TooGoodToGo – finally trying it out

Last year, a friend of mine gave me a referral to sign up for an app called TooGoodToGo. The idea behind the app is that many restaurants and grocery stores have fresh food that is left to go to waste at the end of the day, so instead of throwing it out, they can instead charge customers a small fee to take a “grab bag” of food home. I thought that most grocery stores would donate to shelters and people in need, but I suppose that not every food-related business has the resources to facilitate this type of assistance. Either way, when I reviewed which businesses interested me within a short walking distance of us this time last year, I was dismayed at the small list of options. I did not want to do a grocery store (too big of a grab bag, and I could easily get a bunch of stuff I’d never want to eat, or things filled with artificial colors and flavors), and the restaurants nearby that participated were so generic. So I passed and never used my referral offer, which would have given me one free grab bag.

Well, Chris learned about this app this year, so he downloaded it and got us two “test” grab bags: one was from Morton Williams, a grocery store nearby, and the second was near Breads Bakery, which finally was participating at the location close to us. This is what we got:

Morton Williams: Florida Natural orange juice – 52 oz. container, bag of hard-boiled eggs (6), one container of vanilla yogurt, one 8 oz bag of shredded mozzarella cheese

Breads Bakery (Lincoln Center location): Lemon loaf cake, two sesame bread sticks, one mixed vegetable and sunflower seed salad

The orange juice and the lemon loaf cake made both grab bags “worth it,” but I would never get vanilla yogurt with fake sugar in it (ugh), nor would I ever buy pre-shredded cheese (to keep the shape, the shredded cheese is usually coated with some weird, artificial stabilizer that I do not want to get into here). Chris likes to drink juice, but he doesn’t care for plain orange juice. So while it may occasionally be worth it and you can get lucky, I’d stick with businesses that have a much smaller selection of things you’d like, and NOT do a grab bag from a grocery store again.

Rainy weekend days in New York

The weather forecast looked quite bleak for the weekend. It looks like based on a tropical storm coming in, most of the northeast of the U.S. would be covered in rain. This is never fun for us, as we like to be out and about, going from one place to another in a chosen neighborhood that Chris randomly picks. When we saw the rain, Chris got dragged down and didn’t originally want to go out. I insisted we go out, even if it wasn’t that far: why the hell are we going to let a little drizzle prevent us from going outside? It reminded me of many pathetic people I’ve met who have bailed on social plans simply because of a little rain. So what – your whole life has to stop because of some water coming down from the sky? It’s not like it was hailing or as though sheets of rain were coming down nonstop throughout the day.

So we went out — down to Brooklyn to the DeKalb Market Hall. It looks like a lot of other people had a similar idea to us: the place had lots of people roaming around and sitting to eat. The streets actually had a bit of foot traffic. And before we headed back home, we stopped and sat at Debutea, the same bubble tea spot we visited just last month that makes all their own boba and does everything from scratch. Given the rain, the place had very few people in it, which was nice for us, since it meant that Kaia could more freely roam around and not bother anyone. One cute thing she did was she knocked into someone who was seated and scrolling on her phone, and as soon as she bumped into the chair, she immediately said, “Sorry!” The woman was so engrossed on her phone, though, and barely noticed the bump or the fact that a tiny human apologized. I had never witnessed Kaia proactively apologize for anything she’s done, so it was cute and fun to watch.

Neighbor thought I was fat when I was actually pregnant.

Since we moved into this building in 2017, there is a small handful of faces I recognize who are still here, and we oftentimes will say hi and exchange pleasantries. One of these guys used to be in the gym with me pre-pandemic, but since then, he’s always sitting in our building lounge with a direct view of the elevators. So when I get off on that floor, which is the same level as our gym, he generally will always see me get on and off, and we’ll wave to acknowledge each other just to be friendly.

We happened to run into each other in the elevator today when I went to pick up Pookster from school. He asked me how my workouts have been going, and I told him that I might have overworked my legs yesterday because they are extremely sore today. Out of nowhere, he says, “Can I be honest, and I hope you aren’t offended… you have lost, so, SO much weight since last year and look great!”

I was so confused. What is he referring to? I haven’t lost weight since last year…? And then it suddenly hit me, AFTER I got out of the elevator: he likely confused this for when I was actually pregnant — you know, he probably thought I was fat when in reality, I was actually growing and carrying a BABY? Most people’s perceptions of time have been muddied from 2020 through now, so everything seems to blend.

Freakin’ men. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them.

Weekend naps for toddlers: every parent’s challenge

One of the greatest things about daycare/school, at least for our family, is that Kaia is positively peer pressured into a routine, especially the midday nap that happens anywhere between 12-2:45. After the class has their morning activities and lunch, the teachers check and change diapers, then put all the kiddos down for a nap on their little cots. And since day 1, Kaia immediately got into that routine with no fuss at all; the teachers have always said she’s been a good napper and has never resisted napping.

On Saturdays, we usually are out and about, and during that time, Kaia will usually fall asleep and have her nap in the stroller. So during the seven days of the week, Sunday is the worst day for us to get her to actually nap. We’ve tried getting her to sleep on her bed, on our bed, and it rarely works. Napping at home is a nightmare on Sundays. We usually resort to taking her on a stroll to nowhere, on the streets of the Upper West Side, to see if the movement will get her to finally pass out. So this afternoon, when I was pushing her around outside, I noticed all these other parents pushing their babies and toddlers in their strollers, and I thought… are they all trying to get their kids to nap, too?

This afternoon, I was in the elevator at Target trying to go down, and another mom got in with me and her son, who looked to be a similar age to Pookster. She asked me how old Pooks was, and I responded, and found out that her son was just two months older.

“I don’t really need to buy anything; I just need to move to get this kid to nap!” she whispered to me.

“ME, TOO!” I responded, laughing. “I think that’s what every parent of a young child is here in Target for!”

I left Target. I walked up to 77th and Columbus. I took Pooks to the playground. She refused the swing and insisted on running around aimlessly around the play structure. She refused to get on it. I had to fight her to get her back into the stroller. She was clearly exhausted but refusing to sleep. We strolled some more. And more. And more.

…And she finally fell asleep… at 4:15pm.

Little Thailand in New York City

Early on in my time in New York City, I realized that I was in a neighborhood (Elmhurst, and next to another one, Woodside!) that had excellent, authentic Thai food — Thai food that wasn’t extra sweetened with sugar or chili-reduced, but was actually true to the flavors of Thailand. The Thai restaurants of Elmhurst and Woodside do not just have the standard pad thai, pad see ew, or tom yum soup dishes (some actually do not have any of these dishes!), but dishes that regional, super spicy, and unforgiving when it comes to whether you have been exposed only to Americanized Thai food or not.

Today, I went to Elmhurst to have lunch with friends who live in Queens, and we met at a spot called Khao Nom, which I had wanted to try for a while. Part of the reason I wanted to check this spot out was due to its extensive takeout selection for Thai desserts. For the longest time, I had no idea what Thai desserts even were outside of sticky rice with mango, but after living in Elmhurst, I realized that Thai desserts overlap so much with what I was exposed to with Vietnamese desserts — lots of coconut, pandan, palm sugar, fresh exotic fruit (jackfruit! Mango!), and lots of rich flavors. Khao Nom has a large counter in the front where they line up all their desserts which you can take to go. Every day, they have anywhere from 8-12 varieties, and when I entered and saw all these lined up in neat rows, I felt like a kid in a candy shop: I had no idea how to even start narrowing down my selection! All I knew was that I couldn’t leave without fewer than three types.

Today, Khao Nom had kanom buang, which I’d seen frequently on Mark Wiens’s food videos in Thailand: Thai crispy, thin pancakes usually filled with coconut, sweet egg yolk, and even dried shrimp. They had pandan cendol, a cold summer soupy dessert with rich coconut milk and pandan. And just in time for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival at the end of this month, Khao Nom had Thai-style mooncakes. They are very flaky and buttery, filled with mashed mung bean or taro, as well as a small salted duck egg yolk. After much deliberation, I ended up choosing three desserts after our delicious lunch: Thai style taro mooncakes, Tokyo pandan (rolled Thai style pancakes filled with pandan custard), and pandan coconut mini jellies. I loved all three of them.

I was thinking about the vast variety of Thai desserts as I left the restaurant, and I thought: yep. That’s how you know if the area where you are has a high concentration of legit X-cuisine: if they have a BAKERY (or multiple, for that matter!) that can give you these types of treats!

Omakase night out and reflections on how amazing NYC is

I took my friend out for a much belated birthday celebration at a Japanese restaurant in Chelsea this evening. We sat at the counter for our 17-course omakase meal. As much as I love spending time with my Kaia Pookie and keeping her in a routine, it was nice to go out and get a little dressed up, and not have to worry about maneuvering a stroller up and down the subway stairs or into a narrow restaurant.

While at the restaurant, we sat next to a couple that was celebrating the wife’s birthday. We made some small talk and talked about Japan, California, food, and how we all got to New York City. They had previously spent the last eight years living in Japan, half the time in Tokyo and half the time in western Japan. Six of those years were spent teaching English. Though they are both from California originally, they decided to move out to New York after leaving Japan for job opportunities. They talked about how easy and affordable it was in Japan, no matter where they went, to get fresh, tasty, and affordable sushi, and how this is pretty much never the case here in the U.S. and how much they missed it.

I suppose when you live in a place for a long time, there’s always going to be things you will miss about it once you leave. It made me think about living here in New York, and what I would miss once we eventually leave this city. I think out of all the things I’d miss most, it would most definitely be the sheer diversity and variety of people here (which means, the craziest variety of food available!!); based on where I’ve traveled and what I’ve read and heard, I really do not think there’s a more diverse city in the entire world where you could probably be exposed to people from all ends of the earth in one single place. Queens itself is the most diverse place on earth, and that’s just ONE part of New York City! I will always have Queens pride and be proud of the fact that I spent my first four years in New York living in Queens. I’m even getting excited about going back to the specific area, Elmhurst, again this Friday to meet with friends for lunch. I feel like it’s always a mini adventure here in every neighborhood, and I’ve already been here for 15+ years.

Albanian food off of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx

Living in New York City, we are spoiled to have almost every ethnic cuisine on earth represented in this great, big metropolis. Chris and I are also just inherently curious about cultures other than our own, and especially their food, as food is the easiest gateway into learning about another’s culture. While there are certainly many cuisines we have yet to really try, one that we finally tried today was Albanian. And funnily enough, it was in Belmont right off of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. As I was reading about the restaurant we visited (called Cka Ka Qellu, named after a proverb meaning “what we happen to have”), I found out something funny that I hadn’t even though about before: over 20 years ago, a number of ethnic Albanian refugees fled a genocidal conflict in Kosovo, and a lot of them ended up in New York City working in pizza parlors all over town. This explains why a number of the city’s pizza parlors had other side items like cheese and spinach bureks on their menus; it was the Albanians’ way of introducing a taste of their home to New Yorkers who were originally coming in for a slice of pizza.

We had our main Saturday meal at Cka Ka Qellu and had an assortment of delicious dishes, from tarator, like the Albanian version of tzatziki; fasul, a rich white bean soup; and mantia, which are veal meatballs with a choice of being served in a thick, white yogurt sauce (which we, of course, asked for). This quaint, farmhouse-like restaurant even had a pizza oven up front, baking all their fresh breads from scratch. The bread here was soft, pillowy, and incredibly delicious!

Most people wouldn’t guess we’d trek up to Arthur Avenue for Albanian food, but on this trip, we did. We did make sure to pick up some Italian staples, though, like dried pasta, canned San Marzano tomatoes, Italian pork sausage, and fresh mozzarella.

There are so many delicious things to eat in the world, yet so little time. If only we could try something different and new every day!

Wearing sweats or workout shorts as part of my daily uniform

A lot of people speculated that after the height of the pandemic was over, people would tire over “athleisure” wear, like sweats, yoga pants, and gym shorts. While I have noticed on the streets that there are certainly more people dressing up, whether that’s for work, meetings, or fun evenings out, I still notice lots of people who dress exactly like I do: t-shirts, workout shorts, sweats (in the colder months), and really DGAF. Because I work from home full time, the most I will do to “dress up” is to wear a little makeup and perhaps change my top into something that is a little less casual. For more “serious” meetings or when there are higher level people on calls, I “dress up” by putting on a collared shirt or a slightly fancier blouse. That’s usually how you know I am making an “effort.” On the bottom, since no one on a Zoom call can see this, I will always be in shorts in the summer, or sweats in the winter. This is how I roll.

I’m very cognizant of this when I go to Kaia’s school for pickup. I notice the other working parents coming in, likely from an office, in their business or business casual attire. I also notice the ones who likely work from home or freelance wearing t-shirts and shorts like me. The owner of the daycare asked me if I worked remotely full time or was hybrid when he first met me. He obviously knew it was one or the other, and I definitely was not full time in the office just based on how I was dressed — then in shirts and a very casual t-shirt. But now that I work from home and am a mother at that, I genuinely will always prioritize comfort over fashion.

Times have changed: not waiting in crazy lines anymore

I was excited about my pizza outing with my friend visiting last night, but what could have equally gotten me just as excited was the fact that I knew Scarr’s had crazy long lines, but I had somehow snagged a dinner reservation at a prime dinner time. Most of the people who want to eat here are just getting a slice since Scarr’s was originally a slice shop, but hey: who DOESN’T want a place to sit down and enjoy that slice? So when I took the train downtown and walked a few blocks to the restaurant, I was eagerly anticipating a long line, which definitely was in front, when I entered the restaurant. I immediately bypassed the line and tried hard not to make eye contact with anyone in line and walked right in to the host. She asked if I had a reservation, and I told her my name, and to my surprise, she actually seated me right away even though my friend wasn’t with me (she was running late). I took a look at the menu and at the people dining around me. It was actually quite empty, so I wasn’t sure how “booked” this place was according to Resy. A couple of two tops had couples dining around me, plus one family with kids in the single-digit age range. My friend finally came about half an hour later, and she was so ecstatic at the fact that she ignored the long line snaking outside and joined me so quickly. “This is the best New York pizza experience!” she exclaimed.

Ten to fifteen years ago, I would have been happy to wait in that line. I figured then that it was just a right of passage, something you did when you wanted to eat the latest new, trendy thing in New York City. But now, having been in New York over 15 years and having a little toddler running around, my patience has waned. If I can get a reservation, I will check way in advance if I need to so I never have to wait in some crappy line. Many restaurants won’t allow reservations when they are new, but eventually, they will cave in and allow them. And when that does happen, you can count me in on checking the reservation list.

Going out for dinner tonight

A friend of mine is visiting from San Diego from work for a meeting that was last minute, so I’m meeting her for dinner on the Lower East Side tonight. Since Pookster was born, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually gone out for dinner without her. So it always feels a little funny when I think about “going out” at night. I’m so used to being a homebody, both given I work from home full time, and I have a young child, so it’s not unusual for me to not only eat dinner by 5:30, but be in my PJs by 6:30 or 7, and be in bed or on the couch after she’s asleep by 8:30. We’re not meeting late by anyone’s definition, as our dinner reservation is at 5:45, but somehow, it still feels a bit novel to me.

I am excited for where we are going, though. After a few months of reading about them, I’m finally going to try Scarr’s Pizza, which is supposedly one of the best pizza places in all of New York now. As I made the reservation and reviewed the menu, I started remembering that this used to be my weekly life: I’d spend so much time reading about restaurants and what was interesting and planning where to go, but I don’t do much of that anymore. In fact, now I feel very behind when it comes to knowing where all the new or “trendy” places are. So now, I get to do a little bit of what I’ve always loved — tonight!