brewpub. Well, my friends, none of these things happened. Pine State Biscuits‘ booth was taking a breather during their off-season, Zwickelmania was way too manic to navigate, and Laurelhurst Theatre sold out the showing we’d wanted to catch. That isn’t to say, however, that we didn’t enjoy our day.

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Portland, Night 1: The Secret Society & Toro Bravo

Our first night in Portland landed on what is invariably one of the busiest dining-out nights of the year: Valentine’s Day. We had originally made reservations at a fancy white-tablecloth restaurant, but after some thought, we nixed that in favor for something more playful and Portland-esque. At around 7:30 pm, we arrived at John Gorham’s famous Toro Bravo, gave the hostess our number, and were told to expect a table three hours out. We were prepared for an obscene wait and so happily retired to the bar upstairs to bide our time.

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Portland, Day 1: Little Bird, Voodoo, & Powell’s

To a girl raised in sunny, seaside suburbs, the Pacific Northwest has always seemed wildly romantic. I imagine cozy gray mists that line the coast and green forests that drip with dew and perfumed with peat. In my mind’s eye, it’s all so rustic and untamed, and yet familiar and comforting. After a lovely trip to Seattle, I was desperate to cross another PNW city off my list. Portland it was.

Unfortunately, as the day approached, I began feeling more than a little anxiety. Snow (!!!) had recently fallen across the city, and a dreary forecast ruined my hopes for an outdoorsy vacation. Not only that, but I was fresh off a month-long, super-strict dietary cleanse. Portland is the land of milk and honey, if milk were booze and honey was street food. I certainly wasn’t going to deprive myself of the city’s legendary cuisine, but I also didn’t want to shock my body with tons of unhealthy food. Well, I’ll tell you right now: I did the latter. My FOMO (fear of missing out) got the better of me, and I indulged. A lot. Let me recount the ways…

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