Things I Loved and Will Probably Continue to Rave About for a Long Time: 2017 Edition

A very brief post-mortem of the things I had no regrets spending my time on. As always, in no particular order.


  • Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
  • The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui
  • We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Samantha Irby
  • Difficult Women, Roxanne Gay
  • Dinner: Changing the Game, Melissa Clark

Short Stories

  • “Division by Zero,” Ted Chiang
  • “Sour Heart,” Jenny Zhang
  • Cat Person,” Kristen Rouopenian


  • The Florida Project
  • Lady Bird
  • I, Tonya
  • Baby Driver
  • Get Out
  • Mother!
  • Call Me by Your Name

Honorable mentions: Killing of a Sacred DeerCocoDunkirk


  • The Leftovers
  • Insecure
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Big Little Lies
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Honorable mentions: Stranger ThingsMaster of None, The Good Place, The Crown, BoJack Horseman


  • My Favorite Murder
  • More Perfect
  • Heavyweight
  • S-Town

Honorable mentions: The Heart, Invisiblia, Reply All, Revisionist History, Ear Hustle, Lore

Individual Episodes: “Null and Void” (Radiolab), “Budget Time” (Planet Money), “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” (You Must Remember This), “A Brief Eulogy for a Commercial Radio Station” (The Memory Palace), “The Containment Plan” and “This Is Chance” (99% Invisible), “Act V” (This American Life)


Chopped Salads and Doughnuts

For my last day at my internship, I was too lazy to make lunch for myself, so being the resourceful person that I am, I took this opportunity to sample a chopped salad. Apparently, it’s all the craze in the city, at least according to an article I read. Luckily for me, there was a Chop’t near the southwest corner of Madison Square Park.

I took a late lunch at around 2:30, and there were a couple of people in front of me: a middle-aged man with white hair around his temples and a suit and skinny women dressed in athletic clothing (probably Chop’t’s main demographic). The menu lets you tailor your own salad (or salad wrap). Everything is organic, of course, and there’s a seasonal menu, from which I ordered the Puebla Cobb. I think I spent about five minutes staring at the dressing choices. I haven’t done the math to see how many salad combinations are possible, but the number is certainly astronomically high.

There’s something to be said about watching the staff shred leaves of spinach and whole avocados into tiny little pieces. My salad had tortilla chips, which gave each bite a pleasant crunch. Plus, you do get every flavor in each bite. But here’s the thing: I don’t like salads for lunch very much. Although I’m sure it was very healthy and that I ate enough spinach to impress Popeye, this’ll be my first and last time eating the chopped kind.

On the flip side, in celebration of my last day, we had Dunkin’ Donuts at the office. For all I say about not eating processed, unhealthy food, those doughnuts taste like childhood, and I think I may be addicted to their artificially-colored frosting. (After elementary school slumber parties, our parents would always buy us these doughnuts for breakfast.) Ugh. I sound like a Mad Men episode.

I really have nothing else to say regarding this, but I was genuinely surprised how ingrained Dunkin’ Donuts is in my brain. It seemed significant at the time.

My Favorite European Food Experiences

1. The “Falafel Special” at L’As du Fallafel. This falafel sandwich, wrapped in pita, smothered with delicious white sauce and topped with eggplant and cabbage, is easily the best €5.50 I’ve ever spent. The green storefront is tucked away in the Marais, and after every final, I took line 1 to St. Paul and ate my food under the awning of a Jewish deli across the street from the restaurant, which always seemed to have delicious matzah ball soup. The falafel, fried and seasoned to crisp perfection and piping warm, was worth a trek, even if it meant eating under the pouring rain.

2. A giant pomegranate that I bought at a Carrefour in Istanbul. Back at the apartment, I used a butter knife to open the fruit, which made a big mess. Pro tip: first pick out all the little red kernels into a bowl and scoop them up with a spoon for neat and efficient consumption.

3. The “Autumn Special” poffertjes at a pancake place in Amsterdam. I thought I would have had to wait until I returned home to have pancake like foods. Crêpes are plenty delicious, but they don’t have the same soft, fluffiness. Luckily, poffertjes certainly held me over. The small, mini-pancakes that I ordered came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with cranberry and cherry sauce and chocolate shavings. Whipped cream held everything together, and I dipped the cakes in a caramel maple syrup from a bottle on a table. One of the best brinners I’ve ever had and a perfect respite from the cold rainy weather outside.

4. Macarons from Pierre Hermé. Laudurée, established in 1862, may have a two hundred fifty year pedigree, and indeed, their salted caramel macarons are heavenly, especially since they’re  filled with smooth, sea salt caramel. But in terms of overall yumminess, Pierre Hermé has got it beat. Each macaron has the perfect balance of filling and cookie and an immaculate presentation – bright colors, smooth gilded surfaces, soft creamy insides. The rose flavor was astonishing and tasted like a sunny English tea garden, and I had a “Mogador,” a seasonal creation that blended chocolate and passionfruit.

5. Pain au noix from Eric Kayser. One of our school guides pointed out that the Eric Kayser bakery near the UChicago Center in Paris was “very good.” It was only later that I found out that Eric Kayser is internationally renowned for his baked goods. I had been munching on mainly pastries and baguettes when I decided to try something different. After some hand gesturing to indicate that I meant a small loaf of bread and not a small dinner roll when I said “petit pain,” my bread was sliced and wrapped neatly in breakfast, still warm and smelling heavenly. I usually dislike nuts and things in my bread, but the recipe integrated everything perfectly. I ate a slice with blueberry jam everyday for breakfast, and it had a mild sweetness that made it perfect for a light meal or afternoon snack.

6. Lentils in Madrid. Lentils are another food for which I do not have strong feelings, but these lentils were hearty and nourishing. Cooked with Spanish sausage, they were a simple appetizer and recommended by our waiter to general acclaim.

7. Cool dessert thing in Loire Valley. And that whole meal in general. Apologies for the unintelligible description. Plus, it’s one of the only meals that I did not document on film.

8. Confit de canard at Chartier. Chartier has the distinction of serving French food at great prices and in a historic looking, hotel-esque setting. When we arrived at 6:30, the line had already spiraled to the end of the block. Although quality wise, there were probably finer restaurants in the city, it was just what my friends and I wanted, a place of minor distinction and affordable. We started our meal with escargot, which is actually quite good, a big hit if you are a fan of shellfish and buttery sauce. Confit de carnard is a leg of duck, my favorite type of poultry, often accompanied with potatoes. The potatoes in question were adorable: cute, little, round things still wearing their skins and soft enough to pierce easily with a fork. It’s a French dish that appears everywhere in Paris, one of my absolute favorites.

9. A full English breakfast in London. Picture a runny egg, a side of bacon and ham, plus buttered toast. It sounds like pretty ordinary. Now add a tureen of baked beans, a sliced tomato, and some black pudding, and there you have it! English breakfast! At least five sources of protein and something to fill our stomach for the entire morning and then some. Everything was good, even the black pudding, which in theory sounds gross but in practice is not half-bad. After weeks of pastries and yogurt, it was a much-appreciated departure for the most important meal of the day.

10. On the same note, a meat pie in London. The beef was so tender that it fell off the bone when I tried to scoop a piece with my fork.

11. White wine at our wine-tasting. Despite our wine-tasting session, the task of detecting fruity florals or wood-like flavors in wine still perplexes me. However, the first wine that they served was a half-dry white and soothingly sweet. It was a bright, golden color, a little viscous, and reminded me of honey. I wish I’d written down the name.

12. Christmas market currywurst in Berlin. There were Christmas markets everywhere, and you can’t leave Berlin without trying its staple street food dish. At one market, they made it with potatoes instead of typical dinner roll, and it was a great, hearty snack for a clod, blustery night.

13. Home-cooked Turkish grocery store meal. We wound up just cooking dinner for ourselves each night that we were in Istanbul. At the store around the corner, we picked up a package of köfta, spiced lamb patties that were fried on the stove, a package of frozen mantı, which are star-shaped pasta noodles filled with meat, a loaf of fresh bread, spicy tomato pepper sauce, and beyaz peynir, which is known simply as white cheese. Picking up random food from the store was half the fun.

14. Sangria in Barcelona. I had a Spanish tortilla with a small pitcher that I shared with a friend. It was sweet, and there were pieces of pears, apples, and grapes floating as happy as they could be, bumping into cylinder-shaped ice cubes.

15. French fries at Albert Cuyp Market. I had just eaten an ossenworst sandwich, but there was a fry stand at the corner, and I couldn’t resist. I paid an extra thirty cents for mayonaise, the best pocket change that I’d ever spent.

That’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

The most exciting thing that has happened to me today was that I changed the background on my computer.  Gracing my desktop is a black and white photograph.  Two men are sitting across from each other eating breakfast.  They’re having a great time, sipping coffee and smiling cheerily when out of nowhere comes a giraffe!  It cranes its long neck towards the table in search of his own cup of coffee.  Please, thank you, and a good morning to you too, sir.

It’s not quite surrealism, but this image is far from ordinary.  No matter how many times I imagine it, there will be no African savanna dwelling animals wandering the streets of New Jersey anytime soon.  It’s a shame really.  I am fascinated by such creatures – lions, elephants, giraffes (oh my?).  Whenever I look closely at pictures or zoo exhibits, I can see how strange they really are, how if I had never set sight on them before, they’d be downright bizarre.  Sure, a giraffe is a giraffe.  Its image has been indoctrinated into the realm of the ordinary.  But if you can distance yourself and maybe squint a little, you can see a giraffe for its strangeness.  Suddenly, that is the quality that momentarily defines it.

For our purposes though, let’s go back to how most people see giraffes.  It’s a funny-looking animal, vegetarian, perhaps friendly, and certainly tall.  This image is general and familiar, printed in textbooks and featured on Animal Planet documentaries.  Now, picture breakfast on a Sunday morning.  There are waffles and bacon, ceramic mugs and china plates, tall glasses of orange juice, fresh-squeezed if you’re lucky.  This is a portrait of daily life, something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

By themselves, these images are ordinary.  No one blinks twice at a photograph of a giraffe munching on acacia leaves or of two people enjoying a breakfast spread.  However, these two images are ordinary in their own distinct ways, and when you combine them, the resulting picture immediately joins the ranks of the uncanny, the strange, and the striking.  Similar to the way the product of two negative numbers is positive, two ordinary components can create something else entirely.

Image analysis, aside, giraffes at breakfast made my day.  As far as house guests go, the tallest animal in the world is hard to beat.

Smile for the Camera

My favorite family photo is an impromptu shot of my mom, my brother, and me at the MoMA while we were waiting for my aunt and cousin to meet us in the lobby.  We had been sitting on ottoman-like chairs when we squished our heads together and took the picture.  I developed it later that month.  Although it was blurry and our faces were unfocused, there was charm in the image.

Whenever my family goes somewhere interesting, my parents have to document it by having everyone pose in front of a breathtaking view or a distinguished statue.  There are albums filled with these outdoor portraits.  I never really smile in those pictures.  There is always something forced about the four of us blocking pedestrian traffic and looking like tourists wherever we are.  The occasional photo is wonderful, but neither my mother or father can get enough of us standing stock still as they try to angle the shot perfectly as to capture everything from person to background, taking multiple shots until they are satisfied with what they see on the tiny LCD screen.  Cheek muscles begin to fatigue and attitudes turn sour as the quick picture becomes a major interruption to the original intention of whatever trip we are taking.  The focus is not really on us or the experience anymore, but on preserving the idea of the experience so that one day we can find the picture twenty years later and have it intravenously feed us memories.

The best pictures are the ones you just decide to take in an instant.  The process takes about two seconds.  Find.  Focus.  Shoot.  Usually, everything comes out perfectly and the photo has more flair, as if the impulsiveness of the moment could be captured on glossy paper.  For all its fuzziness and poor lighting, that picture of the three of us at the museum has a spark of life that the rest of the other pictures lack.  Cameras are great for recording what you want, but they just have to be unobtrusive about it. Then, when you smile, it looks real because it is real.  The photo does not become the representation of a whole experience, but a sliver of it.  It is a trigger for memory, not its substitute.