Just some chicken to remind you who you are

Shut in my house due to coronavirus, I actually haven’t spent much time in the kitchen (unless that entails standing in front of the pantry eating Doritos). Instead, I’ve left the cooking to my boyfriend Mike, who normally works most nights as a bartender but since restaurants in New Jersey have been closed for dining-in, has been stuck at home as my personal chef.

Not that it’s much of a difference than what my average cooking routine entails. Since starting a weight loss plan about a year ago, I cook pretty boring meals at home – think baked salmon, grilled zucchini, a warmed-up 70-calorie brownie if I’m feeling adventurous.

Just a few years ago, though, the kitchen was my favorite place to be. After finally learning some cooking basics from my college roommate Alex – prior to that, I was raised on microwave meals, although I loved real food – I headed to Italy for a semester in Florence and, as any smart college kid does, I signed up for a Pairing Food And Wine class.

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Life, reduced

At 29-years-old, my life lacks some of the domesticity and normalcy that seems to come so naturally to my peers.

I don’t own a house yet, although I would certainly like to. Mike and I have been together for five years, but we aren’t married yet. We do not have kids yet, just a fluffy cat. Our rented townhouse’s decor includes concert posters, a turquoise painted coffee table and wooden Betty Boop’s made by a former mobster. I love the creativity offered in my job in journalism, but I definitely don’t love the pay.

Sometimes when I scroll my Facebook or Instagram feeds, this makes me feel kind of bad. Am I a loser, skipping my way through life? Or am I just not there yet? 

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A love letter to H Mart

This morning Mike, his face partially illuminated by his bright iPhone screen, laughed as I meandered around our curtained room.

“What?” I said.

“It’s Adam. He said he would pay $100 for Sushi Palace right now,” smiled Mike, reading over the text.

Sushi Palace is our go-to sushi joint in Somerville. No matter the day of the week, the all-you-can-eat sushi eatery is always packed to the brim. The host/server, an older Asian woman, always smiles when she sees us – a seemingly out-of-place expression on her serious face – before seating us at our spot at the end of the sushi bar.

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This is a food group for me.

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Taipei, Taiwan: The best sushi can be found on a street corner

A huge sushi fan, I’ve been dying to go to Japan. However, when I found that Taipei, Taiwan – the last destination of our Asian journey – was known as the best city to find Japanese cuisine outside of Japan, I was pretty thrilled.

Being that Mike’s birthday fell during our trip, I hoped to take him to Nomura, a Michelin-starred sushi eatery in Taipei. However, by the time I was able to ask the concierge at our hotel to call for a reservation, they were all booked up.

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The Vietnam War is alive in Ho Chi Minh City

Growing up, I was never very interested in history. Important historical events like the American Revolution, the Cold War and the Vietnam War never resonated much with me. Fittingly, I became a journalist – a profession that forces you to care about what’s happening at that precise moment in time above all else.

However, as I realized when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – otherwise known as Saigon – many other people around the world don’t have that luxury. In Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnam War is all around them, everyday.

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What happens when a pothead, a preacher and a veteran walk into Ha Long Bay?

Although I’m a journalist – a social career if there ever was one – I don’t particularly like, at first anyway, to meet new people. I don’t want to make small talk or try to make this conversation less awkward. That is, until, you turn out to actually be pretty cool.

On every trip I’ve ever been on, it starts the same way – I meet our fellow travelers and do my usual hide. But I soon remember, every time, that travelers are a different kind of breed – one that is full of the curious, the adventurous, and the interesting – despite what first glances may suggest.

When we first arrived in Vietnam, I initially felt the same way as I always do. I was surrounded by two older couples, a lone Asian dad-looking guy and a dreadlocked millennial. Looks like I’ll be spending the trip palling around with Mike, I thought.

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On our Bhaya cruise through Ha Long Bay.

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Roadside stands top Michelin stars in Hanoi, Vietnam

As a food writer, I relish in the luxurious routine that goes into preparing for an upscale meal out.

I like poring over the menu at lunchtime; choosing the most interesting entrée and the most calculatingly-paired appetizer. I like taking my search to the internet and digging up photos of intriguing dishes. I like drinking just a tad too much wine and feeling courageous enough to say things I normally wouldn’t. I especially like coming home just exhausted enough that I don’t feel the need to put my purse away and instead, know I’m in for a solid night’s sleep.

When I travel, this becomes much more fun. I can check out restaurants I’ve only read about, try foods I can barely pronounce and delve far beyond my usual 20-mile dining radius.

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Finding a new home in Denver

I still remember that drive to Philadelphia when Monika told me from my passenger’s seat that she was moving to Denver, Colorado. I was trying really hard to not make my crying too obvious as she told me the fateful story.

For years, as Monika lived in her mom’s apartment in New Jersey and worked at a public relations job she hated, she told us how she was going to move out West, which seemed to be a fitting spot for someone who loved hiking and running so much. However, Monika’s immediate family, her entire network of friends, her boyfriend and her best friend and sister all lived here.

It seemed like a pipe dream and selfishly, I was glad – I didn’t want to be left alone without one of my best friends, who could always make a lame Saturday night into a memorable one and, with her questions, curiosity and great listening, always made me feel like my life and problems mattered to someone else, too. She was, and still is, simultaneously one of my favorite people to stay out until 2 a.m. with and also one of my favorite people to vent to, a combination you don’t find often.

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There’s a place on Ocean Avenue

My time at Monmouth University as an undergrad was nothing short of a blast.

I lived in rental with my pals that was so close to the ocean that we fell asleep every night to the sound of the roaring waves. At least three times a week, we went out on the town and we were rarely disappointed with the characters we would meet, the bars we would stumble upon and the shenanigans that would ensue. I attended classes taught by thoughtful professors with big personalities on a stunning campus that’s regularly named as one of the most beautiful in the world.

However, of course, it could also be stressful. I’ve always kept busy, and I certainly did so during my time at Monmouth – I was an editor at the school newspaper, the editor of our honors program newsletter, a supervisor at the honors school mentoring program, a supervisor at my job at the university calling center, a member of the honors student council, a personal assistant to a local woman and a member of several clubs, including an outdoors club and a philosophy club. And did I mention I loved to go out?

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An unlikely Lidia Bastianich meeting in Hunterdon County

Growing up in a town with literally one traffic light and a rambunctious herd of cows at a neighboring farm which often made me late for work, I was always itching to escape the no-man’s-land that is western New Jersey.

About one year after I graduated college, I finally escaped for good – I got an apartment in a small city about 45 minutes away and a few years after that, I moved again to central Jersey, where I live now. Five years later, I still feel grateful every time I only have to drive five minutes to go to the grocery store or the mall, and a quick 30-minute Uber to the airport.

Yesterday, Mike and I made a visit to another where the heck am I region in Jersey – Hunterdon County, which may only be about 30 minutes from home but as we wound through back roads (I think they are main roads here????) surrounded by farms, open fields and not an itch of traffic in sight, it felt much further away.

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