As most may already know from news reports, several provinces in the Philippines were completely devastated by Typhoon Yolanda. Thousands perished while those fortunate enough to survive lost everything they had. This TIME magazine post has a comprehensive list of ways to help for those near and far. For those outside the Philippines who would like to help, please consider donating through the channels listed below. Even the smallest donation will go a long way.

Those in the Philippines will probably know better than I do where to send help, but I did want to share this helpful infographic I came across that will hopefully facilitate relief efforts:

For continuing updates on relief efforts, please click here.

The High Line

If Buzzfeed's to be believed, the High Line is apparently a source of conflict among New Yorkers. Truth be told, the first time I set foot on this aerial park built on abandoned rail tracks, I was underwhelmed. But to be fair, I lived two blocks away from Central Park back then and was spoiled with daily exposure to lush greenery, so it was tough to get excited over the few little shrubs that were just starting to grow on the railway. Through the years, however, I've grown to love the High Line. It's a treat to have this little bit of greensward in the middle of the city where one can sit, stroll, tan, and even enjoy an artisanal popsicle or a glass of wine. As the High Line continues to expand northward, its character just keeps on growing.

During my family's visit to New York last week, I took them to see this unusual little park. I had been wanting to check out the newest and northernmost part of the park since finding out that El Anatsui had an installation on one of the buildings flanking the old railway. If you remember, I fell in love with El Anatsui's work after seeing his exhibition Gravity and Grace at the Brooklyn Museum. This installation was just as breathtaking as his other monumental pieces. Dubbed Broken Bridge II, it is El Anatsui's largest installation to date. Sheets of pressed tin woven with mirrors hang off the side of a building, reflecting the surrounding area as it changes with the seasons. On the day of our visit, the glass seemed to melt into the impossibly blue skies over New York.

This part of the High Line has fantastic views of some choice urban art. The best of the lot were these vibrant murals by Eduardo Kobra on 25th Street. The top is a technicolor rendering of that iconic photograph of that iconic V-J Day kiss, while the bottom depicts a vintage Times Square street scene.

There's plenty of eye candy on this part of the High Line, from the art perched on the grounds to voyeuristic glimpses of the lives of New Yorkers in the buildings grazing the railway. Then there are those stunning views of the Empire State Building peeking through the greenery.

I thought the juxtaposition of that modern marvel against the Gothic structure of the Desmond Tutu Center was particularly lovely—echoing that wonderful melding of the old with the new that the High Line is known for.

I hope to squeeze in a few more stops at the High Line before the season ends. If you're ever in the city, ignore the arguing New Yorkers and see this unusual Big Apple gem for yourself. 

A Piece of Art to Call My Own

I few months ago, I did something which I thought was very grown up: I commissioned my very first piece of art! I spent my first year in my apartment furnishing it—you know, buying things I actually needed: a proper bed to sleep on, a dining table to hypothetically eat on, and a couch to actually do everything on (including eating and sleeping). It wasn't until year two began that the empty space above the couch that I spend so much time on started to bug me. It was time for some art.

My search eventually brought me to Stasia Burrington, a Seattle-based artist who creates beautiful nudes draped and showered with flowers she cuts out of quilts.
I got in touch with Stasia through her Etsy store initially because I wanted to order one of her prints in a larger size. After exchanging a few messages, however, I found out that it was actually possible to commission an original piece that would fit my space and my budget. Depending on the size of the piece, a custom piece can run for approximately $200 to 500. Considering that the cost of a large print can run over $100 (and that the cost of framing is usually far higher than whatever it is you're actually having framed), a custom piece was well worth the money.

Stasia started the process by asking me what I specifically liked about the pieces I had initially inquired about. I told her why I liked certain poses, what I liked revealed and concealed on the female form, and which colors drew me in. She sent me some sketches, and once I chose one I liked, she went to work quickly. In a matter of hours, she sent me picture after picture of the work in progress, from the watercolor to the cutting of flowers. It was thrilling to see the art come together.

The finished product took my breath away. It was everything I wanted, from the beautiful colors to the figure Stasia drew and painted that's sensual without revealing too much. I even like how the girl ended up looking somewhat similar to me, even though it isn't me at all.

After much procrastination, I finally got around to having the piece framed and hung (with much thanks to my New York mom and dad, Bads and Bong). And here, at long last, is my original Stasia Burrington piece, in a place of pride in my humble abode:

Thank you for creating something so wonderful for me, Stasia! I will cherish it for many years to come.

To see more of Stacia's work or to commission a custom piece of your own, visit her website at stasiaburrington.com

Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen

When we think about ramen, what usually comes to mind is a steaming bowl of noodles flavored with soy or tonkotsu, and loaded up with unctuous slices of pork. It wasn't until I encountered Yuji Ramen at Smorgasburg that I realized there was another kind of ramen: mazemen or "mixed noodles." A newer iteration of ramen, mazemen infuses noodles with complex flavors through the addition of sauces, oils, gelees, and other surprising ingredients.

We got to experience just how astonishingly inventive ramen can be when we sat for chef Yuji Haraguchi's five-course omakase at the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen in Smorgasburg's Bowery Whole Foods outpost. Chef Yuji's approach is modern and thoughtful. His noodles are handmade, his seafood locally sourced, and his shoyu ramen broth flavored using bones and cast-offs from Whole Foods' butchers and fishmongers.

Our first course was a salmon and cheese mazemen, which sounded bizarre but made complete sense once I took a bite. The Camembert cheese was very subtle, giving the perfectly chewy ramen a creamy taste that's harmonious with the succulent house-cured salmon. Crispy salmon skin, taken from the same piece of fish, added a nice crunch; a sqeeze of lemon gave just the right splash of acidity; and julienned purple and green shiso leaves gave a hint of  freshnes. Together with the shredded nori on top, the dish calls to mind a deconstructed Philadelphia roll, elevated several degrees.

The second course blew my mind. Simply described on the menu as "squid", this course featured ramen shells flavored and colored with squid ink—ikazumi. I absolutely love squid ink pasta and paella, so this dish was right up my alley. The ramen is cooked in a tomato broth and topped with squid ragu and breadcrumbs mixed with nori. It was hearty, heartwarming and delicious. My dining companions weren't fans of the particular taste of squid ink, but I am still day-dreaming about it.

The dish that made everyone sit up and take notice was the third course. First of all, when you think of ramen, this isn't exactly the visual you'd expect, right?

Chef Yuji made these little pieces of ravioli out of soba flour and filled them with ankimo or monkfish liver, aptly known as the foie gras of the sea. It was decadent and delicious, and all that was needed was a bit of freshly grated wasabi, a tiny shiso leaf, and strips of radish.

The fourth course featuring clams was both a dish and an experience. Chef Yuji handed us bowls containing a pretty concoction of chilled ramen broth, ponzu, soy sauce, yuzu gelee, cucumber puree, poached clams, bits of bacon, and even a pretty edible flower. Next, he gave us bowls of steaming ramen, into which we were told to pour in our bowl of ingredients and mix, witnessing the changes in textures. My inner 5-year-old always enjoys playing with my food, and at any age, I do love a dish as hearty yet multilayered as this one.

Our final dish was a bit of a spectacle. Chef Yuji took a blowtorch to a tray of empty mussel shells, which he then placed in individual French coffee presses. The mussel shells were then dusted with bonito flakes, topped off with steaming broth, and allowed to steep, before we had the pleasure of crushing down the shells to impart a smoky flavor to the soup. This soup was then poured into our individual bowls of ramen topped with mussels, green onions and nori. As the day's broth was made with some beef bones, the resulting bowl of ramen had an incredibly comforting soup full of beef and smoky mussel flavor. Absolutely delicious.

If you haven't snagged a seat for chef Yuji's highly popular omakase yet, start stalking the Yuji Ramen Twitter account to find out when tickets go on sale next. Until then, you can try the a la carte options at the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen, or stop by the Yuji Ramen stand at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Dumbo on Sundays. Happy slurping!

Breaking up with Google Reader

Whether you've been hiding under a rock and will find what I'm about to tell you a total shock, or you've been going on as if things were normal and basically indulging in denial, I'm afraid it's time to come to terms with the painful truth: On Monday, Google Reader is breaking up with all of us. It's packing up and disappearing into thin air with all those feeds we've painstakingly subscribed to through the years, as if all our delightful daily encounters meant absolutely nothing. We thought it took two tango, but on Monday when we go in for the dip, Google Reader won't be there to catch us. Yup, Google Reader is going away to never be heard from again! (well, unless it wants to emotionally manipulate you into a rendezvous in Google+ land ... but, dear readers, don't let them get away with it! Stand strong.)

I swear, I'm still talking about web feed aggregators.

Like most other heartbreaks, this too shall pass—and much faster if you find a new love, like I have. I moved on to Bloglovin' a few weeks ago and I haven't looked back.

While I actually am a techie by education and profession, the absolute truth is that I like Bloglovin' because it's pretty and it gets me. It makes my morning blog-browsing such a lovely affair, with its aesthetically pleasing typography and the option to see the blog post anchor photos in two sizes.
Bloglovin' lets you click over to the actual blog, which is nice because seeing the blog layout is part of the experience. I usually harbor a dislike of toolbars, but I find Bloglovin's pretty handy, as I can scroll through between new posts from the blogs I follow, plus cross-post to Facebook and Twitter, or go pin-happy on Pinterest. I especially like how it sussed out the only social media platforms its target audience actually cares for, rather than bombarding you with a bajillion buttons.

Bloglovin' makes it really easy for you to import your Google Reader subscriptions, so if you haven't done so already, get to it! It's idiot-proof, I swear.
If you're not part of the blog-lovefest yet, you can sign up for Bloglovin' here. And if you'd like to follow The Happily Ever After Project on Bloglovin', you can click here or on that pretty little pink button with a plus sign on the sidebar.

We will be okay.

New York Wine Trails

It's hard to believe that summer just officially started. It's been a wonderful few months of soaking up the warm weather (well, except for those rainy days when we were just literally getting soaked). It's so nice to know that there's more of it to come.

One of the loveliest ways of spending a summer day, I've found, is to get out of the city for some wine-tasting. Years ago, I didn't even know that there were vineyards to visit and good wine to be had in these parts. Since my friend Zoe introduced me to the wonders of New York State wine, we've had many lovely day trips seeking out sun-drenched spaces where we can sip while gazing out at lush East Coast vines.

The latest revelation: the Shawangunk Hudson Valley Wine Trail. In less than two hours, we went from Penn Station to a sunny patio overlooking lush vineyards and the majestic Whitecliff bluff. This was Whitecliff Vineyard, where the white wines are crisp and delicate. I don't normally like white wine because I'm not keen on acidic tastes but at Whitecliff Vineyard, I tasted quite a few to my liking and even took home the Mountain Laurel White, a lightly fruity vidal blanc. The young man who attended to us told us that the Bounty of the Hudson will take place here from July 27 to 28, bringing "Gunks" sips, artisanal bites and live music from the area to Whitecliff Vineyards' grounds for a lovely little fete. It sounds so tempting ... we just might make the trip back! 

Our next stop was at Brimstone Hill Vineyard, one of the older wineries in the Hudson at 29 years old. It was an extremely laid-back operation seemingly out of their home/office, but when I got a sip of their Cab Franc, I was impressed. As I handed over my card to pay for a bottle, I thought perhaps when you've got good wine, there's no need to try too hard. 

Our final stop for the day was at Robibero Family Vineyards. It's a relatively new winery, but their grounds are gorgeous and their Traminette luscious. After our tasting, we sat at a picnic table outside to snack on cheese and potato chip chocolate (no, that's not a typo and yes, it was fabulous).

I took home a bottle from each winery that we visited and I'm really happy I did. These Hudson Valley wineries are so small that most of the time, their wines are only available at their tasting rooms and through their websites, so it's quite special to have a bottle or two in my wine rack.

Our more regular haunt, as far as wine trails go, is the North Fork. Earlier in the season, we drove approximately two hours East to celebrate Zoe's birthday with some good old Long Island wine. We've been visiting North Fork wineries quite regularly and through the years have settled on some favorites. Duck Walk Vineyards is a mainstay on our list as I find myself always wanting a few of their dessert wines. I'm a fan of the unusual boysenberry port, which is lovely when poured over vanilla ice cream—one of my favorite hot weather treats! We also visited some new spots. Jason's Vineyard is recommended if you're winetasting with kiddies in tow, as they have some entertaining and highly vocal sheep on the property. It's fun to see them, no matter how old you are. The Winemakers Studio by the Anthony Nappa Wines was also a nice place to visit, as we got to try a number of private label wines from local winemakers that we might not necessarily have access to otherwise because they don't have their own tasting rooms.
Our stop at Mattebella Vineyards was quite enjoyable, too. They have a lovely patio overlooking the vineyard, and they serve you complimentary little bites of brownies and fig-heaped crostini to go with your tasting. Little snacks are always helpful when you've been swigging wine all day.

Of course, we always save our appetites for Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck. They have a great brunch menu with everything from burgers to lemon ricotta pancakes. Love Lane Market next door is so hip it puts Brooklyn to shame. Rotisserie Duck?? My local Peas n Pickles needs to up its game big time.
I expect that there'll be a few more visits to some vineyards before summer ends. Here's hoping your summer is just as sun- and wine-soaked! Cheers!

Surviving Mudball 2013 (a.k.a. Governors Ball)

I'm not gonna lie: Last week, when I first stepped foot on the Governors Ball grounds and took in the apocalyptic muddy mess I was expected to dive into for the love of music, I thought, "What the f@*% have I gotten myself into?"

Governor's Ball was one of the most highly anticipated festivals of the year, with its killer lineup and location in the Big Bad Apple.

But Mother Nature literally rained on our parade, as tropical storm Andrea dumped record amounts of rainfall on New York on Friday. Day 1 of Governors Ball had music-lovers contending with a Waterworld-meets-Woodstock scenario, with the main grounds transformed into a shallow lake and festival goers braving pneumonia to see Of Monsters and Men on stage. By Day 2, the festival grounds had turned into a treacherous swamp that could and did suck off the sandals and sneakers of some poor, unfortunate souls.

Over the years, I've become somewhat of a music festival ninja so I did not end up on the casualty list. As I trolled Twitter and Instagram on Saturday morning to figure out what state Randall's Island was in, the only question on my mind was whether I should wear short rain boots or tall wellies—any other type of footwear was inconceivable. My short Hunter boots turned out to be quite perfect; they protected my feet from the ankle-deep mud but weren't stiflingly hot in 80-degree temps.

Wading through the mud on Saturday to get from one stage to another was time-consuming and exhausting. But once we were on solid cement in front of the main stage dancing to Cut Copy, singing along with Kings of Leon, and head-banging to Guns n' Roses, it was all too easy to forget the mud and mayhem behind us.

Sunday was a cakewalk in comparison to Saturday. While rubber boots were still an absolute necessity, a lot of the mud had solidified, making treks between stages far less arduous. My happiest moment was watching The Lumineers and the adorable kids from Success Academy Bronx 2 perform "Stubborn Love" and "Ho Hey" just as the sun was setting. I found The Lumineers to be one of those bands who you end up loving more after seeing them live. They are absolutely charming. 

The main event on Sunday was, of course, Kanye. For the love of Yeezus, we crammed ourselves in with thousands of other festival goers an hour before his set began. I'm partial to his Coachella performance in 2010, but it was pretty fun to be in the thick of the crowd throwing my hands up and bouncing in unison with everyone as he performed hit after hit. His new tracks are a bit rough for my taste, but we'll see. He might wear me down.

As challenging as it was to trek through all that mud, I still had an amazing time. It helped that I was as prepared as possible. If you're Type A like me and cannot stomach being on an island feeling utterly helpless, may I suggest a few things that would be great to have for the next (mud)fest?
  • Wet wipes. I know, it seems like something only a Mommy should carry, but it is positively luxurious when you're feeling sweaty and grimy. And after that inevitable porta-potty visit when the antibacterial gel has run out and the handwashing stands are piled with muck, you'll be thankful you have them. 
  • A portable cellphone charger. My friend Ajay sent me this little gizmo and it is an absolute lifesaver in these situations. Poor cell reception at festivals + phone calls and texts to locate friends + those videos and photos that you must take + adding filters to said photos on Instagram + posting on IG, Facebook and Twitter to #humblebrag = one dead phone. Yes, festivals have started putting up charging stations but they're not open all night (particularly at that moment when you phone breathes its final gasp) so it's better to take matters into your own hands. The MiiPower charger also has a built in flashlight, which is a nice little bonus.
  • Cash. Seems like a no-brainer but easy to forget. There are ATM stations in festivals but who really wants to pay all those additional fees on top of the exorbitantly priced cheapo beer? Not I, and I'm sure you'd rather not, too.
  • For the ladies: a bikini underneath your fab festival outfit. Whether or not you're able to summon up the courage/shamelessness to disrobe, it's always nice to have that option once the summer sun starts relentlessly beating down.
That I now have festival ninja tricks up my sleeve could mean that I've probably been to too many ... OR maybe it means it's time to hit Burning Man? Food for thought ...

Cronut Crazed

Given my propensity for chronicling everything New York, as well as most everything that enters my belly, I would be remiss if I didn't address the current baked goods madness sweeping through the city. If you haven't heard of it yet, let me introduce you to the almighty cronut.

This love child of a flaky croissant and a custard-filled doughnut has driven New York to madness. Cronut fans line up at Dominique Ansel Bakery as early as 6:45am, in the hope of taking home just two of these baked goodies before supply runs out at around 10am. Yes, you read that right, just two. Chef Dominique has instituted a two-cronut limit per person in an attempt to give as many people in line a taste of these coveted goodies. Three weeks ago, the limit was 6 per person; this week, it dropped down to 2 despite production having gone up. That should give you an idea of how ridiculously high the demand is for this mega pastry.

It is such a prized commodity, in fact, that there is now a black market for cronuts. A quick search on Craigslist brings up at least 12 posts of enterprising folks providing line up and delivery services to the city's cash-flush, line-averse cronut addicts for as much as $40 a pop! Extremely hands-on Chef Dominique is well aware of it and has been trying to stamp down on the scalping, tweeting today:
I've found Chef Dominique's egalitarian approach to cronut distribution refreshing. No one, absolutely no one, gets a cronut without putting in time on the line: not the Associated Press, not The Chew, not even Hugh "Jean Valjean" Jackman!

So how on earth did the unicorn of pastry goods end up in my lucky little hands? Readers, I reckon I must have done something fantastically sweet in a past life because I've now had two versions of the cronut purely through the generosity of friends who went to great lengths to procure them. A few weeks ago, my surrogate New York Mum and Dad, Bong and Bads, shared the precious rose-flavored cronuts they took home after waking up bright and early to line up. Then, last night, I was a lucky guest to a bacchanalia of Korean barbeque, Sapporo-soju bombs, narwals, and lemon-maple cronuts engineered by my friends Avery and Ajay (let me clarify that narwals were merely discussed and not consumed in this exercise).

My personal feeling about cronuts? I'm glad one has to go through extreme lengths to procure them because if they were available on every corner, my waistline would be in grave danger. While May's rose vanilla cronut was a shade too rich for my liking, June's lemon-maple version hit my sweet spot. The subtly tart lemon flavor is the perfect counterpoint to the flaky layers inlaid with rich custard. And did I mention cronuts are being rolled in maple sugar all month this June? It's bikini suicide, I tell you. I could eat A LOT of those guys given the chance, so I'm thankful that the laws of supply and demand ensure that more often than not, I won't have that chance.

If each new month means the conception of a new cronut flavor possibly even more addicting than the last, however, then we should probably brace for a lengthy cronut obsession. This may just be the beginning.

Dominique Ansel Bakery is located at 189 Spring Street 
between Sullivan and Thompson in New York

Inasal NYC

Are you ready for some honest-to-goodness Bacolod flavor, New York?

A few Saturdays ago, we spent an evening playing the role of *extremely lucky* guinea pigs for our friends Brandon and Nina Vargas' chicken inasal taste test. Inasal is a style of grilling chicken that stems from the city of Bacolod. It lends chicken a very particular and delicious flavor: smoky, slightly sweet, and with a bit of a tang. I ate copious amounts of chicken inasal back in college, trekking regularly to a spot just across Ateneo in Katipunan for a constant fix. It's a dish I've missed sorely since then as there's a conspicuous lack of inasal spots here in New York.

Well, I'm happy to report that this will soon change. Bacolod native Brandon has perfected his inasal recipe and will be bringing Inasal NYC to New Yorkers at the Philippine Independence Day parade fair on June 2. We got a sneak peek of delicious things to come at their home, where we feasted on paa (chicken leg and thigh) paired with steaming garlic rice copiously drizzled with chicken oil. Yes, I said chicken oil—all the drippings from the grill ladled right back onto the garlic rice to dizzyingly yummy effect! They also gave us a taste of their a special Bacolod atchara, which blew our minds before we even got to the chicken. It's a simple yet highly addictive pickled mixture of string beans, chickpeas and onion. Paired with juicy chicken inasal, it had us breaking diets and eating well into midnight. There was also grilled liempo (pork belly), but what really got me excited were the grilled offal: baticolon (chicken gizzard) and isol (chicken butt), which I gobbled up in no time. Rumors are these offal goodies will be available on June 2, and I can't wait to chow down on more! 
If you would like to get your inasal fix, come to the Philippine Independence Day parade on June 2. Inasal NYC's booth will be on Madison Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets. To keep tabs on Inasal NYC, like their Facebook page here.

Manhattan Cocktail Classic: Filipino Fiesta

I celebrated my birthday this year in the most wonderful way: with lots of cocktails and Filipino food at the Bowery Hotel Rooftop surrounded by some of my dearest New York friends. This year's Manhattan Cocktail Classic included a Filipino Fiesta among its slew of events over the five-day festival dedicated to libations. The Filipino Fiesta highlighted our country's many flavors in a way that's modern yet still faithful to the cuisine.
The cocktails were designed by Enzo Lim, Maharlika and Jeepney's master mixologist, and each one was inventive and delightful. My favorite was the Ayala Ave—a mixture of Haliya mango wine and elderflower cordial with muddled lime, mint and ampalaya. Non-Filipinos are probably unfamiliar with ampalaya,  which is called bitter gourd in English. As the name indicates, it is extremely bitter in flavor but is believed to deliver numerous health benefits. It is to the Filipino child what brussels sprouts are to Western kids: an instrument of dinnertime terror. Now that I'm older though, I love ampalaya as much as I do brussel sprouts—and I quite enjoyed the slight bitterness it imparted to what would have otherwise been a very sweet drink. On a hot New York evening, the Ayala Ave was like a refreshing breeze. Other yummy cocktails on the menu: a Mango Gimlet with gin, mango syrup, lime juice and bitters, topped with coconut flakes; and a Kalamansi Collins with vodka, lemon juice, kalamansi juice, smoked salt and dried hibiscus.

A ticket to the Fiesta came with unlimited drinks and food tickets for each of the food stands manned by some of the city's Filipino restaurants and caterers. I used two tickets for a double serving of Jeepney's Pinoy spaghetti, the quintessential birthday party food. The sweet bolognese with red hot dog slivers tasted just like my childhood. Jeepney elevated their version with some toasted queso de bola and crumbled longganiza, and I loved every bite! Kuma Inn/Umi Nom's booth was extremely popular as chef King Phojanakong pulled out all stops with a lechon (roast pig). The succulent piece of pork with a slice of perfectly crisp skin paired with garlic rice and pickled vegetables was so indulgent and satisfying. Zengo's kilawin was another favorite of mine. Kilawin is a Filipino-style ceviche, and it was the perfect little shot of tangy seafood and mango bits on that humid day. Other plates served were Ugly Kitchen's lumpiang sariwa (spring roll), Payag's chicken inasal (Bacolod-style grilled chicken), and D’Original Lapaz Batchoy's Ilonggo style noodle soup with pork liver, scallion and chicharron bits.
The event was sponsored by the Philippine Department of Tourism, and it was a really wonderful way of showcasing our country and all it has to offer. It's been so heartwarming to see how Filipino cuisine has come into the mainstream here in New York as of late, and I am so proud of all the wonderful work New York's Filipino restaurateurs and the Philippine Department of Tourism have been doing to bring our food to a wider audience (Mitch Dy, you are a rock star!). Congratulations to the wonderful people behind this event, and thank you for giving me everything a Pinay could want on her special day!

Long Island City

One of the most surprising parts of New York is oft-overlooked Long Island City. It's just a quick subway ride on the 7 train from Grand Central, but it's a trip many Manhattanites never seem to take. But as LIC comes up with more and more to offer, all this will perhaps soon change. Right now, LIC already offers one of the city's coolest one-two punches: a fantastic meal at M. Wells Dinette followed by a walk through vibrant 5 Pointz (you should actually tour MoMa PS1, of course, for the TKO, if you're able to get your act together earlier in the day than I am).

A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune of glutting myself at the original M. Wells with my friend Brandon, who was a cook there. It was an artery-clogging, heart-wrenchingly fantastic meal, so when M. Wells' doors were shuttered, I felt the immense loss to the city's hedonists, who had to relearn how to exist in a world without foie gras grilled cheese sandwiches and bone marrow escargot (insert #firstworldproblems here). But last year, M. Wells finally opened an outpost at MoMa PS1, and while the aforementioned dishes haven't been reinstated on the menu, they have come up with enough goodies to keep their clientele happy in the meantime. On that particular Friday afternoon, we lunched at M. Wells Dinette's cafeteria-styled digs and yes, they took us to school. We feasted on a tasty rabbit terrine bound with pork belly and dotted with figs; a comforting braised poulet with in-season asparagus, spring onions and young potatoes; and a heart-warming chocolate souffle sprinkled with caramel brittle—and every bite was an A+.
After a satisfying meal and a few libations, we were ready for a good stroll—and 5 Pointz had an approximately 200,000 square foot factory for us to walk around and explore. It had been over a year since my last visit, and it was cool to see what new things have popped up on those walls. There are a number of new pieces but these were my favorites: a Dali painting by Zimer, and an intricately detailed piece declaring Fressen & Gefressen Werden—eat and be eaten.

Towards the end of our walk, we came across this piece by Pablo Mustafa, which made me giggle at the irony, considering the day's activities: 

The PS1 tag is supposedly a vandal's work on Pablo Mustafa's piece but there are rumors to the contrary swirling about. Whether there is some animosity between 5 Pointz's artists and MoMa PS1, I am not privy to, but as long as they co-exist, I will keep coming by for  an LIC fling whenever possible.

How to get there: 

New York in Full Bloom

Every spring, there are a few magical weeks when New York is in full bloom. The most mundane tasks, from walking to the subway to taking a coffee break outside, take on a dreamlike quality, with delicate canopies of pink and white blossoms hovering overhead, curving over streets and lining pathways. Whenever this time of the year comes around, I make an effort to spend more time outdoors, knowing how fleeting it all is.

The highlight of the season is the full blossoming of Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Cherry Esplanade. It's an event that I always look forward to—but not without a feeling of wistfulness. Not too long after the cherry blossom trees turn into fluffy clouds of rosy blooms, the petals begin to fall, leaving only a carpet of pink flowers. With that, that magical season ends, ushering in the dog days of summer. But for one afternoon last weekend, we took some time to sit underneath those canopies of cherry blossoms, taking it all in.

As the cherry blossom season comes to an end, I find myself wishing, as I do every year, that it could last forever. But as with everything else in life, we just have to accept that nature will take its course. We have to let go of some things in order to make room for everything else that life has in store.