Interview with Monica Youn on Blackacre

This interview for the National Book Critics Circle awards originally appeared here.

K I’d like to discuss the first poem, "Palinode." While palinodes are usually a response to a previous poem, we're presented with this one straightaway. I thought initially of Socrates' famous palinode where he first rejects and then praises "mania" and its place in relationships. But then I learned that a palinode is also a term in Scots Law. Can you speak to your decision in opening the book with this device?

M I wanted to position the poem and the book with respect to my life as I had previously understood it, and also with respect to my previous books. My previous books had been preoccupied with desire, romantic and sexual obsession, and much of my life had been spent finding a life partner with whom to settle down and start a family. But I wanted to start this book from a position of failure and reassessment. It’s a statement of self-doubt, and remorse, with regard to a self that I had previously thought of as constituted by desire. How can you disentangle yourself from the desires that have shaped you? And what remains of the self after that?

K  The book handles very difficult themes, particularly shame and judgment in the Hanged Man/Hanged Woman section. What was the role of the “audience” here?

M A lot of the Hanged Man / Hanged Woman poems, especially the portraits, were written with specific people in mind. For example, the hanged woman portraits are about my mother, to the extent that they’re about a single figure. At the time I wrote them, I had reached sort of a point of crisis with my life and the lives of people around me. A lot of things seemed to come to a head around the winter of 2010, spring of 2011, which was when I started the sequence. I had been recently married and received a diagnosis of infertility, which launched us on a multiyear struggle of various treatments until we finally gave up. The initial diagnosis, and the continuing failures, were devastating, both personally and as they affected my marriage. At the same time, my father had left my mother after a marriage of 40 years and she was facing old age without him. She kept telling me she wanted to kill herself. During that time, my father-in-law died and his wife was left a widow. I was also leaving a 15-year legal career and trying to figure out what my life had been about, what I had worked so hard for all those years.

And in the midst of all of these crises, these seismic shifts, I went to Mexico to get away and had my tarot read and the card that came up at the top of the reading was the Hanged Man. And the Hanged Man stood for an inverted perspective – for suspension away from the ordinary events of one’s life and, in some sense, for rebirth; the Hanged Man is not a negative or dark card. And that, of course, layered onto my reading of Francois Villon’s “Ballad of the Hanged Men,” which I had learned in school. Also I’ve always been a mythology buff, so I was also recalling the Norse god Odin, who hung for 9 days on the tree Yggdrasil, and at the end of that ordeal received the gift of the runes, of language.

K Suspension is an interesting point as lot of these poems seem to give perspective on one’s life as being suspended above of it – gaining perspective – and being suspended within it – feeling stuck. Not to tangent too far, but if you had read Gurlesque, it reminded me of that. If these poems existed when that was being published, I feel like the portrait of the Hanged Woman, and many others, could have been front and center.

M It’s funny, to follow that tangent a little… Gurlesque, and a lot of the authors in it, were important to me in trying to figure out tonally what I wanted to do with the book. Especially in the longer-line and prose poems. My default mode is this very clean, minimalist diction, but that wasn’t going to be appropriate for everything I wanted to do. Particularly, I was reading Ariana Reines and Claudia Rankine and Maggie Nelson and Rusty Morrison – although not all of those are Gurlesque writers – but the linguistic texture of those writers was important to me.

K  There seems to be a distance to many poems, but a tender one. How important was tenderness to the book?

M Do you have a particular poem in mind?

K How about Hangman’s Tree? (Yggdrasil)

M Yeah, that is a tender poem because, when writing it, I was thinking about my advice to my mother. I was trying to talk her out of killing herself  – which she did not do – I’m not sure how serious that threat ever was.  But she certainly felt that if the central fact of her life – her marriage – was taken away, she couldn’t figure out how to constitute a self out of what remained. Thankfully, my father eventually came back to her, which was an enormous relief. But trying to render an appropriate tone – as my relationship with my mother has always been difficult – and the tenderness I felt when she finally admitted that she needed help, and singled me out as the only person in whom she confided. There was a new intimacy that had never before existed in our relationship. I felt like we were in a shared situation considering my infertility and marital issues at the time –so much of my life had been spent in the expectation of eventual motherhood, and in my legal career, that the loss of those two assumptions was deeply destabilizing. In giving advice to my mother at this time, I felt like someone who had a slightly better handhold slightly higher up a cliff, talking to someone further down the cliff telling her not to let go.

K Every poem is written with such precision, and yet the sharpness often acts to open the poem further and give way to a variety of interpretations. The acre poems can be read as spaces for the physical and the figurative. Having a legal backdrop & lexicon, do you feel that knowledge allows you to create this nuanced world in these poems?

M I think when you’re writing as a lawyer, you’re always thinking about what lawyers and philosophers call the Kantian Imperative, or what others refer to as the golden rule: if you set a rule for a particular situation, how would it be applicable to all situations that might follow? That’s what it is to construct a legal rule, a law or contract or precedent. Lawyers are always thinking of ways in which phrases will be used in different contexts – a good lawyer has to have that imaginative capacity with regard to language. For example, if you’re drafting contract terms, you think about the way a particular contractual clause will work in the best and worst case scenarios – and it has to function for both or it’s not good legal language. I think that lawyers partake of that hyper-awareness of the infinitely expansive, collaborative nature of language. And I like to think that in poems, I write something and think of the medium not just as the page or language, but also the reader’s mind. What is the reader’s mind making of this? What possibilities are opening up there?

And when I came up with the various acres, I was thinking of that relationship between a given text and its proliferating possibilities. If you start with a given – an artwork, a racial identity, a memory, a particular body with its features and failures – to what extent can your imagination range freely before it is brought up short by the leash that tethers it to the actual, the immutable fact.

And part of my investigation was also excavating those factual frameworks, understanding how deeply rooted they are, how immovable. Particularly with the Blackacre sequence, the framework I was tugging at, digging around wasn’t just the medical fact of infertility, but the legal, economic and social structures that value and control women as reproductive commodities. The shame that surrounds the topic. The stigmatization of the aging, the infertile, the unfaithful female body. The stories we tell our little girls about what women are, what they are valued for.

K Given your legal training, it must be part of your everyday life to just take in information and split it into every angle?

M  The stereotype of lawyers is that they’re risk-averse and a little paranoid because they’re trained to think that way. If you write a contract and you haven’t taken a scenario into account and then it happens to your client, well then, you’ve been a bad lawyer. You’ve gotten your client into a mess that your rule can’t address.

Or when Barack Obama said he was looking for “empathy” as his primary criterion for a Supreme Court justice, the right pilloried him for being a bleeding-heart liberal, but he was talking about something like what I’ve just been talking about. If you’re a justice and you’re deciding a case that will set a precedent – a legal rule – you have to be able to put yourself in a variety of situations, to see how that rule will play out in differently circumstanced lives. For example in the Crawford decision, which upheld the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter-identification law, Justice Stevens, who’s often thought of as a liberal lion of the court, failed in empathy. He simply couldn’t sufficiently imagine a position that was alien to him – the position of being of the many groups of voters who lack certain forms of government-issued identification. That failure of legal reasoning was, at root, a failure of empathy, and a failure of imagination.

K Right, and then translating that mindset to poetry, seeing every angle is so important.

M Yeah, I’m not very interested in language that only works at one level. If you’re going to write that kind of language, why write a poem? Why not write an essay or an op-ed? I’m not often that gripped by poems that merely put forth well-phrased or beautiful statements that the reader is expected to agree with. I feel like poems can do so much more than that.

K So, now I want to move to what I call my Teen Vogue questions. It isn’t as simple as sit-down-and-write for most people. Certain things generally have to coalesce for a poem to happen. Do you have any writing habits you find useful?

M I’m a very infrequent writer. When I do sit down, I think of myself as someone who works in watercolor rather than someone who works in oil. An oil painter will put something down and if it doesn’t work, she’ll scrape off the canvas or start again. And I’m more the type who feels that what I initially write down is indelible and it’s very hard for me to erase the first take of a poem. And so if I don’t get that right, then I’ve ruined the poem. That’s not always true, though. I think I rewrote the Twinkie poem six times from scratch. But I have to start absolutely from scratch in order to revise anything at all. I think that trying to revise a poem by tinkering around with slight alterations and existing phrasing is often a waste of time – you can only achieve marginal improvements that way. If you don’t get it right the first time, you have to start completely over, from as blank a slate as you can manage – otherwise all this redundant scaffolding gets in the way.

K  So do you find yourself thinking through a poem mostly before you get it down?

M Yeah, I usually have a lot of things I’ve collected that I think ought to be in the poem. I’ll create notes and rearrange elements, stare at them for a long time before I really “start.” I talk about it sometimes as super-saturating a solution, but then once the poem precipitates out, then the shape is there, you can’t change that fundamental shape. And I’m very interested in each poem having its own shape. I don’t really understand writers who are content to treat every subject from a particular tone or from the perspective of a particular persona or with a particular formal strategy. I admire a lot of those writers, but I couldn’t do it myself, I’m too self-doubting.

K  That’s interesting because it seems to me that to write such a variety of poems takes confidence and versatility

M Oh no, I think it’s much more about self-doubt. I write something and I think, “I hate myself and the way I write,” and then I write something completely different. It isn’t until they’re all corralled in one manuscript that I start to worry that, “tonally, this is all over the place,” but it probably needs to be all over the place. I don’t think you can get any sharpness of angle if you’re confining yourself to a single perspective, because a single perspective has to be authoritative and multiple perspectives have a lot more freedom. This is probably again where my legal training comes in – that sense of the possibilities tethered to a single word or phrase.

K  What are you working on or writing now, if anything?

M Oh, I can’t write anything now; I never try to write anything very soon after a book comes out. I give myself a year to just read without an agenda. But after that, I’ve been thinking about the topic of deracination – about a truly immigrant identity that isn’t premised on an assumption of an “authentic” relationship to a “home” culture or heritage. Part of that has to do with having a baby son who is half Korean – we were able to find a Korean-American egg donor. How can I pass down to him a sense of a heritage of which I’m largely ignorant? I’ve been talking to a number of younger Asian-American poets lately about a common problem – how we feel the need to “research” our own culture in order to “perform” authenticity. And the question for whom that performance is intended remains open. I’m also thinking about the extent to which that “research” is undertaken through a set of borrowed lenses, various Westernized takes on Asian culture, Ezra Pound, etc.

K How did you writing change after becoming a mother?

M Well, I’ve had to change my writing habits. I’ve always been a residency writer and obviously I can’t do that anymore. The Blackacre sequence I wrote over a series of weekends at a cottage. I couldn’t do that once the baby was born. So, I had to think “I have three hours to write this poem today before my babysitter leaves.” I think 4-5 poems in the book were probably written under those circumstances and I found it worked better than I thought it would.

K What texts have played an important role in your life as a writer?

M When I’m writing I’m in a pretty constant process of digestion and regurgitation. Just call me Lowly Worm. For Blackacre, of course I did some research into Milton, Calvinism, blindness, the valuation and devaluation of woman’s reproductive capabilities. Mythological reading – the Edda, the Georgics, the Aeneid, the Metamorphoses – a slew of Latin classics. The Purgatorio. Children’s books. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. And a slew of my contemporaries who are far too numerous to start to name here.

 

 

 

New Yorker to know: Wine Sommelier Morgan Harris

For more: www.morganwharris.com Twitter/Insta: @morganwharris

Back in early April, thanks to a very generous employer, I found myself at a seven-course wine pairing dinner in a private dining room at Charlie Palmer's Aureole in Midtown. Sometimes I'm not sure how I get this lucky.

I'm really into food and wine, hence much of this blog. I like to think my taste is democratic; I'll just as quickly say yes to a brown-bagged bottle of St. Nicholas alongside a hunk of cheese and a french baguette in Riverside Park as I will to an actually thoughtful Murray's cheese & bubbles pairing class downtown. But if my budget weren't limited, would I still claim my taste buds as democratic? I'm not sure. Something about getting dressed up and going out to eat really spectacular, thoughtful food just indulges an array of childhood dreams. 

Aureole indulged me. Alongside the mouth-watering foie gras, poached lobster, black cod and wagyu beef, I also had the chance to meet wine sommelier, or rather, taste-artist, Morgan Harris. Harris careened about the loud and demanding table with ease, presenting one by one the evening's various wine and food pairings. I was enthralled by the detailed description he provided for each wine and the ease in which he answered any and all of the table's questions.  Afterward, he was kind enough to do a little Q&A with me, which you can now all use as back-pocket knowledge for your next cocktail party.

So, for beginners, what are the pillars of wine pairing? I always thought steak = red and chicken/fish = white. True?

Pairing is funny, people want it to work like arithmetic, e.g. "this plus this equals that," but it's really more of a "guiding principles" situation. In pairing any dish, there's no real "capital A" answer, and since our sense of taste is at least partially acculturated, everyone's going to have a slightly difference bias towards flavor combinations. 

That being said, there are some general principles to look at: 

A. Join or Contrast: Most pairing function on the dynamic of contrasting elements of the dish or harmonizing with them. 

If you have a salad with a tart acidic dressing, you need to have a wine equally as acidic to keep up with or the wine won't taste like much. The acid in the dressing will overwhelm the wine. 

Likewise, if you're dealing with fois gras or a rich, fatty pork belly, contrasting their salty-fatty-unctuous quality with something sweet-and-sour like harmoniously sweet german riesling can be really pleasant. 

B. Ignore the protein (outside of it's fat content), focus on the saucing and sides: 

I tend to think of proteins in terms of "volume" and attempt to correspond that to the intensity of whatever wine I'm pairing, but I don't really think of their flavor, unless it's really particular (mackerel, lamb, game meat). 32-day dry-aged porter house? That's kind of a 9. Salmon filet. A 6 or so, but following that, the most important part is the sauce and it's flavors. Do they seem white or red? 

If the steak is in a cream "au poive" sauce with cheddar pomme dauphine, I might consider a really fat, rich white like Chateauneuf Blanc or a well-made California Viognier. Likewise, if the salmon has beet purée, hen of the woods mushrooms, and roasted fennel, I'm definitely thinking red Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir.

C. When in doubt, richer fuller whites without oak, or lighter, fresher reds, well-made rosé or bubbles. 

If you don't know what everyone's eating, go with wines that play well with others. You might like the rich oak-and-black fruit power of Argentine Malbec, but it's a little inflexible at the table. None of the above wines are going to win a superlative, but they're most of what's in my personal cellar for every-day drinking

I kind of genuinely think there's a white and a red pairing for every dish, and don't forget about other beverages like bubbles, sherry, beer, and saké. But really in the end, just drink what you like and eat what you like, there aren't any "answers" and the only way to make a personal discovery is to take a risk. 

How long can you really keep wine after it's been opened and what are the rules?

To best preserve wine, put everything in the fridge, red or white. Basically, oxygen is what's spoiling your wine when it's open for too long, kind of like browning an apple on the counter. All chemical reactions happen slower at lower temperatures. If you buy one of those vacuum hand-pumps, you can probably get about a week out of a bottle in your fridge. That being said, it's also depending bottling-to-bottling. The 1975 Margaux is going to spoil a lot quicker than the current-vintage New Zealand sauvignon blanc, just due to the delicate, mature nature of the former, and the robust youthful quality of the later. 

But, to be honest, the four glasses in a bottle never last long enough between me and my sommelier roommate to keep anything around for long...

As for the industry, can you give us a quick synopsis of your background and how you came to a career as a sommelier? For many, it sounds like a dream job!

My undergraduate degree is from Emerson College in Theatre and Marketing; I studied the business side of things because I always knew I would need a way support myself while pursuing art. I've also always taken pride in whatever work I was doing, so even through restaurants weren't what I initially "wanted" to do, I wasn't going to suck at something I spent 30-40 hours a week on. 

That lead to learning more about wine and starting to self-educate, which is great in New York because you have over 400 distributors who are all very interested in making sure you understand their product, not to mention the dozens of country advocacy organizations. The dynamic community at the Guild of Sommeliers (guildsomm.com) is a great resource for anyone looking to move into the beverage world. It's the best $100 you could spend on wine and beverage education. Almost all of my knowledge comes from self-educating within this framework, as well as the community around the exams for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

In 2011, I decided to move into wine full-time and managed a wine bar called Corkbuzz in Union Square for two years, and switched to fine dining in early 2014, where I currently work as Senior Sommelier at Aureole restaurant in midtown Manhattan. 

Sounds like you really took advantage of your resources and studied hard to get where you are. But it's not all fun and games, is it?

I do believe the wine business is one of the most dynamic, fun industries on the planet, however, it's not all puppies and roses (or rosés?). Restaurant work is very demanding physically, to say nothing of the hours. Your typical New York sommelier works about 50 hours a week standard, with restaurant fine dining sommeliers regularly pushing over 65 hours a week . 

I have friends who work in 3-star Michelin properties who have tables sit down for a 4+ hour meal at 10:00 PM, and their days start at 10:30 AM sometimes. This obviously has a big impact on your personal life. Try dating anyone in the 9-5/10-6 world when a short day for you is 3PM-1:30AM, and you always work weekends. 

Starting sommeliers only make between $40,000 and $60,000 for at least the first 3-5 years, and if you stay in restaurants, very few jobs pay over $120K or so. Add to this zero paid vacation, spotty employer insurance, and a nearly complete lack of retirement benefits. 

That being said, if you want to taste some of the greatest wine on the planet, meet incredible winemakers, travel lots, and have a strong understanding of the world's most magical agricultural product, then the wine business might be for you!

Okay more on wine... I have this $26 single glass aerator from Williams Sonoma that I'm obsessed with. Should I really be using it on every red? Also, how come I never see somm's aerate/decant wine at the table?

Aeration is one of those mystical wine tropes that you can't draw any hard-and-fast rules for. Almost no youthful wine will be harmed by decanting, but not all of them need it. You can certainly request your sommelier to decant anything (red or white) if you feel you like it. That's part of our service. Besides powerful reds, I'll often offer to decant rich, full whites to raise the temperature a little. 

If I feel a wine is a little ungiving and mute, that's most often when I'll decant. For older, thick-skinned reds (Bordeaux, California Cabernet) decanting is a must since they'll always throw sediment, but delicate, perfumed fully-mature Burgundy from the 1970s or 80s will be "pop and pour" because I'd be kind of worried to lose the wine in the decanter before it's in anyone's glass. Delicate reds from that age bracket often smell amazing for about 15-30 minutes and then fall off a cliff. 

I will always ask a guest before I decant something, since it's more of a gentle suggestion rather than a requirement, but I'll generally only offer for wines that I think are a) going to throw sediment, b) were really tight when I sounded the wine, c) need a temperature adjustment. 

What's the rule about pairing cheese and wine?

You can't call anything in wine a hard-and-fast rule, but cheeses are definitely better (generally) with fruit-driven wines. Think about how jam or honey is often offered side-by-side with cheese. For me, great cheese whites are: dry or slightly off-dry German Riesling, anything from Alsace, Loire Chenin Blanc, lush-and-full styles of domestic Sauvignon Blanc (especially with goat cheese). In reds, definitely avoid anything too oaky or black: Beaujolais, Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, Cotes du Rhone, Montepulciano, and domestic Zinfandel are kind of all quintessential cheese reds for me. Another cheese "hack" is to look at where the cheese comes from and see if they make any wine there. "Grows together goes together" is one of the great hidden rules of pairing. 

And now, for some rapid-fire pairing, selfishly based off my rotating diet.

  • Traditional mac n' cheese: Fatty Cotes du Rhone Blanc
  • Mozzarella & broccoli rabe on a baguette: Austrian Grüner Veltliner
  • Guacamole: Modelo Especial, but well-made California Sauvignon Blanc if we have to do wine
  • Lox & CC on a bagel: Blanc des Noirs Champagne
  • Pepperoni pizza: Chianti
  • Seared scallops and lemon risotto: Any fancy white Burgundy, but Puligny-Montrachet has my heart. 
  • Truffle fries: Blanc des Blancs Champagne (Fried stuff and Champagne, yo)
  • Spicy mapotofu: Harmoniously sweet german riesling (You've got to put that fire out!)
  • Coconut shrimp: Oaked White Rioja 
  • Traditional cannoli: Moscato d'Asti (there's a reason it's one of the most-sold wines in America; it's just yummy!) 
Source: http://media.salon.com/2013/12/wine_clash....

The Nation's Ari Berman on Voting Rights & Why You Should Care

This interview originally appeared on The New School for Writing's website

Kirsten ChenGive Us the Ballot was tremendously rich in history and detailed facts. How did you manage the volume of research needed to complete this?

Ari Berman: Considering the history of voting rights, I had a sprawling amount of time to cover. So, I tried to focus the narrative prior to starting the research. This meant figuring out major themes and “connective tissue”—e.g. characters that could be pulled through the entire narrative, or characters that fully embodied the story we wanted to tell.

And really, I was telling two intertwining narratives: the narrative of revolution and all the good things that have happened since the VRA, and the resulting counterrevolution to that progress. So I focused on finding the through-points that propelled both sides.

I always outline—that’s how I work. As I did the research, the outline would adjust, but I always knew where I was headed.

KC: Did you conduct many interviews? Who was the most interesting to learn more about?

AB: I did conduct a lot of interviews, partly because I’m a journalist so that’s just how I’m used to reporting, but also because there were a lot of things that took place before I was born or before there were good records. While there may have been a newspaper article or some old archives for something that had happened, say, in the sixties in Mississippi, there wasn’t likely to be much TV footage. So, I relied on people’s memory to make me feel like I was there and help bring the story to life. I would look into a case and ask myself: where is the human story behind this? Then I’d talk with whomever I could find: the lawyers involved, the plaintiffs, or family members of them if the plaintiff was deceased.

One of the highlights for me was just being able to spend time with Congressman John Lewis. He’s such a well-known historical figure, but usually everyone asks him the same questions—about Selma, the Bloody Sunday march in ‘65. And I talked about that with him, too, but then I talked with him about everything that happened after. I felt like he really opened up with me then. I was also with him on civil rights pilgrimages in 2013 and 2015 so I had an up-close look traveling with him, too. It was a surreal experience; he’s a legitimate American icon. There were a lot of interesting interviews, but he was kind of the one that had the most moral force.

KC: In Give Us the Ballot, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is positioned as not only a foundational element to the Civil Rights movement, but the absolute key to enforcing the Civil Rights Act. This was also portrayed in the film Selma and more recently on John Oliver, which is when you know something is starting to gain attention. As a political writer and commentator whose finger is on the metaphorical pulse of American society, how much do you feel this “connection” is wholly understood by most citizens and lawmakers?

AB: I don’t think most people know this history. I think they know there was a VRA, but I don’t think they know what it did or what came after its passage. One thing that struck me about the movie Selma was how many people I knew that weren’t aware of the history of Bloody Sunday. That’s really why I wanted to write this book. I pitched the book right after the Supreme Court had heard the Shelby County case challenging the VRA but hadn’t yet come to a decision. But I kind of saw what was coming and knew voting rights would be a big topic. Ultimately, I felt like people didn’t truly know or understand this history, and not only Selma but the 50 years since. So it was really, really important to show that the fight didn’t end in 1965.

KC: The book delves into the many forms of voter oppression – most recently: the myth of voter fraud and the subsequently-produced voter ID laws.  Are these measurements any less blatantly discriminatory now than they were 60 years ago during Jim Crow?

AB: They’re more subtle, but Voter ID laws are just another iteration of poll taxes and literacy tests because they’re an attempt to determine who can and cannot participate in the political process. Technically a voter ID card needs to be made free, but the underlying documents that you need to get the card are not free and not required to be free (e.g. birth certificate). Not only that, but there are people who were born at home in the segregated south who don’t have a birth certificate—and obtaining one can be an expensive and time-consuming process. One woman in the book even had to obtain a lawyer to track down her birth certificate in Louisiana.

KC: Related, you discuss how legislators “fail to protect voting rights by invoking state’s rights.” How much do you think well-crafted vernacular and ideology like “states’ rights” and “voter fraud” plays a part in baiting otherwise-innocent citizens to the wrong side of history?

AB: If you say “voter fraud” enough times, people will just start to believe it. That’s what has happened recently. People see the headline but not the fine print and so the facts (that voter fraud is very rare) are lost. Similarly, in the 1960s “states’ rights” became a big buzzword because who wouldn’t want to be for the right of their states? People started wisening up and realizing they couldn’t use blatantly racist rhetoric anymore, so they started using codewords and it’s been very effective. Plus, when the code words are exposed, they just come up with new code words.

Click here to read the entire interview.

#TBT: A chat with NYPD's Hostage Negotiator and Instructor James Shanahan

NOTE: This was written in the fall of 2012 when I first moved to the city (It originally appeared here). I met Jim at the Jersey Shore where he frequents the same beach club that my parents and I do. He has since become a friend, mentor and sort of "Uncle" to my brother and I. I wanted to post this today around the holiday season as a reminder to us all on how important it is to keep a truly open mind and a truly progressive perspective as we move into 2016 and collectively fight for a better future.

Written by: Kirsten Chen | Edited by: Michael Goodwin

I spot James Shanahan from afar, which is not a particularly trying task, as he’s a smiling 6’ 3” Irish man with a distinct New York accent and presence. I am already acquainted with Jim, and upon seeing me, he simultaneously salutes and waves my direction, and we soon sit down to chat. There is an effervescent quality about him; he is both approachable and playful, generally not the first two characteristics one might attribute to someone in the police force. Nonetheless, it would come as no surprise to anyone that he is, in fact, a long-standing (30+ years), reputable member of the NYPD. Maybe it’s the Irish thing.

Born in Brooklyn and having lived in Manhattan, Jim grew up traversing the general area, and proclaims himself a true “5-borough guy”. It is clear that his upbringing and city surroundings have had a profound impact on his path in life. Many of the men in his family were policemen, and from a young age, his family instilled in him a respect for the job. He even tells me that one of his first memories in life involves the police. In the very brief moments before he divulges why, my mind conjures up an elaborate series of dramatic possibilities. Could it be a valiant story involving some profound historical event? Or perhaps, an unfortunate, personal tragedy? But, alas, Jim goes on to reminisce a simple memory, which, so often, is the most insightful kind, about being a little kid and watching the single, flashing police light on the top of a squad car come down the street, and then seeing an officer step out, clad in blue uniform with the old-school brass buttons on either side. As Jim recalls this story, he says he remembers feeling safe. Clearly, Jim revered the police force and was set in the direction of the law early on. So, it would seem natural for the rest of this conversation to tumble only into the heroic, traditional and goodside of the job. After all, Jim is certainly a “good cop”, if we’re going to play that game. But he is also, as his work further explores and charges, a very in-touch human being.

“In my family, I was taught that ‘Whenever you ever need help, you go to a cop,’“ says Jim. “But, see, I also grew up in New York City and I grew up during the counter-culture, too.  So, I was never blind to the inherent love/hate relationship people have for cops. I understood they were capable of good and bad.” At this, I bring up Jim’s compassion, mentioning that due to the nature of the job, it must be difficult at times to observe the world in a shade other than black or white – to see people and their actions as multifaceted, and in turn, have those people see you, a police officer, as multifaceted. Jim nods and discusses both the necessity and confinement of such strict ways of thinking and acting. He is talking about straddling the line between his identity as a police officer and his identity as an emotionally and mentally complex human. He puts it perfectly when he says, “No matter your job, when you lose your empathy, you lose your humanity. And I firmly believe in keeping a foot in both hemispheres, otherwise, what do you become?”

And so the story continues. In 1978, CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice opened its doors to an eager and prepared JimShanahan. Then, four years later, after a successful college career, Jim was accepted into the NY Housing Authority.

He spent most of the ‘80s  both “walking the beat” and patrolling in squad cars through some of the most “vulnerable, depressed conditions imaginable.” During this time, a lot of things came to light for Jim, including the aforementioned difficulties of dealing with the limited ways citizens saw the police and the limited ways police saw citizens. There was a lack of understanding on both sides –  there were sides to begin with. And in a tale as old as time, the most important fundamental component missing between citizens and the police, who Jim has noted are “the most conspicuous and accessible form of government,” was communication.

 “During that time a few things happened. [Personally] I tread through some very dark moments and dealt with some difficult internal issues,“ Jim says, grazing upon the taxing nature of the job. "Then, [Interacting with the housing population] I was made crucially aware of how important community initiatives and progressive forms of the police system are. Take the Eleanor Bumpurs tragedy. That was a big eye-opener.” Jim is talking about the 1984 Bronx case where Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman, was ordered to be evicted from her apartment by the Housing Authority. In an unfortunate turn of events, an NYPD officer ended up shooting Eleanor dead with two bullets from a 12-gauge shotgun.

Jim had been an active member on the executive board of the former Housing Police Benevolent Association. However, this incident, amongst other environmental and personal factors, motivated him to further impact the community.  Jim says, “Everything that was happening to me or around me during those early years was grist for the mill. I didn’t want to become complacent. I was ready for something more.” I insinuate, to his progressive nature, that Jim wanted to effect change, to which he responds, “Yes, but I also wanted to be affected by change.”

By now, I am so impressed by Jim’s eloquent delivery and his rare ability to story-tell that I’m seriously contemplating whether I should have just recorded this conversation and posted it in its entirety, rather than tried to capture it in highlights. The whole conversation is a highlight! Regardless, it is clear after our exchange of his upbringing and early years in the force that a spark for change was lit up inside Jim at this time. 

And, now for a brief interjection, it might be a good time to introduce Jim’s other hobby/talent/whatever you want to call it - acting. Yes, Jim Shanahan, 30-plus years in the police force is also an … actor? It may seem disconnected with the needs of law enforcement, but Jim’s theatre background has actually been an essential element in his career growth, and in turn, every officer in NYPD’s growth. Logically, this makes perfect sense. Acting is chock-full of that disparity between the police and the people that we’ve already mentioned: communication. 

So, after a few more years of character-building time on the streets, Jim altered his scenery in the early 90s to allow himself a more objective type of learning. He took some time to gain perspective, think creatively and decide on his next move. While on the desk, he also studied ways in which the police force could be improved.  True to his progressive nature, Jim examined prisoners and the ways in which they were developing and growing, rather than just looking at police training. He visited correctional facilities and state penitentiaries and delved deeper into the behaviors and motives that drive people. His forward-thinking research combined with the current events of the time proved to Jim that “there needed to be an alternative to the criminalization of the mentally ill and the demonization of the police in the process.”

Shortly thereafter, being “In the right place at the right time with the right skills,” Jim tells me how a door soon opened for him as a Senior Instructor for Police Academy Special Projects in NYPD’s training academy. Jim went on to teach Tactical Communications (or, Verbal Judo) in collaboration with Verbal Judo creator, Dr. George Thomas, and, really, the rest is all history.

Tactical Communications is based on conflict resolution in human relations, hostage negotiation and critical incident and disaster management. Since its inception in 1996, Jim has taught the course to over 80,000 new and current officers. In 1999, Jim also took a position at his former alma mater for “Adjunct lecturer-Senior Police Instructer” in the program for “Police Handling of Emotionally Disturbed Persons.” With both his communication-based classes and his combination of martial arts training, experience on the job, and acting background, Jim helped transform the way police are trained to communicate and act tremendously. He admits to having made mistakes in the early years, which are, as we know, par for the course, and notes that the classes morphed and matured over time. The main purpose, however, has stuck.

“We wanted to put a face on policemen for the public, but also show these officers how to obtain compliance from citizens in a less stressful or physical manner – it goes both ways,” Jim says. And it certainly has. For such a large organization that is continually in the spotlight and under scrutiny, the NYPD works arduously and openly toward maintaining mutual respect in its city. I feel it pertinent to note that the courtesy and respect shown by and to the NYPD must undoubtedly be culled directly from this program.

Jim continues to explain the need for this training, saying, “How you talk to people has a great impact. The difference between ‘Hey, you need to calm down,’ and ‘It’s going to be alright, help is on the way,’ is enormous.” Reflecting back on my own emotionally outstanding moments, I fully agree that the difference in those two statements is evident. One, I might be slightly soothed into complying and taking deep breaths. The other, I might lunge at someone’s throat and consequently get arrested. So, fine, maybe emotional stability isn’t my greatest strength, but is it most people’s greatest strength when dealing with the law? If a person is dealing with the police, chances are they are at a more fragile state to begin with.

“Police meet people at their absolute worst: the scene of an accident, the victim of an assault, broken at rock bottom.” Then, noting a most recent tragedy, Jim adds, “Walking in front of the Empire State building.”

By now, it is clear that people skills aren’t in higher need in any other profession. It is also clear that Jim believes in what he preaches and that he is very good at it, indeed. Jim has passion. He has passion for progress and unity, both internally and environmentally. He has “the gift of desperation” – the need to soak in all the information he can, make sense of it, and pass it on to as many people as possible, all for the betterment of society. It is altruistic people like Jim, who have the gift of desperation and the skill to pass it forward, that make the world a magnificent and hopeful place.

As we wrap up our discussion, I summarize his work as best as I can and remark that he has helped the NYPD make exceptional strides during his career. Though he certainly has earned bragging rights, Jim remains humble and states, “We just work toward change and hope. That in the future, police will be talking more and doing less.“ Thanks to Jim, it certainly seems that way.

Have your steak and eat it, too.

Call me old school, but I genuinely believe that it is every young, hardworking New Yorker's divine right to occasionally enjoy a fine-dining steakhouse experience. If nothing else, this city is one intricate culinary expedition. When it comes to steakhouses, there are the tried-and-true antique gems entwined with booming new-comers and, well - simply put, it would be a crying shame to not go out for a fancy dinner every now and then. 

For a family visit, The Palm is an undeniable staple. For romance, there's Quality Meats. Pre-theatre, there's Commerce. Post-work, there's Capital Grille. But rarely is there a place that fits naturally and spectacularly into all four categories. Until now, of course.

Last night I had the pristine pleasure of dining at Charlie Palmer Steak on 54th between 5th and Madison. Located steps from Central Park South, 5 minutes from Grand Central, and a stone's throw from the theatre district, CP Steak seems to have found the perfect home. Better yet, it's found the perfect rhythm. Situated on a side street as opposed to an Avenue (amen, to anyone who gets how much of a difference that makes), the restaurant boasts outdoor seating and 3 unique, flowing spaces inside. It feels undeniably special while still feeling... welcoming. It's hard to explain, but it's a mix of the warm decor and subtle ambience, the ease in which the staff glides about, and the modern twist on the music that makes the experience so versatile while still so full of character.

Besides the space, of course, there's the food. CP Steak delivered above and beyond expectations. First off, ingredients are bar none. We had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Ryan Lory just after he finished a conversation with their fish purveyor. He explained the diligence that goes into the selection process and clued us in to their weekly locavore tasting menus, offered on Fridays and Saturdays. I mean, you can truly, actually, honestly taste the freshness and quality of each ingredient. Then there's the execution. The light sauce beneath the tuna tartare is perfect. The quail egg atop the thick-cut bacon is to die for. The truffles? Shaved just right.  And just thinking about the char on the porterhouse is making my mouth water right now. 

I could go on, but I think I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking from here. Plus, I've still got some of that 40 oz porterhouse to work on ;-).


Digital dating in NYC: The good, the bad, and the oh-so-interesting

About two years ago, my friend started dating a guy who she met through Tinder. She was all a-glow about this fella, going so far as to pronounce how much even I would like him. I tend to have very stringent expectations when it comes to my friends' boyfriends, and... well, rightfully so, especially in New York. I mean, it's (probably) a fact that for every well-rounded, winsome gentleman, there's somewhere around 100+ sociopaths to match in this city. As it turned out, this particular beau happened to have a suspicious 7+ Facebook accounts and maybe another girlfriend as well. 'Twas a fail.

That said, though, I also happen to know more than one couple who met through Tinder and are now engaged or happily married.

Quite honestly, this *new* world of digital dating seems to be spectacularly similar to the old world of simply meeting in a bar. After all, as many point out, both methodologies are (at least initially) based primarily on aesthetics and instinct, with a small sprinkling of personality and shared interests. Furthermore, with many dating apps or internet sites, you unquestionably gain more insight into an individual's background than you would have had you stumbled into them at 1am at a pub. Does it replace the value of being set up by friends or meeting organically? Probably not. But let's not discount it all together.

Today on Tangent Pursuit, I bring you (anonymously) the queen of digital dating. Her insight into which apps are worth it versus not, recommendations on how to get started and, mostly, her wild and unique stories should be entertaining enough to get your day started off well.

How did you get into "digital" dating?

I initially started using apps in early 2013 right when Tinder was starting to become popular. I was getting tired of the dating scene in NY and had heard a lot about Tinder so figured I would give it a try. I met up with a handful of guys until I met one who I really got along with and we started dating. I restarted Tinder (and added the other new apps) once this relationship ended. I figured if it worked for me once, why not try again?

Which apps/sites have you used?

Primarily have been app-focused, mainly because I don't want to write a lot/answer a lot of questions and the conversations flow easier in a text-based format than sending long messages back and forth. The apps I use are tinder, hinge, happn, and recently added the league.

Which is the worst/why?

They really all have their pros and cons. Tinder back in the day was great, but now is too diluted with too much variety. Everyone is on tinder... so it's harder to find quality. I like the idea of Happn (like you have to "cross paths" with someone), but it's a little overwhelming the way the display options and they don't notify you when you have a new message.


Which is the best/why?

I would say the best one is Hinge, especially if you are just breaking into the app dating scene. It is not overwhelming (you only get a certain number of matches a day) and you have to have some connection via Facebook (i.e. a friend of a friend of a friend). Therefore, the selection ends up being much better. Plus, it requires you to input your height, which I appreciate because I am a tall girl. A lot of my friends exclusively use Hinge and have had some good experiences.


Can you tell me about the most memorable date?

This is a hard one, as I have had many memorable, or should I say interesting, dates... Basically I should write one of those sex diaries they post on NYMag haha.

I met up with this guy once who sent me very strange, inappropriate page-long texts. He would tell me what he wants to do to me and all these very crazy things. He would even give me options for our date and then would make rules about what I was/wasn't allowed to do. I can't really explain this that well without showing you some of these absurd texts. But they were novels. I initially blew him off a few times - not even that bad, I told him I had plans, but could maybe meet up later and then when it got to be 1am I didn't feel like it. He got pissed at me and I felt bad so I finally agreed to meet him, even with the crazy texts, although I kept telling him how I wasn't going to sleep with him etc due to the nature of these texts. Anyway, we meet for drinks.... scratch that, I drink and he has iced tea because he is 13 years sober. So inevitably I get drunk to make up for it and we go to dinner... after dinner he starts making out of with me on the street, which I sometimes find awkward. He is a real estate broker or something so he offers to show me an empty apartment nearby.... I agree because I don't want to just be standing on the street in the rain anymore. We go to this empty apartment and start making out. I realize I could be here a while and I'm kind of drunk from earlier so long story short we end up having sex. Anyway, we met up again another night after this. I text him later joking about whether we're going to get together again and he sent me an insane text message about how I'm self centered because I didn't ask him about how his day was going or some ridiculous thing. I am doing a bad job at explaining this, but it's hard to explain fully via email. I don't speak to him or hear from him after this.

Another time I had a coffee date with this guy... we were supposed to get dinner that night, but he had to cancel to head out of town so we got coffee instead. Well, I got coffee, he got hot chocolate. I thought we hit it off pretty well, even from our texts after etc. But then he kept being evasive and was dodging hanging out with me, and there were other red signs, particularly that he was a legit Mormon. He never came out and said it, but he would only get hot chocolate, he had like a bunch of siblings and his mom was one of 10, and he went to BYU, a fact he covered up by saying he went to Notre Dame, but when I found him on LinkedIn it said BYU. He blew me off a few times, but would still like text me constantly. Eventually, I found out he has a wife and a kid, which is why he was being sketchy....

I met up with this guy one night for drinks. He was super sweet and we had a good time bar hopping. I found out he didn't even live in NY (was just here for work) and has a 10 year old daughter who he has primary custody of. He was nice though and we were having fun so I drunkenly decided to go back to his hotel room with him.... I texted him a month or so later asking how he was doing and he told me that on his way to the airport, he fell on ice and broke his whole leg and hasn't been able to walk since...

Additionally, when I was in Italy before starting work here, I went on two tinder dates! One was pretty normal... we met up for drinks, he walked me home, made out in front of the duomo. He tried to come home with me, but I didn't think that was a good idea since I was staying in an airbnb by myself in a foreign country. The second one was a little more unconventional. I had matched with this guy in Milan when I first got there, but since had been traveling to other cities. However, we continued to talk while I was in Italy. I had to go back through Milan to go home and was supposed to take the train to the airport, which is far away. He offered to pick me up and drive me to the airport. So I get in this car of basically a total stranger who barely spoke English. He drives me to the airport.... I thought he was just going to drop me off, but he parks and walks me in. He waits for me to check my bag and then we have lunch together at this airport restaurant where we have to spend most of the meal translating what the other is saying. He pays for everything and then walks me to the security line and gives me a hug goodbye.

Overall feelings on the experience so far?

I think it's a great vehicle to put yourself out there and meet people. I consider every date a different experience/story so even if they go bad, at least I've tried. These apps allow you to come across people you might not otherwise and it takes all the BS out of the run around at a bar or wherever people meet. It definitely is a good way to get laid, but there are also a variety of guys looking for a variety of things. My last boyfriend I actually met through Tinder in 2013 so it can happen! My friend met her current boyfriend on Hinge. If you're not good at putting yourself out there at a bar or are more interested in hanging with friends when you go out than trolling for men, these are definitely good options.


What kind of tips would you recommend to people just starting to online date?

I'd recommend that they rip the band aid off and just start meeting people. The only way you'll know if you actually mesh with someone is if you meet them in person. And meeting up with strangers gets easier! The more you do it, the more comfortable you are each time. Don't be discouraged by a bad date (or dates in my case) - they happen to everyone, even my skinny hot friends! Also, keep your options open and don't get invested in only one guy until it's legit. Myself and many friends have been ghosted too many times to count. But if you have other things/guys going on, it doesn't hurt as bad and you won't be as bothered by it.

 

NYC Coffee: Who reigns supreme?

At some point circa 16 years old, I discovered coconut coffee and started drinking it regularly. Having lived across the highway and then some from the nearest Dunkin Donuts, I would drive there early on Monday Mornings to buy one of those extra massive 36-oz cups and a few 8 oz cups to match. Then, I'd keep the larger container in my parents fridge and heat up a cup each morning for the next 3-4 days, satisfying my teenage sweet tooth. After a few weeks of this, however, even my  immature taste buds knew something was wrong. Apparently, old coffee isn't as tasty as a freshly brewed cup. Who'd a thunk it? 

That was my first early lesson on a good cup o' joe: freshly brewed is best. And of course, freshly ground is even better. And good, filtered water is an absolute must.

Over the course of time, I went through various coffee phases. During college, thanks to a hefty monthly food allowance (hey, Dad!) I enjoyed the daily consumption of skinny vanilla lattes from Starbucks. Post college and no longer free-wheeling it off my parents' funds, I formed a McDonald's coffee addiction (and a hash brown one, too, but that's for a different day). Surprisingly, Mccy D's has a solid cup of coffee and it's always $1, regardless the size. But when I really want a good caffeine fix, I go to Rook in my hometown. Without going too deep into the rabbit hole regarding my undying love and obsession with Rook coffee, let me just put it simply: it's the best cup of coffee you will ever taste. They treat coffee beans like any other crop and buy seasonally. They pack the beans in single-serving airtight containers to preserve freshness. And then they make you a freshly ground, freshly brewed (in, of course, good filtered water) delicious cup of coffee. No lattes, no cappuccinos, no frills. Just good coffee from around the world.

So, NOW, with the understanding that there is, very unfortunately, no Rook in NYC (yet!), allow me to suggest my personal favorite coffee joints in the big apple.

For a single-drip AND the best espresso: JOE COFFEE

Quite honestly, if I was giving an award for best experience, it would also go to Joe's. Each shop I have visited is inviting, clean and friendly. 

For a solid cup and a bite: BIRCH 

Always bustling, always reliable. 

For that french-press craving: GREGORY'S 

I'm a french-press fiend. When brewed correctly, it's richer and stronger and I can buzz 12 hours off of it.

For something fancy.. MAGNOLIA BAKERY

Magnolia Bakery does lattes like nobody's business. For a hint of luxury, go late morning on a Saturday, order the chai latte, add a famous cupcake to your order, and then sit back and enjoy breakfast overlooking one of the many cute streets Magnolia happens to be situated on (Ahem, Columbus and W 69th!)

For the best iced coffee... MOLLYS MILK TRUCK

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Available in whole foods and (eventually) most bodegas, this is hands down the best iced coffee you'll ever taste. It has almond milk, agave and some spice to it, but the shot of espresso (RedEye version) really takes it over the top. Plus, Molly's is the ONLY coffee I can consume when hungover - it's that good. 

**when in doubt or when looking for an affordable and reliable option, I always go with street cart coffee. Not only is the cart on 51&7th serving up delicious coffee, but there's nothing quite like putting money directly into the hands of the guy pouring you a cup o joe!

Q&A with John Ridley & 5 Things About American Crime

It's cliche to say to begin a sentence with "it isn't every day..." but it really isn’t every day that you have the chance to meet an Academy Award winning writer. So, when I recently heard that John Ridley would be gracing Norwood Club with his presence, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Beyond taking home the 2013 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years A Slave, Ridley is also the mastermind behind ABC’s current drama, American Crime and is slated to further impress the masses next year with a new Marvel series.

All. Hail.

The talk was moderated by highly esteemed Journalist and author of “Columbine” Dave Cullen, who, surprise, did a phenomenal job co-piloting Ridley as he navigated the American Crime landscape and its spectrum of hot points. Over what seemed to be the shortest hour of all time, I picked up a number of interesting American CrimemorselsHere were my five favorites:

American Crime is not about the trial, it’s about the people.

While the series is centered around a racially charged murder and the ensuing trial, don’t mistake it for an indie Law & Order (though, another thing I learned from the talk was just how difficult writing for Law & Order and all of those plot-always-changing series must be. But, I digress.) American Crime focuses on the multifaceted human aspect of each character and storyline. The show is not meant to exist in definitives, but rather, to flourish in the very gray nature of mankind.

Editing is (almost) everything.

Editors are artists. This was a significant take-away from the discussion. As an audience, we cannot possibly identify key edits in a film or show. After all, that’s the whole point of editing. However, Ridley gave great praise to the American Crime editing team, reminding us once more that what happens behind the cameras is just as critical as what happens in front of them.

American Crime is sort of like… American Horror Story?

And, no, not because of excessive gore, thankfully. American Crime is similar to American Horror story in that, if it returns for a second season, it will present an all new plot with an all new cast in an all new city.

The season was written without regard for commercial breaks.

Again, this is the type of tidbit that most people might shrug their shoulders at. However, anyone in writing-for-TV or TV productions will tell you that to write without regard for commercial breaks is almost unheard of. Think about it: what keeps you from switching the channel when the commercials come on? Sure, you may watch a show regularly and so you may be inclined to stay tuned, but could a quick 2-minute flip to “Big Bang” reallyhurt? Well, if you’re left with a mini cliffhanger, you probably won’t want to risk missing the opening scene upon return. Thus, writing for commercial breaks. However, Ridley’s strategy when taking on American Crime was to write with so much emotional velocity that each and every scene was as powerful and engaging as the next. #Ambition, #achieved.

It was also written mostly by people of color and directed principally by women

Of course, this doesn’t need much explaining. However, in a world and certainly an industry where both groups are largely underrepresented, it is absolutely worth noting.

A HUGE thank you to the Norwood family, Dave Cullen, and of course, Mr. Ridley himself! 

My Favorite Mexican Spots

I am currently eating rice & beans as I’m typing this - with avocado, naturally. I'm also salivating for a margarita.

Needless to say, I love Mexican/Latin American food. It’s delicious, refreshing and healthy. AND it’s affordable – or, at least, it should be (which is partially why neither Dos Caminos nor Rosa Mexicana are on the following list). So, if you dig good margaritas and freshly-made guac, look no further. I’ve got you covered on my favorite Mexican spots in NYC: 

For a Quick Bite… El Mitote, Upper West Side

Fate may have brought me to the Upper West, but El Mitote is keeping me here. Located on 69th & the ever-gorgeous Columbus Ave., this place has the inviting ambiance of a West Village restaurant with the prices and speed of a fast-food joint. El Mitote boasts Mexican sandwiches, akin to Bahn Mi, which I’ve never seen on another menu. While the sandwiches are bomb, my personal favorite is the 3-per-order soft-shell tacos. These come in around $7 and are overflowing with the plumpest shrimp and the freshest, crunchiest cabbage you’ve ever eaten. Each table also gets a slew of homemade condiments and pickled toppings (who doesn’t love condiments?). Mexican beers sit around $5-$6 and the margaritas, while a little higher on the price-scale at $10 ($7 during HH), do come in fun flavors and mason jars.  All of this together gets El Mitote 5 stars for the best bang-for-your-buck!

For a date… Mole, West Village

Located romantically at the corner of Jane and Hudson, Mole is one of those restaurants that remind you of why you love New York so damn much. Al fresco dining is met by a cozy interior, making it welcoming any time of year. The food is fresh, well-presented and often served table-side. Plus, the $5 happy hour gets you everything from Guac to Margs, making it the perfect price point for a first or tenth date. I mostly enjoy Mole because, even though it’s super affordable, it has a semi-upscale, tempered vibe and is the sort of place where you can truly slow down, kick back, and enjoy the one you’re with. 

For the girls… Ofrenda, West Village

New York is a tough place to have a “go-to spot.” There’s just so many bars and restaurants and, being a foodie, it’s hard to go back to a place more than once. That said, Ofrenda is my go-to spot for ladies night. I’ve gone a handful of times, always recommend it, and it never disappoints. It’s situated directly on bustling 7th ave. and is straddled by rainbow-laden gay bars, which makes it all the more easier to keep the energy high and the vibes good. I suggest making a reservation and keeping your party at 6 or less – it’s a small place, but has a great open-air feel to it. The prickly pear and jalepeno margaritas are truly unparalleled and the Queso Fundido and Pork Belly tacos are sure to give you a good drinking base for wherever you head out to next.

Upper West Brunch: Cotta vs. Jacob's Pickles

At some point during senior year of college, my friend Megan and I decided that we were changing career paths. Instead of going into Law and Business, we planned on starting what we dubbed “Brunch Bloggers,” which, as you may have already guessed, included a “job” where we went to brunch and blogged about it. And somehow got paid. While we knew it would be hard work, we figured that if anyone was cut out for it, it was us. We then told our parents about it, to which they responded: No. And even though we’re #IndependentWomen, we were like, okay fine, maybe I see your point. Needless to say, Brunch Bloggers was put on hold.

Temporarily.

Fast forward four years to the present. While we still haven’t figured out a way to get people to pay us to eat, it hasn’t stopped us from doing some serious brunching – serious enough, in fact, that I am now launching a brand new brunch series on Tangent Pursuit! It had to be a series because, let’s get real, it’d be silly to try to fit all of NYC’s amazing brunch options into one post.  To start, I’ll be spotlighting my two favorite jams on the Upper Best – I’m sorry, Upper West Side:

Jacob’s Pickles vs. Osteria Cotta

Jacob's Overview

JP doles out southern food with a Jewish twist in a craftsmen-style restaurant with high-ceilings and an even higher energy. Admittedly, his best dishes aren’t always the healthiest, but the food somehow still remains startlingly refreshing despite this. And there’s a range of options. The fried chicken is, naturally, bomb diggity. My personal favorite go-to item for brunch, though, is The Coop Platter which includes 3 fresh eggs, sterling bacon, sausage patties, heavenly grits, hash browns and a biscuit… for $15. Yes, I dream about it. Pair breakfast with an Apple Pie moonshine, Rosemary Vodka Lemonade or a Bloody with thick-cut bacon and you’re golden.

What else? 

This place is sort of trending right now, so the biggest drawback there is the wait. You can make a reservation only for 6 or more people. Otherwise, be prepared to wait 1-2 hours. As long as you plan for this, it’s not a big deal. They send a text when your table is ready and there’s a number of bars in the area to grab a drink at and kick back (my top suggestions: Café Lalo, E’s Bar and Fred’s)

Osteria Cotta Overview

Cotta specializes in fresh, flavorful Italian in an equally as fresh and airy-yet-homey/wooden atmosphere. They also have a really neat upstairs area with a semi-hidden backroom, which makes it especially romantic in the winter. But, of course, they have an abundance of outdoor seating which makes the place especially coveted in the warmer months, too. Also, IMHO, their pizza is some of the absolute best in the entire city. The brunch menu includes your standard omelets and eggs benedict, but with an Italian flair (think: prosciutto instead of ham, etc.). Their baked eggs in creamy polenta and mushroom or spicy tomato sauce provide a deliciously unique angle to the menu. The Buon Giorno Pizza (which includes eggs, sausage and bacon) also didn’t look too shabby. I’ll be trying that next time.

What else? 

The real kicker? For $24, you can get any brunch entrée and 2 hours of endless cocktails. While it’s not the same craft-cocktail experience you receive over at JP’s, this definitely isn’t your typical midtown boozy brunch. The ingredients are still well thought-out and the presentation matches the taste. Plus, you can change from Bloody > Mimosa > Cotta’s Sangria.

Overall, both have phenomenal food, great prices and awesome wait staff with a young, appealing atmosphere. Jacob’s Pickles is, again, a bit more on trend, but that scene also comes with an added hectic nature as well. If you’re going with a group and can make a reservation, hit up Jacob’s Pickles. If you’re looking for a spur-of-the-moment brunch date with your significant other or a small group of ladies, then Cotta it is!

Q&A with NYC's Chopped Champion Emily Chapman!

While perusing Facebook, you always come across old high school classmates – and some are more interesting than others. Emily Chapman is one of the interesting ones, and truth is, she always has been. Emily always had a genuine edge to her. No one could argue that. So, when photos of her crafting up delicious-looking, handmade delicacies at NYC hotspot Louro started popping up on my newsfeed, I was impressed (and immediately hungry), but I wasn’t necessarily shocked. When she made a status about appearing on Chopped, though? That got me pumped. Being on Chopped is the coolest. thing. ever. I think it’s the most intelligent and creative cooking show on T.V., and the fact that (spoiler alert) Emily won it all gets me psyched! Check out my Q&A with the Louro NYC Chef below.

1.       So, first off, congrats on the win! I would imagine Chopped is one of the most noticeable chef ‘medals’ out there, so to speak. What made you decide to apply and how did you end up getting a spot to compete?
Thanks for the congrats. Funny enough I didn't even sign myself up to be on this show. A friend and fellow chef of mine, Russell Jackson, had worked with me on a few occasions and was really impressed with my passion and drive. When I saw him again a short while after, he had informed me that he had told the Food Network that he knew a chef he felt would rock out on the show (his words, not mine). I thought he was talking about my boss, and I was like wow that's great for Dave! I was then informed that it was not Dave he was implying, but myself.

2.       What were you most nervous/excited about prior to competing, if anything?
 Going on national television is a nervous feeling, regardless of what it's for. A competition is a competition, but you know that millions of people will be watching you. So there really isn't any room for error. Another very stressful aspect is that youre not just representing yourself, but the restaurant you work for and every single chef that has ever trained you. That's a lot of pressure (I mean, if you care about your former chefs). I was excited too. I mean, its a great opportunity that lots of chefs/cooks would love to have, so I was very grateful.

3.       Which ingredient was most challenging and what did you do with it?
The ham steak. I don't know what it is about that thing, but I just dont like it. I remember eating it as a kid, and just not liking it. When I saw it, I was fairly grateful because it was the deciding factor on my final dish. I saw ham, and then lemon lime soda, so I instantly knew I would do a version of pho. I should have taken more time to try and enhance it a bit more, but I knew that the most important aspect of that dish would be executing the broth. I mean, thirty minutes people!

4.       I hear it’s true: you really do see the ingredients right before the clock starts. What is your #1 tip for cooking under such pressure?
Yup, it's true. You see the ingredients in real time. I was actually happy about that. I was glad the show was real. But tips for cooking under pressure? Anyone who saw my episode knows that I was a shakey disaster in the first round. It's just really overwhelming. Theres a clock going, and a LOT of cameras and people following you around and are all up in your face. The thing that switched for me mentally was when I finally figured out my dish. Then it's just having confidence, I cook every day for more than 12 hours. If I don't have a natural instinct to just keep cooking, I shouldn't be in this business! lol

5.       New York City is saturated with good grub. Can you depict your ideal food day and where you would have breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Breakfast... hmm. Not much of a breakfast person. If I do, I just like bagels. Bagels on the Square are my favorite, and Jack's Coffee is my ultimate saving grace (Mad Max is the way to go). Lunch is easy, I'll give you my top three. The beet sandwich at Little Park; a paratha roll from Mirch Masala; or surplus of food, especially soup dumplings, from Hot Kitchen. Dinner for me I have three "go tos" Uncle Boons, Dirt Candy, and call me bias, but Louro.

6.       And finally, there was a part during the introductions where you mentioned currently “having no fear” and that’s something that caught my attention. Because from my personal perspective, I never remember you having any fear. How has cooking brought about, or fine-tuned, your sense of fearlessness?
Having no fear starts with believing in yourself. Once you can do that, there really isn't anything left to be afraid of. Cooking has allowed me to get my self confidence back. Knowing that I am talented, that my strive and prickly personality actually can coincide with one another; that's what this industry has allowed me. I can be myself, feel comfortable doing so, and help round out some edges. (Lord knows, I had(ve) a lot of edges!)

March in NYC

As both the great outdoors and the good people of Facebook have continued to remind us, it’s effing cold and windy outside and this winter feels like it is NEVER going to end.  But it will, and it all starts with March. Or, so we hope, anyway. While you can drink yourself stupid any day of the year, March provides a plethora of opportunities to do so - what with Americans’ deconstructed understanding of St. Patty’s Day and all. Nevertheless, drinking opportunities are aplenty, so I won’t even get into them here. Below are this month’s “Top” events, designed to expand your mind (or your taste buds) rather than kill your brain cells. Enjoy!

1.       BJORK

Call me biased, but this woman is a genius in every sense of the word. Prolific as ever, Bjork is touring New York this spring with a series of intimate shows at City Center and Carnegie Hall. I scooped up tickets early at $50 but, unfortunately for many, they’ve now skyrocketed on Stub Hub. If you can’t afford to catch a show, grab a ticket to NYC’s Governor’s Ball (which you should be doing anyway - $135). She performs on day 2, Saturday. Oh, AND she has her own retrospective on exhibit at MOMA, featuring much of her life’s work thus far, beginning March 8th ($25 to enter MoMA – or free if you’ve got a corporate relationship!)

2.       The Amory Show

Continuing the theme, March is a truly phenomenal month for art in NYC. Sprawled out over two piers (92 & 94), The Armory Show is a breathtaking, immersive display of over 2,000 pieces of art. The breadth and depth of exhibitors is absolutely unparalleled anywhere else in New York. With how large the showcases are, it’s an easy way to spend an evening out.    

3.  Entrepreneurs Festival

Check out a showcase of 80+ startups, plus speakers, panels, parties and roundtables, all taking place at NYU’s Tisch Hall.  

4.      Brisket King

Head over to the Irondale Center in BK to taste endless brisket by competing chefs, along with spirits and craft beer, of course.

5.      New Directors Film Festival

If New York is known for anything, it’s known as the hotspot for up-and-coming talent, regardless the industry. Check out this 10-day event at Lincoln Center and MOMA to see the work of emerging, international filmmakers. +5 for bragging rights and fodder for dinner table discussion.

6.       Flower Festival

Lord knows, we need some color in lives with all this cold. Get out and shoo the winter away at this year’s annual Macy’s Flower Show (who knew this even existed?)

7.      Restaurant Tasting

Head over to the Metropolitan Pavilion and indulge yourself in food samples from 50 restraurants and 35 nations – all chosen by the ever-trusty Village Voice food critics. With your ticket comes complimentary, paired drinks. Naturally.

NYC Restaurant Week Picks 2015

Ah, yes, RESTAURANT WEEK. But before you throw down $38 + tax/tip too quickly, ask yourself this: are you sure it’s worth it? $38 for a three course meal sure sounds like a deal, but for those of us on a budget, it’d be wise to remind ourselves to still choose our restaurants carefully. But alas, have no fear, for I have done all the leg work for you, yet again. Criteria is listed below, based off a similar list I crafted this past summer:

1)     The Restaurant Must Serve Dinner (3 courses - $38)

$25 for lunch is great and all, but I’m not 75 years old so I really don’t have any interest in going out to eat at 1PM. Honestly, when was the last time you went out to lunch, let alone spent $25 on it?

2)     The Cuisine Must Be “Worth it”*

 French, Steak/Seafood, Upscale American New/Classic, Japanese

*If you’re spending $38 per person on Chinese or Mexican, you’re doing it wrong.

3)     The Ratings & Atmosphere Must Be Just Right

All 5 restaurants on the list are well rated, have something unique about them and are curated to keep you warm during this Polar Vortex we’re experiencing.  

 Top 5 Restaurant Week Recommendations

21 Club – Classic American – 23 Zagat – Midtown – Historic Speakeasy

*Manhattan’s Most Prestigious Landmark 2006 Wine & Dine

ACME – American New - 21 Zagat – Noho -  Sexy

*America’s 10 Sexiest Restaurants 2012 Details

Tavern On The Green – American – N/Y Rated – Central Park West – Classic

*Headed by noted chef Jeremiah Tower, recently renovated, in Central Park

Charlie Palmer Steak – Steakhouse – N/Y Rated – Midtown East – Fine Dining

*Surf n’ turf, locavore focus and 400+ wine list

Sarabeth’s CPW – American Comfort – 20 Zagat – Central Park South – Sophisticated Casual

*Traditional stand-by, located on CPS and has oysters on the RW app menu

February's Top 5 Things to do in NYC

February is cold, bleak and boring, right? WRONG. February is, first and foremost, my birthday month. So, ipso facto, it’s fabulous. Between Black History month and Chinese New Year, it’s also a month full of vibrant culture and myriad chances to learn. Not as if there is ever a shortage of things to do and places to go in NYC, but in February, there most certainly isn’t. Plus, in the heart of the local’s winter, February represents a time when most New Yorkers are feeling rested, having finally recovered from the insanity of the holidays, and are ready to get up, get out, and enjoy this frost-bitten city we love to call home.

So kick back and check out this month’s Top 5 in NYC!

See a Broadway Show… for way less!

We’re coming up on the tail-end of 2-for-1 week on Broadway, but there are actually plenty of other ways to score cheap tickets. If you’re not into standing in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square for ½ price tickets day-of (and if you are, kudos, because there are always great deals), then how about becoming a member of New York Show Tix? NYTix lines up all the currently running shows and lists out each one’s various discounts. It’s only $4 a month and they don’t automatically recharge you. It’s definitely the way to go in order to have access to all the information you need without all the footwork and time spent browsing 10 different sites. Oh and P.S. did you know you can usually score standing room only tickets for $27 a pop at the box office the night of a performance?  And did you further know that there’s something called a “lottery” for nearly every show, every night? And that this lottery can score you front-row seats to Book of Mormon for $25? Yeah, you’re welcome.

Make the Most of Restaurant Week

Restaurant week is an interesting thing – it can be an opportunity to take advantage of some great deals, but you have to be careful. Don’t worry, though, that’s why you have me here to guide you in the right direction J.  During the summer, we took advantage of L’Ecole and I would go back in a heartbeat. This winter, I’ve got my eyes on 21 Club. Stay up-to-date with Tangent Pursuit and I’ll be sure to let you in on all the secrets!

Indulge Yourself on Valentine’s Day

Okay, calm down everyone. Valentine’s Day is, indeed, perhaps the cheesiest of hallmark holidays. But, why don’t we take the 3-day weekend and make it mean something more? If you’re coupled up, how about ditching all of the hoopla of dining out and, instead, grabbing a bottle of good champagne and a solid charcuterie platter and hanging in for once? If you’re single, there are plenty of those “stop light” themed dating parties, but my guess is most people despise them. So maybe try reveling in the fact that the only person you have to worry about pampering is yourself? Set up a spa day alone or with friends and relish the care-free day.

Get a Little Cultured

Not only is this Black History Month, but February 19th  also marks the Chinese New Year. Celebrations for Chinese New Year start early and go on for a while, kind of like Mardi Gras, but the main chunk of the celebrations occur from February 18th to February 24th this year. Head over to Flushing Queens or to downtown Manhattan for fireworks and some authentic Chinese New Year celebrating. To gain some insight into Black History, get involved in an NYPL conversation or check out local culture hubs like Symphony Space for their calendar of events. Symphony space has Keep on Keepin’ on, a documentary about the life and times of famed Jazz star Clark Terry Jr. running on Sundays all month. I caught it last year at Tribeca Film Festival and it was well worth it! If you’d like something a little more light-hearted but just as engaging, how about Black Women in Comedy?

See Something Wild

Check out Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MOMA, enjoy the Kinky Film Festival and its opening night Gala, run around in your Undies for a cause (or watch others do so), or head over to Monster Jam for their annual monster truck show. There really is something for everyone, here.

Shopping, Drinking & Jack's Wife Freda

Since the holidays, I've been fairly regimented with my schedule, spending the better part of most nights hibernating, and pretty much just taking it down a few notches. Then, in an awesome, recent twist of events, I got a promotion at work! Naturally, it gave me a burst of energy for the weekend and I wanted to celebrate. While my boyfriend Matt was out of town, I had no problems making a girl’s night of the celebrations and recruited the attendance of my dear friend Taylor (the one who lives right above me.) Unfortunately, when Friday came, it was Tundra-like outside. The frigid temperatures and just the overall drain from the long week had left us without much motivation. So, we decided that the next day, we would do a full girl’s day out.  And in the end, it was a way better choice!

Here was our off-the-cuff itinerary:

In the morning, I woke up feeling super refreshed. Taylor went for a run, but I decided that a solid blow-out and a stroll to Magnolia Bakery would be more than enough of a workout for me. I indulged in a chai latte, which Magnolia  makes wonderfully  and had a cupcake for breakfast because I am a princess, god damn it, and the food pyramid isn’t going to ruin my perfect day.

I then walked up Columbus Ave., marveling as I passed all the luxury, high-end stores and pricey boutiques, and subsequently bought nothing. Like, yes, I got a promotion - but it was more of a “hey, now you can buy yourself lunch a few times a week without feeling guilty” rather than “go splurge on that totally plain $400 shirt.” Seriously, who buys a $400 shirt? Why do they even exist? And does it really work magic on the buyer’s self-esteem? I have so many questions.

Anyway. I finally found my home base at the thrift shop, which is really just a fancy way of saying I shop at Goodwill. But you know what the thing is about Goodwill? They get clothes from the neighborhood they’re in, generally. So, if you happen to live near several trump towers and wealthy Upper West Siders as I do, the local Goodwill is kind of a gold mine. It definitely was for me, and I left with some pretty fabulous pieces, including an all-white, velvet baby-doll tee.  Again, princess.

Taylor and I then made our way down to Soho around 2PM and put our names in at Jack’s Wife Freda for brunch. There are some places in NYC that you go to and expect to wait, so you plan to have a “waiting activity.” Jack’s Wife Freda is one such place. We strolled around the made-for-a-girls-day area for a bit and then parked it at Gatsby bar. There, we kicked off the afternoon with a delicious spicy Bloody Mary, crafted up by the bartender, Jackie, who had really nice skin, in case you were wondering. 

When we returned to JWF an hour later, we were seated in this little nook area and enjoyed a delicious spread that also included a carafe of white wine, because why not.

Afterward, we trudged over to the Lower East, stopping at Libation, a bit more of a high-energy brunch spot, for a friend's birthday. Two large mimosas later, Taylor went down for a nap and I peeled off to the 8th floor gallery at West 52nd for a delightfully mixed art exhibition, which included Leslie Sardinias' work.

After a brief respite, we met back up at Norwood Club in Chelsea and dAnCeD tHe NiGht AwaY until I sufficiently sweat through my velvet top. I then slept for 14 hours & we all lived happily ever after...

 

The Local Tourist: NOHO

With the season calm and the streets free of too many visitors, it's about that time for a new 'Local Tourist' post. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the night out in Noho, first catching a show at The Public Theatre and then dining out at trend-lover's hot spot, ACME. Check out the review below!

The Public Theatre "Here Lies Love"

Did you know that David Byrne from Talking Heads and Fatboy Slim collaborated on an album-turned-play about former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos? Yeah, me neither. While I can't claim to be a complete die-hard fan, I must say that I have never heard a Talking Heads song I didn't like. They're one of those bands that come on and I think to myself: why don't I listen to this more regularly? Needless to say, I was excited to see the show. The verdict? Catchy, edgy and undeniably unique.

The first 10 minutes or so admittedly feel a bit contrived, but perhaps that's more of an issue of suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience member than a responsibility of the cast. Once you emotionally delve into the immersive nature of the production, it is a consuming experience in the best way possible. We were gifted with seats overlooking the show below which, to me, was the way to go. I've done General Admission immersive theatre before at Fuerza Bruta and - again, for me, it detracts from the experience because you can't fully allow yourself to enjoy the show when you're constantly being prodded around and told where to stand (Plus, Fuerza Bruta makes your neck hurt). Unless we're talking Sleep No More where the audience has legitimate free reign of the place, I'm just not a personal fan of on-the-floor immersion.

In sum, Here Lies Love is an emotional performance that takes the audience on an informative and intentional escapade of rock-worthy song and dance. 

ACME

Located a convenient two blocks away, ACME is a trendy foodie's paradise. The atmosphere has a chic warmth to it and the service was welcoming. The crispy salmon skin and the foie gras small plates do a terrific job delivering savory flavor, as does the richly satisfying mushroom risotto. Whether ACME shines brighter on its plates or in its glasses is a tough call, though. Their carefully crafted cocktails feel just as much like a work of art as the food does. From the Bourbon Smash to my Salted-caramel Bourbon Hot Chocolate, every sip and bite felt like a true treat. 

While Here Lies Love is no longer running (at least, for the time being) you can always check out The Public Theater's schedule for the latest shows. And in case you're interested, it looks like ACME's already got their Valentine's Day menu up ;).

Source: http://nycprowler.com/prowler/wp-content/u...

Riding the Subway: DOs and DONTs

Oh the New York City subway...

DON’T get on the empty cart when every other cart is full. It’s not a gift. It’s a trap.

DO hold your breath and shut your mouth if you happen to be on the smelly cart. Everyone knows it’s rough on there and no one needs to hear you complain about it.  Switch at the next stop and be grateful that you have a shower to go home to.

DON’T pre-walk. There’s always somebody on a packed train who feels the need to alert everyone that she’s “getting off at this stop and so please if you could excuse me I’d like to annoyingly wiggle my way to the door while the train is still moving, thank you.” Look, lady, have you ever seen someone get stuck on the train? I didn’t think so. Wait your turn.

DO help tourists get to where they’re going. We were all city first-timers at some point.

DON’T be the reason the doors keep opening. Squeezing onto a sardine-packed happy hour train so poorly that your butt/bag is blocking the doorway is not only uncomfortable but totally unnecessary. This is New York, not D.C.. Another train will be here within 5 minutes.

DO feel okay about picking up your phone for a quick “hey I’m underground – call you right back.” Less than 5 seconds on the phone = no harm, no foul.

DON’T feel okay beginning a full conversation and then yelling “Hello!? Hello are you there? Oh shit, I lost him” into the phone when you inevitably lose service. No sympathy.

DO give up your seat for the elderly, pregnant women and people traveling with small children. Even if you aren’t sure they’d want it, it’s never wrong to at least offer.

DON’T put your purse or belongings on the seat next to you when the train is crowded. If they can’t fit on your lap and you’re grossed out by the floor, welp, you should’ve got an uber, bitch.

DO keep the conversation to a minimum volume. It's great that you don't mind sharing every juicy moment from the night before with your friends, but everyone and their mother (or, in many cases, their child) do not need to be made privy to such details.

DON’T put your make-up on. Everyone is getting second-hand anxiety waiting for you to poke your eye out when the train inevitably stops short. Spackle at home, ladies.

DO use HopStop for navigation, because duh.

DON’T count on it for precise timing, though.

And finally...

DO slide your subway card swiftly through the turnstile. C'mon. We know you can do it.

 

NYC's Top 5 Things To Do in January

January in New York. What to do, what do…

I know I may regret saying this (what, with the impending polar vortex sweeping the country and all) but I love New York in the winter. Once fall fades away and the holiday buzz wears off, there’s just something so romantic about the cold, quieter streets of the city. Less tourists. Less parties. Less hustle. It’s as if the tempo has finally slowed down and we are given permission to truly relax. Want to go to sleep at 9PM on a Friday? Everyone else is doing it! Have an urge to start drinking mulled wine at 2PM on Saturday? Well, you’ve got to stay warm somehow! Feel like trading out your gym session for a walk in the snow? Totally works.

For locals and tourists alike, here are my top 5 ways to get your kicks in January in NYC.  

Ride the Subway with No Pants on | January 11th 

In case you’d like to entertain the little kid inside you or exercise your nudist tendencies, January 11th will be the 14th annual No Pants Subway Ride. Yes, this is a real thing – it started in 2002 and has grown into an international celebration of silliness. Subway riders board the train individually, sans pants, simply going about their daily business and acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Warning: It’s January. You will freeze your buns off. Second Warning: you may get arrested, as has happened in the past. Luckily, if this does happen you won’t actually be charged. Why? Well, because this is New York and there is absolutely nothing illegal about wearing no pants here (see: The Naked Cowboy). Welcome aboard!

Have Some Hot Cocoa

Let's continue the entertain-the-little-kid-inside-you trend, shall we? Time Out has an entire list of the best hot cocoas in town. And yes/duh, many are spiked. I recently indulged in the salted-caramel, bourbon-spiked hot chocolate from Acme in Noho and ohemgee, it was fucking delicious.  So, when the polar vortex inevitably hits and you’re forced out of your apartment for a meet-up, a meeting, or that thing called work, why not piggyback it with a hot-cocoa date? Pretty sure spiked hot chocolate is what being an adult is really all about. 

Play in the Snow at Winter Jam |January 24th 

New York is renowned for being over the top and naturally this trait applies to our playtime as well. Winter Jam is essentially a once-a-year gauranteed snow day. No, you can't get off from work unfortunately (after all, this is still New York). But you are gauranteed snow and fun. This free winter sports festival takes place in Central Park. With sponsors like Mountain Creek and Red Bull, participants are able to ski, snowboard and snowshoe across a pretty wide spread of faux-snow-filled land - all as long as they sign a waiver. It's a great excuse to get outside and into the park for a change and get some of that aforementioned hot cocoa that's bound to be at one of the vendors.

Head to Jazz Fest | January 8th-10th 

Jazz Fest isn't only for New Orleans. While it may not be as vast of a production, the 11th annual NYC Winter Jazz Fest is no joke. This year's line-up includes Marc Ribot & The Young PhiladelphiansSo PercussionRobert Glasper TrioKneebody + DaedelusStrange and Beautiful: The Music of John Lurie and The Lounge Lizards. Taking place at 10 different venues throughout the city, Jazz Fest is as much of a cultural tour as it music tour.  Tickets and festival passes 

Do Some Drinkin'

In case you were concerned (as opposed to relieved) about the city's declining social scene during wintertime, have no fear/you should know better. On January 31st, you can check out the International Great Beer Tasting which grants you access to over 50 breweries from around the globe and plenty of food vendors for a mere $42-$60, depending on when you buy it. You just may need to factor in the cost of a DD since it's in the meadowlands. If you're more of a wino, I've got good news: January also holds a festival for you and it's IN the city for not one but TWO days. Check out Pinot Days at City Winery (a place which I once raved about here) and snag tickets for $75-$120. And if you don't prefer wine or beer, you must be into bourbon (sorry, Vodka, you're not trendy anymore) in which case you should most definitely hit up Porkapalooza on January 24th down in Chelsea.