Chocolate Chip Cookie at Du Jour Bakery

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Chocolate Chip CookieAs the song says, “Grays skies are gonna clear up,” and they have. Finally, after months and months, spring has descended upon us New York mole people in all her green, tuliped, pollen-filled glory. I’ve relocated my Claritin and my SPF 100 (don’t judge; even Angelina agrees that prevention is the best medicine) and have put on my happy face, as instructed.

Mostly. There have been some big changes afoot in my usually quiet life. Patience, children. I’ll tell you about them in due course. For now, suffice to say that I’m more reluctant than ever to leave my lovely little Brooklyn home.

I will divulge, however, that some days are bitter, some days are sweet, and some days require cookies. When I walked into Du Jour Bakery in Park Slope, a neighborhood bakery that opened last year to accolades, I ostensibly wanted something celebratory. Deep down, I really wanted just a cookie.

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There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand at Ample Hills Creamery

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Always MoneyReaders. I am super excited. One of the best television shows of, dare I say it, ALL TIME is about to make its triumphant return. “Arrested Development” will debut its fourth and final season on Netflix beginning May 26. It is safe to say that I, along with many other AD nuts, will be shut-ins until we watch the whole season from start to finish. Better than having a hook for a hand though, right?

Luckily, the creative folks at Ample Hills Creamery, a wonder of a scoop shop in Prospect Heights, are also excited. Ample Hills is something like the Ben & Jerry’s of Brooklyn. They constantly churn out homemade, high quality, farfetched ice cream flavors with lots of textural mix-ins that are incredibly addictive. Their latest is an ode to the moneymaker of everyone’s favorite dysfunctional TV family: There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand.

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Apple Tarte Tatin at Buvette

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Apple Tarte TatinSome people take the Euro approach to vacation, flying out in flocks come August. But for me, mid-April is when I defect. In particular, I like to get out of the country. This explains why I’m always in financial straits, but once you catch the travel bug, you are condemned to always yearn for new places.

This year, unfortunately, I am doomed to stay home while the people around me are enjoying the fjords, fronds, and fromage. I guess there could be worse things. Especially since New York is a great place to “fake it ’til you make it.”

So that is what I am doing. I commenced by heading to Buvette in the West Village, an adorable jewel-box of a restaurant that thankfully tastes as French as it looks.

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Blueberry Strawberry Bran Muffin at Blue Sky Bakery

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Blue Sky MuffinThe time has come when I can now return to normal eating habits. Yes, the three week “cleanse” has come to an end! Ideally, one would take the lessons of the cleanse – eat clean, healthy food; prepare food yourself; leave the processed junk behind – with oneself forever and ever. I… might not. I will try, for sure. In fact, I’ve now done away with all artificial sugar (I know, don’t hate), and I’ve even made friends with a long-reviled appliance, the blender. But some things are definitely coming back in force. Natural sweeteners, yes. Hellooo, dairy. And finally, welcome back, gluten.

Honestly, I’ve never understood folks who go gluten-free but aren’t actually Celiac. Sure, I can get behind eating more fiber-rich whole grains just like the next gal, but what is so bad about whole wheat? If you are not allergic, it can be just as healthy (or more so) than rice flour or some of the other, equally highly-refined gluten-free options.

So what did I do to mark my triumphant return to the world of gluten? I had a muffin.

Not just any muffin. A Blue Sky Bakery muffin.

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Pineapple Coconut Smoothie at Cocktail Bodega

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Pineapple Coconut SmoothieDiet, Week 2. Haven’t ingested a baked, sugary good in more than fifteen days. Feeling well enough. More tired. Less energy. But good, so far.

That is, except for my social life, which has taken a huge hit. Going on a very restrictive diet for more than a week makes you realize just how much New York social circles revolve around food and drink. No happy hours with coworkers. No late night pizza with friends. No quick lunchtime business meeting. No afternoon rendezvous at a coffee shop. What did people do before restaurants, bars, and cafes? Ha, don’t laugh at me. I honestly had to sit and think about activities I could do with friends or coworkers that didn’t involve alcohol or foodstuffs.

There was one catch that I’ve been exploiting, which I have called the Smoothie Loophole. I can drink with friends, so long as the drinks are “virgin” and there is no added sugar. Tricky, and I may have inadvertently failed once, but I got the idea after I met my friend L. at the Lower East Side spot, Cocktail Bodega.

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Raspberry Kanten at Souen

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Raspberry KantenReaders, I have made a huge mistake. Well. Sort of. I went on a diet! No, it isn’t some silly thing to lose boatloads of weight, primarily through ingesting nothing other than cayenne-spiked lemonade. I embarked on this three week journey because recently my food choices have been wayward. There’s been too much takeout and too little healthy home cooking. And thus, a diet was born. It’s nominally a “detox” (I really hate this meaningless term) exclusion diet that prioritizes whole, natural foods over processed and artificial foods. Along the way it cuts out gluten, dairy, meat and poultry, and – gasp! – added sugar.

Luckily for all the Celiacs out there, New York is a veritable wonderland of delicious gluten-free desserts. Unfortunately, even a gluten-free, vegan dessert usually has some form of sweetener, like agave nectar. That’s a no-no for me. The phrase that comes immediately to mind is, “Trapped in a hell of my own making.”

Alright, things aren’t so bad. I’ve adjusted well. Kind of. I’ve only had minor cravings, probably because I don’t eat much processed food and have already cut down on meat in favor of vegetables. But the real conundrum – and believe me, it was a puzzle – has been what to blog about during this diet.

Finally, after a lot of menu searching, I found something that not only fit my dietary constraints, but was not simply fruit salad. The answer: the fruit kanten at macrobiotic spot Souen.

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Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s

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Shamrock Shake

Let me start off this post by saying I was on a short road trip, and road trips make people do the weirdest things. Sing-alongs to 90s favorites like the boy bands (pick your favorite) and balladeers like Celine Dion. Getting trucks to honk their horns in a most juvenile fashion. Scarfing bags of Cheetos and beef jerky.

On this road trip, I didn’t do any of these things. (But I will not vouch for road trips prior.) I did, however, partake of another on-the-road oddity: The bizarrely delectable bounty that is the rest stop fast food court.

What is it about rest stop fast food that makes it so much better than fast food at any other time? Is it the diesel fumes of the nearby gas pumps interfering with our taste buds? Or maybe it’s the psychological imbalance that springs from hours in close confines with several other people that sharpens our pleasure senses. You want, no, need, fat, sugar, and salt, pronto! The rest stop blithely obliges.

So yes, you are seeing that image correctly. There, situated amongst the flying fish nuggets, is a seasonal favorite from McDonald’s. For those unfamiliar, I present to you the Shamrock Shake.

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Mixed Burfee at Spice Corner

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Case Close-upMurray Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan located in the East 20s and 30s, is known for two things:

1) An overabundance of generic bars frequented by polo shirted and mini skirted recent college graduates, whose parents pay for them to live in the overpriced nearby high rises; and

2) A small subsection on Lexington Avenue roughly between E. 25th and E. 30th Streets, home to some of the borough’s most authentic South Asian restaurants, affectionately referred to as “Curry Hill”.

Curry Hill is home to some of my favorite Indian restaurants in the city, as well as a number of South Asian specialty shops, such as spice mecca Kalustyan’s, corner shops stocking the latest Desi flicks, and Indian clothing boutiques. Admittedly, I spend a lot of time in the area, since it is smack between my office and N.’s apartment. Walking to work in the morning, the streets refreshingly devoid of the usual nighttime revelers, I always make sure to go through this avenue for just a quick sniff of the spiced air and a peek at the exuberant windows.

One day on my walk, this view greeted me:
Spice Corner CaseYes, my friends, that is a whole case full of South Asian sweets, housed within a seemingly nondescript shop called Spice Corner. Can you guess how I responded?

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Passion Spice Candy Bar from Liddabit Sweets

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Passion Spice Candy BarI eat a lot of sweets. An embarrassing amount, really. Sometimes, these sweets are noteworthy enough to merit a blog post. In fact, sometimes, I seek them out specifically to blog about them. But most of the time, the sweets I eat are banal, or lackluster, or both, satisfying a biological craving but nothing more. These are the sweets that I scarf on my own time. Work versus play, separate but not necessarily equal.

However, I recently had an experience where a me-sweet was so good, so transcendent, that I felt it would be a shame to stay quiet. You, good readers, should be privy to this knowledge! I shall not be silenced!

Okay, so that was a tad melodramatic, but seriously: this one, the Passion Spice candy bar from Liddabit Sweets, is a winner.

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Schmapple Puddin’ at Sugar Sweet Sunshine

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Schmapple Puddin'As I mentioned in a previous post, dreary February is my birth month, and this past weekend was my birthday. As I battled vicious icy gusts of wind, I longed for the simple, sweet pleasures of summer birthdays: picnics, outdoor beer gardens, cake on a patio. But just because these things will never come true for me, it doesn’t mean that I need to deprive myself of a larger sense of “birthday”. Can’t I still have my cake?

Not always. When I walked into Sugar Sweet Sunshine looking for a classic, birthday layer cake, I was underwhelmed by the selection. SSS does a mean cupcake – and offers quite the selection – but cupcakes often leave me wanting. Too soon devoured, lacking fillings and layers and (often) complexity, cupcakes simply don’t satisfy me the way a stacked piece of cake does. For me, it feels more civilized to eat dessert with a fork.

So, as you probably know by now if you’ve been reading consistently, instead I went for the pudding.

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