August 15, 2018

The YouTube channels I watch nearly every day

Always: These are the YouTube channels I'll watch every single time a new video pops up. I prioritize these videos in my subscription feed over all the others, usually because I find the content either super-inspirational or informative. In some cases, it's because I've been watching these YouTubers for a while and I think they're cool and interesting people doing cool and interesting things.

Casey Neistat

Colleen Ballinger + Colleen Vlogs + Miranda Sings

Koro DeSoto

Also Gus Gus, their cat.

Jenna Marbles

David Dobrik:

Ryan Higa

Nikki Blackketter


Sometimes: I also really like videos by Anna Akana, PewDiePie, Zoella, Alfie Deyes, Taylor R., Bradley Martyn, Caspar, Laura Lee, Manny Mua, and Alex Wassabi.

August 12, 2018

New week's resolutions

I think a lot about what it would be like if I were my vacation self at home—curious, un-jaded, high-energy, in an exploratory mood. I think it's hard when you live in the place where you grew up—even if it is New York City, things just feel... familiar, easy, and comfortable. The other day I was explaining to a friend that one of the reasons I love/need to travel is because, at home, my identity is so completely wrapped up in my career and New York so intrinsically part of my DNA that I don't feel like I have a boundary, that my lines are blurred. It takes going away and putting myself in an unfamiliar context for me to find my borders, to define where my sense of self begins and ends.

Over the past few weeks I've been making an effort to do different things while home in New York—not just going through the motions of routine and fulfilling obligations on my daily to-do checklists. I've been trying to schedule in weekly shows—so far I've been to the Erasure show at the Beacon a few weeks ago, then I went to see My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center, and the week after I went to see my 'lil sib' from high school in Aladdin on Broadway—and movies (I went to see Christopher Robin two weeks ago; last week I scored a last-minute ticket to a screening of Crazy Rich Asians, which was amazing). I've also been trying out some new-to-me self-care spa treatments—I've been going for a monthly Korean body scrub, the one where the entire outside layer of your body peels off in clumpy grey rolls of dead skin (it's a slow, superficial form of catharsis), and have been scheduling in time for a weekly-ish infrared sweat session at Shape House, which is my favorite no-effort-feel-like-a-million-bucks way to spend money right now.

But it's not just about doing activities, I think. I feel, like a lot of women I know, especially around the same age, the essential difference between vacation me and home me is that home me beats myself up a lot—for not getting enough done, for not meeting expectations, for not losing weight, for wasting time, for eating this and not eating that, for not reading enough and spending too much time watching YouTube. Vacation me is kinder to myself. Have you ever noticed that it's really hard to relax on vacation? I have to spend a solid three or four days conscientiously talking myself into vacation mode, like giving a child permission: Don't check your email. You don't have to make a schedule for tomorrow. You can play it by ear. Yes, you have time to take a walk along the beach. You don't have to eat in a specific half-hour window because you will have free time later on. Wear what you want. Don't set an alarm.

I think I need to try to do this in my real non-vacation life too: Conscientiously be gentler with myself. So that's my new week's resolution—to work hard, but for a reasonable number of hours each week; read books if I want or watch YouTube videos if I want; take that 15 minutes to make a cup of tea and sitting down at my desk to write something for myself, instead of grabbing coffee on the go; wear that brighter shade of lipstick; take time out to bake a cake.

August 11, 2018

Newish coffee ritual

From 2008 to 2013, I quit coffee. Actually I quit three specific things during those five years: drinking, coffee, and Diet Coke. I think I'd started as a new year's resolution in 2008, did it for a month, and was like: Oh wait, this is pretty easy, I'll just keep going. To be honest, I don't think it did me any good; I gained a ton of weight during those years (drinking calories and eating calories are not the same thing) and my social life suffered (it's really not un-awkward to have a social life in New York if you don't drink alcohol, coffee, or Diet Coke; also I got bored of explaining abstention to people when there wasn't a reason). Anyway, I started drinking alcohol and coffee again in 2013, just out of the blue—and I think, in retrospect, the best thing about taking all those years off caffeine and booze is that I now have much lower tolerance for both, so I have sort of successfully achieved moderation in these two consumption categories in middle age.

For a few years, I've been drinking Illy coffee made in a Bialetti, but in the past six months, I've been experimenting with different instant coffees that have stuff  (mushrooms, mostly) in it. It's apparently good for the brain and good for stress levels and health. See above reference to middle age.

Here's what I've been liking a lot:

1. Four Sigmatic "Create" with Lion's Mane and Chaga: This used to be called something different, I think "Think," because the balance of Lion's Mane and Chaga helped to both stave off caffeine jitters and helped focus throughout the day. I first read about this on Tim Ferriss' blog—he's right, it's powerful stuff. I try to drink this most work mornings—especially when I know I have a big meetings or brainstorming day ahead—and I try to not drink this on weekends, to give my brain a rest.

2. Four Sigmatic "Achieve" with Cordyceps and Chaga: This used to be called "Awake" and I drink this on days when I know I have to be alert, but maybe don't need the added focus boost of "Think." Cordyceps is a pretty popular ingredient in Chinese cooking, and apparently is also helpful in managing energy levels. I find that when I drink this in the morning, I don't get the 3 p.m. sleepies as much. I prefer the taste of the "Create" coffee packets, though, so I tend to stick with those.

3. Four Sigmatic "Hack Stress" Adaptogen Coffee with Tulsi and Astragalus: If you know me irl you know that sometimes work can really stress me out. Recently I ordered a box of this anti-stress coffee—my initial impressions are that 1. It totally works. The result is palpable and I feel physically more relaxed and unstressed, yet am still alert. 2. It has a very strong taste—very herbal, so if you don't like things that taste almost-medicinal-herbal, you may not be able to drink this. I'm going to keep this around and use it when I feel like I'm having an especially tough week, but I'm not sure yet whether this is going to be a regular thing for me.

4. On weekends I try not to drink coffee unless I have something I need to do, people to see, or need to stay up past 10 p.m. for some reason. To combat and prevent caffeine headaches, I'll have a cup or two of Yorkshire Tea in the mornings (with organic milk from grass fed cows—this is the only American milk I've found that even vaguely comes close to British milk). If I skip tea, I'll have a brutal headache by 11 a.m. and nothing besides two Advil and a nap will make it go away.

August 05, 2018

The story of Chinese Food Fight Club

March 23, 2011: I'd spent seven years at the New York Post before leaving in 2010 to launch Racked National (now just default at the Curbed Network (now a part of Vox) but I was still close with Posties Andy Wang real estate editor and David Landsel travel editor, so we were making plans to meet up. Andy's friend Phiderika had told him about these epic-stealth flash mob dinners that had been happening every Friday night in the basement of a neighborhood Chinese restaurant, Legend on 15th and 7th, and I think we'd been meaning to check it out.

Then this happened:

And this:

I think, to be honest, Sichuan food wasn't as much of a thing in New York at the time, so we were compelled to go immediately mostly because of Dave Chang's tweet and FOMO. That, and I'd just been to a good Sichuan restaurant in Flushing with my parents the weekend before and, you know how it is, once you get a whiff of mala nothing else hits the spot in the quite the same way, especially in the tail-end of a New York City winter.

Seven years on, this first dinner at Legend feels like forever ago. Look at that Foursquare checkin! First of all, Foursquare. Second: I was using an Android! I think it was a Verizon Motorola something with a sliding screen. I think I'd gotten it for free.

A few weeks later, after an email debrief from Andy's friend Phiderika on the unspoken rules of Legend's Friday night dinner, we braved the Friday night dinner. I can't find the email in my Gmail, but it was in listicle format and went something like this: Don't say anything to anybody, walk straight downstairs, sit at any table, don't come with more than four people, there's a section reserved for hotpot, at 7 p.m. sharp the chef or staff will come out to take orders, if you don't know what's going on just let the people at your table order, they'll bring out lots of dishes to share, bring cash to split the bill, it'll be about $25 a head.

Sometime that spring, we started calling it Chinese Food Fight Club. Mostly because of all the rules. I also liked that people would come on their own—white collar first-generation Chinese drifters in search of a great, super-spicy meal shared with strangers, everyone after the same thing. It felt very pure.

By June, David had decamped to Detroit and Andy and I had launched full-on Legend evangelism by organizing informal group dinners where he'd invite a gang of real estate people and I'd invite a gang of fashion people and we'd all cram in around one round table downstairs. We called it Chinese Food Fight Club to entice our jaded media friends and colleagues and it was an easy way to one, hang out with people we liked, and two, maximize our meals, so we could order and try as many dishes as possible in one weeknight sitting. In retrospect, with the social media boom just over the horizon and our mid-to-late-30s creeping up on us, it was also the last irl social networking moment I can remember—before the late-Gen X westward migration and the all the babies everyone wound up having just a couple of years down the line. These days we all still talk, but mostly just through screens, tapping on handheld devices with our thumbs.

I just now searched my Gmail inbox and it looks like between June 2011 and December 2016, I used the phrase "Chinese Food Fight Club" 127 times. That's a lot of people and a lot of dinners—and it's not even counting "Legend" emails, text messages, or work emails.

Then in July, this happened.

"To the mystification of the city’s Sichuan food cultists, they continued serving summer rolls and shu mai, all the while putting out word in the Chinese community about the Sichuan cuisine being cooked by the chef Ding Gen Wang, a master who cooked most recently at Grand Sichuan Eastern in Midtown," wrote the Times' Julia Moskin. "Despite the confusion and a vast menu still larded with distractions, the aromatic, spicy Sichuan food actually cooked by Chef Wang here is often unbelievably good."

For the next few months, getting into Legend was pretty difficult, so Chinese Food Fight Club went on hiatus and we all just did our own thing. Big group dinners became fewer and farther between, but Andy, David, Alex, and I would still make it to Legend regularly—for friends-only pre-dinners, post-event debriefs, life catch-ups, or when someone we knew and respected had never been. We were always trying to take peoples' Legend virginity, and we always told them about Chinese Food Fight Club—as if it had been a long-running dinner series and not just one great season of Sichuan.

Legend closed in July 2018. Despite reports to the contrary, the closure is permanent, and there's another restaurant slated to open in its place. The OG chef left in 2015 (he opened a new restaurant in New Hyde Park), and "New Legend" opened a couple of branches further uptown (the one on the UWS appears to still be open). Andy, David, Alex, and I have been group-texting about the closing all day—I'm the only one of us four who still lives in New York, but I think we all feel this deeply. Over the years, Andy and I brought some big deal people (before they were big deals) to eat fish soup with us in the basement of Legend, but we also brought people we loved who were visiting from out-of-town, because Legend was our spot. Andy would pre-game and post-game much fancier dinners at Legend; for me, it was my go-to order on Seamless, sometimes twice a week. Every time any of these guys come back to New York, we meet at Legend. The last time we were there was June 29—Andy was in from LA and we took Maria, the restaurant editor from my digital team at Food & Wine, for lunch, and it was better than it's ever been.

"I was just telling a food writer pal that I've learned one thing over the years," David texted us this morning. "And that is to not wait to celebrate and spend time with restaurants that you love, while they are here or while they are good, because they mostly go away and leave you behind."

It's funny how much things can change in seven years. But at the end of the day, Legend was a great neighborhood Chinese restaurant that had an epic run, better than most.