traveling and being leisurely for travel + leisure


Chocolate mousse pie at Pels Pie Company in Brooklyn. Credit: Alex Van Buren 

This morning my computer had a close encounter with a cup of coffee. I shorted out the keyboard but maybe not the entire contraption; time will tell. It’s shocking that this hasn’t happened prior to today, as I am an accomplished klutz. And it could be worse by a longshot, as I’m overdue for an upgrade. Some days peanuts, some days shells. (Does anyone know the origin of that expression? Is this correct? I’m very curious.)

I love autumn. I haven’t yet made it apple-picking, but will soon head upstate to drink cider and see family before November is out, so I feel lucky. And! Travel is officially part of my job description now, as I’ve been writing extensively for the lovely team at Travel + Leisure about topics as eclectic as lobster, Dia de Los Muertos, etiquette, and Chris Christie. I even, with great trepidation, revealed my best tip for scoring a cheap car rental, and may regret it in the years to come.

I’ll tweet these stories as they surface online, but definitely also follow the site’s Twitter handle. And yep, I’m still writing, editing, and consulting for a variety of other wonderful publications, too, such as Epicurious and Real Simple. I just feel especially fortunate to be able to focus on travel for such a neat site.

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recent to-ings, fro-ings, and eats


Dry-aged beef potstickers at Brooklyn’s East Wind Snack Shop. Go there. Sprinkle that umami secret spice mix on ’em. So good. Photo: Alex Van Buren, Instagram

Happy August! So let’s get something clear up front: No one is allowed to mention anything about [redacted] or shoveling [redacted] to me yet. I haven’t jumped in enough lakes or eaten enough lobster rolls yet. Let’s just wait till [redacted] to discuss [redacted] weather, shall we? Thank you.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what I’ve been up to: consulting, writing, and editing, with a bit of copywriting, to boot. It’s been a blast, and I’m ramping up for fall. I have two stories up at Epicurious, a site I’ve always loved, about the bizarre egg shortage (and how prices are likely going to spike this fall) and five smart ways to use canola oil, my go-to for making Pok Pok wings at home. I’ve also been doing some work for the fine folks at Liquor.comBrides, and Vox, among others.

So let’s not get all grim about [redacted] being around the corner. And I hope to see you eating ice cream, wearing a floppy hat, or picking out fat peaches at the market some day soon.


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setting the table

tablePhoto: Alex Van Buren, Instagram

My father’s mother recently realized that her eldest unmarried granddaughter is living in Brooklyn, alone, without the proper accoutrements.

Our calls typically involve my shouting so she can hear me—she is 94—and grandma shouting so she can hear herself. One exchange several months ago went like this:

Her: “Alex! Your father tells me you’ve moved! What are you doing for china?!”

Me: “Sorry, grandma?!”

Her: “CHINA!”

Me: “Grandma, I have plates and bowls. They’re nice. I’m fine. I promise.”

Her: “Hmmmph. What about crystal and silver?!”

Crystal and silver? Me: “Grandma, I’m FINE.”

Now, we are not a fancy family, but Grandma hails from Kings County herself, and had her wedding reception right off the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. And apparently she’d be damned if any granddaughter of hers would be entertaining in her home borough without proper silver. This resulted in my dad lugging an unexpected gift to me from Massachusetts a few years ago: Silverware. Lots of it. A slightly mismatched but very elegant set in a heavy, velvet-lined box.

I busted it out in February, alongside the plates I’d picked up at the Vanves flea market in Paris.

table twoPhoto: Alex Van Buren, Instagram

It had been my first big trip to Paris. Ten days. Steak frites obsessiveness. Lots of coffee. Lots of fromage. And I loved it, like you do, but I returned not feeling covetous of the bistros or the restaurants, but wanting to cook more for the people I love. In Brooklyn, as in Paris, we’re able to walk from butcher to cheesemonger, grocer to café, and I was reminded that I can do a lot of great things with easily accessible, excellent products. (Also, I mean, those plates. Yowza.)

Hosting friends for Valentine’s Day, I made Mark Bittman’s pernil, half of which I turned into carnitas, and a shrimp ceviche with blood orange juice. I yammered on about my “tablescape” all night long. (My grandma, in a sense, saw this aspect of my personality emerging before I did.) It was a delightful evening regardless.

In work news, this week marked my last week as an editor at Yahoo Food. I had such fun there and learned so much, and was proud of the work I featured, whether it was a sweet speech by a bartender, an Italian-American grandma’s meatball recipe, a gorgeous series of stone fruit cocktails, or a website doing civic-minded food journalism. I left in order to restart my own digital content strategy, consulting, writing, and editing business. I couldn’t be more excited, I’ll post about cool projects occasionally on this page or on Twitter, and I hope you have a lovely spring.


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a launch + a memory


So yesterday was a bit of a rough one.

It wasn’t work that was tough. My colleagues and I launched a new site, Yahoo Food, a work in progress of which, as Features Editor, I’m proud. We’ve been toiling away for a couple of months behind closed doors, and now the floodgates are open to everyone’s critiques. It’s a challenge we’re up for; constructive criticism is a good thing, and you can send it here or even here until we get comments functionality.

But the first story in what we in the biz call the “hero module”—the one with the floury hands shown above—when that one went live, my heart sank a bit. I’ve been working on this piece on and off for several years, and although I hope it’s well-written, and that it moves you to cook for the people you love, it doesn’t do justice to the woman who inspired it.

My first mentor, who I call “Betty” in the essay, could write circles around me. Not only did she get me my first job in magazines, but she was terribly kind about my earliest, most horrible drafts of stories. Her stories had the most gorgeous, ephemeral ledes—all sweetness and light, for an île flotante—and then she’d hit you with a perfect pun, or a flip turn of phrase that made you giggle. Her kickers left you wishing the article was twice its length.

She wrote circles around me, and she would have written circles around me today, and I wish like hell I hadn’t had to write this piece at all, and that she was still here. Her empathy was extraordinary; no matter how down cancer got her, she always wanted to hear about your day. Betty was just straight-up a better person than I am, and I think of her when I consider how best to treat other people.

I didn’t use her name, and I never would, because her byline was a source of pride. (She wasn’t vain or arrogant, ever, but she was a perfectionist when it came to her work.)

My little essay is just an effort to remind the chilly people in the big cities that casseroles and caretaking can be transporting for those in need, especially this time of year.

Hope you dig the site. My articles are here, but you should be sure to read the articles by my colleagues, too.

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new orleans!

Oh, my goodness, this is becoming a biannual blog. That *can’t* be good for SEO. This site is primarily for professional purposes, though, designed to send the curious to my writing, video and editing clips, which are here. It’s also a place to showcase recent work.

In other news, I finally made it to New Orleans for the first time. Ridiculous that I hadn’t been sooner. And wow. A town focused on bourbon and pork, friendly people and dancing? Are you kidding me? I love that it’s the only place I’ve ever been where it is more awkward not to dance than to dance at a party. I’m writing a little piece about NOLA, which I’ll tweet when it’s live, and I hope you’re staying warm this winter, wherever you are.

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cat-sized watermelons and other indignities

My last post overstated things. Prosciutto and butter and bread are excellent, yes. But that was then (May), and this is now (July), and the city has an ineffable stickiness that makes you root, root, root for the kids wasting water with the open hydrants (you know it’s wrong, but man is it fun to bike through the spray).

So I’ve been eating my share of squash and blueberries, favas and corn like the rest of the local food crazies. This being my first year in a CSA, I’m gonna crack open the cat-sized watermelon* I just got and turn it into the glorious watermelon-feta salad featured in the August InStyle (the one with Jessica Biel on the cover). It’s a Hugh Acheson recipe, and part of an article on summery Southern cooking by yours truly. All of his recipes are lovely and light, and I’ve been dreaming up riffs on his Pimm’s Cup all summer. Pictured above (right) is Acheson’s fava bean, prosciutto and mint appetizer. It is wonderful.

In less melony news, a bunch of my copy for Bon Appétit is live; I worked on this “Dress for Dinner” project (scroll down) and wrote all the little restaurant reviews. I’ve also been working on guides to various cities in collaboration with Restaurant and Drinks Editor Andrew Knowlton. I’m particularly pleased with the Boston and San Francisco writeups, so please clickety click.

A couple of parting notes: If you are biking, please wear your helmet: I got doored by a car that was illegally parked in a bike lane a couple of months ago, went flying, and was bruised for weeks. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t been properly kitted out.

Fellow stone fruit aficionados, don’t miss this article by Mark Bittman. Each approach is so easy: Cherries are simmered in a touch of water and sugar, then maybe topped with mint and crème fraîche (above, left): I am an ice cream fanatic, and I temporarily forgot about ice cream’s existence when I ate these cherries.

Hope you’re having a rad summer.

* We have a large cat. This was a very large melon. It dwarfed her. She seemed indignant. Post title explained.

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picnic like you mean it

It’s been a while. And now it’s hot outside. I’m not one of these people who covets salads, tiny berries and buckets of water when it’s hot. I covet ice cream and barbecue, lobster rolls and chicken liver mousse. Weird but true.

To that effect, here’s my favorite picnic sandwich. A twist on the super-simple French classic of meat, butter and baguette, it combines prosciutto di parma, unsalted European butter, and a ramp dressing (minced ramps, olive oil, salt and pepper). Take a whole baguette, lace it with folds of prosciutto, and slather one side with butter and a scallion-or-ramp olive oil mixture (stick to butter if you don’t feel like puréeing scallions). Wrap the whole beastie in wax paper, then foil. Hand out mini wrapped sandwiches at a picnic. Wait for people to ask where you bought it. Laugh.

It’s expensive, sure, for the good prosciutto. But there’s nothing better than this and the Times on a lazy Sunday… unless it’s this, the Times, and a big glass of bourbon mint lemonade.

I’ve been writing for a few great clients lately. I did a piece for InStyle about which I can say nothing until it hits newsstands, wrote some fun marketing copy for Tasting Table (to which everyone should subscribe), and have started working with the lovely folks at Bon Appétit, where I’m a contributing writer. A few of my articles will be popping up there over the coming months.

Oh! And there’s this: Anthony Bourdain, whose life I find so fascinating, was kind enough to chat with me for an epic Grub Street piece—an effort to understand why people who love AB love him So Much.

Happy almost-summer, folks. Eat some salad. Just put cheese on it in case I’m in the vicinity.

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IACP Best Televised Culinary Series Nomination

So this is a little wild: The season of the NY CHOW Report that I wrote, hosted and produced and Alex Lisowski directed, shot and edited was just named a finalist for best “Televised Culinary Series” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. We put together the segments for the fine folks at, including Lessley Anderson, Meredith Arthur, Blake Smith and Davina Baum, who advised on scripts and production. The finished product aired on CHOW and on NY1.

We’re up against heavy hitters like Jacques Pépin and Ming Tsai, so it’s a real honor to be nominated. The show’s second season is hosted by the talented Pervaiz Shallwani and Liza de Guia, and they’re doing a really nice job. Check them out!

And many thanks to the voters at IACP!

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winter warmers: my favorite cold-weather recipes

Homemade baked béchamel mac ‘n cheese with sriracha

I am not a winter person. I hate the cold, and have vivid memories of my parents using the “double plastic bag” method to keep our feet warm in the winters of the late 1970s.

It went like this: One pair socks, two plastic bags per foot, then snow boots. I would tuck my pants into the boots, hoping against hope. But every time I jumped into a fat Massachusetts snowbank, thinking I was secure against the elements, I’d wind up knocking—panicked—at the door of our home an hour later. The snow would freeze in the tops of the plastic bags, creating glossy ice rings around the shins that would not look out of place in one of today’s adorable vintage punch bowls.

No wonder I became a cocoa person and not a skiing person. But I do admire the effect of the seasons—the way people slow down in the winter, speed up in the spring and fall, and slow down again for the hot summer. There’s something to be said for winter’s indoors-y laziness.

Yesterday I was listening to Nina Nastasia’s “The Long Walk,” and today it’s Nina Simone. And all I want to cook are soups and chili, moles and stews, braises and casseroles. Here are the best recipes I’ve cooked over the last few months.

Nigel Slater’s killer onion tart is far and away my best party trick—layers and layers of slippery caramelized onions with fat cubes of taleggio and wisps of thyme. People freak out about it. Then there’s the cavatelli with sausage and sage from the Frankies cookbook; brown butter is wonderful this time of year. Bon Appetit’s Swiss chard soup is bright and floral with mint and cilantro, creamy from feta and yogurt, and makes a wonderfully warm starter or entrée. I like to strain the leftover soup for the base of some fantastic chilaquiles.

I’m also a big fan of Jonathan Waxman’s chicken-under-a-brick with bacon—that’s chicken butterflied and sizzled in bacon fat, folks—and it will probably be my Valentine’s Day meal. I reckon Molly Wizenberg’s French toast, with nutmeg and vanilla, would be an excellent way to wake up the next morning.

Lastly, I’m totally making Andrew Carmellini’s favorite chili—a recipe from Texas chef Julie Farias—once more before the winter is out. It uses coffee, beer and chocolate, packs a wallop of flavor, and it completely cheered up a sick friend.

We’re not through the season yet, so comment if you’ve got an ace winter recipe—and thanks!

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ebullient at borobudur

Borobudur monument in Java, Indonesia

In Bali, everybody looks good walking down the beach in their flowing sarongs. In Bali, the ocean crashes an appropriate distance away (not too close, and none too fiercely), and the sand looks like it’s made of the glimmering dust you find in Pixy Stix. Waiters—ubiquitous on Pixy Stix Beach—shake cocktails in coconuts, each of which is roped to the back of a friendly monkey who scampers up to you, smiling with his big monkey teeth.

This was my vision of Bali. I’m not gonna lie. And since I stayed at a snazzy hotel for part of my stay there, that vision was pretty well met, sans happy monkey. (Those dudes are fierce, and yes, they really do love bananas).

But what amazed me most about our recent trip to Singapore and Indonesia was how little I knew about the island just west of Bali—Java. Yogyakarta, its cultural capital, is an $80 hour-long flight from Bali’s main airport. And it is so, so worth it.

Our itinerary was New York to Shanghai to Singapore—a mall-driven, very clean city with excellent Indian food—followed by a short hop to Jakarta in western Java, and a quick drive to nearby Bogor. The Novotel Hotel was relaxing and gorgeous, with this sort of water world of a pool, a million little verdant paths, and great massages for ten bucks apiece. Our room came with a gratis and well-hidden gecko, who would croak “GECK-O” emphatically at 2 a.m. I tried to embrace the tropicality of it all, and things were looking good.

A couple of mornings later, though, the adventure portion of the trip began in earnest. Our driver drove up in a rickety blue minivan to pick up our group of five. The leader of our party had guesstimated an eight-hour trip ahead, from Bogor in west Java to Yogyakarta in central Java.

Wrong, our guide corrected him. That would be an 18 hour trip.

That’s a big difference when you’re in a bus with busted shocks and a crazy driver with an affinity for the gas pedal. It’s a big difference when you’re zipping along skinny winding mountain roads to stop at toilets set in the ground, with clouds of mosquitoes hovering overhead and zero squares of toilet paper in sight. (It would take me a week to stop carrying my own roll around when I got back to America). We stopped at mosques several times per day so our Muslim driver could pray—one hybrid mosque-gas station-rest-stop was pretty incredible—and I kept my nose in a 900-plus page Haruki Murakami novel to while away the hours. It wasn’t awful, and the scenery was beautiful, but it was exhausting, particularly for our two drivers.

When we arrived at our hotel at 11pm, having left at 6:45 that morning, I heard my beau say excitedly, “We’re falling asleep on the grounds of an ancient monument.” I mustered a grunt in reply, as I was busy gobbling up chicken satay, my first real meal of the day. I didn’t register our location.

We woke up the next morning, drank some bad instant coffee, stretched our arms and legs, and made our way down a path. We rounded a bend, and an incredible monument stretched into the sky.

Borobudur. It is breathtaking not in a mortal, normal way, but in the way that one imagines Lothlórien, the elven forest, might have been for Frodo and Sam. Buddha is everywhere at Borobudur. He is under the stupas (turrets), except the very top one, which at its zenith points straight like a lightning rod into the heavens. He is headless in some places—Muslim warriors reportedly chopped off his stone head long ago—and wears a beautifully serene expression in others. Hordes of tourists clamber everywhere, snapping photos, reaching to hold Buddha’s hand through holes in the stupa, which is thought to bring good luck. Most sport bright yellow sarongs, like happy fireflies. All seem to want to take their pictures with the very pale Americans.

Irrespective of religious tenets—I am not a practicing Buddhist—it would be hard not to be moved by this place. Carved into its sides are vignettes, many of people trying to distract Buddha from his journey towards enlightenment. Others are of animals, such as a bird with two heads. The top head, able to reach the best branches, eats fresh fruit. The bottom head has not such range, and is relegated to bruised fruit and dirt. The top head refuses to share, insisting that all the food benefits their mutual stomach. At last the second head, desperate with hunger, eats a poisonous mushroom. (It’s a tough moral story, but it’s one I’d love to somehow update for my nieces and nephew.)

Yogyakarta is a two-hour drive away—don’t trust Lonely Planet on drive times in Indonesia—and a neat little city, with the Sultan’s palace, the Kraton, at its center. The Hindu temple Prambanan is about an hour’s drive outside the city. There are colorful rickshaws and ex-pat bars, decent food and great people-watching.

So yes, the Singapore hawker markets were amazing, especially the woman at Tekka Market who spatulaed piping-hot dosas with one hand while dropping medhu vadai into boiling oil with the other. The air in Singapore Airport smells like ginger and sugar, and I ate the best soup dumplings of my life in that city. And Bali was wonderful and dreamy. Oodles of Elizabeth Gilbert wannabes writing in their journals and dreaming of lovenot that I’m judgingcouldn’t shake its charm. To that monkey in the Monkey Forest who detected a cherry cough drop wrapped in two layers of plastic and ate a corner of my bag: My hat is off to you, guy.

But for me, everything comes back to Borobudur, the sense of peace I felt there, and the goodwill towards others. I was in a quietly rapt state for the duration of my time there—perhaps my new ideal when it comes travel. Thank you to Java for that.

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