Archive for July, 2011

Dean and Deluca: Mango Nectarines

I was strolling around in Soho earlier and I stumbled into Dean and Deluca. The fruits line the front of the store, so it is hard to ignore them, especially when you see some exotic ones and names like “mango nectarine.” The description reads, “the taste of a mango. The color and shape of a golden plum.” So it is pretty much a mix of mango, nectarine, and plum. Sounds delicious. What could go wrong?

A lot of things. Came home and chopped it up. It had the texture of a plum, but tasted like a nectarine, but sort of had an aftertaste of a mango. I’m still debating about whether I like it or not. The sign reads $7 a pound, but the nice fruit clerk only charged me for $5 a pound, so I paid $1.25 for one of them. I think it is the one right in front of the stake. It isn’t worth the price though. I’d rather spend double that and buy a delicious mango from Whole Foods.

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Drinks at Cafeteria

Last summer was filled with booze, restaurants, and stupidity. I went out to restaurants nearly three times a day (no breakfast, but certainly indulged in late night drunken meals), Starbucks multiple times a day, and then headed to the bar at least four times a week. I shudder on the thought of how much I spent. But it was my first summer of living in New York and I didn’t care.

I used to think this summer lived in the shadows of last, but I’ve come to stop comparing them. This summer is different. I’m not eating out as much. I only drink Starbucks once a week. And I can count the amount of times I went to a bar or club on my hand. (Half of my hand, even.) I’ve fully embraced my inner workaholic and I am working a full time job, part time job, and then an internship. I don’t need to work this much, but I find it fun. I find it fun to be productive and I love the discounts at Club Monaco. But the weeks have been flying by and I haven’t had the time to enjoy my summer.

I was invited out for drinks with a few friends at Cafeteria. I’ve always wanted to try this place, but it is on the 7th Avenue and we all know how often I venture that far west. So meeting up with friends was the perfect spark to head out there. The drinks were typical for Manhattan  – $12-14 a drink. I’m pretty sure they are aware of how ridiculous the prices are because there are no prices on the online cocktail menu. But we decided to skip individual drinks and order carafes.

We asked the waitress how many drinks we can expect to pour from the carafe. “Oh, five to six!” We figured that it would bring each drink to less than ten dollars and ordered two. A friend and I shared a White Peach Punch ($40) and the other two shared a White Sangria ($30). Five minutes later, the waitress returns to our table, “Your drinks are currently being made! So does this mean that you want to order any food?” So does this mean? Why would us ordering drinks imply ordering food as well? But being the fatasses that we are, we decided to go with the Rosemary Grilled Flatbread, which consisted of hand stretched foccacia, roasted artichokes, goat cheese, truffle oil, arugula and shaved parmesan. The waitress returned with two relatively small carafes, “Oh, I brought you the big glasses so you’ll get about 4 drinks from each!” I looked around the room – there weren’t any smaller glasses. But even with four drinks, that would make my drink $10 even, and then White Sangria would be even less per drink. No big deal.

The grilled flatbread came and it was out of this world. The drinks were strong and we were maintaining a nice buzz, but my friend and me decided to order another carafe. We tried a sip of our friends’ White Sangria and it was great, so we bought one of those. She came back with two new glasses – one of which was smaller than the other, so we realized that she wasn’t a conniving bitch. But we filled those to the brim and only received two glasses each from it. Chugged those.

The bill came and I just threw down my credit card. I’ll worry about how much I charged to it later. I just wanted the night to be fun. I’ve been working too hard and this was the perfect reward. I felt young and free again.

Dunkin Donuts: The NYU Way

NYU brilliantly extended their meal plans to include one special Dunkin Donuts located in their University Hall (UHall) building on 14th Street. You can either use your dining dollars or meal swipes to pay for it. A meal consists of a drink and a sandwich or two donuts. We regretfully ordered Dunkin Donuts coffee for our first few times, but after pleading to the workers, they informed us that we can order a latte instead. Iced large French vanilla latte with four splenda and non-fat milk? Solid order. It isn’t Starbucks, but it isn’t as bad as Dunkin Donuts coffee. Apparently the difference between coffee and a latte is pressing a different button. Who knew?

I always eat and hang out with the same best friend, so we thought to share a meal plan this summer. We only spent half of our twelve meal swipes this week and they were about to expire, so we went to Dunkin Donuts to spend the remaining six swipes. What did we order? Rather: what didn’t we order?

  • 2 Large iced lattes, non-fat milk, four splenda, one French vanilla and the other caramel
  • 2 Bottles of water
  • 1 Bottle of Mountain Dew (not sure why we bought that)
  • 1 Bottle of Orange Juice
  • 2 Sausage, egg and cheeses, one on garlic and the other on sesame
  • 1 Tuna fish sandwich on a plain bagel
  • 1 Turkey cheddar flat
  • 1 Boston cream donut
  • 1 Long John donut
  • 1 Bavarian cream donut
  • 1 Powdered donut
We devoured it all within eight hours.

Meatpacking District: Artichoke

My friend and I wanted to take advantage of the decent weather, so we thought to go to the Highline. We’ve talked about it all summer, but never actually quite made it over there. So we grabbed coffee on 14th and headed over on a bus. We walked up to the Highline on the 14th Street entrance, walked three blocks, and saw our favorite pizza shop, Artichoke, down below and left the Highline.

We usually stumble to their East Village location at odd hours of the night thinking that it was the only one, so it was such a shock to see that they have another location in Meatpacking. (Their website reveals a third location. Go Artichoke!) The pizza is a little expensive – $4.50 a slice – but it is absolutely delicious! Their main pizza is called ‘Artichoke’ and is artichoke hearts, spinach, cream sauce, mozzarella, and pecorino romano cheese. They also offer other ones like margarita, but those are not worthy of a mention because artichoke is that amazing.

This location differs from the rest in that it has seating that isn’t a broken bench outside and that it actually fits more than two people. The waitresses were not the friendliest people, but as if bad customer service would keep me away from delicious pizza. The pizza is so gooey and thick and just out of this world.

I’m a huge fan of its exterior – very Meatpacking District and very Italian. And the Range Rover just adds to the aesthetics.

Is Diet Coke bad for you?

There is nothing more refreshing and awakening than a fresh glass of ice cold Diet Coke in the morning. It’s a universal truth among Diet Coke drinkers. We have other options – like coffee or orange juice – but those have calories and lack the bubbling sensation as it goes down our throats. We reach a point where Diet Coke becomes our water. And is that a bad thing? Is Diet Coke bad for you?

It is an age old question that divides two camps – one screaming “Yes, aspartame causes cancer!” and the other, often considered in denial, screaming “No, it is fine.” Writing as Diet Coke Diaries, it sounds as if I am on the latter side of the argument, but I’d like to think that I’ve done considerable research and have established an unbiased position. I’ve been drinking over a liter of Diet Coke a day for about six years now. I am aware of what is going into my body and what effects it has on me.

The controversy over Diet Coke is rooted in its artificial sweetener, aspartame. It was first synthesized in 1965 as a sugar substitute – it is two hundred times sweeter than table sugar, so only a very small amount is needed to achieve the same sweetness. Because of the minute dosage, its caloric contribution is considered trifling. Even when it is in the body, it is quickly digested.

Although, and as I mentioned before, critics have targeted its alleged link to cancer as the main focal part of their argument. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for regulating and protecting public health and wellbeing, has completed numerous studies on aspartame and its side effects over the years – all of which have returned inconclusive. Of course, the critics have dubbed the FDA to be politically biased, incorrect, and just plain stupid, so for the sake of rationality, I will omit the FDA from my analysis based on those baseless claims. After all, aspartame has been approved in over 130 countries and dozens of private and public agencies around the world have conducted their own research, so it isn’t like I am short on references.

The National Cancer Institute conducted a study on about 500,000 people and returned no link between aspartame and cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma. The research was conducted on the basis that increased levels of cancer were prevalent in a study done on female rats and on the basis that brain cancer has increased over the years and people have pointed to artificial sweeteners being the culprit. The first one, while interesting, was conducted on female rats, therefore not entirely representational of human beings, thus the National Cancer Institute conducted their own human research. The latter claim was refuted and criticized for ecological fallacies as for artificial sweeteners weren’t the only thing that changed in American lifestyles in the years studied.

The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of Diet Coke is 50mg per kilogram of body weight. I weight about 150 pounds or 68 kilograms, so my aspartame ADI is 3,400mg. Each ounce of diet soda contains 15 mg of aspartame. I would need to drink 226 ounces – 19 cans or four 2L bottles of Diet Coke – in a day to be above my acceptable daily intake. I’d say that the most Diet Coke I ever drank is two full bottles in a day. I usually drink one bottle a day, but rarely do I drink more than that. I’d say that I am safe within my aspartame intake and the chance of developing cancer solely on my Diet Coke consumption is nil.

Critics also claim that Diet Coke is bad for you because it increases your risk for obesity. I have a little more sympathy in this claim because I do believe that some of them are true, but Diet Coke isn’t inherently linked to obesity and diabetes, merely the actions related to Diet Coke consumption are. The same applies to how eating carrots reduces the possibility of becoming blind – it isn’t the carrot that does it, but rather the person that is likely to eat the carrots (and other healthy foods) are less likely to become blind later in life.

The obesity claim stems from the diet fallacy where people think it is okay to eat multiple low-fat options instead of one full-fat option. (Two low-fat yogurts at 70 calories will add up to 40 calories more than one full-fat yogurt at 100 calories!) However, I don’t use Diet Coke as an excuse to eat more, nor do I think that consuming Diet Coke makes me eat more. I’m naturally a fatass and if you ask anyone if I am obese, they’d respond with a resounding no. The diet fallacy comes down to whether or not someone can balance their caloric intake and dietary needs, not consuming Diet Coke.

I’m content with my Diet Coke consumption. I truly believe that there is more to bad health than consuming a drink that has never been proven detrimental to human health. I have received a clean bill of health for the past eighteen years of my life, and even some concerns for weight loss these recent years. Living in Manhattan certainly helps with exercise and I can’t imagine my recent endeavors in fattening foods – within the past few months, really – have had that much of an effect on me.

I am Pakistani, apparently

I wrote about Spice Corner in an earlier post, and I described the treat he gave me as a “three inch ball of a dense, fried dough, sweet and sugary.” I asked a friend of mine who was familiar with southern Asian cuisine and she told me that I most likely had gulab jamun. When I returned the other day, I didn’t realize that all of the items on the bakery shelf were labelled.

I ordered a pound of gulab juman (received a discount again) and then I thought to grab some pista barfi too. Barfi is simply condensed milk cooked with sugar and other ingredients. The other ingredient is usually a fruit – mangoes or coconut – or even a nut – cashews or pistachios. In my case, the pista meant pistachio. It is very dense and sugary – absolutely delicious. I recommend any flavor!

As I promised myself last time, I’d ask about some of the currencies next time I was in the store. After I paid and he handed me the treats, I leaned over and started to ask about the currencies. “So which currencies are these? I see you have Iraq right ther-” “And here is Pakistan. You are Pakistani, right?” “Oh, no no. I am not from Pakistan.” His face shuffled and he was staring at me as if I was lying or as if he was deeply confused. I smiled and left.

It wasn’t the first time that I have received a comment like that. A Muslim Pakistani man approached me on the train, swore I was both Pakistani and Muslim, and that he wanted me as a roommate. I would normally write that off as creepy, weird, but I was kind of flattered. Another time, I was in a touristy area and the shopkeeper was guessing where each of customers were from. “France?” She said to the people in front of me. “That’s right!” They replied. I laughed. “And, you! You are a Turk!” she exclaimed at me. “Oh, no, I am not a Turk.” “Where are you from, then?” “New York.” And then the conversation fizzled out.

Perhaps it is trivial, but I sort of take pride in these compliments. I am a Middle Eastern Studies (and Politics) major, so I think it is interesting to be considered as someone from there. But I don’t have a trace of any Middle Eastern country in my blood. I sort of thank my grandparents – who I resemble most in facial structure and skin tone – from coming from Italy, or even the Mediterranean. I know of another Italian friend who was thought to be Moroccan when she was in Morocco. She’s a little darker than me, but I can’t wait to travel around the region and see if I can blend in with the locals. They are sharp with Arabic dialects and origins, so I want to see how many I can confuse!

Fall Sample Sale at Club Monaco

Club Monaco is hosting their fall 1 and 2 sample sale this week. It is pretty much a mix of last stock’s clothes, new clothes that never made it to production line, clothes that were made in multiple colors and some colors didn’t make it to the floor, and then new and crazy items. (There were a few clothes with baby pins down the sleeves – either that was the style, or tailor marks, but either way it was just weird.) They are hosting it at the Club Monaco corporate suite, 601 West 26th Street, #800, between 11th and 12th Avenue. It is in Siberia and it did take me about thirty minutes to get there, but it is worth it.

I started to realize that it was an event when a dozen or so people got off at the same spot I did on the bus and walked in the same direction. If you know Manhattan, then you’d know that all of six people are ever west of 9th Avenue. And here was about twenty people walking on 11th to the same building. The lines were forming outside of the door, going down the hall, and God knows where else. I couldn’t see the end of the line. I walked up to the security guard and simply said, “I’m a Club Monaco employee.” “I got you.” And he let me in. I was shocked there was no verification, but I am not complaining.

The room was pretty large and clothes were thrown around all over the place. I was a bit hesitant at first, but then I realized that I just had to dig in. I’m swimming around in these clothes, trying to find any size that could fit me. I dug through the same pile at fifteen times, each time finding some new and that I didn’t see before. It was as if someone was below the table and throwing up gems at me.

I ended up spending $75 on clothes. Some ladies were racking up receipts of over $200. Most of the room was dedicated to women, but I could only imagine how much that would retail. Here’s my breakdown of retail:

  • $15 for pants: I bought one pair that was unmarked, but it was a lightweight chino, so it would sell for about $70 or more. ($55 savings)
  • $15 for pants: I bought another unmarked pair, but this one was more formal, so I’d say that it would retail at $90 or above. I really think over $100, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. ($75 savings, $130 total)
  • $10 for a shirt: I’ve been eyeing this shirt in the store for a while. It was originally $100, but it was on sale for $70. I wanted it, but didn’t feel like spending that much for a white shirt that was a size too large. This shirt was my size and only $10. ($90 savings, $220 total)
  • $10 for another shirt: I thought I had already bought this shirt, but I don’t think so. Either way, I couldn’t turn it down for $10. It must retail for at least $60. ($50 savings, $270 total)
  • $10 for shorts: Black shorts. Nothing more can be said. Retails at $60. ($50 savings, $320 total)
  • $10 for shorts: Another pair of black shorts. Can one own enough black shorts? That’s a rhetorical no. Retails again at $60. ($50 savings, $370 total)
  • $5 for a tie: It is a black tie with a Club Monaco club on it. Is there a more perfect tie for me? Another rhetorical no. Retails at $70. ($65 savings, $435 total)
If I bought all of this full price, then I would have spent $510. I spent $75 and saved $435. It was a bit of a struggle fighting off the Asians (it helps being triple their height and size), but it was well worth it.

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