Tuesday, January 18, 2011

recipe: pistachio ice cream

I think every Indian kid remembers their trips to the Indian grocer once a week. I'd peer at the spices and the bags of lentils before making our way to the registers, where I would reach into the cooler and grab a kulfi. Kulfi is Indian ice-cream, but not made the traditional way. It's creamy and fragrant (thanks to saffron and cardamom) and comes in exotic flavors - my favorite was always pistachio.

I finally found a recipe that rivals that kulfi I enjoyed as a kid. It still needs some personal tweaks, but is pretty close to perfect. Under the guise of being called 'Pistachio Ice Cream,' this isn't like that green stuff you can get at Haagen Daz. It's got a wonderful nutty flavor and tastes really, really indulgent. So much so that just one scoop is enough to satisfy the nightly sweet cravings of Husband and I. Ice cream purists might not believe that this is an egg-free ice cream...its creaminess comes from reducing heavy cream and milk (much like a traditional kulfi is made).


*2 cups whole milk
*1 T. plus 1 t. cornstarch
*1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened (3 tablespoons)
*1 1/4 cups heavy cream
*2/3 cup sugar
*1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
*1/2 cup toasted pistachios, very finely ground (toasted in oven at 350 degrees F for 15 min)
*1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
*1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


1) In a small bowl, mix 2 T. of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, measure out the cream cheese and let soften.
2) In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar and corn syrup. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat for about 4-5 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the milk-cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
3) Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in the pistachios, almond extract and salt. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 20-30 minutes.
4) Freeze in your ice cream maker (I used my Kitchenaid mixture ice cream maker attachment, and it took about 15-20 minutes). Pack the ice cream into an airtight container. Freeze the pistachio ice cream until firm, about 4 hours.

*The original recipe calls for the ground pistachios to be strained out of the mixture just before freezing in an ice cream maker, but I did not do this. Kulfi is never strained of its nuts.

*In the future, I might try adding a touch of cardamom to this ice cream, at step 3.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Marc by Marc Jacobs lock

Speaking of locks...this one is pretty hilarious. Apparently there were only 443 (random number, no?) made in the country!

Monday, January 10, 2011

ready for some pain?

I just discovered BodyRock.tv after being stuck inside Friday morning by the snow. I had planned to do a weight training circuit at the gym (my new year's plan is to get more weight training in my life for strong bones and more toning), but instead started looking through youtube for 20- or 30-minute guided workouts.

I urge you to save your judgements until after you watch at least one video. Zuzana (the woman who demonstrates the workouts) has an amazing body, isn't afraid of cleavage, and sweats in little more than sports bras and bottoms. But this chick is hardcore. I made the mistake of trying out the Killer 600 Rep Workout and was shaking halfway through. Zuzana runs the site with her boyfriend (husband?) Frederick, who I assume takes the amazing pictures of her as well.

Apparently these are the only workouts that Zuzana does, about every other day. They suggest Active Rest Days in between, and also follow a 5-meal/day plan. There are a few things that make this site stand out from the rest. The workouts don't depend on gym equipment...it appears that you can do most of them at home, using your own body weight. I also like that there are detailed descriptions of the workouts, and tips for maintaining proper form to avoid injury. The workouts are pretty creative as well (there is a series of videos inspired by James Bones, with titles such as 'Sweat Another Day' and 'Quantum of Sweat'). The pair seems to have a decent following as well...their youtube videos have TONS of hits (Killer 550 Rep Workout has over 2 million views).

Zuzana is also kind of endearing and relatable. How can you not like someone that says: "Even on your worst 'my butt looks like a plastic bag filled with semi-mashed potatoes' days the fashion gods at lululemon have your booty covered and for that they have my thanks."

The whole regimen may seem a little hardcore, but the workouts themselves are tough and no-nonsense. One warning - you may want to watch the videos on low volume...wouldn't want your neighbors to mistake Zuzana's heavy breathing for, umm, dirty video. That's all I'm sayin...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Guide to NYC apartment hunting

How to find the perfect an apartment in NYC

NYC is the third city I've lived in during my adult life, and has by far the most complicated rental market! We have a much better handle on the whole apartment-hunting process, having lived here for over 2 years and recently tackled our 2nd move. It's not easy, but with some patience and flexibility, you can find an apartment that meets all most of your needs.

The NYC rental market is kind of like a sample sale. Tons of people scramble for a low amount of inventory, nothing is completely perfect, and you often have little time to make a final decision. Oh and on average, rental costs are higher then any other US city. When we first moved here, Husband's company partially subsidized the cost of a broker, who we met with several times to view apartments and narrow down neighborhoods. We ended up in a neighborhood we loved, with a decent apartment that was more expensive then we originally wanted. We found our current apartment online (without the help of a broker), and although not perfect, we're so much happier. We moved because we wanted a cheaper place (so we could start saving in earnest for future moves, purchases, and eventual kiddos).

Tip 1 - You don't need to use a broker.
I'm convinced that most people looking for NYC rentals don't need a broker. The only exceptions to this would be if you are new to the city and/or extremely short on time. Our original broker helped us narrow down desired neighborhoods by showing apartments all over the city. We got a good sense of what our money would get us (for example, the price of a 1BR on the Upper East Side is generally much less then an equivalent 1BR in the West Village). We also found an apartment in just a few days, and were able to move 2 weeks after that. The obvious downside to using a broker is the fee - anywhere from 8% - 15% of one year's rent. In worse economic times, you could negotiate this fee down, but I've heard it's not so easy these days with the market on an upswing. If you do go the broker route, use someone on a recommendation and one who you are comfortable with.

Tip 2 - Pick a neighborhood or two.
There are so many great neighborhood guides available...these should be a NYC newbie's first stop. It helps to have a few possible hoods in mind to focus your search. Consider your lifestyle and what's important to you. If you need to be close to the action, and love checking out trendy bars and restaurants, maybe Tribeca is a good fit. Maybe you're a runner and need to be close to the park...the Upper East (or West) Sides could work. The wonderful thing about NYC (cue the cheese factor) is that there really is a place for everyone.

Once we decided on moving to Brooklyn, we narrowed down our search to Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights. For us, being close to the 4/5 and F subway lines were important. We also happened to love the vibe in these neighborhoods...family friendly, clean and quiet, plenty of restaurants and bars, etc.

Tip 3 - Do your research.
I think I say this every time I give tips, but with NYC renting, it's critical. We were doing searches almost every day for months before our lease was up to get an idea of apartment costs and how quickly inventory was getting taken. Our main search vehicles were streeteasy.com and craigslist.org, though we also checked nybits.com. We even went to see a few apartments, 'for fun'. Doing this helped us decide that the East Village was out (most 1BR apartments were way smaller then we wanted, while 2BRs were still pricey), and confirmed that we were priced out of Gramercy. Craigslist can be hit or miss, but once you start looking through listings every day, you can easily separate the sketchy from legitimate listings. You'll want to lookout for the same listings that get posted every day (to ensure they pop up at the top of people's searches), and apartments that have been on the market for over 60 days (what's wrong with them?).

Tip 4 - Crunch the numbers.
Aside from considering rent, it's a good idea to factor in a broker fee and moving expenses to your final housing budget. We found that most decent listings on the above mentioned websites were for 'fee' apartments (as opposed to 'no fee' apartments). At first it seemed unfair...WE were finding these places, so why should we pay a broker? But, consider that for our current building, the landlord works exclusively with a broker to rent the 8 apartments in his building. The broker handles the listings and vets potential renters before the landlord ever knows about them - completing the credit checks, collecting the applications, etc. The broker for our building was very responsive, helpful, and accommodating, so we felt comfortable paying him a fee (albeit one we had negotiated down). We budgeted for a 10% broker fee. As for moving expenses, we budgeted for $1000 (to move from our 1BR), where we packed everything ourselves (pack and moves were at least $500 more expensive). Thankfully it ended up being less. It's not impossible to find a no-fee apartment...just difficult (in our experience), and we didn't want to pass up a great apartment just because of a broker fee.

Tip 5 - Be patient & flexible.
My flexible schedule really helped us for this move. We would find an apartment and be able to schedule a viewing the same or next day. If you see an apartment you like, call the broker immediately (many don't respond well via email) to express interest and set up a time to view the place. This would also be the time to ask 'make or break' questions (we always asked whether the place was pet-friendly or not). Most listing agents returned our calls within 12 hours. If an apartment is already rented (this happens often), be sure and ask if the agent has anything comparable or available within your budget.

Tip 6 - Talk to your friends.
We got broker recommendations from our friends, and even tips on available apartments in their buildings. Ultimately, we found our place without help, but our former next door neighbors happened to be friends we directed to that vacant apartment! I've learned that it's not really a faux pas to ask what someone's rent is (at least to your friends, not random people), like it is elsewhere. Everyone knows they're paying more then they should and most are happy to share.

Tip 7 - Make a list of what you need versus what you want.
Sure you may NEED a 1 BR, 1 Bath, but do you really also need a renovated kitchen AND bath? Decide on what you need versus what you want. Most people I know had to compromise in some way on their final place. Our list of needs was for: a 1BR 1Bath (at least), updated kitchen, and pet-friendly place. Our 2nd bedroom and outdoor space happened to be a wonderful bonus. Few places have washer/dryers I found. Strangely, I'd be willing to sacrifice a dishwasher for a washer/dryer!

Tip 8 - Make sure your stuff will fit.
We saw some East Village walk-ups with stairwells that would never accommodate our couch (no matter how skilled the movers were). Similarly (and often in the same apartments), we saw bedrooms that would never fit our queen-sized bed. I could sacrifice a table or chair, but not our custom-ordered Pottery Barn couch or solid wood sleigh bed.

Tip 9 - Know when you can move.
Most apartments are listed to be rented within 30 days. You'll have some difficulty finding rentals beyond that. We found ours about 45 days out, and managed to pro-rate the rent for the half month. The summer (May through July) was really slow, and then things picked up in August (I'm assuming due to the influx of the newly employed). I was told by numerous brokers that things slowed down September through December, and picked up after the New Year.

Tip 10 - Have your materials ready to go.
Things you might need: a bank statement, letter from your employer verifying your salary, and letter of support from current or previous landlord (usually a form letter affirming that you were a good tenant who paid rent on time). Be ready to give your social security # and $ to run a credit check. You might also need to pay a security deposit, application fee, first and/or last month's rent, or a broker fee. We made sure we had enough $ in our checking account to cover these up-front expenses.

Friday, January 7, 2011

equinox nyc review

I was in the middle of lunge-and-bicep curl combinations in my fave new class (more on that soon) when the idea came to me - reviewing Equinox and its classes! When we first moved to NYC, it took me some time to get used to the idea of paying so much for a gym membership. Living in DC (and later, Baltimore), I had been lucky enough to either have Washington Sports Club heavily subsidized through work or gyms in my apartment buildings. In NYC, we've found that a decent gym will cost at least $100 per month. Now, this isn't a hard and fast rule, and there are plenty of sources (Fitness NYC, Buns of Steal) that can provide more info than me. We didn't do a wide search on gyms either. Husband's company subsidizes membership of a few (Equinox, New York Sports Club, and New York Health & Racquet), so we chose between those three. Before we moved, I had a one-club membership for the location at 19th Street and Broadway in Flatiron. After moving to Brooklyn, I upgraded to all-access membership, meaning I could use any gym in the country. Here is a list of my Pros/Cons for Equinox.


*Cleanliness and amenities
I've read enough horror stories (and paid attention in college Microbiology) to be thoroughly scared of MRSA infections. That is to say, the fear of picking one up from a dirty gym weight was enough to put a clean gym at the top of my priority list. Every Equinox I've visited is really, really clean. Attendants are always vacuuming and wiping down machines in common areas and the locker room. At peak times (weekday evenings), the cardio machines can get a little yuck, but for the most part, the equipment is clean and people are good about wiping everything after use. I do wish they kept antibacterial wipes around...sometimes I'll wet a towel with some antibacterial foam (from the various dispensers around) and wipe a machine down myself. But from most personal accounts, I gather that Equinox is one of the cleaner gyms in the city, and you pay a premium for it.

This premium also gets you some great amenities. Fluffy, clean towels are always available. Eucalyptus-soaked towels - once only a summer staple - are neatly rolled and stored in mini fridges for cooling off year round. The locker room is stocked with razors, tampons, mouthwash, cotton balls, swabs, spray deodorant, and hairspray. The showers feature Kiehl's shampoo, conditioner, and body wash...and there are always at least 3 huge dispensers of the cult Creme-de-Corps lotion around. I love that squeaky clean feeling from using tons and tons of glorious, foaming shampoo...and you can certainly get that here. Oh and there are plenty of Solano hairdryers to dry your hair in no time.

Equinox has a pretty wide variety of classes. Since I'm coordination-challenged, I tend to steer clear of anything too dance-y or complicated. That being said, I've surprised myself with the classes I have tried out and enjoyed. As far as spinning goes, the bikes are great (Schwinn bikes - most clubs are also adding output computers to the bikes). The instructors can be hit or miss, but those that are great have a large and loyal following. It seems that Equinox really keeps up with fitness trends as well - I've noticed classes such as Barre Burn (ballet moves with a weighted bar), Whipped (using weighted ropes), and Zumba (this is still a hot trend, no?). Classes I've tried and loved include Dawn Parker's Body Sculpt, spin with Shaina Manning or Wil Ashley, James Darlings' Pilates, Impact, and Kettlebells. I plan to review most of these soon...I often find that class descriptions can be vague and unhelpful, and usually turn to personal reviews to decide whether to try classes.

Whether you choose the one-gym or all-access options, the one thing we liked about Equinox was the plethora of locations around the city. Our old 'home' location was less than 10 minutes away, and our new location in Brooklyn is about 15 minutes walking (and right next to the subway). Husband has about 3 locations within easy walking distance of his Midtown office.

*Other pros: All of the locations I've been to have cafes (with food and smoothies), spas (never been, but my brother was once gifted a massage that he raved about), saunas in the bathroom (to sweat out some toxins before a shower)) and good music playing overhead (in case you forget your ipod or it dies mid-run).


I'm not gonna lie - this might be the most expensive gym in the city behind the Reebok gym and maybe the Exhale Spas. I've not seen many membership prices posted (even on yelp or citysearch), so I'll post mine. We paid $139/month for a single-location membership (which I believe has increased at least $5) and now pay $175/month for all-access. I don't remember whether we paid initiation fees, but I do know they usually have specials that reduce or eliminate the fees. I've heard that student memberships are around $145. Yeah, it's a ton of $. But, we reason that since it's for our health, for a clean and upscale gym, where we actually use the services and products, it's worth it. Paying-as-you-go at the various yoga/pilates/cycling outlets around the city is just as, if not more expensive.

*Not all locations are created equal
I LOVED our last home location in Flatiron. It was clean, the layout was open and airy, there was a great variety of classes all day, and I just loved the locker rooms (the aisles were huge and the showers were big and spa-like). I had heard of the mythical awesomeness of the Soho location, and checked it out when I upgraded my membership. It paled in comparison. Maybe it's just my general resistance to change and comfort level in gyms in general. It helps to read the reviews on yelp and citysearch when sussing out locations. One of the downsides to our current Brooklyn home location is that there aren't as many classes offered as, say, Soho or Tribeca. I have no idea whether membership rates here are different from others around the city, but if you have the option, it might be good to visit a few locations before committing to one.

Other cons: None of the cardio machines have individual tvs on them, though there are many tvs positioned in front of the machines. I workout sans glasses (and rarely wear contacts), so unless I'm in the front row, watching tv isn't an option. Peak times (early morning, after 6pm) can be crazy crowded. I suppose this isn't unique to Equinox in a city of millions, but it's worth noting (and sometimes annoying enough for me to workout at off-peak times).

Overall, we're really happy with Equinox, and feel that it's well worth the price. There are clubs in several cities (2 in the Miami area, where my in-laws live), which is an added bonus when/if we travel. This certainly isn't an expansive comparison of gyms...just our personal experience. I have girlfriends that LOVE the classes and atmosphere at David Barton Gym and friends that are happy with New York Health & Racquet (I hear the new one on Park Ave. is super nice). Overall, cost and location should be your main decision factors, as well as your needs (you're 'no frills' and just need some cardio and basic weight equipment VS. a class junkie). That being said, if you can swing it, it's usually a nice mix of people (not just yuppies and 'trophy wives' like some accounts would lead you to believe).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

wordlock padlock

I never lose anything. Seriously. I once lost a credit card in my dorm room, only to find, at the end of the year, hiding behind my desk. And most recently, my padlock at the gym. It's probably for the best...I'm constantly forgetting the combination (saving it in my email and always writing it on my hand, hoping it won't fade away by the end of my workout). Am I the only one who is terrible at remembering these things? I was that girl in high school who would have to visit the office at least once a week for my forgotten combination. But I digress...

I spotted the Wordlock Padlock on a locker and knew it was the perfect solution...words are much easier to recall than a random series of numbers. Always looking for a deal, my first stops were ebay and amazon. Hilariously, there is an ebay seller listing these locks for $1 plus free shipping...the catch is that none of these locks actually work. Ridiculous! Needless to say, neither of my usual sources for deals came through.

I finally found it through target.com. Full price is $9.79 for 3 colors (red, pink, black), but the silver is on sale for $4.88. Strangely, a promotional credit of $4.88 was applied to the order at checkout. You read that right...the subtotal for this lock was $0. I ended up paying $5.75 for tax+shipping, which pained me, but still ended up being the cheapest overall price for this lock.

Monday, January 3, 2011

review: warby parker glasses

This year ended much like 2009 - we had leftover FSA money and no need for 40 bottles of Tylenol and Advil. The repeat solution - buy new glasses! Last year I bought a pair of Dolce & Gabbana glasses that were pretty cool in theory...thick rimmed and tortoiseshell-colored, but for some reason I developed headaches whenever I wore them. I also felt like they were just a little too big for my face. Needless to say, when the chance to get a new pair arose at the end of 2010, I jumped at the chance.

I had read about Warby Parker and thought the deal sounded too good to be true - each and every pair of glasses was $95. These weren't cheap-looking, flimsy glasses either...they looked hip and had available frames for a variety of face shapes. The website is super helpful in choosing frames, giving detailed measurements and allowing you to 'virtually' try on glasses after uploading a photo of yourself. If you're still undecided, you can have 5 frames sent to you for free to try on...amazing! Warby Parker's headquarters is in Union Square, NYC, and you can schedule an appointment to visit the studio and try on frames. Buying glasses is usually a crippling few hours of indecisiveness, so I booked a Saturday appointment.

Husband and I were welcomed into the studio with hot chocolate and cookies. Each appointment is allotted about 30 minutes, but they give you as much time as you need (with zero pressure). The selection is varied, but not too expansive, so it doesn't take long to narrow down your selections. In the end, I was torn between 2 styles and bought both! Completed the transaction in their studio, and received the frames less then a week later.

They came packaged in simple, chic boxes and include cases with cleaning cloths. Warby Parker doesn't adjust frames for you, but most places will do a free adjustment.

Aubrey frame

Bottom line: The glasses are cheap but the quality isn't. These are chic, well-made glasses that can easily be mistaken for 'designer.' The customer service is great, and perhaps the best part is that the company works with non-profit organizations to donate a pair of glasses for every pair they sell. Now that's a policy I can definitely support!