2013, a Year in Review in Eating Well and Traveling Often

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy New Year everyone! Time flies when you're having fun, eating well and traveling often - and boy, did 2013 really just fly by.

This New Years Eve, I celebrated with a few close friends and party hopped from a wonderful penthouse overlooking Manhattan to a smaller restaurant event that had an impressive array of sushi platters. Noms...

I was also in bed by around 2AM, which was very impressive (or a sign of old age and maturity) but my body thanks me for it.

I already shared with you the Ten Things I Want to Accomplish in 2014, but before we move too far ahead, I wanted to do a quick look back at the past 12 months. This post includes things that I might or might not have blogged about (bad Shelly), but hopefully will be able to catch up on in the next month or so.

Travel Often

On a blog that's strangely supposed to focus on my food and travel adventures, I sure haven't really posted too much about my travels. In 2013, the majority of my traveling was based in the US the majority this year, with a quick trip across the border to Mexico. Let's take a look...

I kicked off January and the MLK weekend to a short trip to Philly. Did you know that it's only 1.5 hours away from Manhattan? We did a quick Philadelphia City & Food Tour with visits to see the Rocky Statue and Liberty Bell.

And what's a trip to Philly without some Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches? This was my first time trying a cheesesteak in Philly, so of course I had to go to the all the iconic places to try.
There's a great debate between the famous Pat's vs Geno's and which one is better. Another well known one is Jim's which I didn't feel like lived up to the hype, see my Jim's post to see how the three of the compare.

Upstate New York - Buttermilk Falls Inn
In March, J and I took a quick train ride up to Upstate New York to stay a weekend at Buttermilk Falls Inn. A few months prior, I won a giveaway from Well + Good for a spa weekend. I swear I am never this lucky, but was so happy for a wonderful stay.

I'll have to write up a post about my experience because it was so wonderful. From the food to the fun farm visit. Definitely a great weekend getaway!

Vegas - Los Angeles - Santa Barbara
Right after my spa getaway, I went on the Clean Cleanse to gear up for this one month long trip. It started off with a work trip in Vegas and then to Los Angeles where J's bestie took us all over for the biggest LA Food Tour ever.
In between all the eating, we did get to see a few sights, including the Getty Museum which I've managed to not see every time I've been in LA.

On a fun day off, we took a train from LA to Santa Barbara for some wine tasting. I never knew there were so many small wineries in Santa Barbra. Such an easy day trip for seafood, wine and great views. Not to mention, great company of course. (Also insanely jealous of me right now looking back at this flip-flop weather as I'm writing this in the cold cold NYC winter.)

A few of my friends have been to Coachella for years now, but I figured I better check out what it was all about before I get too tired to attend 3-day festivals. We rented a house with a beautiful back yard view of the mountains (see photo above for the pano I took in our backyard). It was so fun to hang out with my college friends who I rarely see now that I live in New York.

Prior to this, I've only been to concerts and never a music festival. In the midst of beautiful dessert sunsets, crazy lasers, palm trees, and sand storms. Coachella really helped reinvigorate my interest in new music. My favorite artists this lineup was The XX and Phoenix.

San Franciso/Bay Area
Since we were in California already, of course J and I had to go visit our hometown in the Bay Area. I was pretty "pictured out" from my long trip, so I took a lot fewer pictures. I can promise you that our trip involved a lot of picnicking in Dolores Park (look at that view!) and food from Bi Rite. Living in New York also means no good Mexican food, so I took a few trips to Taqueria Cancun for some burritos. Soo sooo good.

Speaking of good food, a trip to San Francisco definitely means a trip to Hog Island Oyster Co. for my favorite clam chowder. They serve whole clams in their version which makes it super fun to scoop up the chowder with. The chowder itself is light enough to sip but thick enough so that it's not just cream.

In Oakland, I was able to coerce my cousin into making a Homemade Bo Ssam for me. Seeing how easy it was to make, I don't know if I'd spend $200 at Momofuku Ssam Bar for the same thing. Though, there is much to be said for not having to spend 5-6 hours making it and cleaning up. :)

Outstanding in the Field in Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts 

In September, a few friends and I took a 2.5 hour road trip to Shaker Village in Massachusetts for the most epic farm-to-table experience ever, Outstanding in the Field.

After a great cocktail hour with passed hors d'oeuvre, we had a tour of the farm and got to know about the Shaker Village history. Then we had a multi-course meal prepared with all fresh ingredients from the farm and other local sources. A fun foodie trip that ended in complete darkness, it was great to be away from the busy city of Manhattan for just a day.  

Wedding at Sea: Golden Princess Cruise to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico
In September, my cousin had her wedding on a cruise, so it was a great excuse for a mini-vacation and time with family. Her wedding was on a sea day and we were able to catch the two love birds right at sunset. Food-wise, I was a tad disappointed with the cruise as I've had amazing meals on other trips before. I'll do a recap of this later in this month :).

Shortly after the wedding at sea, I headed off to Austin for Austin City Limits. I've always wanted to go to Austin because of all the great things I've heard about the city - the food, culture, just everything! So I headed off to my second music festival of the year.

The lineup at Austin City Limits was about 100x better than Coachella, the crowd was a bit more mellow and relaxed. Favorites were definitely Muse, Kings of Leon and an epic moment during the Kaskade set when it started pouring during "Young and Beautiful". Pure magic.

The rain was pouring like crazy the second night, and even flooded Zilker Park in Austin so the 3rd day of the festival was cancelled. We turned a frown upside down by renting a ZipCar and making our way to the famous Salt Lick for some delicious Texan BBQ. Highly recommended.

Unlike the past two years in New York where I cooked my Thanksgiving meals, I went over to Boston to visit my bestie who's studying there for grad school. She took us around to many good eats including Neptune's Oyster which has the biggest lobster roll I've ever seen. Pure decadence.

Being in Boston quickly reminded me of how to be grateful of New York's slightly warmer weather. But it was great to finally spend a few days in Boston to visit!

Eat Well // Dining Out

2013 was the second time that I've done the Clean Program Cleanse and with a goal to blog about my experiences, I thought I did pretty well in my goal of documenting the progression of my cleanse. This second time around, I discovered some great places to eat clean in the city.

One of my favorite places to eat was Beyond Sushi, a vegan sushi restaurant near Union Square. Not only is this place affordable (~$6.50 a roll!) but super delicious.

Another clean favorite is Quintessence where they serve these amazing Scallion Cream Cheese rolls. I dream of these rolls and am hoping to recreate them myself this year.

Another place that stole my heart this year was Desnuda in Williamsburg. Their $1 oysters during happy hour is served with 3 different house-made sauces, each of them giving the oyster it's unique flavor. This reminds me I really have to go back soon...

Was also able to try two of David Chang's large format meals. The Bo Ssam at Momofuku Ssam Bar and Fried Chicken at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Of the two, the Bo Ssam was definitely more impressive and delicious for us to share. I would skip the Fried Chicken at Noodle Bar and go to Mad for Chicken in K-Town instead.

In the land of sweets, I wrote about Doughnut Plant, a dearly beloved place for fancy doughnuts in NYC. If you're into doughnuts, do not pass this place up. My personal favorite is their creme brûlée donut that has a glistening top and creme in the inside. I even got a shoutout from Doughtnut Plant for my blog post about "Pre-brunching" with an amazing pastry.

And what irresponsible New York food blogger would I be if I didn't briefly mention the Cronut in this 2013 post. This mix between a donut and croissant has definitely gotten everyone's panties in a bunch and lining up hours and hours and HOURS, (did I mention hours?) for a taste of this pastry. Personally, I think that in the battle between the doughssant from Chikalicious and Cronuts, the doughssant is good enough as a substitute without ANY of the wait.

This year in fine dining, I was able to go to Marea twice to visit dear friend, Chef Tony who is now the Pastry Chef at Marea! In November, I went with a large group and we tried every single dessert on the menu. Of course all of them are amazing, but my favorites are the Panna Cotta and Semifreddo. Yum!

Speaking of fine-dining, who could forget my epic fail meal at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare where I debated how important is food versus service. Usually I'd say food, but at a 3 michelin star restaurant, service is important too. In short, I found sand in my langoustine, was given attitude by Chef César Ramirez after pointing it out. As Michelle in Full House loves to say, HOW RUDE!

Anyway, I choose to be an optimist and will forever remember the meal as the place I experienced the magic of the heavenly combo of Hokkaido Uni and Black Truffle on a piece of perfectly toasted brioche bread. Pure perfection.

Truffles with uni, or how about truffles with chicken? This year, I went to The NoMad - twice -  for their roast chicken dish. Chicken that's stuffed with a foie gras and truffle stuffing under the skin is undoubtedly the most flavorful and most chicken breast I've ever had at any restaurant. Definitely recommended.

For my birthday this year, J brought me to Sushi Nakazawa by Daisuke Nakazawa, apprentice to the acclaimed Sukiyabashi Jiro in Japan. This was my first ever omakase experience and it was one I will never forget. Pete Wells from the New York Times loved this place so much, he went back to visit 4 times in the span of a month and gave it a 4 star review, helping it join the ranks of EMP and Per Se in his eyes. Well deserved, and now I'm forever spoiled.

Ended the year with a bang at Jean-Georges for their lunch steal - $39 for 2 dishes. That's unheard of for a 3-Michelin Star restaurant. What took me so long to do this? It's because I thought this amazing deal was only for weekdays but finally took writing up this blog post and some quick research to find out that I'm wrong. Anyway, order any fish dish here and you won't regret it. My foie brûlée was not shabby either. ;)

Eat Well // Cooking

Having moved apartments this year and now having a pretty much non-existant kitchen, I cooked a lot but found it pretty difficult to take pictures of the foods I've made. One of my favorites of this year is this Smoked Paprika Isreali Couscous Salad, which is light enough for you to feel healthy but rich and flavorful enough to bring to a potluck.

A surprisingly searched for recipe is for my Pork and Daikon soup. Feeling sooooo cold right now, i can understand why. Everyone wants a taste of homemade Chinese soup. Those pictures weren't that pretty though, so I re-did that recipe with a little twist, Pork and Corn soup. I love the sweetness that corn brings to the soup and it's great to eat afterwards.

When I'm not cooking in my own kitchen, I often try to make friends host and cook things in their bigger apartments. Of course I contribute in labor. An example of this is this Momofuku-style Pork Belly Bun that we made at my friend's place. At a restaurant, I would never dare order more than 1 of these $4.50 pork buns, but making a large batch of these at home totally changes the game. A must try for you pork bun lovers!

I've always been curious about this "spaghetti squash" that supposedly is a vegetable noodle. I love noodles but hate how carb heavy it is, so this is naturally something I need to start eating more of. My first time making this Spaghetti Squash Pasta with Kale & Sausage and it was a success! I can't wait to try more recipes with the spaghetti squash, especially about reading how I should just microwave the squash instead of roasting it for time savings.

Let's end this post with something that's also healthy, these Gluten-Free Spinach Pancakes! Made with eggs, bananas, coconut flour and spinach, these babies are so guilt-free to chomp down and hopefully something I can try more of this year.

More healthy recipes to come on Shelly in Real Life in 2014. Mark my words.

Thanks for reading what is possibly the longest post I've ever written!

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