The quaint Italian coffee shops in Manhattan

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As slick as a whistle here we are, at the heart of summer. The sun is beaming in full force dissolving every memory of snow and rain we carried over from last year. Despite that, New York city is rich and lively. Gelato and rainbow milkshakes are hastily relished on the go before the scorching heat bleeds them out. New York is a bit of every part of the world, it has something to give for everyone. This summer commenced with a predominant Italian vibe. The one thing consistent in Italian food is the amount of passion instituted in cooking.  I would never have learnt the story of gianduja had I not explored the Italian pockets of the city.

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Max Caffe’ 

It’s a laid back Sunday morning. We rise up after much contemplation, pour some spiced Indian chai to the brim of our stout coffee mugs. We carelessly dip a social tea biscuit in the steaming hot tea and force our half open eyes to wake up to the nostalgic aroma of mornings in Madras. We then decide to do brunch outside today, instead of the wonted upma or oatmeal. It is a perfectly toasty afternoon. We slip into our summer clothes and head out to the cafe across the street, a couple of blocks uptown. We pick a favorite corner spot by the window, overlooking the streets on Amsterdam avenue. It is a lush Italian cafe with an airy homestyle flair. The comfy coaches with bold floral prints are a visual treat. We order a plate of nutella crepes for him and french toast for me. We savor the food and the intricate decor alike, take a moment to commend the first class maple syrup, then get back to admiring the wall mounted lanterns and other antiques. Hours pass by a cuppa and we are still smitten by the ambience, the sweet little corners calling out to us for tête-à-têtes with our loved ones. It feels good because for a very short while, as long as we are here sipping a latte, life is slow.. the way it should be.

It was a chapter that transported us back in time. A lazy brunch on Sundays is mandatory for the soul. Sometimes it’s all the therapy you will need to tackle monday blues. It is amusing to explore coffee shops unassumingly tucked away in street corners like these. I have an unparalleled weakness for everything vintage and this was a perfect setting to feed my liking. I will remember this day for the best french toast I have ever eaten in a very artsy and vibrant cafe. I will also remember this to be the day when, in New York city, I was finally served just the sufficient quantity of food a person can eat. On a side note, fresh sourdough breads are perfetto for french toasts.

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A day like an Italian

To eat every existing delicacy in this city, one lifetime isn’t enough. One of the most heartwarming attractions in lower Manhattan is a bustling Italian marketplace called Eataly. It stands alongside the Flatiron building across Madison Park. I have been sinfully stealing myself to Eataly at least twice a week the past month. There is a genuine piece of Italy life here, fondling an irresistible invitation to breathe in the fragrance of freshly baked pastries and sourdough breads. It has been an enlightening discovery, the choices of food and wine are endless. The doors at 5th avenue open to a crisp aroma of freshly ground coffee. The magic unfolds the instant we walk in, one wouldn’t expect so much of a truly authentic Italian world on this side of the block. The quiet mumblings over coffee tables and counters are thick and french accented, the air is distinctly scented with regional twists of flavored espresso. It accommodates rooftop beer gardens, restaurants and wine bar. It is a mecca of Italian jams and compote, hand pulled mozzarella, wine and breads. It is a high-end supermarket, the downside is that it is very expensive. Nevertheless it was an incredible experience touring the marketplace and eyeballing the jumbo cheese counters and absynth chocolates. There are occasional shout outs from the fishmonger, the spirits are high at the wine bar and all through the day, the bakery at the north west pocket oozes out delicious aroma of well risen, warm and crusty breads.My south Indian curiosity was promptly tingled, drawing me to create a little bucket-list (a summer fling list) of some offbeat favorites. The Italians here take food very seriously. They strongly believe people bond well when there is good food.

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The summer-fling list:

Violet jamViola/violet jam is made out of wild violet flowers and is popular in France. Some of these have a more perfumed taste.
Gobino’s gianduja spread – Predating Napoleon times, the continental system lead to declining supply of cocoa. To stretch the quantity the chocolate was mixed with hazelnut paste occasioning the invention of gianduja.
Italian coriander honey – Any monofloral honey will have it’s own unique taste of season. Manufactured when coriander flowers are in full bloom, this has an aroma of citrus and coriander spice.
Sambuco –  Sambuco is Italian for elderberry jam.
Sabadi’s Quality of life series : health – Cold processed organic chocolate with bee pollen, pomegranate extract and acerola.
Sabadi’s Quality of life series : beauty – Cold pressed organic chocolate with chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds, extracts of carrots and bilberries
Chestnut cream – A common ingredient in many Italian cuisines.
Redcurrant compote – Red currants are uncommon berries, when had as a whole they are believed to have a seeded caviar like texture. 
Alba
– All the bite sized pastries look beautiful, but I found Alba to be particularly interesting. It is a passion fruit mousse & dark chocolate over buckwheat and almond flour sponge cake

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Preserving the Good Times

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Looking back at the year behind us, there is a galore of moments preserved in our memory. Though not necessarily eventful, we realized that it’s the most simplest of happenings we tend to retain lifelong. There is a lot to feel happy about and a lot to look forward to. We are nearing our first anniversary and the end of winter, the weather has been surprisingly marvelous. Sriram and I started walking the 3 mile stretch from his lab every evening, like we used to during the summer and fall.  I never got around to writing as much as I planned to last year, but recollecting the best of all the love and laughter we shared is amusing.

The lake is my happy place

In the last week of October we were half way into the fall season gathering our boots and bags for a road-trip to Craryville. We were driving on a misty Friday afternoon, anticipating the clouds to pop in a little while. The drive felt like a beginning of a classic melody with the enchanting backdrop of sugar maple trees and fogginess lingering over the hilltops and slender roads. Sometime after dark we reached the semblance of a magical, mysterious manor. A deep breath of fresh air almost had a rural flavor to it and the two cheerful mule deers by the doorstep reassured that characteristic, visiting politely from the woods to greet us. The house was a vintage classic in its own way, and everything in its rightful place looked odd, beautiful, unique and old all at once. They must have survived through some historic years, unwritten tales and superstitions.

The weekend was all about unwinding in the comfort of a vintage home by the lake, cooking some delicious meals and soaking in the beauty of the fall colors. Nothing seemed more satisfying than sharing these moments with a group of close friends. There was a predicted downpour on Saturday as well, we gathered together for a relaxed breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup, buttered toast and coffee. The showers added a zest of organic character to the experience overall. A slow weekend is great, a rustic den with bursts of floral patterns is a perk(for me at-least) but the cherry on the cake was the discovery of an unusual book barn hidden amidst the groves of burgundy and butterscotch, a few miles away. It was treasure in the midst of wilderness, a good savor of what my dreams were made of ( the likes of living in the outskirts of the city with a swelling book barn in the neighborhood). All it took was looking in the right nooks, we found an interesting lot of old prints and collectables. I brought home a big leather bound book full of vintage postcards and an old Frank Leslies’s illustrated newspaper.

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The Hungarian Pastry Shop

Is it possible to love something before you were even acquainted with it? In December last year, during the last few weeks before Christmas I frequented the Hungarian Pastry shop excessively. The place was amply packed because of the holiday season, but I continued to find the subtle cafe sounds quite charming . It is a rare finding, located across the street from the Cathedral of Saint John. The small shop is filled with closely arranged furniture, walls embellished with the original works of a greek artist and delicious servings of authentic Hungarian and greek pastries. There is also a writer’s wall with annotations from authors/poets who found solace in the cafe or penned their first books for publication there. I remember the first time I stepped into the coffee shop, it wasn’t contemporary or commercial, nevertheless the ambience held something special. It was great to sit among artists and writers for as long as I pleased. It was ideal for the creative minds. The perfect theme for a novel. I even got around to bonding with the baristas and learnt to make a traditional Hungarian coffee and cappuccino.

December was a month of indulgence. If our kitchen was a fruit market then it had way too many pears in it. I decided to bake a Pear Flaugnarde from one of my favorite french cookbooks and it was indeed an indulgence. It was quite delicious, the caramelized pears were marvelous and I also felt convinced that it was healthier than most of my other bakes. A lot of my fond memories have been associated with baking, the most recent was a chocolate birthday cake topped with a generous spread of cocoa butter frosting and fresh berries for the lovely husband. While on the subject of desserts, Sriram and I had discovered another favorite bakery last summer and we went out of control by Christmas, finding an excuse to celebrate every other weekend with our favorite Chocolate & Walnut Levain cookies. I have surrendered to a guilt-free privilege for anything sweet. As I tell Sriram, relish it while you can.