Wrapping It Up: 2011

2011 was an epic year in so many ways.  I feel like there is no better way to honor it than by presenting....

My Top Ten

One: Brazil. Three weeks discovering my love for maracuja, hours sifting through forgotten record shops frequented by few in the cities of São Paulo and Salvador and exploring the amazing beaches on the tiny island of Boipeba.

Two: My amazing clients that allowed me to collaborate on projects like this and this and this.

Three: Japan: freshly roasted Chestnuts, hiking around temples in Kyoto, Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japanese Maples at their peak fall foliage, underground whiskey bars and 20 course sushi meals.

Four: Lots of dinner parties in our house including platters of paella, tagines and a Cinco de Mayo feast for 25 people complete with homemade enchiladas, budín de elote, albóndigas and plenty of tequila.

Five: Celebrating my Grandfather's 94th birthday.

Six: My new Specialized road bike that led to numerous trips over the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges and long rides out to the Rockaways for tacos from this place.

Seven: India: My first Indian wedding, camel trekking mere miles from the Pakistani border, afternoons reading overlooking Lake Pichola in Udaipur and getting lost in the blue city of Jodhpur.

Eight: Celebrating three years of marriage to my kick-ass husband who has an amazing company, which despite his crazy travel schedule (platinum status is an understatement) makes me incredibly proud of him.

Nine: Sunsets.  I have never seen more beautiful sunsets than the ones I saw this year, regardless if I was is Brooklyn, Austin, Kyoto or Jaisalmer.  They have all blown my mind.

Ten: Matilda Uni Rose, our 4 year old pug, who is quite honestly, the. best. dog. ever.

So thanks 2011 for all of this amazingness.  2012, bring it.




Where I Am: Austin

I'm in Austin for a few days to soak up everything that is Austin City Limits.  It's a three day marathon of all things music in the 45 acres of Ziker Park.  Some of the bands I'm most looking forward to check out are Arcade Fire, Foster and the People, TV on the Radio, Empire of the Sun, Chromeo, Cut Copy and some new to me--Beardyman, Gary Clark Jr, Young the Giant and Bomba Estereo.



Image via Dan Thibodeau

Read: The Haimish Line

The Haimish Line


Recently I did a little reporting from Kenya and Tanzania before taking a safari with my family. We stayed in seven camps. Some were relatively simple, without electricity or running water. Some were relatively luxurious, with regular showers and even pools.

The simple camps were friendly, warm and familial. We got to know the other guests at big, communal dinner tables. At one camp we got to play soccer with the staff on a vast field in the Serengeti before an audience of wildebeests. At another camp, we had impromptu spear-throwing and archery competitions with the kitchen staff. Two of the Maasai guides led my youngest son and me on spontaneous mock hunts — stalking our “prey” on foot through ravines and across streams. I can tell you that this is the definition of heaven for a 12-year-old boy, and for someone with the emotional maturity of one.

The more elegant camps felt colder. At one, each family had its own dinner table, so we didn’t get to know the other guests. The tents were spread farther apart. We also didn’t get to know the staff, who served us mostly as waiters, the way they would at a nice hotel.

I know only one word to describe what the simpler camps had and the more luxurious camps lacked: haimish. It’s a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.

It occurred to me that when we moved from a simple camp to a more luxurious camp, we crossed an invisible Haimish Line. The simpler camps had it, the more comfortable ones did not.

This is a generalized phenomenon, which applies to other aspects of life. Often, as we spend more on something, what we gain in privacy and elegance we lose in spontaneous sociability.

I once visited a university that had a large, lavishly financed Hillel House to serve as a Jewish center on campus. But the students told me they preferred the Chabad House nearby, which was run by the orthodox Lubavitchers. At the Chabad house, the sofas were tattered and the rooms cramped, but, the students said, it was more haimish.

Restaurants and bars can exist on either side of the Haimish Line. At some diners and family restaurants, people are more comfortable leaning back, laughing loud, interrupting more and sweeping one another up in a collective euphoria. They talk more to the servers, and even across tables. At nicer restaurants, the food is better, the atmosphere is more refined, but there is a tighter code about what is permissible.

Hotels can exist on either side of the Haimish Line. You’ll find multiple generations at a Comfort Inn breakfast area, and people are likely to exchange pleasantries over the waffle machine. At a four-star hotel’s breakfast dining room, people are quietly answering e-mail on their phones.

Whole neighborhoods can exist on either side of the Haimish Line. Alan Ehrenhalt once wrote a great book called “The Lost City,” about the old densely packed Chicago neighborhoods where kids ran from home to home, where people hung out on their stoops. When the people in those neighborhoods made more money, they moved out to more thinly spaced suburbs with bigger homes where they were much less likely to know their neighbors.

In the 1990s, millions of Americans moved outward so they could have bigger houses and bigger lots, even if it meant long commutes. Research by Robert Frank of Cornell suggests this is usually a bad trade-off.

People are often bad at knowing how to spend their money — I’ve been at least as bad as everybody else in this regard. Lottery winners, for example, barely benefit from their new fortunes. When we get some extra income, we spend it on privacy, space and refinement. This has some obvious benefits: let’s not forget the nights at the Comfort Inn when we were trying to fall asleep while lacrosse teams partied in the hallways and the rooms next door. But suddenly we look around and we’re on the wrong side of the Haimish Line.

We also live in a highly individualistic culture. When we’re shopping for a vacation we’re primarily thinking about Where. The travel companies offer brochures showing private beaches and phenomenal sights. But when you come back from vacation, you primarily treasure the memories of Who — the people you met from faraway places, and the lives you came in contact with.

I can’t resist concluding this column with some kernels of consumption advice accumulated by the prominent scholars Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert and Timothy D. Wilson. Surveying the vast literature of happiness research, they suggest: Buy experiences instead of things; buy many small pleasures instead of a few big ones; pay now for things you can look forward to and enjoy later.

To which I’d only add: Sometimes it's best to spend carefully so you can stay south of the Haimish Line.


*photo via www.fearlesstravel.com

Where I'll Be: Smorgasburg

I'm excited.  SUPER excited. This weekend the Brooklyn Flea is launching their new weekend market called Smorgasburg!  Smorgasburg bills itself as a hybrid of sorts.  It will be part farmers market featuring 20 local farms and part food festival with 100+ food vendors of the packaged, cooked, raw, Mason Jar'd, variety.

Here are some of the vendors that will be making an appearance this weekend:

  • Queen's Dahn Tu: Liza Queen, formerly of Greenpoint's Queen's Hideaway, returns from 2 years in Vietnam studying street food to debut her banh xeo (a Vietnamese crepe-style omelette), banh trang tron (a shredded rice paper, green mango, and hard-boiled quail egg salad), and bun (rice vermicelli with grilled meat or vegetables).
  • Shorty Tang & Sons: Casey and Gilley Tang revive the cold sesame noodles their father Shorty made famous at his East Broadway restaurant Hwa Yuan.
  • La Buena: Alex Raij of El Quinto Pino and Txikito takes her famous gazpacho to market, to eat and to go.
  • King's Crumb: John Husby, a Momofuku Noodle Bar chef, Shane Feirstein, a Prime Meats bartender, and Mark Goldman debut their homemade biscuits, served with clotted cream and seasonal jams in the morning and fried chicken in the afternoon.
  • Nana's: Cecile Dyer, pastry chef at Pie 'n' Thighs, covers frozen bananas in chocolate, with coconut, sprinkles, or sea salt.
  • Tin Mustard: Tin Dizdarevic, a veteran of Craftbar, launches his new whole-grain mustard.
  • Speedy Romeo: Justin Bazdarich, a veteran of the Jean-Georges empire, debuts his hand-pulled mozzarella, with toppings such as salsa verde, fig-honey-almond, and oven-dried tomato-basil.

While the market will feature some well know vendors, they are actually positioning Smorgasburg as an incubator for "unknowns and seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurs introducing their “passion projects.” You can read more about the market here.  We'll be there Saturday morning.  Who wants to join us?

Monday Morning Inspiration: Marathon

Yesterday I joined the crowds in Brooklyn and cheered on both friends and strangers at the NYC marathon, which is hands down one of the best reasons to live in NYC. It was an exceptionally beautiful day and the energy from both the runners and the crowd was nothing less then 150% contagious.  Congratulations to all of you who made it happen, particularly my friend Maureen who completed her second marathon!

image via flickr

UPDATE:  Check out this awesome two minute time lapse video

Monday Morning Inspiration: The Sketchbook Project

I'm a fan of sketchbooks.  I  bring one with me on every journey abroad and sleep with a Moleskine by my bed. They are filled with menus from some of my most memorable meals, ticket stubs from my favorite concerts and general observations and collections.  My favorite part about keeping a journal/scrapbook/sketchbook is not the process of filling it up.  Rather, the nostalgia I feel as I look back through them.

I was so excited the other day when I happened upon The Sketchbook Project while browsing one of my favorite blogs, written by one of my favorite people.

The Sketchbook Project sends each participant the same blank Moleskine and then based on the theme that they've chosen ("I'm sorry I forgot you", "Things found on restaurant napkins", "Make mine a double," "In 5 minutes"...etc)  each artist can interpret that theme according to their own style. After the sketchbooks are filled and returned, the books go on tour around the U.S. to various galleries and venues.  At the project's end, each book will be honored by being permanently cataloged into The Brooklyn Art Library system.  In light of our upcoming move, I picked the theme "Down Your Street" so I can document my first few months in the new neighborhood.  My hope is that the journey of filling this book will help me keep my eyes open wider and my thoughts a bit more present as I explore new territory and wander the streets.

Making it Happen: Hospitality

I've been a  long time admirer of restaurant and hospitality guru Danny Meyer.  He has successfully created some of NYC's best restaurants including Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke and Shake Shack.  Every one of his restaurants has a unique point of view and offers some of my all time personal favorite dining experiences available in NYC. A few years ago he wrote the book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.  At first glance one might think  the book exclusively caters to the restaurant industry, but a few chapters in, it becomes clear that this books speaks to and provides insight for entrepreneurs and business leaders in any industry.

Towards the end of the book he writes about the importance of context when making decisions.  I found his criteria for making these critical choices particularly poignant as I decide how to expand my own business and take on new projects.

The "Yes" Criteria for New Ventures according to Danny Meyer

  • An in-depth pro forma analysis convinces that it is a wise and safe investment.
  • The opportunity fits and enhances our company’s overall strategic goals and objectives
  • The opportunity represents a chance to create a business venture that is perceived as groundbreaking, trailblazing and fresh
  • The timing is right for our company’s capacity to grow with excellence, especially in terms of having enough key employees who are themselves and interested and ready to grow
  • We believe we have the capacity to be category leaders within whatever niche we are pursuing
  • We believe our existing business will benefit and improve by virtue of or notwithstanding our pursuing this new opportunity
  • We feel excited and passionate about this idea.  Pursuing it will be an opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun!
  • We are excited about doing business in this community
  • The context is the right fit.  Our restaurant and our style of doing business will be in harmony with its location

Go: Ambassador of Lifestream

Screen shot 2010-06-02 at 11.43.50 PM Recently, Aol put out a call for a two month internship for the "Ambassador of Lifestream."  Lifestream, their new product that  aggregates third party social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Delicious, Flickr, YouTube, is looking for someone to become an integral part of their team.  This "ambassador" will have the opportunity to work directly with Tim Armstrong, the new CEO, and will sit in high-level meetings and be asked to share their point of view with engineers, marketers and executives.  It's incredible opportunity, with lots of perks including bi-coastal living, an expense account, VIP access to events/contests and mostly, the ability to really be a part of something.  Fit the bill?  Apply here.

This is just one of the ways that Aol is changing their game and I give Armstrong a lot of the credit.  With the help of Wolff Olins, Aol rebranded themselves and are now focusing their efforts on being a media and publishing platform where content is key.  It's clear that Armstrong is a leader that believes in taking risks and empowering others to do the same.

Making it Happen: The 99% Conference

Screen shot 2010-04-16 at 3.17.22 PM

Yesterday, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the 99% Conference put on by the fine folks at Behance and Cool Hunting. The premise of the conference is based on the famous quote by Thomas Edison, "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." The conference focuses on the fact that having a great idea is not enough, you need to actually make those good ideas happen; you need to take action.

The conference was filled with surprises including the release of the DROID Incredible by HTC and of Scott Belsky's new book, Making Ideas Happen. We also got an early viewing of four new videos from Cool Hunting's video series.  I was particularly fond of the video featuring Brooklyn based chocolatiers, Mast Brothers Chocolate.

It's hard to sum up a day that included wisdom from some of the best creative visionaries across a variety of industries, so instead I'll give you a sampling of some of my favorite quotes.

"Don't let planning get int he way of doing" -Leslie Koch

"Nobody likes to change, until not changing hurts more than doing the actual change." – Jamie Oliver

"The purpose of a strategy is not to come up with the right answers. It's to enable you to act." - Frans Johannson

"What is the smallest executable step that you can take to develop any of your ideas? Define it." - Frans Johannson

"A successful partnership is based on the willingness to share the ownership of ideas." -Masamichi Udagawa

"Working alone requires a battle against yourself. With a partnership, that battle turns into a dialogue" -Sigi Moeslinger

I'm excited to spend some more time checking out some of the tools that The 99% offers on their website including The Action Method, which is a project management tool that can be used both on and offline to stay organized and action-oriented.  Also, if you haven't done so already, be sure to check out Cool Hunting's Video Series.  They all are really fantastic.

The Perfect Sunday: Marlow and Daughters

031410_NYC_138I have a crush.  The sort of crush you just can't stop talking and thinking about.  Yes, I have a crush on the whole Marlow and Sons, Diner, Marlow and Daughters, Romans empire. We've been spending a lot of time out in Williamsburg enjoying the excitement that comes with exploring new neighborhoods.  Along the way, we've made it a point to acquaint ourselves with other local shops and restaurants.  And while all the discoveries have left us gitty with excitement and very full bellies, our trip to Marlow and Daughters was made extra special thanks to two amazing friends that gave us a gift certificate for our birthdays.

We were torn about whether to be practical or extravagant (ground beef or steaks).  The butcher's consensus was "buy things for yourself that you would normally buy," so we went for two beautiful filet mignons, fresh ricotta, house made pate, smoked goat cheese, fancy fig crackers and a few other odds and ends to round out what was the perfect Sunday night dinner.

Welcome: Blue Bottle Coffee


When we were in San Francisco last month, thanks to nudging from these dear family members, we knew we had to make a point to check out Blue Bottle Coffee.  What we didn't know, is that we would find ourselves there every day--sometimes even twice a day.

When I heard they were setting up shop in Brooklyn I got excited.  Really excited.  Despite the excessive rain, we headed to Williamsburg on Sunday to check it out and were so happy we did.  With oversized umbrellas and big green rain boots, we enjoyed steaming cups of perfectly brewed coffee and a Cheddar-Chive Biscuit from Colson Patisserie.

Now go and experience the gorgeous space and deliciousness for yourself.

Blue Bottle Coffee Roasters: 160 Berry St between North 5th and 6th Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Moment: The Joy of Building a Terrarium

031410_NYC_159 031410_NYC_162

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about my love for terrariums, these magical little contained environments.  This year for my birthday Dan gave me a certificate to go and build my very own terrarium at Sprout Home in Williamsburg.

There seem to be two main types of terrariums, one that is fern and moss based and one that is cacti based.  I went for the latter since they are supposedly a bit easier to care for and because I liked the variety of plants that Sprout had to choose from. Sprout carries a number of different vessels to house the terrariums.  I picked this one by a company called Roost which takes recycled glass and hand blows it without a mold. After layering some lava rocks for drainage, charcoal to prevent mold and a top layer of soil,  I picked out about six different types of cactus for mine.  I also brought some coral and a sea urchin shell that I collected from our various trips to add to the mix.  I am absolutely in love with it and think this might just be my favorite birthday present ever.  Big thanks to Leah, the terrarium expert at Sprout, for all the guidance in building this beauty!

GrandOpening + OurGoods = Trade School

tradeschool Collaborations are a thing of beauty.  This month, Grand Opening and Our Goods have teamed up and formed Trade School, a month long experiment that offers classes in a variety of subjects including Business School for Artists, How to Make Butter, Intro to Participatory Learning & Action, Grantwriting and a number of other fascinating topics.  Trade School omits the dollar system and operates solely on barter. Teachers are compensated in work space and students pay for class by bringing goods to trade.  I signed up for "PLAY: Improv for Ideation," a class that teaches a series of interactive ideation and process exercises aimed at informing and enhancing the creative practice.  In exchange, the teachers, the duo behind MakerHappener, have asked for any of the following:

One-time access to a laser cutter 1 hour of Wordpress assistance A jar of organic peanut butter or raw local honey Stumptown coffee beans A winter coat for a 70 pound black lab Art Plants Cool maps or art books

I love the idea of people coming together across a variety of disciplines to share resources and teach one another.  Who wants to join me?