A New York City Christmas: What that looks like during a pandemic

I wouldn’t call myself a Scrooge, but I guess I’m kind of a Scrooge.

I hate cheesy Christmas songs and any holiday movie that’s described as “heartwarming.” I enjoy Christmas decorations, as long as they lack Santa Claus or snowmen or anything else that should be reserved for children. I like giving gifts, but I hate the anxiety of opening my own and wondering if my smile showed enough appreciation.

But one thing I always looked forward to, for no reason that made sense whatsoever, was visiting New York City to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Although my distaste for cheesy holiday happenings is only equaled by my hatred of the rotting garbage, dirty subway and gray background of New York City, during one visit every December, I relish in it all.

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The empty chef’s table in Central Maine

When I couldn’t find Mount Vernon, Maine – or even the nearest city, Augusta – in my guidebook, I should have been tipped off. But it was only when searching for nearby restaurants once we arrived and only finding a few lobster roll stands and drive-ins that I really knew this wasn’t exactly the place for a foodie.

But I can’t blame Central Maine. That’s just not it’s thing, and that’s OK. Instead, bordered by crystal-clear Echo Lake, a profound silence and endless, deep greenery, it’s a popular place for campgrounds – which is actually what brought us here in the first place.

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Post-pandemic: Does dining out still do it for me?

Adam and I had been planning it for days.

Even though our home state of New Jersey’s opening date for outdoor dining – June 15 – was still in the distance, Pennsylvania was opening its al fresco tables on June 5. And, living about 40 minutes from the state border, we were more than ready to start making calls to secure our own reservation for that following Monday which we were sure would offer us a taste – literally – of our former foodie lives.

So, Adam, my boyfriend Mike’s coworker and friend who had come to feel more like family in the last few months of the pandemic, and I sat on the couch and began to make some calls to New Hope, Penn. restaurants a few days before June 5. Dialing sequence after sequence of numbers, it began to feel a bit reminiscent of my days working as a telemarketer.

Out at Earl’s New American.

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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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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.

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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