Part One: “All is Full of Love…”

…to quote one of my favorite Bjork songs ever. This weekend was definitely a special one for me, emotionally and physically. Completely banged up and tired as I am while writing this entry, all I can do is smile. Yes, I might look crazy and creepy for smiling in an empty apartment. All alone. In the dark. While all is quiet. But, hey. No one’s around to judge me, and even if there were, would I care? Of course not.
Moving on.
Yesterday, I participated in the 2015 Citi Field Spartan Race with a new team comprised of friends, old and new. Although a member of New York Health and Racquet Club for several years, this was the first time I was in an event representing them, more specifically one of their best group fitness instructors, Cedric Dujon, as one of his Fit Warriors. Some of you may remember that I participated in my first Spartan Race last year–that was with a team of over 70 people. The Fit Warriors was a team of 14 feisty and fun-loving individuals who made this event even better than I could have imagined.

PhotoGrid_1431316969604_wmNot once was there an “every man for himself” mentality; it just felt natural that we should help each other through ever obstacle and finish as a team, rather than to be competitive against one another and leave teammates behind. The comradely spirit that flowed between us gave everyone hope, strength and confidence that we could all get across the finish line, no matter how daunting the obstacles were. In all my years, this was the first time I understood what it felt like to be on a real team. Even more impressive was the fact that Cedric was the last team member to cross the finish line — our team leader made sure no one was left behind, that we were all accounted for and in good condition and spirit. Not only is this man a physical specimen, he has a heart of gold. Even now as I type, my heart swells with respect and appreciation for Cedric’s good nature and ethic. The people he attracts are all genuinely good people: caring, generous, helpful and kind. If this isn’t a testament to his good soul, I don’t know what is.
My membership at New York Health and Racquet will end soon and I’ll be at another gym through corporate subsidy, however I will support Cedric Dujon, Cedric Dujon Fitness, and will remain one of his Fit Warriors, ready for action whenever duty calls. CYMERA_20150509_172646Stay tuned for part two of my “Love Fest” Weekend…!
The Vickylicious

My Special Date

Who knew a doctor’s appointment would turn into taking myself on one of the best dates ever? You really never know where the day might take you. Let me explain.

Knowing that I’d be near SoHo, I thought I’d walk around a bit and explore what’s going on in the neighborhood before hopping on the train back home to prepare for tonight’s plans; the weather was improving by the minute, getting warmer with every block, sunnier around each corner. I found myself walking to the Lower East Side, one of my favorite parts of the city, a section that harkens back to the NYC I remember [fondly]. No matter what street you choose, there’s something new/different/interesting to see/eat/buy. Knowing better than to shop and add to my overstuffed closet and dresser, I decided to treat myself to a facial and a massage–ones that cost a lot less than they do in my neck of the woods (maybe not as luxurious, but certainly just as effective and lovely). Refreshed, renewed, relaxed, and with baby soft, bright, clean and clear skin, I left almost two hours later a new woman with a bit more pep in her step. I didn’t realize how much I and my body needed that; between work, everyday life and working out, my body and mind have been taking a major pounding. It’s sad to say, but I’m so accustomed to living this way that today’s spontaneous treat gave me a necessary wake-up call to power down, breathe and show myself some love and affection.

All that love made me quite hungry though, which is never an unsolvable problem on the LES! There are so many restaurants, cafes, food stands, etc., and so many cuisines from which to choose. My feet guided me to a giant bowl of pho, Vietnamese soup for the soul, an inner hug if you will. Sitting at a beat-up little wooden table in a corner, I was so happy eating and smelling my steaming bowl that I couldn’t stop smiling. I started looking around at everyone because I heard soft sound coming from nearby, but realized it was me. Humming! Humming while eating! Now you know I’m happy and the food is good if I’m humming to myself. Whoa.

Belly full and pleased that my meal was guilt-free (healthy), and wallet happy because dinner was super affordable, I decided to continue my journey because I had absolutely no desire to go home. Strolling into parts unknown [by me], I walked farther than I’ve ever been into that area of the city, to the point where nothing was familiar, neither the street names nor the landscape. Headphones on, bumping New York hip-hop, I walked the streets, felt and saw history, from the old tenements to buildings taken over by yuppies and hipsters. I walked through areas that went from Chinese to Dominican and black to Jewish, then back to Chinese to Dominican and black and Puerto Rican to hipster to rich hipster-turned-yuppie; from row houses to co-ops to projects to modern architecture, then back to projects upon projects upon projects; turning a corner and I was back to apartment buildings, new mixed with old. It was ugly, beautiful, chaotic and orderly, diverse and separate all at the same time. I loved it and didn’t want to stop this field trip, but knew I had to because the sun was setting and it was time to get back to the land of the familiar. I will be back, mind you. I always go back.

Walking directly to a train station would seem like the practical thing to do, so of course that’s not what happened. I walked from the LES through Alphabet City then into the East Village. Heading west, I came upon one of my favorite ice cream shops and treated myself to dessert. Continuing my walk with extra virgin olive oil ice cream nestled inside the perfect waffle cone, I made my way back to Sixth Avenue to finally take a train home. (I did however, make a quick detour to a health food store first.)
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(<—- A makeup-free, spa-faced me getting ready to gobble up the last bit of my delicious ice cream cone)

Home at last, I kicked off my shoes and acknowledged to myself that I would not be going out, as originally planned. My inner monologue and I are best friends and have exemplary communication. So what did I do instead, you ask? I went to the kitchen and whipped up my first vanilla chia seed pudding.
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(If you would like the recipe and/or would like to know the health benefits of chia seeds and this dessert, please let me know. I’ll be happy to share it all with you!)

And you thought my detour to the health food store was for what, exactly…? HA! No, just kidding. I didn’t plan on making the pudding tonight, it was just on my list of things to do in the near future and I just happened to remember that there was a health food store near my train station. So it was planned, but not planned. And while it sets in the fridge (anywhere from four hours to overnight), I’ll be doing one of the things I do best: watch back-to-back episodes of something on Netflix.

Today was a day I’ll remember for years to come. I felt truly happy and at peace with my life, where it’s taken me, and ultimately with myself. Too many people place their happiness into other people’s hands, not realizing that one’s happiness is one’s own responsibility. Also, people don’t have to be happy only around others, or by being in all sorts of relationships. As RuPaul always says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?!” So, readers, worry about loving yourself and treating yourself well, instead of loving the idea of other people loving you and finding happiness then and only then. Go on a date with yourself and see how it makes you feel. You might even learn a thing or two.

…Till the Wheels Fall Off!

Today was my Cycle for Survival ride at Equinox, a fundraising event for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, whose mission is to treat and find cures for rare cancers. This was my third ride of however many it takes until a cure is found. Although our group, “A Team 56,” didn’t reach our goal of US$15,000.00, we did raise US$12,900.00 which is still a large amount.
2015-03-07 23.43.40For four hours straight, we rode, shouted, and danced our hearts out for all of those fighting, for the survivors, and for those who have lost their battles with this terrible disease. Some of you have read my previous posts about this event and know how important it is to me, so I won’t be repetitive–trust and know you will be seeing similar posts exactly one year from now. However I cannot shake the feeling I’ve had all day from hearing the experiences of those who are fighting, of those that have won, and of those that have loved ones they are sending to MSKCC currently; the mother and father that personally thanked all of us for our fundraising efforts because they have a 7 year-old daughter with a brain tumor being treated at Memorial now. The woman whose mother had a better quality of life due to the clinical trial our donations paid for last year. For Lisa Adams who passed away last night, losing her battle at the hospital the day of the first ride.
Knowing that every dollar my team and I raise, along with all of the other riders nationwide, goes directly to research and trials, compels to do everything I can for the millions of people worldwide affected by cancer in all its forms. I will urge each and everyone of you as I do every year, to join the battle with me, either by starting your own team wherever you are, by donating your time, by donating your money. Just as one of the doctors said today, “Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it definitely takes a village to find a cure for cancer.” We all live in the same village.

150307_094940This is why I rode. This was, and is, my battle cry until a cure is found.

Kung Hay Fat Choi!

Today was the first day of Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year). 2015 is the year of Sheep. Why February 19th? This day is a new moon day, and is the first day of the first Chinese lunar month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar system.

A Super Brief History: The Year 2015 is the 4712th Chinese year. The Chinese believe that the first king of China was the Yellow King (although he wasn’t the first emperor). The Yellow King became king in 2697 B.C., therefore China will enter the 4712th year on February 19, 2015. I won’t get into the elements and the Stem-Branch System and how we arrive at the sheep being a green wooden sheep–too technical, so I’ll let you Google it, if you’re so inclined.

Since we’re the only ones in New York from the family, Mom and I took the day off from work and donned our new clothes and shoes before heading out to feast on traditional lucky dishes and some contemporary Chinese cuisine as well–we went to the Upper West Side’s Red Farm; the dishes are below. We were stuffed after eating eight dishes (a lucky number), some of which were Chinese dumplings (treasure because of the meat inside), long noodles (symbolizing long life), and oranges (a sign of completeness).
PhotoGrid_1424402952167We had a great time spending the day together, walking the New York City streets and stamping out the bad with our new shoes, wearing red for good luck and to chase away any evil spirits–even our lipstick was red today (my finger nails too)! And the best part (besides quality time with mom, natch)? LUCKY MONEY! Gotta love those little red envelopes.

I wish you all prosperity, happiness and blessings!
V

Saturday Brunch at The Cecil

After a long, rough week, mom and I ventured to northern Manhattan today on a whim. It was an absolutely beautiful day that we knew couldn’t be wasted, so we walked all the way up north along Central Park to hang out in Harlem and ended up hungry enough to wander into The Cecil for brunch.

The Cecil, created by New York businessman Richard Parsons and noted restaurateur and chef Alexander Smalls, is New York City’s first Afro-Asian-American brasserie.

Inspired by the travels, exploration and study of the African Diaspora of Chef Smalls, The Cecil will offer a global adventure in tastes and flavors as diverse and dynamic as the community in which the restaurant resides.  Its goal is to connect communities through food, comfort and hospitality.

The Mavericks had a delicious meal there a couple of months ago during NYC Restaurant week and we were blown away by the experience. I’d been trying to figure out a way to get back there to show someone else to their eclectic menu, and I knew my mom would be game. (I will add here that she’s a tougher critic than I am.) Their brunch menu seemed just as exciting as their dinner fare, so my mouth was already watering as the hostess guided us to our seats.

The Cecil

First up was to try their brunch cocktail, the Kimchi Bloody Mary. Instead of the usual tomato juice, they used pureed Korean kimchi and its juice to mix with vodka–it was kind of like drinking a Korean gazpacho on ice. Although it took some getting used to, I quite enjoyed it; even though my mom said it was too different for her and that she wasn’t crazy about it, I noticed that she kept reaching for my glass, so her review on this item is neither here nor there…

Next came our Mac n Cheese appetizer; we were curious to try their version, as it had aged white cheddar and Gruyere cheeses, caramelized shallots and rosemary. It was perfectly gooey and just rich enough. The rosemary made it feel a bit lighter and the sweetness of the shallots complimented the sharpness of the cheeses. Well played! Even though we were getting full already, we dug into our entrees, splitting them amongst each other. We ordered Duck Confit & Yam Waffles with Papaya Sauce and Roti Pizza (oxtail, aged cheddar cheese and 2 fried eggs over top). The duck was basic, but good; the yam in their batter made the waffles super moist and lent them a delicate sweetness that balanced the savory duck quarter. However, the dish could have used more papaya sauce because there simply wasn’t enough to accompany each bite. No one enjoys dry waffles–YES, they were moist, but what’s a waffle without syrup (in this case, papaya sauce)?! I rest my case. The Roti Pizza was good, but aged cheddar didn’t seem the right choice of cheese in this instance. The oxtail was delicious–a thick black bean oxtail stew spread across the roti in place of a tomato base. The sunny side up eggs were like smiley faces on the roti, adding the right amount of moisture to the dish, and giving me a smiley face in return. We finished every bite, leaving our plates completely empty and our bellies filled to capacity. We had to walk back home to make room for coffee and dessert!

Although The Cecil’s menu isn’t for everyone–I believe one must have a somewhat adventurous palette to appreciate some of their concoctions– I believe there is something on both of their menus for all to try. I love a good burger as much as the next guy, but I do need a culinary pick-me-up once in a while and The Cecil provides exactly that. Even though we enjoyed their brunch, I think dinner is their stronger suit and will travel back uptown with her on any given evening to repeat my previous nighttime excursion. She needs to understand why they won awards and why they’ve received so much well-deserved laud, not from me but real critics and reviewers.

Besides, how can I not revisit a place that basically describes my genetic makeup?! I’m just saying. That can’t be a coincidence… I might just have to tell them to rename the restaurant “The Vickylicious.” After they make their brunch as noteworthy as their dinner, that is.

MM Goes to CO-OP Food & Drink: Can I Be on This Board?

After the major letdown of Hotel Chantelle the previous week, Marissa and I were hoping upon hope that CO-OP Food & Drink (located in the Hotel on Rivington on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) wouldn’t be another Maverick Monday disappointment. The menu, once again, seemed very promising; we’d wanted to go for a very long time because of their unique offerings and restaurant.com provided us with the opportunity. For US$4.00, I bought a gift card worth US$25.00 to put toward our meal—what a steal! Here’s what the website has to say about the dining experience they try to provide:

Located on the ground floor of Hotel on Rivington in NYC’s Lower East Side, CO-OP Food & Drink is based on the co-operative principle of bringing together different services and products under one space for everyone’s benefit. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Victor Startek, they bring… together different ingredients, flavors and cultures that reflect the diversity that is the Lower East Side.

This philosophy allows guests to enjoy a variety of plates such as the Tuna Tuna Yuzu Sushi Roll (w/ spicy tuna, tuna, avocado & yuzu dynamite sauce), Shredded Pork Belly Tacos (w/ Ancho BBQ, Smoked Creama, Beets), Fried Chicken Biscuits (w/ ranch & pickled jalapeno aioli) and Miso Cured Salmon (w/ peanut sauce, watermelon radish & pickled celery root). In the spirit of a co-operative, most of the dishes are designed to be shared family-style through multiple courses.

Even so, we didn’t get our expectations up too high…until we entered the dining room, that is. (The bar is nice too, by the way.)

The artwork! The wooden table running the length of the dining room! The plush black leather booths and black chandeliers! Everything in the room was noteworthy—decadent and rustic at the same time. What a great juxtaposition and balance the designer created with the ambience and décor—Marissa was so impressed that after our meal, she booked the long table for her annual holiday dinner. While simultaneously perusing the faces in the portraits covering the wall and picking the dishes we wanted to try, our excitement quickly grew. Here’s what we ordered from their eclectic menu:

To Share
Co-Op Roll – spicy tuna, rock shrimp tempura, serrano peppers
Taco Flight – spicy shrimp (with bacon and blue cheese cole slaw), market fish tacos (grilled fish with avocado and red cabbage)

Marissa
Fish Curry – tile fish, red curry, brown rice, tofu
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

Me
Miso Cured Salmon – peanuts, celery root, watermelon radish
Kiwi Caipirinha – Leblon cachaça, kiwi, lime juice

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To start, the drinks (Kiwi Caipirinhas) were lovely—just sweet, tart, and strong enough to whet our palettes for the sushi roll, which was good, but not good enough for me to be effusive. The fish tacos on the other hand, were phenomenal, and I’ve had my fair share of fish tacos. Light and refreshing, they were simply cooked and seasoned; each ingredient stood out yet didn’t compete with their counterparts. We loved these and gobbled them up seemingly without breathing! Too bad the spicy shrimp taco gave us the opposite effect. The blue cheese was so pungent that it overpowered the bacon, which in turn, overpowered the spicy shrimp; there was just too much going on at the same time that it completely missed the mark. We wished we had ordered more fish tacos to erase the memory and taste of this misfortune.

We needn’t have worried though, because our main courses were divine! Marissa’s fish curry was neither too rich in consistency nor was it too heavy in coconut flavor or spiciness. Although served steaming hot, the fish wasn’t overcooked sitting in the curry sauce and the curry itself was silky. My miso-cured salmon—which I was afraid would be too salty—was amazing as well. The salmon skin was wonderfully crispy and not chewy in the slightest. The meat was perfectly marbled and cooked just right; moist, fork tender and flaky, the salmon melted in my mouth like a savory candy. The Mavericks were in fish heaven and the accompaniments were like harp strings playing celestial music. I could wax poetic about my salmon alone, however I think I’d be banned from the blogosphere so I’ll spare you all the adjectives.

The only thing missing to round out our experience and meal at CO-OP was dessert, but alas, the pastry chef had embarked on another career path and was no longer making her unique concoctions that I was so dying to try. That’s ok though; because we were so happy with the meal overall, I believe we will return for more, and by then dessert will be back on the menu.

Cheers, CO-OP! You have restored my faith in trendy food.

MM Goes to Hotel Chantelle: Let Me Tell…

…how awful this experience was for us. Usually on our Monday evenings, the Mavericks like to go for nighttime constitutionals before hopping on their respective trains home. (I’ll switch back to the more unpretentious 1st person now.) Since we’re so often on the Lower East Side, we usually pass one restaurant/bar that we’ve put on our list of places to dine, Hotel Chantelle, because it has what reads like a fantastic menu. We finally got our opportunity to dine on the rooftop one lovely Monday evening when the weather was perfect and we were both tightly wound from personal/career life and needed a break.

Upon entering the establishment, it looked like a dilapidated Parisian hostel. Keep walking and you encounter bamboo against walls painted with UV splatters enhanced by black lights—cliché, but whatever. All of a sudden this dark hallway opens up to a lovely rooftop bar and restaurant with white tiled floors and dark iron and wood accents and décor. This atmosphere seemed more promising and lent a little more hope as we perused the menu. Unfortunately, after having considered our options several times over, we still hadn’t been offered any service. Twenty minutes into waiting and still no one came to check on us! When we finally flagged a waitress down (mind you, we were about to get up and leave until we got her attention), we were greeted with curt responses, major attitude, and no apology. Would the food be worth this treatment? Here’s what we ordered:

To share
Deviled Egg Tasting – lobster & caviar / maple bacon & jalapeno / smoked salmon caper crème fraiche

Me
Kale Caesar Salad with Poached Lobster – crisp kale, shaved parmesan, garlic bread croutons, classic Caesar dressing
White Truffle Pizza – ultra-thin crust pizza, fresh sheep’s milk ricotta, mascarpone & goat cheese,
sautéed mushrooms, arugula, white truffle oil, shaved parmesan

Marissa
Snow Crab Claws – half dozen snow crab claws served warm, drawn butter, mustard aioli
Pan Seared Branzino – pan roasted filet of Mediterranean sea bass, topped with warm sautéed kale, capers, olives, baby tomatoes

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I’m going to keep this review short and sweet because I refuse to waste any more time on this place, so here’s the rundown: The deviled eggs were so mediocre, I would’ve been better off just hard-boiling some eggs on my stovetop and eating them plain, straight out of the shells. Marissa’s crab claws=basic and slightly overcooked. My salad, however, was possibly one of the best kale salads I’ve ever tasted, and my lobster was perfectly poached! This was Hotel Chantelle’s only bright moment, believe you me, because Marissa’s branzino and the accompanying sautéed veggies were so salty she could only eat the baby fillet. I tried a tiny morsel of it and almost spit it right back out onto the plate. The ocean isn’t as salty as that dish. My pizza was a crumbly mess, but tasted alright; definitely not anything to write home about—I’m mad I’m writing about this whole experience on this blog, honestly. OH! And to add insult to injury, our lovely waitress double charged Marissa’s credit card and it took forever and a day to dispute.

This place needs to be condemned, along with the waitstaff.