Category Archives: Blog

Taking the Long Island Railroad from NYC’s Penn Station to JFK Airport


Here’s a quick list of basics, because it was surprisingly difficult to find all the important information in one place the first time I tried to figure out how to do it. And for the record, taking the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station to JFK is absolutely more reliable than taking a chance on traffic — and much more affordable than calling a car — if you’re near the train station in Midtown West.

1. Most people just buy LIRR tickets right they need to get on the train ($7 off-peak and $9.50 peak). But if it really makes you feel better to have them ahead of time, the tickets are valid for 60 days, including the day you buy them. Just nip into the station unless you’re planning way ahead — web purchases have to be mailed.

2. If you’re running super late, the lines are long, and there’s a train coming, get on it. You can pay the conductor when he comes through, at a small premium.

3. Local trains on all routes out of Penn Station stop at Jamaica, where you have to transfer to the airport AirTrain, except for the Port Washington Branch. (This was the most confusing part for me the first time I took public transit to the airport. And it took an unbelievable amount of Googling to figure out what route to take, until I landed on… Jamaica Station‘s Wikipedia page.) And if it’s peak hour, be sure you’re not on an express train. In the event that you accidentally do get on one, let the conductor know you’re trying to catch a flight when they comes through for tickets. They don’t advertise it, but they’ll usually let you hop off real quick at Jamaica.

4. It takes about 20-25 between Penn Station and Jamaica.

5. Jamaica is one to three stops after Penn Station, depending on the train. If you can’t hear the conductor announcing the stops clearly, keep an eye out for the digital signs on the walls at the ends of the train cars, which will display the name of the upcoming station.

6. At Jamaica Station, you have to pay for the AirTrain with a Metrocard — and it has to be a pay-per-ride one, not a weekly or monthly pass. It’s $5 each way.

That’s all, folks! Once you know which train to get on — which, again, is most of them — it’s pretty straightforward. It took me all of a half hour to get to Terminal 4 on a cold, rainy Wednesday before Thanksgiving (though I’d suggest budgeting 45 minutes, especially if you aren’t right in T1 or T2, to be safe). Sure beats sitting in traffic for an hour and paying $70+ for the pleasure.


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A Very New England Winter Weekend

It’s snowsville in Boston (and other cities along the East Coast) today. Good time to stay in with a good book and cup of tea, I think… Keep warm, everyone!

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Eggless Kahlua mousse with condensed milk


For some, impulse buys can take the form of candy, magazines, and other tempting items by the checkout counter. Me? My impulse decided to buy me a can of condensed milk at the grocery store.

There’s something decidedly summery about condensed milk to me. Come June, I’d always looked forward to drenching strawberries in a big fat bowl of it when I was young. This time around, I wanted something a little more decadent and a little more grown up. I found a perfect chilly solution in kahlua coffee mousse.

As I’m working on my presentation, I dressed the mousse up with some homemade whipped cream and garnished it with chocolate shavings to boot. An embarrassing confession: I destroyed an entire chocolate bar doing this. The bar was pretty kept breaking into pieces the warm (for now) weather. If you’re working under hot conditions, definitely stick your chocolate in the fridge for a bit.

Other than this seasonal snafu, this dessert was pretty painless. Just beware that condensed milk burns easily, so stir well and avoid gelatin clumps. If you don’t like too-sweet sweets, try tweaking the milk-to-cream ratio.

Adapted from Gourmet’s iced coffee mousse on Epicurious

Ingredients, for mousse

  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1 cup condensed milk (sweetened)
  • 3 tsp instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua

Optional, for garnish

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • chocolate for shaving

To make the mousse

Leave heavy cream in the fridge. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a sauce pan, making sure the powder is evenly distributed throughout. Let it soften for two minutes, then swirl mixture to minimize clumps.

Add condensed milk and stir over low heat until it steams. Add coffee powder and stir quickly until it dissolves. (If it’s taking a while, try turning up the heat slightly up to medium-low.) Being patient and making sure the powder doesn’t settle will help prevent burning.

Remove pan from heat and place in a bowl of ice water. Stir until mixture cools and thickens. Add Kahlua and mix evenly.

Take heavy cream out and beat 1 cup in a separate bowl until cream holds stiff peaks. Be careful not to over-whip, which will make the texture lumpy. Fold cooled coffee mixture into the bowl evenly but gently. Spoon into glass containers and chill for 3 hours. Serve as soon as possible, since the whipped cream will start losing air.

To dress up your dessert

Right before you serve, beat the remaining 1/2 cup of cream until it holds stiff peaks. The better the peaks hold, the prettier the whipped cream will look (but again, avoid over-whipping). An electric blender is recommended.

Spoon the whipped cream into a zip loc bag, keeping the cream away from one bottom corner. Make a quarter-inch snip in that corner, then swirl the cream on top of the mousse. I spiraled mine up in circles the way one does with soft-serve cones, looping the cream as I went to create a ruffled looked.

Using a peeler, shave chocolate into the glasses. A knife also works, but shave the chocolate on a cutting board, then sprinkle over the mousse and cream. Serve proudly and enjoy.

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4 artsy paper guides for inspired intineraries

nectar-and-pulse-new-york-travel-guideWhen I’m traveling, I generally prefer mobile guides for two main reasons: 1) they don’t take up any extra space or weight and 2) they don’t make me stand out like a sore tourist. But I’ve recently discovered some crafty paper guides that add an inspired dose of whimsy that’s so much in the spirit of why I love to travel. And there’s still something to be said for having a tangible, beautiful product in front of you. My fellow magazine lovers and photo printers, this one’s for you.

They Draw & Travel

Collector’s items as much as guides, these 75+ maps feature insider favorites that worldwide artists plot onto neighborhood streets. Browse maps by cities, or filter by activity and aesthetic style. Whether you‘re a foodie or outdoorsman, a modern art enthusiast or classics connoisseur, these artsy maps do double souvenir duty as charming displays of all your escapades.

Nectar & Pulse


“Practical” and “romantic” are two words that rarely appear in the same sentence, but these character-based recommendations marry the two in a fresh take on bespoke experiences. Find your “soulmate” by browsing online bios of local experts, detailing what they like to read and what their perfect day looks like, then order a binder of guides produced by your personality double.

A La Carte Maps


For those who crave a more social introduction to new cities, these foldable and waterproof works of art all include a handwritten welcome letter that reads like a hug from a friend. Like any caring advisor, the map bolsters top spots with practical must-know information, covering everything from rain plans to traffic shortcuts. Have a specific interest? Commission an anonymous insider with a custom-themed map.

Luxe Pocketbook Guides


While the contents of these mini-books, now with children’s editions, aren’t customized for individual travelers, the custom fittings make them both pocket guides and objets d’art. In public, there’s no shame in perusing pages flanked by covers wrapped in fashionable prints. At home, bespoke box sets can be handcrafted in classy linen or luxe velvet with personalized embossing for a tasteful addition to coffee table furnishings.

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Baked Plums with Blueberries and Mascarpone

I first fell in love with poetry in middle school, thanks to William Carlos Williams. I’d initially chuckled at his silly-sounding name, but then something about his simple and tangible words charmed me. The first time I read “This Is Just to Say”  aloud, I fancied that I could actually feel the cold deliciousness of an icebox plum rolling across my tongue.

Ever since, the fruit has always evoked a strong sense of nostalgia in me, and this juicy baked rendition takes me right back to that fateful seventh grade class. We’re expecting snow in NYC this week, but perhaps giving this summertime staple some love can help usher in some warmer weather for good.

Though this dish is delicious any way you serve it, I prefer the plums warm, topped with a chilled dollop of mascarpone for just a touch of icebox-coldness. The result is a just-right symphony that’s not too saccharine nor too sour, perfect for a light dessert.

Or breakfast. Or a snack. Or no good reason at all.

I didn’t have mascarpone on hand, and, honestly, it’s a little pricey anyway. Not wanting to get too fancy, I used this shortcut: 8 oz cream cheese, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and 2.5 tbsp sour cream. I also opted for a pomegranate black currant juice when I (uncharacteristically) ran out of wine.

adapted from The Golden Book of Desserts


  • 12 ripe plums or small nectarines
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine or black currant juice
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 2 tbsp confecioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 400F. Wash the plums, splitting them into halves and pitting them. Lay them flat side up in a bake-safe pan (or two) lined with aluminum foil. Rub the brown sugar in on the cut surface.

In a small dish, zap the butter in the microwave until just melted. Dip two fingers into the butter, spreading it onto the plums evenly. Don’t be afraid to apply a liberal layer. The butter should cool pretty quickly and firm up on the plums.

Drizzle wine or juice over the plums, then bake for 15 minutes. In the meantime, combine the mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside and chill. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the dish with blueberries, then bake for another 5 minutes.

Let the plums cool slightly. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone and a splash of juice from the pan.


I have eaten the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams

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The sights and sounds of Taipei’s ShiDong traditional wet market

The plan was to stop by for a mere five minutes, but even before I step under the bright lights beyond the inner doors, it starts. Like the layers of an onion, what was first one big buzz begins to peel away and disentangle in pieces. First the clattering of shopping cart wheels gives away a shopper’s location, then the crinkle of plastic bags signify a successful sale and bargain. Spinning strips of plastic softly flap in circles, safeguarding fresh goods from flies in a gentle rhythm.

Even the reverberating hum of voices filter through my ears in stages. In one corner, a vendor calls out to advertise the freshest fish in the house. In another, a florist fondly names the blooms currently in season. Down the aisle, a little boy acts cute to wheedle his mom into buying some candy. She sighs in feigned exasperation, then concedes.

Such are the sounds of the ShiDong traditional wet market in the Taipei, Taiwan neighborhood of Tienmu. The sights of the market, however, offer no such moderated introduction.

Colors and textures explode, haphazardly splaying out on tables and hanging upon ceiling fixtures alike. In front of that fish vendor, a smatter of silver scales and red flesh gleam in a sea of ice cubes. Swaths of brilliant pinks and oranges surround the florist while lush green leaves trail down from overhead. Behind it all, rainbow packets of foil and plastic snake across the wall, hiding all traces of the tiles that hold up the fort.

In a place that strives to offer everything there is to be desired, there is no room for white space.

Today, I am there with my mom, who wants to pick up some goose for dinner because I am home. As she tells the vendor what she wants and the thud of a knife sounds, I look away, unable to watch the decapitation even though I know the bird is dead. Instead, I stare at the rows of trays fanned out to my right: golden braised eggs, plump squishy tendons, porous squares of tofu, dark green swirls of seaweed.

But then I look up at the vendor. She is smiling at my mom, who I know has been a customer for years. “Have some chicken soup with that, and some of this,” she says, scooping up a smorgasbord of dry ingredients I wasn’t quick enough to identify. “Toss it in with some vegetables. It’ll smell delicious.”

I always come to the traditional markets in Asia looking to awaken my senses. I’d somehow forgotten that the communities they forge, and the little kindnesses doled out with many a business transaction, also stir my heart.

Getting There

100 ShiDong Road, Shilin District, Taipei City

Photo Credit

Beitou Market — LWY /

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A love letter to NYC’s Museum of Art and Design (and sniffing out the bizarre “Art of Scent” exhibit)


When I read about an “Art of Scent” exhibit in which museumgoers get a whiff of various perfumes back in November, I wasn’t sure whether I should be intrigued by the concept or be wary of gimmicks.

But then I learned that the exhibit would be housed in the Museum of Art and Design. And then it all made sense.

Among New York City’s cultural giants, MAD is very modest in size, sitting humbly at the bottom of Columbus Circle between Eighth Avenue and Broadway. But this museum is probably my one of my favorites in all of Manhattan. There, the six floors are all manageable in one afternoon, between two and three hours if you count a thorough examination of the well-curated gift store. There, each exhibit always offer a masterpiece that I love, even if I’m not inherently interested in the theme. And there, most of all, you’ll find the quirkiest, most radical, most bewitching collections of art.

Like an exhibit of necklaces, made from such curious materials as gun triggers and LED lights and pig intestines.

Or an exhibit on special effects manipulation in film and photography, showcasing 3D dioramas and the surreal images and animations created from them.


Needless to say, an exhibit with perfume spritzers in the walls is right up MAD’s alley.

Stepping off the elevator onto the fourth floor was somewhat disorienting. Unlike what you’d expect of a museum exhibit, the hardwood floors were starkly and completely empty, save a square of scrolling, glowing text projected from the ceiling. Along three walls, a row of twelve cavities sank into the wall, almost like pods in a science fiction vignette come to life. I watched two women hesitantly walk up to the first wall, exchanging glances before gingerly lowering their heads into a cavity.

When my turn came, I’d leaned in just as carefully, made wary by memories of cloyingly scented department store ground floors. But all I felt was the light breeze of a spray–some sort of new technology that released the fragrances for four short seconds, I later learned. It was simply a whiff, enough for you to breathe in, not enough to stay with you beyond a few ephemeral seconds.

I’m no stranger to the concept that smell evokes moods, memories, even images in one’s mind, so that wasn’t what caught my attention. Nor were all the projected descriptions that appeared and disappeared next to the cavities, detailing the innovative extraction methods of the day. Rather, what impressed me was that the catchphrases in those descriptions–the hallmarks of marketing-speak like “pure” or “aggressive” or “diffusive”–actually became tangible with each whiff.

Anyone who’s ever shopped for perfume probably has a general idea of what’s considered a floral or clean or citrusy scent. For us girls, most of us probably know that Issey Miyake’s fragrances are inspired by water. But the experience of smelling that  manmade, recreated smell of “water” is so much more heightened next to the contrasts of other manmade, recreated smells like “sweetness” or “rawness.” You’re much more aware of the nuances that make the scents so distinct. And the deliberation, the (dare I say it?) art behind every scent becomes so much more apparent.

There’s only so much one can say about this particular exhibit in words. There’s a reason, after all, that the man who heads up the museum’s “department of olfactory art” has presented the exhibit in such a peculiar form.

But that’s the kind of brilliance that I always find myself energized by every time I walk out of the museum. That’s why, as much as I love the Guggenheim and the Met and all of the city’s other cultural greats, I’m so often tempted to knight MAD as my favorite.

That and the fact that art really becomes accessible to everyone here. As I trailed from one spritz to the next in the Art of Scent exhibit, I’d noticed one pair of visitors constantly talking behind me. Not obnoxiously, not loudly. But certainly very descriptively, summarizing each description and sharing their responses. Curiosity got the better of me, and I finally sneaked a stealthy peek at the two of them. The man a step ahead turned out to be the speaker, leading his friend along the wall. His friend was wearing dark shades and clutching a cane. And he seemed to be loving all of it.

Getting There

“Art of the Scent” is on view for another two weeks, through March 3, 2013. Take the A, C, B, D, and 1 trains to 2 Columbus Circle.

Photo credits

Museum of Art and Design exterior — Hélène Binet / Museum of Art and Design
Optical Delusions — Matthew Albanese /
Art of the Scent — Brad Farwell / Museum of Art and Design

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