Ramadiet 2017/1438

~ Hey blog fam, it’s been a minute! I’ve been putting together my latest food endeavor – Carmen’s Cookies! Follow me on the IG and stay tuned for details coming this summer ~

Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, is quickly rolling through, which means that I’ll be monitoring what goes into my body more than normal. But this year, I’ve made a decision to take it one step further and go on a diet. Yes, the cursèd word that some say explains itself in its first three letters. My reasoning was that during Ramadan, I already strive (yes, this truly takes effort) to avoid things that give the false hope of energy and happiness, but only leave me with a sugar crash and sleepiness shortly after consumption. So in an attempt to heighten energy levels, and assess my regular eating choices, I will be removing sugar and refined/processed carbs from my diet.

I know. If you’ve read this far, then you know me, and you know this is going to be a serious challenge. But what better time to do it than the holy month of Ramadan, when I will be working on my “reflection and focus”, religious and otherwise. Every year, Ramadan creeps up on me and ever year I get stoked about the month I treat as a reset and reassessment, weeding out the negative vibes and bringing back the good ones. For example:

“Do I really need to curse out this terrible Brooklyn driver?”
“So the subway is super packed and I can’t reach my phone…it’s not that serious.”
“One more bite: good idea or nah?”
“I’m so #blessed and I’m grateful for living in a place with four seasons. This 95 degree humidity will pass…right…”

Now is as good a time as any to do a deep dive on my diet and see where I can improve. By the end of the experiment, I’m hoping I’ll have motivation to adjust some eating habits (will I survive without a cookie after lunch?) and get to know my body better.

Sooo, to make up for at least part of the month without sweets, I sprinted to some places I’ve wanted to check out for a while before my time ran out. Below are the highlights…

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetDu’s Donuts The latest fancy NYC doughnuts put themselves on the map in April, and I tried the Strawberries and Cream and, I think Grapefruit Chamomile? I honestly can’t remember. My favorite part was the attractiveness of all the doughnuts; beautifully piped lines of icing on many varieties. The doughnuts themselves were good, but Dough still ranks number one in my heart.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetI’d just happened to be walking by the small, seveeerely hyped cookie dough-scooping shop in Greenwich Village on my way to an appointment, when I noticed that there was no 3-hour long line wrapping the block. In fact, there was no line at all. I quickly attributed it to the early hour and having just opened for the day. Later, on my way back, there was still no line. Since I’m not usually in that part of the area, I figured I may as well finally see if Dō was worth these egregious NYC-trend lines. I left with a scoop of salty + sweet dough, with salted caramel and chocolate chips, at $4, and was promptly reminded of how weird I think it is to opt for raw cookie dough over fresh-baked cookies. I could not eat the small mound in one sitting, but it was not a terrible experience. 

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetBrownstone Pancake Factory I love this place as much as I love pancakes, and if my friends Rebecca and Shyla are up for it, and our amigo Tommy is also in town, I get to eat here when I visit them. As you can tell from the photo, this breakfast-all-day restaurant has more than pancakes, as I was the only one that got pancakes…I had to represent for the team. We also shared an Oreo Cake freakshake. Delicious? Yes. Fit for one? Noo.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetKith Ice Cream Not long after I moved to Brooklyn, this sneaker store by Barclays Center opened a cereal bar. Don’t ask questions; this is Brooklyn. The cereal bar also features soft serve ice cream with your choice of cereal add-ins and toppings. I meant to check it out but never got around to it. Luckily, they’ve since opened a location next to my office, and I tried it out on one of those super hot days last week…you can see my ice cream started melting as soon as I stepped outside. They whip the whole thing up DQ Blizzard-style, and the ice cream itself was very sweet. Overall, fun if overpriced spot for only the occasional visit.

Come back soon for my dispatches from the frontlines of Ramadiet 2017!

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Top 5 of 2016

Poor 2016…it’s going in the history books with a hashtag next to it. Lost your job this year? #2016. Lost a beloved celebrity role model? #2016. Despite the slew of unfortunate events in the last 365 days, it’s still important to look back to remember the progress we made and good things that happened. Here are 5 of your and my favorite posts from 2016, and here’s to a new year that we’ll be proud of 365 days from now.

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1. Mast Brothers: Genius or Nah?
What’s all the hype about? Is their chocolate chip cookie recipe really all that?

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2. Don’t Get Pancakes at a Place Called “egg”
Lessons learned: 1. It’s best to order something that a restaurant is named after, and 2. Not all brunch is created equal.

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3. Skillet S’mores
The most impressive party dessert to whip out in your times of need.

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4. The 3 Why’s of Chocolate Chip Cookies
So many questions…here are 3 answers.

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5. The Art of Dining Solo
The ultimate treat-yourself with its own perks.

Don’t see your favorite? Leave it in the comments below!
Happy New Year!

The Art of Dining Solo

Some time ago when I went to Portland, Maine, I was able to experience dining for one. There’s something about sitting at a table with a bowl full of hot ramen (or is it pho now) in front of you that you can enjoy without exchanging words with a comrade in between slurps. By default, I’m someone who doesn’t mind doing things unaccompanied. Sometimes I get stressed out at the art museum when I want to see the Modern and Contemporary Art, as a friend trails behind politely waiting for their chance to explore the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. Now and then, things are easier flying solo. While I would prefer to spend a Saturday evening at the local haunt with friends over myself, sometimes it’s nice to spend time with your thoughts and delicious food appreciation. And I did just that in Portland, many times, and could not have been more content. Here’s why dining solo can be great, and how to make the most out of your time with *you*.

1. Being seated right away

Most of the places I wanted to check out were pretty bumpin’ spots, not to mention the Bon Appétit spread that had come out weeks previously that brought the masses; so there were definitely waits at almost every restaurant I hit up. Luckily, it’s usually easy to seat one person, particularly if the restaurant has a bar or communal table. Where couples would wait 30 minutes to get into a lunch spot, I would step in after no more than 8 minutes.

 

2. Sitting at the bar

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Sitting at the bar is one of the restaurant power moves, alone or not. Oftentimes this is where the cool kids squat who have insider info on the town and other food spots to hit up. If you’re traveling, ask the bartenders and your neighbors where they go on their nights off and what fun things you can do in the area. If you’re apprehensive about starting a conversation, don’t forget to smile. Someone may just start one for you. If you’re not into conversation (you’re out on your own, after all), you may have a front row seat to the kitchen – check out the action!

 
pdx-2016_carmen-ladipo_191Fun fact: the bar you’re sitting at will most likely have hooks underneath for you to hang bags and jackets (shown above). Genius.

 

3. The bill

No worrying about bringing cash / keeping track of cards / finding someone on Venmo / somehow getting shortchanged because you didn’t get a drink. It will save you time and energy for more local frolics.
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Go forth and dine, no matter the plans of your squad.

 

Five Places to Eat in Portland, Maine

In the last couple of years, Portland, Maine has been getting a lot of attention for its food scene. It’s a very cute coastal town in southern Maine with a lot to do and eat. I took a solo trip for Memorial Day weekend to check it out, mostly involving walking from seafood to fries to doughnuts. I would do it again in a second: here are my favorite five spots for your next trip north!

 

1. Duck Fat

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Duck Fat is a very popular quick lunch and dinner spot in the heart of the food strip in Portland. They specialize in Belgian fries, of course fried in duck fat, sandwiches, shakes and homemade sodas. There was a crowd outside the modestly sized café, and people were waiting half hours to get in, at 2:30pm. I even had to wait 15 minutes just to get seated at the bar. But it was well worth it, as the poutine I ordered came to me in a flash, and was steaming and delicious. Straightforward, nothing fancy: Belgian fries covered in duck gravy, cheese curds, and chives. I also ordered a ginger zinger soda (in a mason jar. Portland’s there). It was extremely refreshing.

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2. Dutch’s

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While dining at a seafood restaurant by the piers, a couple next to me at the bar told me I had to go to Dutch’s for breakfast. This was great news, as it was already on my list. Dutch’s is known for their biscuits-and-gravy-fried-chicken hybrid sandwich. They call it the crispy chicken biscuit, and it’s a piece of fried chicken thigh covered in sausage gravy sandwiched between slices of their flaky, yet substantial house made biscuits. Unfortunately I couldn’t eat this because the gravy was made from sausage, and I don’t eat pork. Luckily, they had a second choice: the spicy chicken biscuit. Same thing as the first sandwich, with smashed avocado instead of gravy, and spicy chicken instead of regular chicken: win-win. I imagine the gravy would have been nice to break up the dryness, but it was still great. Dutch’s is also known for the (truly) crispy hash browns. The couple from the bar insisted I get a side of these. They were right out of they fryer when I got them, and very satisfying. I also got an Earl Grey doughnut for the road, which turned out to be one of the best pastries of the trip. The cream in the middle was perfectly mild – not too sweet, and just enough flavor.

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3. Tandem Coffee + Bakery

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So here is Portland’s quintessential hip into-my-coffee-and-chill-time café. It’s even more Brooklyn than Brooklyn: it’s an old gas station! Do you see that slightly askew ceiling? If not for this place, that Earl Grey doughnut would have won best pastry. I can’t get down with the bitterness of coffee, so their great roasts were wasted on me, but their pie and pastries were not. It was extremely difficult to decide on one pastry to try. I could have had a “loaded biscuit” with what you might guess is brie, but is actually a generous glob of butter, and strawberry jam. I could have had a cherry and chocolate scone, or a large chocolate chip cookie. But I went with their massive sticky bun. It looked so inviting from behind the glass display, and somehow more manageable than a dense scone (false). The icing was pooling in the folds of the dough which caught orange zest as a last addition. The top was crunchy and the middle was pillowy soft. I was not disappointed. On my way out of town, I stopped by again for a slice of strawberry hibiscus pie. Good choice.

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With Mast Brothers’ Hot Chocolate

 

 

4. Honey Paw

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I’m generally wary of restaurants with the vague term “Asian fusion” anywhere in a description. It just sounds suspect…what Asian cuisines are you fusing? Are they Asian? Is there also American food? Why? Asian fusion is exactly how Honey Paw labels their food. Well, almost: “regional American cuisine with an Asian sensibility”. I thought I’d step out of my comfort zone and see what the hype was about. The interior decoration is super cool; honey comb lanterns everywhere. My favorite part of the inside was the seating: one large community table, and a bar along the window. I ordered the smoked lamb khao soi with coconut curry, fermented mustard greens, and topped with crispy fried noodles. It was as amazing as it sounds, though I could barely finish my bowl; the rich flavor combination was a lot for my stomach to handle. That said, I’d eat it again, maybe with a friend.

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5. Eventide Oyster Co.

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If you’re into oysters, this is the place for you.Eventide is right next to Honey Paw, and owned by the same folks. Their original Portland restaurant has ten Maine varieties and more “away” varieties, nestled on ice in the stone trench in front of the bar. I’m not a slimy-raw-seafood person myself, but I wanted to see what else they had going on. This place also had a hefty mass of customers waiting to get in, which I bypassed once more by waiting 10 minutes to get to the bar. I ordered one of the specials: deep-fried soft shell crab, which was not as filling as I’d hoped for the price I paid for it. So I ordered a fried oyster steamed bun as reinforcement. Both were delicious, but a tad overpriced. In any case, a good place to spend money on good, local seafood.

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Bonus Round

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A $20 Maine lobster roll drenched in butter is worth it if you’re looking for a good lobster roll in a fancy restaurant by the water. You can find it at the new restaurant, Scales, that wants to overlook the Casco Bay, but really just overlooks a couple other seafood spots on the pier (this is where I met that couple on the bar). Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the butter: this guy’s bun is griddled in butter, and the four ounces of lobster meat are reheated…in butter. It took me nearly an hour just to get through it all without upsetting my stomach.

It’s worth a trip to Holy Donut to see what a potato doughnut tastes like. Luckily, not much like potatoes. I tried a lemon doughnut and was pleasantly surprised. Pro tip: go in the morning so you have more flavor choices that I did.

Any other Portland recommendations? Leave them below!

Portland Part 5: Milk Glass Mrkt

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Our last breakfast stop in Portland was at a spot I’d seen in last year’s “Best New Restaurants” list from Bon Appétit . On the east side of the river, Milk Glass Mrkt is tucked away in the a corner of the Overlook neighborhood. They serve breakfast and lunch throughout the week in a counter-service format in a bright dining room. When we arrived on a Tuesday morning, it was quiet, with two indoor tables occupied and two other guests enjoying their coffee at the tables outside.

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After considering the menu, I ordered greens with smoked trout, rainbow chard, pickled red onions, walnuts, radish sprouts, and a fried egg. My mom got the cheddar biscuit with herbed egg and smoked salmon. To split, we ordered a warm brown butter almond cake with berry jam and crème fraîche.

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And everything was delicious. My breakfast salad had everything it needed – refreshment, warmth, nutrients, texture. The biscuit was flaky and the cheese melty. The almond cake was in fact warm and dense, yet somehow still moist.

This hidden gem is absolutely worth the $10 Uber ride, or leisurely bike ride from city center. Enjoy a quiet morning among the trees and houses, with a lovely staff and large seasonal menu. This was easily a food highlight of the trip!

Make sure to add Milk Glass Mrkt, Blue Star Donuts, Voodoo Doughnuts, and a food cart crawl to your itinerary for your next Portland trip. If you have any, leave your own recommendations in the comments!

Portland Part 4: Voodoo Doughnuts

You can’t go to Portland without stopping at Voodoo Doughnuts right outside of Chinatown. Your friends will have told you about the crazy flavors, and you will have smelled a distinct doughnuty aroma from the Waterfront Park by the river. As a doughnut enthusiast, Voodoo naturally made it to my list of things to eat in Portland. But it wasn’t until towards the end of the trip that we made it over.

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An idea that came to mind when I entered Voodoo was that it had a “cult following”…lots of interesting clothing and posters decorated the pink walls under bright fluorescent lighting. The antithesis of Blue Star Donuts was a treasure trove of “keep Portland weird” and ridonkulous doughnut flavors – check out this *rotating* display case:

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This plus the chalkboard menu of flavors made for quite overwhelming decision-making. Luckily, we had some time to mull over the choices and take a look at the options, since we did not arrive to a line hugging the side of the building, like you’d typically see on a weekend afternoon.

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We walked away with the iconic large pink box, and three doughnuts: Caramel Delight (West coast’s version of a Samoa), maple-glazed old fashion, and a mango tango filled doughnut.

Voodoo does not claim artisanally made doughnuts, and neither do their prices. We left with only $5 less than we entered with. I’m glad we did eventually make the trip over. We didn’t exactly go crazy with the flavors, as we could have opted for “Arnold Palmer”, “dirty snowball”, or “butterfingering”. This is likely in part because we couldn’t decipher many of the flavors from the names alone. The doughnuts we did try were very sweet, too much for even my sweet tooth. But my favorite was the Caramel Delight with its crunchy coconut exterior and soft cake interior.

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Visiting Voodoo is definitely an experience, and one worth having. But the doughnuts, however famous and wacky, are not on my top 5 list.

Stay tuned for a few more Portland spots you’ll want to check out on your next trip over!

Portland Part 3: Street Food

Portland is known for its extensive street food scene. The food carts in Portland line blocks of downtown and the Pearl district, and pop up in clusters throughout the east side of the city. When there are over 20 carts within a 5 minute walk of each other, it’s difficult to choose one to eat from. Luckily, we were able to go a couple times.

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One thing to keep in mind when planning a meal here is the hours that the carts keep. While they’re not all open at the same time, most of them will be open for lunch throughout the week, and a handful open for dinner. But we found that by 3pm, a lot are closed for business.

Our successful trip for lunch was by SW Alder St and SW 9th Ave. There are so many cuisines and foods to choose from – Egyptian, Korean, Ethiopian, Mexican, Japanese, mac and cheese, and more. No matter your mood, you’ll probably find something good to eat. At the craft market we visited over the weekend, we got a recommendation to go to a Scottish man’s food cart for fish & chips. In an effort to try different things, my mom and I shared fish & chips and Korean BBQ.

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The Frying Scotsman had a variety of fish to choose from for frying. We took the road less traveled with red snapper – more fishy than classic cod/haddock (#nigerian). For Korean BBQ, we chose their Bulgogi-Chicken combo with rice, noodles, chicken, beef, kimchi, and what looked like iceberg lettuce.

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Not pictured: salt + vinegar additions (no ketchup, that’s so American)

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The chicken was more flavorful than the beef but it was all good.

 

If you’re in Portland, check out this food cart Google map of the city to guide you. There’s most likely a hub of carts in a couple areas you’re planning to check out anyway.

Have a favorite food cart corner? Share below! And stay tuned for next week’s review on VOODOO doughnuts!